Monday, July 25, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 26, "A Revolting Development"

We're finally halfway through the series, so here are a few "midpoint musings" before I proceed:

(1) I've had a lot of fun writing these. I hope it shows.
(2) I will soon be "cutting back" to one episode per week as the Fall semester nears. My original hope was to get done by the end of 2011, but I don't think I'm going to make that deadline. This is no problem, however; whatever DuckTales 25th anniversary matter I post (I haven't decided as to its nature yet) wouldn't launch until the Fall of 2012.

.
.
.

"A Revolting Development" is an extremely frustrating episode -- an episode that could have been SO much better had things been "boiled" a bit more thoroughly. Granted, it's great to finally get some closure on one of the series' main themes, namely, the animals' search for some palatable, humane alternative to meat-eating. The method of closure, while relying heavily on "overly convenient" happenstances, is reasonably clever and satisfying. The episode's illogical portrayal of Claw, Cassius, Tom, and Tab, however, knocks the ep out of any chance at top-, or even middle-, -drawer status. Not only are the perpetual villains cast in a role that would NEVER be accepted by the most naive subject of Kimba's kingdom, much less Kimba himself, but they actually punt on a chance to dispose of Kimba once and for all... and, would you believe, they do so on the request of a zany one-shot character! These problems were present in the original script, and the Titan crew can't do much to fix them, try as they might.


The "skip-to-my-lou" opening sequence is the sort of thing that we'll be seeing quite a bit of in future episodes featuring "jungle cubs" Dot, Dash, and Dinky (here, joined by Speedy Cheetah and... a giant ground squirrel? Does Sandy Cheeks know about this?). The difference here is that Kimba cuts the fun and games short to... go and do jungle-prince business, I suppose. In many of those later episodes, he will maintain a cub's POV and reactions for a good deal longer than this. The offhand reference to a cub's being named "Doozy" is a gaffe.

Wouldn't you know that a zebra (Stripes = Ray Owens) would be the one to exploit the hitherto-unexplored "loophole" that allows herbivores in Kimba's kingdom to insult carnivores with impunity? One can hardly blame goofy Uncle Beetle (Gilbert Mack, apparently channeling Ed Wynn) for regarding the "kick-off" as an insult to members of the cat family (which apparently includes giant squirrels for the duration). Of course, to insult an elderly, stumble-prone lion with the longest set of bangs in or out of captivity would take some doing to begin with. Beetle makes a more cogent point (not to mention a better intellectual impression) when he reminds Kimba that the animals have relied on insects to fill the gap. Dan'l's argument that Kimba "never liked the idea" would have had more force had we heard it at some point during "The Insect Invasion" or "The Gigantic Grasshopper."

The "cat family protest meeting" can also be said to double as this episode's "shark-jumping meeting." Not because what follows is of low quality; rather, because Cassius, Tom, and Tab are attendees and no one pays them any particular notice. Would even Uncle Beetle take Cassius' advice on anything? As bizarre as it sounds, for the rest of the episode, we're asked to buy Claw and his minions as trouble-making members of Kimba's jungle community -- the equivalents of Montana Max in Acme Acres, Dr. Smith on Lost in Space, or Snake Jailbird in Springfield. This gives the remainder of the ep a slightly cockeyed feel, as if we're watching the thing at a Dutch-tilted moral angle.

The "seduction of the innocent" scene should have been great, but all I keep thinking is, haven't the kids learned by now that Cassius, Tom, and Tab are bad news? If not through direct personal experience, then through the advice of their parents? Had Dash and the others fallen under the spell of meat by accident, then we would have had a far more satisfying scenario in which Kimba must convince the youngsters -- who represent, after all, the future of Kimba's vision -- to sacrifice their desires for the greater good. Instead, to be frank, Cassius comes off as the equivalent of a "pusher" here. Not a particularly pleasant message to send, even with the slapstick humor, the amusingly self-referential version of Tom and Tab's song, and Cassius' treatment of Tom and Tab as what Greg Weagle might call "international objects."

After the kids meet meat, we learn that a carnivorous diet... makes one a careless, arrogant jerk! Who knew? Uncle Beetle's protest suddenly seems dignified by comparison. As the kids prance along, we learn as a side note that Dot and Dash are siblings. Also mark that kick of the turtle; it'll actually mean something later.

The use of Roger Ranger in this episode strikes me as essentially pointless. The herbivores are gathered in a nervous huddle, the campsite comes into view, and Roger appears OUT OF NOWHERE to check things out... and discover that his old scientist friend Calvin Hottidge (Gilbert Mack) is inside the tent. The problem isn't that Calvin and Roger happen to be old buds; the problem is that Roger really isn't needed in order to allow the animals to interact believably with Calvin. Calvin could have been attacked by the hungry carnivores and Kimba could have saved him -- which in fact happens later on -- and then the story of Hottidge's search for the final ingredient of his "meat substitute" could have been told. Of course, Calvin would still have had to experience the shock of Kimba and the other animals speaking to him, but that certainly didn't bother other humans in earlier eps. So why use Roger at all?...

...."Ooooooohkay, fine..."

It strikes me that beta-testing a new invention without an important ingredient is not a particularly credible example of the scientific method in action. Why didn't Calvin put his foot down and simply refuse to allow people to eat his creation until he could locate some Tickle-Chicle blossoms? Then again, Calvin is a bit of a wimp, as we learn when the carnivores attack his camp, take him to the proverbial "remote location" (simply eating him on the spot, as opposed to making the meal "to-go," would actually have made more sense), and have a ball scaring him silly. The cute scene in which a hesitant Dash gets to "make the first move" on Calvin is quickly "nega-trumped" by the absurd business involving Kimba offering himself as food to the carnivores. When Claw subsequently yields to Uncle Beetle's demand that the meat-eaters give Calvin one week to produce pseudo-meat, the ep really tips over "the edge of no return." Again, it makes no sense at all for Claw to act, and to be treated, as just another member of the jungle community, or to allow another community member to make his decisions for him. Whoever thought up the original Japanese script for this episode really needed to be called into conference before the thing made it onto film.

Granted that the major damage has already been done, the rest of the episode is pretty decent. The incidental "collateral damage" that Dash did to the turtle (Ray Owens, sounding a bit like the future Superbook's fastidious Professor Peeper) is resurrected in a clever and thoughtful way, and Kimba's subsequent efforts to get the slow-moving fellow to cooperate with the desperate search are amusing. Kimba's Chicle-blossom-bearing dash back to the jungle is evidently meant to be an "action scene" of sorts, but it is so truncated that it really doesn't make much sense. Why would Hottidge's minions think that Kimba was trying to injure their boss simply because he was running towards the jungle? Perhaps fittingly, the jeep wrecks here take the prize for the most senseless scenes of "mechanical destruction" in Kimba. The average car wreck in Speed Racer was far more meaningful (not to mention deadly).

We bow out with Hottidge and Kimba both showing magnanimity -- Hottidge by refusing the "government" medal (are we to infer here that the United Nations literally runs the world?! *shudder*), Kimba by freeing the remaining insects (though he might have said something a tad less utilitarian than "We won't be needing you any more"). I wish I could be a bit more magnanimous about the episode at large, especially given its thematic importance. Well, at least it's watchable, provided that you can accept the illogic. Call it a "good episode substitute" and let it go at that.

Up next: It's time for a SUPERBOOK SIESTA as we take a look at the Titan Crew's "comeback" series of the early 1980s.

1 comment:

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Forget Kimba! That is one AMAZING biography of Dr. Smith!!!

Really, folks… Click on the “Dr. Smith” link Chris provides in his post!

It’s like someone did for Zachary Smith, what Don Rosa did for Uncle Scrooge in “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck”!!! Take offhanded references over three years of LOST IN SPACE and weave a whole life’s timeline for the character.

I’m particularly impressed at the major role the events of “The Curse of Cousin Smith” (…a minor Second Season comedy effort, that I always held as a guilty pleasure) played in the overall biography!

And even the flashback of “Collegiate Smith” stealing exam papers from “Visit to Hades” finds its way in there, after a fashion!

And, in ALL the years, never once did I consider that “Great Aunt Maude” was married to the legendary “Uncle Thaddeus”!

Joe.