Monday, August 15, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA, Episode 27: "The Chameleon Who Cried Wolf"

Finally have some time to get back to these. Remember that promise that I would be returning to the one-episode-per-week routine? Well, that's rescinded for just this one week. I plan to write up Episode 27 tonight and Episode 28 later this week.

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In the next two episodes, we meet two of the most "memorable" one-shot characters that Kimba ever presented to us. I put "memorable" in quotes because the meaning of the word is different depending on the particular ep.
Newton (Sonia Owens), the lying chameleon, is two characters in one (protective camouflage taken to an extreme?). He's extremely sympathetic on one level, but the other level is the "circle of Hell" into which you want the whiny, wheedling, kvetching little guy to be thrown, at least on occasion. The character's bifurcated nature proves equally frustrating for Kimba, who undergoes a minor sort of "meltdown" (which I'm sure the Titan crew softened up considerably from Mushi's original intention) and needs a verbal poke in the ribs from his girlfriend Kitty in order to get his head back on straight. Some of the aspects of the plot and the story structure are frankly inexplicable, if not downright irrational, so I can't honestly rate this as a first-class episode. But Newton alone certainly makes it "memorable." (There's that word again.)


There's a meaningful scene missing in Newton's opening "whine-o-logue" that would have helped to tee up his psychological predicament more effectively. Where the "Batman spin" was inserted here, there used to be a scene in which a hawk attacks a large snake at a waterfall. The foes battle and ultimately tumble, intertwined, into the foaming pit below. Without this setup to establish the world of "nature red in tooth and claw" within which Newton feels besieged, you get the impression that he's complaining about the mere SIZE of things.

Newton's "tear creation" gives away the store regarding his flexible honesty, but really, I would have preferred this to have been revealed by the character's later actions. Besides which, it's unnecessary, since Kimba has already welcomed him to the jungle. This is the first hint that Newton's lying has become an addiction of sorts, in the same sense that Dijon was hooked on thievery.

The first couple of tall tales that Newton spins illustrate a major problem with the episode -- the circumstances surrounding Newton's lies are not introduced in a particularly artful or logical way. The first one involving the ornery, mustachioed (huh?) Gaboo (Gilbert Mack) is introduced reasonably well, in the sense that we see Newton issue the initial fib, but Newton must be pretty fast to have been able to hide in the bush after telling all the other animals about Kimba's phony "plight" who knows how many meters away. The second phony scare, the one about the hunters, works less well; I'm a bit perturbed that no effort was made to explain how Newton started this latest rumor. Jumping from the animal train wreck to Kimba's browbeating of Newton is extremely jarring and makes Kimba look like more of a heavy than he really is (at least at this point).

At this point, Newton should probably be thankful that he isn't a bug.

Dan'l Baboon provides a segue into a sequence that winds up being an "origin story" for Newton's dishonesty, though it certainly doesn't seem so at the start; it begins as something of a symbolic montage (grasping trees, cloud monsters) of Newton's "sad life" in the wild before segueing into the real past. I gather from Newton's exchange with Gaboo that the characters already knew one another, so perhaps Newton was an inhabitant of Gaboo's neighborhood "down the river," and this fib-frenzy began only recently (which would explain why Gaboo was so bound and determined to get Newton to begin with). If so, then Newton's "fall from grace" was probably more like a plummet, as he now freely admits that he may be incapable of walking the straight and narrow, even when he wants to.

So Uncle Specklerex hasn't been feeling well? News to me. If Specklerex is under the physical weather, then Newton's psychological health appears to be ten times worse, as he lies to get out of playing with Kimba, Kitty, and the others, though he has absolutely no reason to, especially considering the "stakes" involved. Now Newton is acting like a pre-AA alcoholic with his "lying to himself."

I've watched the "Kitty attack... or whatever" sequence many, many times, and I'm still puzzled as to what the script was meant to convey. Did Tom, Tab, and Claw represent Newton's visualization of the lie he intended to tell, but wound up changing? Were the villains present at all? Did Newton see the three "nega-amigos," or did he see the same wolves as Kitty? My best guesses are that (1) Kitty really was attacked by Claw and his henchmen; (2) Newton didn't see Claw's gang or the wolves, because he was busy spinning his latest (unrelated) story; (3) Kitty managed to get away by herself and told Kimba so; (4) Kimba is cheesed off primarily because Newton's latest bid for attention may have caused him to be unaware of Kitty's peril. I'm at a loss to explain why the Titan crew couldn't convey such a relatively simple chain of events more effectively. Perhaps this ep was a rush job, or something. In any event, Kimba has now "had it up to the proverbial HERE" and we're ready for some Cat Scratch Fever.

This was a ticklish scene for Billie Lou Watt to pull off, and I think she performed it well. Using "you are" instead of "you're" in "now you are getting me very angry" was a good, subtle way to show that Kimba was trying to keep his temper in check without having him raise his voice. Then, when Kimba shows his fangs (and was probably making a serious threat to Newton's well-being in the original script), the impact is softened, but not entirely eliminated, by Kimba's sentence of banishment. For a small creature in need of protection from "The Law of the Jungle," what punishment could truly be more horrific than being ejected from the one jungle where such protection is guaranteed as a matter of course?

Kimba's "repentance" scene (from which I got my Blogger avatar, in case you didn't notice) includes a sudden cut from Kimba's "Oh!" moment to the flashback of Kimba and Dan'l discussing Newton's need for help. This also could have benefited from a dialogue cleanup, in that the subsequent scene shows Kimba loping with something of a downcast expression away from Kitty and Dan'l; it's almost as if he's slinking away in shame. Evidently, Kimba originally got a sharper reprimand from Kitty than the one the Titan gang provided. Perhaps she originally said "Some leader... don't you remember that you yourself promised to help Newton?" Works for me, especially since the search for Newton more logically begins with the shot of Kimba running at top speed. Billie Lou tried to mask this fact by giving the search a one-word false verbal start, but there really was no need to cover Kimba's posterior here. The damage had already been done, in a sense.

We now get the familiar Aesopian scenario of Newton finally telling the truth (about the wolves -- or, more accurately, jackals, but then, you've never heard of a story titled "The Boy Who Cried Jackal," have you?) and no one believing him. The interesting question here is why Kitty was the first to change her mind. You could always call her on being terminally naive, but my belief is that her status as an outsider made her more willing to entertain the possibility that Newton was being honest. She hadn't seen Newton in "dishonorable action" before that one banishment scene. "Pawsticuffs" ensue, with Newton finally discovering the extent of his "secret power" and mending his fences with Gaboo in the most directly meaningful way possible. Gaboo in turn shows his quality by forgiving the chameleon. After all of those confusing plot points, you certainly can't fault the nice, neat way in which the loose ends were tied up here.

Newton's post-battle offer to leave Kimba's jungle shows that he has a ways to go in the "building self-esteem" department... and, to be fair to him, Kimba never actually says that Newton is welcome to stay; he simply indicates that the animals will want to apologize and throw Newton the victory party. But I think it's safe to assume that Newton was, in fact, permitted to remain and will subsequently simply blend into the jungle background, much as he changes colors to match the tints of the different animals marching in the parade. Though I can think of a few eps in which that "tongue trick" might have come in handy...

Up next: Episode 28, "The Wild Wildcat."

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