Sunday, September 4, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA, Episode 30: "Adventure in the City"

It's logical that Kimba WOULD wince when he thinks of this episode. Along with the (far inferior) "Running Wild" and "The Troublemaker," this is one of the few times that Kimba can be said to have had a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." He's not the only character who's off his feed. Uncle Specklerex follows up on the heels of a powerful debut performance with a peevish, irritating, bull-headed turn as a prideful elder who gets Kimba, Kitty, and Pauley into all sorts of trouble when he comes to visit Kimba's jungle. Kitty suddenly becomes a scold in what Bob Thing theorizes is a clever, elaborate attempt to "break" Kimba (sort of a distaff-powered reversal of the scenario of THE TAMING OF THE SHREW) but which plays out as a major turn-off, especially given the specific circumstances, which make Kitty out to be an ungrateful airhead. Even the three one-shot humans who play major supporting roles carry with them some "dreadful secrets," which duly come out at the end and provide a mostly humorous, slapstick-filled episode with a real "barb in the tail." Despite all this, "Adventure in the City" is a fun, if somewhat sloppy, ep to watch, in the manner of one of the better episodes of Goof Troop or Bonkers (and yes, such creatures certainly did exist).

I guess Uncle Specklerex didn't "apply himself" to "learn[ing] anything new" after "Journey into Time." Instead, he's trying a different approach to "prove himself" to Kimba -- an entirely negative one. First run down Kimba's "clean" and "peaceful" jungle, then bait the supposedly "unadventurous" younger lion into a contest. This is actually rather ironic, given the time at which Kimba was produced, the era of the 60s youth rebellion.

Kimba tries too hard to make himself look bad; who knows but what that vicious blow to the head caused the subsequent "brainfart" of jumping over the river? In any event, a resentful, embarrassed Kitty cuts Kimba precious little slack for his error. Just wait, she gets worse...

Specklerex continues to try to overcompensate for his advanced age by playing "Macho Lion" with the visiting Don Free (Ray Owens) and Arthur Scott Free (Gilbert Mack), then pressing the point by following them to "the city." I don't believe that this is the city where the young Kimba came ashore in "The Wind in the Desert," for reasons which will become clearer later. This place is clearly very close to the jungle; witness the suddenly-appearing paved road, not to mention how quickly the animals, even Specklerex, make it to town just using their pawsies.

Kimba puts his paw in his mouth when he criticizes Uncle S for going to the city; he should surely know by now that, for all of Specklerex' faults, Kitty has "a lot of respect" for her aged relative. But in the string of "comically unnoticed perils" that follows, Kitty should obviously know that she's being menaced at SOME point; after all, she cries out when the (narcissus-related?) vine grabs her and even speaks to the menacing snake. This isn't the scene in DuckTales' "Sweet Duck of Youth" in which Scrooge wanders through the swamp, completely clueless as to the lurking menaces. It's as if Kitty expects Kimba to save her as a matter of course (perhaps she doesn't think all this counts as a "crisis"?). Sorry, but this scene doesn't really work for me, even as a gag.

"And I said tie them together with a sheepshank, not a bow knot!"

Kimba continues his "anti-roll" by knocking over the garbage can and alerting the municipal carabinieri, or whatever they are, and we subsequently begin a very long slapstick pursuit sequence triggered by (1) Scott Free's fearful reaction to the lurking Mr. Trailer (Ray Owens) and (2) Specklerex' understandable unfamiliarity with the idea of a train. This train ultimately leads to the coast and, presumably, the city where Kimba actually did wash ashore. Perhaps this is a commuter train of some kind connecting the inlands with the coast.

The run-in with the signal tower must have croggled Kimba's brains once again, for he subsequently commits arguably his biggest sin of the episode -- going along with Pauley's decision to commandeer the truck. So what if the frightened driver (Gil Mack) decides to bail out and leave the animals behind?... oh. Cue the Speed Racer-style daredevil action, except it comes complete with an anthropomorphized vehicle. I wonder why Pops Racer saw fit to give the Mach 5 underwater driving capabilities but didn't include the "shake dry" option. I also wonder why so much animation was recycled in this scene, right down to the grass blowing back towards the windshield. Surely a few additional "bad driving" gags could have been created for the purpose? Even with all the repetition, there is some well-sculpted slapstick timing on display here, almost as good as the geometrically precise chase gags seen during TaleSpin's "The Golden Sprocket of Friendship."

I really wish that Mr. Trailer's "statement of purpose" had been left unspoken until what we now suspect will be a "big revelation" scene at the end. It wouldn't have been too difficult to have maintained the suspense as to why Mr. Trailer was so adamant about catching the elder Free, or why Scott was so determined to dodge him.

All things considered, Specklerex gets off fairly lightly for causing all this trouble; why, he even enjoys a breath of fresh air and a refreshing drink (or six). He also gets to vent his rage on the hapless humans once he gets free on the boat. (Nice continuity with "Journey into Time," BTW, in Don Free's comment that spotted lions are extremely rare.) Kimba is a bit rough on the humans himself, but he really had very little choice and was even thoughtful enough to apologize after the fact.

After Specklerex invades the Frees' remarkably huge cabin (check that overhead shot!), the slapstick abruptly stops and the ep turns deadly serious. Even the Frees' reaction to the lions' ability to speak is more of a sincere astonishment than the quasi-comical "A g-g-g-g-ghost!"-like reaction of the truck driver. After Don Free oddly teases a "return engagement" that will never take place -- was the Titan crew doing a CYA here, just on the off-chance that Don Free was "supposed to be" Roger Ranger?? -- we get a decidedly bittersweet payoff to the Free-Trailer conflict. Yes, Mr. Trailer is satisfied that Scott admitted his guilt -- and, by so doing, pulls an Inspector Javert, Inspector Gerard-like last-second turnaround -- but what kind of fallout will ensue from the fact that Don now knows the truth? In a sense, I'm glad that the ep didn't show Don forgiving his Dad. Sometimes, it's better to avoid the pat ending and let the audience imagine what will happen in the future. That's what makes for thought-provoking TV.

The ending scene with Kimba, Kitty, and Uncle S has a somewhat "tacked-on" feel, and it's not clear that Uncle S has completely learned his lesson -- after all, he still has SOME pride -- but that doesn't detract from an enjoyable watch.

Up next: Episode 31, "City of Gold."

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