Sunday, October 9, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA, Episode 33: "Jungle Justice"

Here is the literal antipodes of last week's "The Last Poacher" -- the Kimba episode that eluded my grasp longer than any other. In fact, I don't believe that I ever saw it until I purchased The Right Stuf's Kimba box set.

I'd like to report that this "last dram of the coconut milk" was a hidden masterpiece, but, in all honesty, it's a pretty cut-and-dried, no-frills ep -- with one significant caveat. After the series has already lavished all sorts of attention on Kimba's attempt to supersede the age-old "Law of the Jungle" and establish the rule of something close to "human law" in the jungle, "Jungle Justice" pops out of the brush and delivers a big ol' raspberry to the very notion of such a hifalutin' scheme actually succeeding. Despite Kimba's efforts to give the arrogant, decidedly unlikable "special guest hippo" Clunker (Gilbert Mack, reusing his voice for Billy Bully and Big-O the Bad Baboon) a literal "fair trial" after the latter is accused of spiriting away little Harold Heron (Billie Lou Watt), the "courtroom scene" dissolves into indecorous chaos, to which Kimba himself ultimately lends a paw or three. Moreover, Kimba's Perry Mason-esque last-second presentation of some new evidence (1) doesn't stop the degringolade and (2) only becomes available in the first place because of Kimba's survival of a "trial by combat" in a neighboring jungle. If martinis were as well-mixed as the messages here, then we'd probably all be barflies.

Link to episode at Hulu

Watching the visually impressive opening storm scene makes me wish that more episodes had centered on the animals' being faced with challenges posed by nature itself, rather than some human or beast with malevolent intentions. The storm merely serves to set up the ensuing action, but it's an eye-grabber -- and don't forget Kimba's rescue of the helpless chipmunk; you'll see something similar, and rather more significant, a bit later.

At 3:45, after the Herons mention Clunker for the first time, we abruptly move forward in time to Clunker's trial, and... wait, Dan'l is ALREADY prepared to pass sentence on the recalcitrant hippo?! First strike against the judicial system. True, Dan'l wanted Kimba to let "The Law of the Jungle" take its course as far back as "A Human Friend," but surely he's learned to accept Kimba's more humane way of handling things by now, else he wouldn't have been put in charge of the trial in the first place. But Kimba only just now begins to act as Clunker's de facto attorney, so I guess that Dan'l has been taking the Red Queen's advice on how to supervise a trial.

Hippo Boss (Ray Owens, at least this time around) is an interesting sort of "tweener" character. He's not nearly as antagonistic towards Kimba as Boss Rhino, or as hard-headed as Kelly Funt, but neither could he be considered an actual ally of Kimba's. Mostly, he and the other hippos simply want to be left alone. We'll learn in "Legend of Hippo Valley" that the hippos have a distinct set of mores and taboos that have been in operation since long before Kimba, or even Caesar, came to the jungle, and of which even Kimba seems to be ignorant. Here, however, Hippo Boss' laid-back approach to "internal discipline," which might not have amounted to much trouble had it been kept "in-house," has had a "slopover effect" that now threatens the peace of the rest of the jungle. I'd like to believe that Hippo Boss took this as an indication that he needs to be more cognizant of the wider world, but, as we'll see in "Legend of Hippo Valley," the lesson didn't stick for very long.

After watching Harold Heron and "squadron" in action, I'm almost prepared to grant Clunker a pass on that revenge business. "Harmless prank," my tail feathers. Of course, Clunker quickly boots away whatever sympathy he has engendered by stubbornly refusing to own up to his obvious dread of thunder and lightning. It's already clearly evident that Clunker, for all his big talk, doesn't have the internal workings to do anyone in, even an annoying pipsqueak with a bent for attempted asphyxiation.

"The Top Rungle Jungle" sounds more like a Speed Racer place-name than a Kimba place-name to me. It also sounds like a more "upwardly mobile" version of Kimba's jungle, a place where the "best of the best" animals congregate... which spells trouble for the citizens who occupy the lower rungs, like the chipmunk for whom Kimba does a good turn. The burly hippo King Blackbrows (Ray Owens) certainly evinces a superior attitude, as he insists that Kimba fight and beat him before he's willing to give Hilda Heron (Sonia Owens) "permission" to deposit her evidence. (So who gave Hilda "permission" to leave the jungle during the storm in the first place?) It's tough to know how to parse this scene. Despite the mocking laughter and the tough-guy persona, I don't get the impression that Blackbrows is really all that antagonistic towards Kimba; he is merely following what I assume is "standard jungle policy." Could this be an ironic comment on Kimba's determination to fashion his own jungle in a more humane image? If Kimba is allowed to do that, after all, then what's to prevent another jungle from charting out its own course? After our favorite white lion plays Androcles and he and Blackbrows are saved from the monster vines (man, even the plants in this jungle have an attitude!) by the "Gang of Fang," Blackbrows suddenly goes all "nice guy" on us, even asking Kimba to make a return visit someday. Somehow, I don't blame Kimba for letting that invitation die on the (monster?) vine.

No sooner does Kimba secure and present his evidence, of course, than the carefully constructed "legalistic web" that the animals have constructed to adjudicate such disputes falls apart, and everyone commences to a-fightin'. Note that, for all the yelling and threats, it is Kimba who literally strikes the first blow when he pitches into the hippos, so he's anything but an innocent bystander in this case. I gather that we're supposed to regard Harold's sudden reappearance and the ensuing reconciliation between the herons and the hippos as a "happy ending," but it is "happy" only in the strictly negative sense of not being "sad." Quite the cautionary tale, isn't it?

Up next: A KIMBA two-parter! Episodes 34 and 35, "Jungle Fun" and "The Pretenders."

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