Sunday, October 23, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA, Episode 35: "The Pretenders"

Refer to last week's entry to get caught up to speed on the first chunk of this wildly uneven two-episode tale.

After we learn of Kimba's near-fatal accident at the end of the extended flashback, everyone seems to remain in a bit of a daze for a while. Kimba's lair is suddenly perched on the edge of a precipice, presumably to lend the long, slow tracking sequence even more drama and pathos than one would expect it to have under the circumstances. For purposes of security and safety, I can think of a whole lot of reasons not to have Kimba's home in such a place.

In all honesty, despite his shaky opening response to the faithful Kitty, Kimba doesn't seem all that badly injured. We see a bandage on his leg, a few dirt streaks, and that's about it. For sure, it won't take him very long to snap back to full strength. In their brief (and utterly pointless) dialogue following the lair scene, Bucky, Dan'l, and Pauley actually come across as far more somnolent and mind-croggled than our wounded jungle prince. C'mon, Gil, "I'm afraid he's plotting some kind of revenge" shouldn't sound so, well, wistful.

Kimba's "He must really have changed... but completely!" is a fascinating line to me. Out of nowhere, Billie Lou Watt suddenly tosses off a bit of slang that was 20 years out of date at the time this was recorded. It's like a character in a WWII-era movie suddenly breaking into a chorus of "Vo-do-de-oh-do," or a "contemporary urban dancer" abruptly adopting trash-bag pants and an open vest. (Magic shoes optional.) Then, when you factor in the odds that a lion in the middle of Africa, even one with an ultra-rare gift of speech, would come up with such a phrase independently... But if you think this was anachronistic, well, just wait until the curtain goes up on Tom and Tab.

OK, I'd almost be willing to accept T&T magically producing hats and canes out of nowhere, since they are arguably the most consistently "Toony" characters on the show. In their effort to convince the jungle youngsters that "the bad guys have all the fun," it would have been perfectly fine for T&T to have play-acted in exaggerated fashion, perhaps mutating themselves into "international objects" along the way. But I defy even the staunchest proponents of the "anything goes in Toontown" theme to explain how the hyenas managed to stage THESE "antihero animal antics" in the manner depicted.

The Wild West and Kimba do NOT mix! 'Nuff said.

Well, this sequence actually did work for me, at least a bit. I like the character design on Captain Kidd's cat a great deal; this character might even have worked as a legitimate "furry" somewhere else.  Perhaps he could have done a walk-on on some series like Cats & Company.  But, still, we are supposed to believe that the boys were somehow able to stage a SEA battle on a stage in the middle of the jungle... and how did T&T learn of all these characters, anyway? Did they visit the Jungle Library where Roger Ranger got his reference materials?

All of a sudden, I'm nostalgic for the Al Vermin era of Bonkers.

One unfortunate side effect of this entirely-too-long side trip to Toontown is that we never actually get to see how Cassius, T&T, and Claw managed to lure all of Kimba's subjects into being captured. Distracting the children, I can see the logic of that, but where were all the adults while this was going on? And how did Claw et Cie. instantly manage to construct a massive rocky barricade, complete with sturdy wooden gate, around the amusement park? After this cascade of improbabilities, I can almost understand Kimba's seemingly foolish decision to try and smash the gate down himself. In such a seemingly random "universe," why couldn't Kimba pull off such a feat? Perhaps if he hadn't been so *ahem* "badly hurt," he might have done it.

In his dialogue with the wrathful-turned-tearful Kimba, Claw drops the pretense that he wants to "rule" the jungle in a manner even remotely close to Kimba's. Earlier, Dan'l reported overhearing Claw say that, with the other animals imprisoned, he "[wouldn't] have to hunt for his food." Now, every animal for roughly 75 miles around must have heard Claw threaten to "destroy" the others unless Kimba abdicates. Strangely, however, Claw will soon be trying to arm-twist Kitty into becoming the "queen" of a presumably functioning kingdom. So what would Claw and Kitty be ruling, exactly? Maybe he needed to consult with Big-O on that matter before proclaiming his enmity to the assembled masses.

Kimba's breakdown and sad, silent retreat are the first truly powerful scenes in what has, up to now, been a crazy quilt of an ep. In "Running Wild," just three episodes down the line, Kimba will suffer an out-of-nowhere emotional collapse that is so over-the-top and improbable, it's actually half-comical. Here, Kimba isn't bawling, he's legitimately weeping for what he clearly believes is the death of his dream. Also, there's a real sense of finality to Kimba's gradual, self-sacrificial disappearance into the wilderness. Not until "Destroyers from the Desert" will Kimba appear to be so thoroughly vanquished.

So, we're now officially in "action drama" mode, right? Wrong. We still have to endure one final gag-stuffed sequence in which Claw piddles away virtually all of the dignity that he had managed to earn through his fearsome performances during "Jungle Fun" and the park-gate scene. If anything, Kitty doesn't slap him down hard enough for making such an ass of himself.

And I thought tigers... I mean, Tiggers... didn't live in Africa.

If you have good eyesight, then you may have seen The Black 4 snatch Kitty and haul her under the gate and inside the park. Like their sudden appearance at the end of "Jungle Fun," what they were doing there wasn't explained. Now, following up on Cassius' whistle, we should have gotten our formal introduction, or a reasonable facsimile, to the conniving quartet. The lyrics (translated below the Youtube of the deleted scene) don't explain why the B4 are specifically working for Claw, much less what they expect to get out of the deal, but they do clearly establishes the leopards' freelance brand of villainy.

Living in the dark, we are the Black Four. Come to us and tell us what you want. We specialize in... Doin' dirty business in style! The infamous shadow of evil. Yes, we are the Black Four. Excuse us, but we have to go. We're off to do another job... We'll get it done... Piece of cake!

Or not. The B4 give a much better account of themselves in battle during "The Day the Sun Went Out," and one reason may be that they are working for themselves in that situation. Amazing how self-interest focuses the mind and toughens the sinews... just as the threat of being eaten galvanizes Kimba's subjects into putting up a much stiffer fight against Claw and his minions here than they did in "Gypsy's Purple Potion." Kitty leads the charge, flashing her most ferocious fighting skills of the series. Next in line for awards are, if you can believe it, Dot, Dash, and Dinky, who alternate stomping on Tom and Tab with treating the hapless hyenas as literal punching bags -- a little less impressive than the brave attack at the start of "Jungle Fun," perhaps, but impressive nonetheless. I only wish that more animals had been given a chance to visibly pitch in, as opposed to fighting in the "FCC-friendly dustcloud of doom" (thanks, Greg).

Characters seem to be able to "teleport" to where they need to be with shocking ease in this ep. How did the B4 track down Kimba so fast? How did Dan'l manage to find Kimba equally fast? Above all, how did Kimba locate that "weak spot in the wall" so effortlessly, after spending several minutes beating his brains out in a frontal assault? The fight between Kimba and Claw is the most vicious one of the series -- check out the bit in which Claw grabs Kimba in his maw and worries him like a Jack Russell terrier manhandling a chew toy -- but, even here, Kimba doesn't really maul Claw as much as out-wrestle him. The beaten Claw's tottering rise to his paws, however, underscores this as being the evil lion's "ultimate defeat." He would indeed appear again, but never again would he pose such a dire threat to the peace and safety of Kimba's jungle. We may also safely assume that the amusement center would endure for the duration, thereby cutting off Claw's source of food and, presumably, forcing him to ultimately "abandon the field" for purposes of survival.

Dan'l and Kimba provide a fitting end to a schizophrenic story by, respectively, spouting off a Revolutionary War-era non sequitur and channeling "Fair Catch Corby" for no apparent reason. Surely, the most "epic" story of the series -- in structure, if not in content -- deserved a better wrap-up than this rather lame coda. Or, perhaps the very pointlessness of the ending makes a point. All that Kimba wanted to do with his amusement park project, after all, was to allow the animals to enjoy a little harmless and, yes, pointless fun while engaged in the arduous task of building a civilization. Not every vestige of "human civilization" worth imitating has to possess gravitas, after all.

Up next: Episode 36, "Monster of Petrified Valley."

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