Sunday, October 30, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA, Episode 36: "Monster of Petrified Valley"

This episode has gradually grown on me over time. Watching it cold, you're likely to find special guest star Colosso the Brodo Bird (Ray Owens) more than a little irritating, rather like an oversized Bubba Duck without the latter's childish charm (or all those pop-culture references). Despite the effort to put something of a "smiley spin" on it, the ep's ending is definitely a downer. With repeated viewings, however, you'll begin to notice, and appreciate, some good voice-acting performances and to become intrigued by the ep's slightly different "take" on the overarching theme of Kimba's introduction of "civilization" to the jungle. Kimba has nothing but good intentions here, to be sure, but Colosso might legitimately be considered one of the "victims" of the the former's determined push for a "new jungle order." If you squinch up your eyes long enough to "see red," you might even catch a glimpse of an inherent critique of cultural imperialism, of the nasty fallout that often results from a "clash of cultures," especially when one side holds all the important cultural advantages. "Petrified Valley" isn't a classic, but there's more substance than one would expect in what basically amounts to a series of (theoretically) comical misunderstandings.

In eps like "Petrified Valley," "City of Gold," and "Legend of Hippo Valley," Kimba appears to be completely unaware of certain "local myths and legends." You'd hope that it would take something less than a crisis (the danger to peril-braving Charley [Ray Owens] and Harley [Gilbert Mack] Cheetah, who appear to be "splitting the difference" of the standard "Cheetah" character between them) to get Kimba up to speed on what are, after all, potential sources of trouble and rancor in and around his kingdom.

Kimba's typical reactions to stories of monsters, spooks, and legends are relentlessly rational. It's amusing to note, though, that he's at least willing to accept the possibility that a monster of some sort might be menacing Charley and Harley. Dan'l, by contrast, immediately ridicules the notion -- a rather amusing face-turn coming from a character who was so quick to attribute earthquakes to the Devil in "The Gigantic Grasshopper."

So who told Kimba how to get to Petrified Valley, anyway? Did Pauley impart the info between sneezes but we somehow missed it?

The voice of Harvey Hedgehog (Billie Lou Watt) seems a little different here, a little higher-pitched than normal, though it's pretty much of a "tomato"/"tomahto" distinction. This will be one of little Harvey's biggest roles, so it makes sense to bring him on stage early in the proceedings, even if it's just for a "Chinese restaurant menu" gag.

Keep those rumbling rocks at the entrance to Petrified Valley in mind; you're seeing them for a reason. The Narrator helpfully tells us what anyone can plainly see, namely, that some sort of gas is responsible for the paralyzed state of the other animals in the Valley (who include among their number "dead ringers" for Cassius and Gargoyle G. Warthog). This makes Kimba's realization of the danger less impressive than it should have been. Perhaps the Narrator's spiel should have been replaced by Kimba doing some verbal, off-camera detective work to figure out what is going on. Not that Kimba himself seems to have much to worry about from the gas -- he does fall down for a moment, only to just as quickly right himself. Do I sense a cut here?

Colosso's sudden, and suitably dramatic, appearance on the scene begs a thunderingly obvious question -- why isn't HE affected by the gas? We learn in just a little while that he lives in a cave, but even that location wouldn't be safe, since the gas issues forth from "cracks and crevices" in the Earth, presumably including subterranean ones. It seems irritatingly convenient that the only two critters who don't seem to mind the miasma are precisely the ones we need to get the main plot moving.

Kimba's brief laughing jag is a wonderful "humanizing" moment for our jungle prince. He's flashed a good sense of humor in past episodes, to be sure, but that was always tempered by the essential seriousness of his character and the burden of his civilizing task. Here, we're suddenly reminded that he is just a kid, or at most an adolescent, and therefore prone to laugh at silly sights despite himself. (Billie Lou's performance of the laughter is great, too.) Kimba then frees the trapped, and extremely embarrassed, Colosso by nearly killing him with a giant boulder. Too funny.

Could it be that Colosso isn't aware of the effects of the gas, despite having lived in Petrified Valley for so many years? "I guess I just paralyzed [Charley and Harley] with fear"... so how does he explain all those other animals lying around? As we'll see, obliviousness is probably Colosso's most distinctive character trait. Scrooge should have saved his irritated comment re Bubba: "I know, I know -- he does'nae understand!" for the Brodo Bird.

So what sort of critter is Colosso, anyway? We get a hint when Dan'l tells the story of the Brodo Birds and their forced exile from Madagascar. The Brodos developed in isolation, so it is quite possible that they are direct descendants of some sort of prehistoric creature. My best guess is that the Brodos are an evolved form of Archaeopteryx, the "missing link" between reptiles and birds. The episode confuses the issue a bit by showing Colosso slavering over flowers and a would-be meaty tidbit (Harvey Hedgehog), leaving open the question of whether he is a plant-eater or a meat-eater.

I am extremely grateful that the Titan crew did not try to "sing over" the chorus of children's voices during the singing sequence. In this case, it made sense to preserve the original Japanese background chorus of "Sing a Human Song" from "A Human Friend." The downside is that we get an additional earful of Colosso's maddening "Lo-Lo-Lo" song. I believe that the term "earworm" was invented for just such situations as this.

Kimba's generous but misguided attempts to "enable" Colosso's, er, eccentricities begin to backfire in a major way just as "the rainy season" kicks in. In truth, it's rather tough to assess the amount of "blame" that Kimba deserves for bringing Colosso back to the jungle with him. The problem is that we never actually saw the conversation in which Kimba made, and Colosso presumably accepted, the offer of jungle citizenship. Did Kimba, remembering Colosso's earlier lament that he "[wished he] had some friends," mistakenly take Colosso's benign (read: oblivious) indifference for acceptance of the offer? Or did Colosso leap at the chance to leave? For this to be a tragedy -- and it ultimately turns out to be one -- we really need to see the moment in which the fatal mistake was made. Barring that, Kimba's efforts to make Colosso feel at home seem like thoughtful gestures that simply don't work out the way they ought to.

Ironic, isn't it, that a representative of the very species that "felled"... er, "got rid of"... er, "took care of"... the Brodos comes to Colosso's defense when everyone else is ready to run the clueless creature out of Dodge without a second thought. Extra points go to Harvey for being so forgiving, but wouldn't landslides in the Valley in past "rainy seasons" have been an issue long before this? This reminds me of the DICK TRACY villain The Mole, who suddenly began having trouble with melting snow flooding his hideout at the exact moment when Tracy was trying to track him down.

Once you get another glimpse of the wabbly rocks in Petrified Valley, you just know what the denouement is going to be. Dan'l can "Monday-morning QB" all he wants about his belief that Colosso "would have wanted" to be "felled" on his doorstep, but Kimba's yell of despair at Colosso's fate is the true end of the ep. There's no question that Kimba feels some share of responsibility for what happened to the Brodo, that he regards the incident as one of his few outright failures. The fact that Kimba probably can't put his paw on exactly why he should feel at fault for what is basically an unfortunate accident makes his "roar of regret" all the more painful. It's another great example of how this "kids' cartoon," despite all the editorial attempts to soften the blows, was able to tackle big ideas and powerful emotions with remarkable thoughtfulness and subtlety.

Up next: Episode 37, "Legend of Hippo Valley."

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