Thursday, November 17, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA, Episode 38: "Volcano Island"

With the next three episodes of Kimba, the sledding gets a little rough... though we only have to endure half-an-episode's worth of lousiness here before the day is somewhat saved in the "second act." For its first 12 or so minutes, "Volcano Island" is a muddled mess of terrible puns, unsatisfactory slapstick, contrived conflict, irrelevant historical asides, and, arguably, the most senseless fight that Kimba will ever have to wage. Then the mountains start belching fire and brimstone, and the story becomes a straightforward, well-staged rescue mission, during the course of which Kimba and the recalcitrant Boss Rhino finally reach what appears to be a permanent modus vivendi. The breakthrough moment would have been even more meaningful had the duo's physical battle not been used to "re-establish" a conflict that had already been simmering for some time and did not really need to be "ginned up" in any way.

Once again, "teacher" Bucky plays the role of camp counselor, with Kimba as one of his charges. Reminds me of the opening scene of DuckTales' "Superdoo!". Admittedly, Bucky isn't the most effective leader, but this ep shakes him off with surprising swiftness. He hardly appears after the opening scenes at the island.

An island where amphibious fish evolved from... non-amphibious fish?! Amazing. Unfortunately, the startling biological implications of the fishes' abilities on land are ignored in favor of a torrent of fish puns. Ever willing to see the good in all jungle fauna, Kimba sticks up for the fish even after all the drowning attempts, with Bucky's angry suggestion to catch them "with a hook" (where would he get one?) calling forth one of the most peculiar facial expressions that the jungle prince will ever pull:

Maybe I should throw this open for a caption contest. What IS Kimba trying to "say" here?

I wonder whether the kids' idea to build a playground was influenced by the recent construction of the "amusement center" back home. They even build a water slide. Cubs and fish bond, fight off the moonlighting Tom and Tab's abduction attempt... and run smack into Boss Rhino's bullheaded (rhino-headed?) demand that his cousin (Gilbert Mack) needs the whole damn island in order for the latter's missus to have her baby in peace. The solution to this "dilemma" is SO ridiculously obvious: find a secluded spot on the other side of the island (which is large enough to accommodate several volcanoes, it should be noted) and let the kids play in peace.  Fer gosh sakes, Kimba even offers to pull the kids off the island until the baby arrives! So what is there to fight about?! But the challenge is duly delivered.

As can be seen from his dejected appearance following his talk with Dan'l, Kimba clearly understands that his upcoming struggle is completely senseless. He does perk up a bit after the chief fish (Mack) tells him about Aeslop the Smart, though it's hard to see how the tale is directly relevant to Kimba's situation. Kimba, after all, has already demonstrated (in "Restaurant Trouble") that he can best Boss Rhino in a one-on-one fight, and so wouldn't necessarily have to depend upon "trickeration" to defeat his adversary, as Aeslop did. I think that the intent here was to set Kimba up as facing "impossible odds" against Boss Rhino, but the existence of that earlier fight undercuts the message.

I love the brief but charming scene in which Kimba awakens, yawns, and stretches at the cliff's edge at dawn. Not that it makes the ensuing set-to any more palatable. Boss Rhino's desire to make this silly quarrel a "fight to the finish" simply applies another twist of the knife. After the pair have beaten on each other for a while, Kimba summons the spirit of Aeslop by... spotting a chance to call off the fight and trying to take advantage of it. Not that Aeslop actually did that, or anything like it, during his tussle with Goblin, but, amazingly enough, Boss Rhino not only "calls" Kimba's bluff, he folds completely! I guess that Boss meant to say "no FOLDS barred." So what was the point of all this, again??

...While Kimba discovers the disadvantages of trial by combat.

Mercifully, nature now intervenes (actually, I'm surprised that Dan'l didn't initially attribute all that rumbling to the Devil), and Kimba whips his jungle charges into rescue mode. Judging by what will ultimately happen to the island -- and by how close Kimba's jungle apparently is to the island -- I'm actually surprised that Kimba's kingdom didn't turn out to be the object of a rescue mission itself. Kimba evinces a clear sense of responsibility towards the creatures who live in the danger zone. I wonder whether he would have done so had the kids not visited the area recently. Perhaps one of the "lost episodes" of Kimba (yeah, I wish...) concerned the animals' first visit to the island and their initial encounter with the fish, of whom they are clearly aware at the start of this ep.

At 16:45, Kimba displays his tool-making skills (and not for the last time) as he quickly puts together the rescue raft with no help whatsoever from the Unseen Omniscient Builder Guy. Now the visuals really start to become quite spectacular, so much so that you can almost ignore the repetitive "pew-pew-pew" of the falling chunks of flaming debris. This shot is particularly splendid:

The unusual cast of Kimba's iris is a nice touch, amplifying what must be an impending panic attack. Kimba fights it off, though, and joins forces with Boss Rhino to bring the Cousin Rhino family to safety. Boss Rhino appears to fall back into jerk mode when he snaps at Kimba for touching the baby, but this is actually just the flip side of Boss' stubbornness; he is fiercely loyal to his charges.

After a lengthy trial by fire and about five climactic, "I REALLY mean it this time!" eruptions (one of which includes some red-tinted footage from a real eruption), Volcano Island finally goes the way of Gusto's, and we get the obligatory "everyone bonds in the end" conclusion -- though Boss Rhino, of course, has to have the last word, albeit a humorously forceful one. This would have been a classic had we not wasted so much time with that battle that should never have been fought; a simple squabble over territorial rights would have set up the cooperation angle just as effectively and not left us shaking our heads at the absurdity of it all. At least the episode redeemed itself at the eleventh hour. The next two eps won't be so lucky.

Up next: Episode 39, "Running Wild."

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