Wednesday, November 23, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 39, "Running Wild"

I got yer Thanksgiving turkey one day early, folks!

I'll never forget the first time that I saw "Running Wild," no matter how hard I try... and in this instance, you'd better believe that I've tried! This was one of the last eps I was able to track down during the "bootleg VHS" era, so you can imagine how delighted I was to locate it. Without having watched it first, I screened it for both myself and my longtime friend Joe Torcivia. Even as Kimba and company struggled to stop a mystifying antelope "stampede" (you'll understand the use of the quotation marks soon enough), I had no reason to doubt that the doughty jungle prince would ultimately save the day. It was, after all, what he did. Then the "crisis" came... and Kimba, to my utter horror, fell apart like a certain, long-forgotten Bonkers spear-carrier.

Every time I watch "Running Wild" now, I feel like channeling the Carl Barks Nephews during the sing-song, complete-the-sentence era: "Oh, the mortification! Oh, the humiliation! Alack! Alas!" As for Joe, I don't think that his opinion of Kimba has ever been quite the same. (Or perhaps my episode commentaries have swayed him on this matter. He can certainly enlighten me if that's the case.)

Believe me, I'd love to pass off Kimba's behavior here as being the result of an early episode being recorded out of order. In fact, there are a handful of hints that the bawling Kimba who lit out for the hills here was, in fact, supposed to be a fairly young cub. Still, there is no getting around the fact that the animals' farm, the restaurant, and even the new spirit of cooperation between Kimba and Boss Rhino are all clearly referenced, so it would be a stretch to regard the Kimba of "Running Wild" as being an insecure neophyte.

I don't know when the Titan crew got their paws on this episode, but it's apparent that they, too, didn't quite know how to handle the negative portrayal of their series' hero, or the undeniable fact that Kimba's last-ditch effort to save the antelope herd from self-slaughter was an "incomplete success" in the ignoble tradition of the failed attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages. A note of desperation can clearly be heard in the use of unnecessary narration and Dan'l's well-meaning, but frankly false, claim that "just a very few" antelope went to their doom as a result of Kimba's breakdown and the subsequent delay in sending out a "mass rescue mission." The ending is pure slapstick, which makes what has gone before all the harder to stomach. The worst episode of Kimba? Admittedly, it's hard to under-perform the likes of "Catch 'Em if You Can" and "Scrambled Eggs," and this ep is certainly better than those. But it leaves a much nastier aftertaste.

All things considered, Kimba's introduction as the jungle's "danger detector" -- a leader constantly on the alert for real or potential threats -- turns out to be ultra-ironic.

The impressive introduction of the antelope is accompanied by a brass-driven musical theme fully worthy of a John Barry score for a James Bond film. These opening scenes are so visually arresting that I'm surprised that no amateur detective ferreting out parallels between Kimba and The Lion King has remarked on their areas of similarity to the famous wildebeest stampede in the latter film. The major difference, of course, is that the antelope technically aren't stampeding as of yet. The scenes make up for the lack of frantic action with ingenious visual effects that convey the proverbial "sense of impending doom."

Bucky gets quite a lot of screen time here, and some amusing bits of characterization as well. His rough treatment of the antelope as they trample over the farm could be considered an overcompensation of sorts for his sense of "shame" at his "relatives'" bizarre and destructive behavior. Bucky's post-passage tantrum, culminating with the inadvertent beat-down of Kimba and the anti-climactic "...Where'd you come from?", is also quite funny. During the ensuing round of bickering between Bucky and Pauley, Kimba is strangely passive -- not a good sign! Then Bucky lives up to the latter half of his writer's bible description as "a fall-guy and optimist" by rushing off to make another attempt to stop the herd. Bucky may be a bungler, but he always means well.

Methusaleh's "info-dumping" contribution here isn't nearly as impressive as it was in "Legend of Hippo Valley." The accompanying visuals aren't as clever, for sure, but I'm actually much more perturbed by Methusaleh's apparent indifference to the fates of other creatures. So, fine, Methusaleh is a sleepy old hermit and basically wants to be left alone; why is he so dismissive of what might happen to one of Kimba's staunchest (albeit highly fallible) allies, to say nothing of the thousands of antelope that are headed for a watery death (in Lake Victoria, perhaps)? Show some frickin' empathy, you senile old furball.

The ep now marks time in rather infuriating fashion, with the "rescue" of Bucky taking entirely too long -- or weren't you hoping for a few more "herd-surfing" scenes besides the nine or ten Bucky gave us here? The rescue scenes don't do a very good job of logically leading us up to Kimba's breakdown. It's very difficult to see how the actions of Kimba, Boss Rhino, and others specifically caused the antelope to begin to stampede (in a rather genteel manner, but still...). Had Kimba done something in particular to spark the degringolade, then the resulting "shock" might well have been "terrible" enough to cause him to snap, and we would have had a bit more sympathy for him. Instead, Kimba's crash lands awkwardly somewhere between "hissy-fit" territory and "self-pity" land.

The subsequent visuals in Kimba's lair are very peculiar (not to mention positively painful to watch). For one thing, Kimba seems to shrink before our eyes, and not just psychologically:

Dan'l is later able to pick him up by the tail and paddle him with no apparent effort whatsoever. So what is being suggested here? That this is supposed to be taking place during the earliest days of Kimba's reign? Then why did he previously have his larger, more adolescent bodily form? Perhaps the Mushi artists were literally trying to show that Kimba's failure of leadership has "reduced" him in the eyes of others (think of the many American cartoons and comic strips in which an embarrassed character is depicted as pint-sized). If so, then their symbolic "joke" flew about 10 feet over most people's heads.

If Kimba's body is smaller in the lair scene, then his actions suggest that his soul has shrunk to the size of a pea. Snidely dismissing the fate of the antelope as no longer his business? Spitefully pitching into Dan'l for "daring" to be so "bold" as to punish him? Humiliation piled atop humiliation. Even Kimba's resulting recovery and rededication to the task at hand are partially blighted by (1) his inexplicable decision to make a pit stop at the restaurant for some sustenance and (2) his subsequent tearing off by himself without stopping to call upon the aid of other animals (luckily for Kimba, they followed him anyway). Unless Kimba specifically ordered some Super Goobers, I don't see the point of any of this.

Giving the phrase "tarrying at the flowing bowl" a whole new meaning.

The episode now tries to make up for lost time -- and face -- with a frantic finish. Even Ray Owens' superfluous narrative description of the goings-on smack of a carnival barker's strenuous efforts to convince passers-by that big doings are afoot. The construction of the last-ditch barrier (which, despite its apparent construction by means of throwing random boulders and logs into the canyon, winds up having a remarkably coherent appearance), the build-up to the arrival of the charging antelope, and the dramatic "structural failure" are all well-choreographed, lending a genuine sense of tragedy to what had so recently seemed like farce. Still, there's no way that the hordes of antelope who hit the water qualify as anything like "a very few" of the total herd. Kimba and friends are ultimately reduced to literally throwing objects on top of the remaining antelope in order to chase them away from the water's edge. More than a few antelope lives were probably snuffed out as a result. Hardly the climax of a triumphant, exquisitely executed rescue effort.

We get a few yukkity-yuks at Bucky's expense to close matters out, but the pitifully small number of antelope who are even on hand to participate in the farming lesson is anything but a joke. In a sense, the "downer" ending of "Running Wild" is an admirable reflection of Kimba's willingness to craft a story in which the good guys don't score an unequivocal victory. The problem here is that Kimba, thanks to his mid-course spin-out, didn't actually deserve such a victory. You'll forgive me if I don't exactly find that comforting.

Up next: Episode 40, "The Troublemaker."

1 comment:

Joe Torcivia said...


Ah, the antelope stampede!

It’s funny, you never forget life’s best moments – and those that are unexpectedly and embarrassingly bad! I’ll leave it to the readers to decide which best described our first viewing of “Running Wild”. Needless to say, I DO remember it to this day. That’s gotta count for something!

As for what I think, even today… My two most indelible memories of Kimba will always be “The Antelope Stampede” (…How many of those unfortunate creatures DID die? Oh, pardon me… “Lie Down and Rest a While!”) and “But Kimba, what about the BOMB?”

You dress up the series quite nicely in your always-enjoyable series of commentaries but, to me, it will always look weird and out of place stacked against the better cartoons of the sixties and prior.

…But, that’s what makes the animation world go ‘round!