Friday, December 9, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 42, "The Balloon That Blows Up"

A cute, charming, somewhat rickety, and generally sweet-natured episode that doesn't pretend to peddle any sort of grand, overarching theme of civilization-building, "The Balloon That Blows Up" delivers Kimba's most consistently realized portrait of "our hero as a youth." Kimba's more of a playmate to his pals Dot, Dash, and Dinky here than any sort of authority figure, and many of his actions are inherently childlike; he reacts in exaggerated fashion to outside events and suffers "endearingly cute" lapses in his logical circuitry. Kimba does get to initiate what passes for an "action scene" at story's end, but he gets considerable assistance from D-cubed in the process. For those of you who remember the Disney TV Animation series Jungle Cubs, "Balloon" has that exact same sort of breezy, carefree feel. Why the Tezuka organization insisted that this episode actually was meant to FOLLOW "Destroyers from the Desert" in time order, I couldn't begin to tell you. Perhaps "Balloon" exists in some sort of temporal wormhole in which the adult Kimba's son Rune, who appeared in the Kimba sequel series that didn't get to North America until the 80s, was allowed to stand-in for his too-busy-with-ruling Dad?

UPDATE (6/23/12):  The AnimeCrazy English video of "Balloon" was taken down a while back, and my other source of the English dub isn't working any more, so I'm linking to AnimeCrazy's Japanese dub of the episode.

And Tom and Tab continue to insist on their relevance. They're showing some initiative in snooping around a human camp, I'll grant them that much. Tab isn't even repeating Tom's words anymore. But what is Kimba doing in that tree in the first place? I assume he's "patrolling the perimeter" and keeping tabs on the humans (who, as we'll learn later, are nogoodniks, though Kimba doesn't have that "inside infor"). But, if so, then why bring Dot, Dash, and Dinky along?

Having thrown his weight around in more-or-less standard fashion in order to scare T&T away, Kimba quickly goes all "widdle kid" on us once he hops inside the balloon basket. Remarkably, HE'S THE FIRST ONE to make with the "bouncy-bouncies." So what was that about not wanting to damage other people's property? Dinky may strike the fatal blow by jumping on the control panel, but let it be noted here that D-cubed were just basically standing there until Kimba began to roll around. So what follows is, at its heart, Kimba's fault.

Mother Nature is soon doing her worst to (1) scuttle the aerial trip and (2) scare the kids out of their wits. This leads us into what, for Kimba, is a remarkably good singing sequence. The words to "Fly High" are very clever (though whoever wrote the words apparently ran out of workable "eye-rhymes," as indicated by the rather desperate use of "ball on a jai-a-lai"), and the Titan crew's singing performance is very good. (It's the exception, though, Billie Lou, the exception.) The African scenic eye-candy is icing on the cake (mixed metaphor alert!). It's impossible to tell in which direction the balloon is going, however. I'm guessing north, for reasons which will become clearer in just a second.

Even KIMBA wasn't above some product placement (though the
location details
are a bit inaccurate).

Following the crash landing, we meet Old Jeroboam (Gilbert Mack), who would probably be less "shortsighted" if he opened his eyes. Seriously, though, I think that the old farmer is supposed to be blind, or close to it. From his appearance, and the generally desert-y look of the surrounding fields, I gather that we are north of the equator and getting into some territory that is more Muslim than black-African, though still south of the Sahara Desert.

Out of what dusty recess of his childhood did Gilbert Mack pull Dinky's wildly anachronistic reference to "1, 2, 3 O'Leary"?! He couldn't have been inspired by this contemporary single, could he? The next thing you know, the jungle animals will be playing mumblety-peg and "keepsies." The "extreme home re-make-over" sequence is all of a tumbledown piece with the light, childish nature of most of the episode; the moles' busywork below the surface is to no apparent purpose, since all of the structural damage was to Jeroboam's house, and they wind up making things even worse before everything is finally fixed up.

The episode suddenly takes on a rather wistful tone when Jeroboam tells the youngsters about his absent son Half-Pint (a clever gag for the vinologists among the viewership -- which, given the intended target audience of 1966, probably numbered exactly zero). I think that the old man may be keeping an unpleasant secret from us here. If Half-Pint is such "a good boy," then why would he think of joining "a bad bunch" like The Flying Horsemen? I have a sudden vision of a very nasty father-son parting, with Half-Pint so desperate to get away from the dead-end life on the farm that he'd be willing to throw in his lot with a rebel army.

So when did Roger Ranger teach Kimba to WRITE?! That feat goes well beyond any ability to speak the human language, especially when you consider that Kimba (1) doesn't really have the physical equipment to take pen in hand and (2) probably doesn't get many chances to practice writing due to a lack of raw materials. I don't know about you, but I'm doggoned impressed with this.

Ah, now I see why Half-Pint (Mack) found the Flying Horsemen's offer so tempting -- he must have qualified for some sort of affirmative-action bounty. How strange it is for an African rebel army to apparently have one person of color in it. The blustering General Horsefly (Ray Owens) should really have told the Horsemen who were guarding the balloon that it had a bomb in it, else they might have gotten a terrible surprise when they shot at it after Kimba and friends took off. It's not at all clear what the Horsemen and the balloon were doing in Kimba's jungle in the first place. If the Goonies are the Horsemen's "neighbors," then what good would the balloon be so far afield?

Yes, Kimba, you have every reason to feel chagrined at that logical goof. No permanent damage done, though... for, almost immediately thereafter, all of the kids have suddenly dropped the excess weight. I do NOT want to know the details of that operation, thank you. Perhaps Kimba literally burned off the calories when he turned bright red in rage after the Horsemen attacked. This is yet another indication that Kimba is in full-fledged "kid mode" here; in no other episode apart from "The Nightmare Narcissus" does Kimba react in such a cartoonily exaggerated fashion to an outside threat, and he adds a lot more theatrics this time around.

What's black, and white, and red all over? No, it's not a newspaper.

We now get a mad-dash sequence that seems to be trying to make the episode a "serious adventure" in one frantic, final sprint. Dot, Dash, and Dinky actually get to do the heavy labor for once, delivering their finest team fighting form of the series; it even tops their rescue-charge at the start of "Jungle Fun." Seeing as how D-cubed are the series' most consistent representatives of the jungle's younger generation -- the group whom Kimba most needs to persuade of the importance of helping to preserve the civilization that he has begun to build -- I almost wish that they had had more opportunities to show their support for Kimba in this manner. Not that Kimba doesn't display considerable courage as well in his "drag and drop" operation, which predictably leads to the complete destruction of ALL of Camp Bongo (were those huts all filled with plastic explosives?!).

After the obligatory "our work here is done" scene, the gang... begin to walk back to the jungle. Given the unquestionable reality of that long balloon trip, I can imagine this taking quite a while. Say, maybe that's the secret to this episode: it took so long for the kids to return that, by the time they got home, Kimba had matured into an adolescent and put aside many of his childish ways! No? Well... perhaps they were able to hitch a ride with the crop-duster once his plane landed. A naive solution, to be sure, but a fitting one for one of Kimba's most naive -- and most good-natured -- episodes.

Up next: Episode 43, "The Monster of the Mountain."


Aussie Otaku said...

Nice review, mate. But I think the link's broken.

Aussie Otaku said...

Good review, but I think the link to the episode's broken. I can't find it anywhere.

Chris Barat said...


I re-linked to the JAPANESE version of the episode. That's all that I can find at the moment and the only one that AnimeCrazy (my usual source for the English versions of the eps) possesses right now. Thank you for alerting me to this.