Thursday, January 12, 2012

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 47, "The Cobweb Caper"

"Dangerous Journey" alone excepted, "The Cobweb Caper" is arguably Kimba's finest hour in a "classically heroic" sense. It's all the easier to root for the jungle prince here because he is forced to shoulder a heaping burden of adversity, both physical and psychological. Indeed, the key to saving the jungle from the predations of a vicious giant spider (Gilbert Mack, providing a far nastier variation on his Boss Claw voice) is a suggestion that Kimba makes while he's literally "out of his head." To be sure, many other animals pitch in to help -- given Kimba's parlous condition throughout the ep's midsection, they're forced to do so -- but the day isn't saved until the feverish, palsied Kimba lends a paw under the most challenging of conditions. Kimba doesn't truthfully get to fight here, but the ordeal that he must undergo is worth at least one or two punch-ups.

The episode's effectiveness is sharpened by the fact that Kimba must duel the spider all by himself during the eerie opening sequence. Thanks to some superb visuals and a bravura performance by Billie Lou Watt, an aura of tension, terror, and stress is sustained from the start. The sense of dread and impending doom is almost that of a high-quality horror movie... and, fittingly, Kimba must fight through one particular moment of horror that's arguably one of the most dramatic of the series.

As was the case at the beginning of "Running Wild," Kimba appears to be "tuned in" to danger menacing his subjects. By this time, I can easily believe that he's developed something of a "sixth sense" concerning what's going down around him. Speaking of senses, I have to assume that Kimba used his sense of smell to deduce that Boss Rhino and Samson were among the "web-fingered." It's not as if he were given any clear visual cues.

The spider's working methods seem a little peculiar. He seems content to leave certain animals right where they were neutralized (even unto apparently freezing them in mid-stride -- I didn't know spiders could do that), but he immediately takes Kimba to his lair. Does the spider have some inkling that Kimba is a jungle authority figure?

Whence the "sparklies" that we see when Kimba is spirited away, and, later, when Kimba is hanging upside down in the spider's den? Unless we've suddenly returned to the City of Gold or the Atlas Mountains, this is probably just an animation effect. Billie Lou almost plays it too casually when Kimba realizes that he's been caught in a spider web; the sweat pouring off Kimba at that moment suggests that he's far more scared than Billie Lou's "Well, how about that?" reading of the lines would suggest. BL will make up for this soon enough, though.

You almost have to laugh at the sight of Kimba's "inchworm" escape... that is, until you recognize that Kimba was never close to being this vulnerable when he was battling the Destroyers from the Desert or the lizards on Stony Mountain. In those cases, at least, he was fighting straight-up battles with all of his physical faculties at the ready. Even the baby Kimba tussling with the turbulent sea in "Go, White Lion!" had his entire body to work with. All that keeps Kimba from becoming an immediate canape at this juncture is sheer determination.

Sadly, we get cheated out of a chance to see how Kimba managed to escape the raging river. Not that this is anything new; remember how the scene of Kimba and the chief lizard tumbling into the gorge in "Dangerous Journey" was ruthlessly slashed? It's not as if anyone is going to "attempt these stunts" at home...

Kimba's shocked reaction to the possibility that all of his friends and subjects may have been destroyed is simply marvelous. Indeed, the pic below may be my single favorite still of the series. You can see horror, fear, and determination in Kimba's eyes as he pledges to "stop the spider" from further mayhem, even as he's grieving over what he believes to be the death of (1) his friends and (2) his whole dream of a jungle civilization. Better yet, you can hear these various emotions in Billie Lou's voice. No "Blah-la-la"-ing a la "Destroyers" here! Similarly, the "big gulp" that Kimba gives before tearing into the cave, fully prepared to fight the spider to the death, is parsecs removed from the comedic gullet-bobbing that he gave before going in to retrieve Tom and Tab from the Cavern of Goldopolis. It turns out to be a false alarm, of course, but Kimba has rarely been as unequivocally admirable as he is here. This is what true leadership is all about.

Cheshire Cat in reverse: notice how Kimba's subjects materialize in the cave, first their eyes and then their bodies! A nice trick if you can manage it.

Kimba's rather shamefaced apology to Dan'l marks the debut of a cute, albeit late-arriving, conceit: he refers to the baboon as "Uncle Dan'l." That phrase will pop up in several of the other remaining eps. I'd enjoy the phrase better if it had been used at the start of the series and then slowly phased out. Kimba honestly should not still be in an "old mentor/young mentee" relationship with Dan'l at this late stage of the game. Of course, recent eps have mixed depictions of a mature Kimba with portrayals of a childlike Kimba with no apparent rhyme or reason, so "there you go," as Greg Weagle would say. Dot, Dash, and Dinky's babyish caterwauling at least firmly establishes that they are not supposed to be nearly as mature as Kimba in this setting.

The run-up to Kimba's getting zapped by the tsetse fly nicely contrasts Dan'l's knowledge about the hidden dangers of jungle life with Kimba's still-healthy portion of civilizationally-shaped naivete. Still, it might have worked even better had Kimba been stung when he was a much younger cub, as opposed to the adolescent he is now. I certainly would think that Dan'l would have had some cause to warn Kimba about the danger prior to this. Isn't the jungle simply crawling with flies?

It strikes me that Kimba, having had no prior opportunity to develop any sort of immunity to animal African trypanosomiasis, should have been laid even lower by the tsetse's bite than he was. Kimba goes off the beam right away, which would appear to indicate that his system was completely unprepared for the shock, but, despite the loopiness and the perspiration, he never appears to be that close to death. He probably has those "hardy white lion genes" to thank for the tsetse's striking him such a glancing physiological blow.

After a pointless scene reminding us that the spider is really, really mean (was this some sort of flashback?), Kimba inadvertently provides the solution to the animals' dilemma when he gives Dan'l the idea of using spider wasps. (By the bye, those little buggers really are what Dan'l would call the spider's "pizen," and they do build mud hives, so thumbs up for the zoological shout-outs!) The others intend this to be Kimba's only contribution to the anti-spider campaign, but he ditches the humorously fatalistic Harry Hedgehog ("You're supposed to stay here and rest, but you're not going to, are you?" -- LOL!) and wobbles off to help out. Even in his poor condition, Kimba seems to realize that he's in no shape to battle the spider one-on-one; he merely serves as a decoy while the animals pepper the monster with wasps. He does, however, almost give the game away when he gives Dan'l instructions while the spider is right there to overhear them. Turnabout becomes fair play as Kimba repays Dan'l for previously taking care of him by hitching a ride when the spider appears to be bearing the baboon away to his doom. Then follows a cliff's edge climax a la "Monster of the Mountain"... and, while there don't appear to be any out-of-place piranha fish awaiting the spider in the river, even the Titan crew wasn't willing to muddy this obvious kill with any verbal qualifiers.

The ending scene could have been stronger; despite his ordeal, Kimba should certainly be able to recognize the difference between dangerous and benevolent beasties. But there's precious little to dislike here. It's a good omen for what will prove to be a rock-solid conclusion to the series.

Up next: Episode 48, "The Red Menace."

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