Sunday, March 6, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 5, "Fair Game"

Sometimes, refusing to accept the obvious can have severe consequences. Take this episode, for instance. An intriguing first glimpse into Kimba's past experiences in the civilized human world, a fairly dramatic conflict between the heir of Caesar and another heir (of sorts) who appears to resent the white lions' privileged status as jungle kingpins -- for most of its length, this ep has all the makings of a classic. Then, by refusing to acknowledge the obvious death of a character who perishes in pretty much the exact same way as did Caesar in "Go, White Lion!", the Titan crew in effect ties its own hands and forces the ep into a patently absurd ending. For mismanaged denouements, this makes the abandoned "super miniature bomb" of "The Wind in the Desert" look like a spent and sputtering Fourth of July squib. The episode still holds plenty of interest, but it could have been so much better had the performers trusted their audience just a bit more.

Lamenting a lost opportunity?

An OUT OF NOWHERE opening (and a nice one, with a catchy musical theme tossed in) provides us with our first glimpse of Mr. Pompus (aka "Old Man Mustache"), one of the most famous members of Osamu Tezuka's unusual "rota" of supporting players. Tezuka used and reused a number of distinctive-looking characters in several of his manga, always playing different roles in the story. Mr. P., for example, served as Astro Boy's teacher and as a freelance detective in the Paul Murry MICKEY MOUSE tradition (assisted by a young version of Roger Ranger in the latter role) before getting assigned to the duty of being the grown-up Roger's uncle in Kimba. The excitable Mr. P. is the kind of guy who spouts cliches (already in full evidence with his string of French-isms here) and refers to tourist guidebooks (as will be seen later). Gilbert Mack has pretty much the perfect voice for him.

Kimba makes it sound as if Roger and Mr. P. picked him up "on the coast" (the same one seen in "The Wind and the Desert"?) and then traveled directly to Paris as some sort of modern version of the "Grand Tour." As you might imagine, the white lion's "period of acculturation" in the manga was considerably longer; when he adopted Kimba, in fact, Roger was still a young boy. It would have been remarkable, in any event, for Kimba to have been trained so quickly, to the extent that he would be able to visit museums and use public bathrooms.

How can the animals know the countries? Well, the later ep "Two Hearts and Two Minds" reveals that Pauley Cracker spent part of his life among humans, too. Being a parrot, he might have picked up some French quite naturally. As for the others, perhaps Roger filled them in. It's still kind of amusing, especially when you compare Kimba with The Lion King, in which the animals seem to exist in a world without humans.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I ought to mention that Sonia Owens in real life is much nicer than Mary, who's even more of a whiny bitch here than she was in "A Human Friend," and for even less reason. Mary's so negative towards Kimba here that it's a wonder that she agreed to accompany Roger on his trip into the jungle in (the continuity-corrected version of) that episode. Her comment "why should we be kind to animals?" ties in with her attitude towards the human-animal relationship as displayed in the manga. For his part, Roger displays the patience of Job in putting up with her.

Dated visions of "The World of Tomorrow... Today!" are always interesting to mine for unintended laughs, and the "Paris World's Fair" -- entirely fictitious, BTW, though appearing to borrow the world globe from the 1964-65 Flushing Meadows fete -- certainly delivers at least some of the goods. "Melting the polar ice caps to make them livable" used to seem as good a way of dealing with the overpopulation crisis as allowing people to live on the ocean floor, but both "pipe dreams" have pretty much been fatally compromised. The obligatory robot exhibit, besides providing a golden opportunity for an Astro Boy cameo, is accompanied by the same "bleepy-bloopy" sound effects that frequently turned up in "lab scenes" in the Astro Boy series. (I wouldn't be surprised if some of those other robot models originally appeared on Astro Boy, as well.) And do we have "one-day flowers" by now? Perhaps the Coke Zero guy could inquire.

Geraldine's brief mention of the animals' farm "lets the white lion out of the bag" one episode early: the farm will be established in Episode 6, "Jungle Thief." It also suggests that this ep was recorded after that one.

Trivia question: Can you identify the two "farmer paintings" that Kimba sees in the museum? It took a bit of digging, but I found the originals online. Answers below.

The marble-mouthed Speedy Cheetah (Owens) gets the subplot of the episode going with a literal bang -- but where the holy hay did Speedy originally LEARN that Caesar "punished" his grandfather? As we'll soon see, this (false) charge may be all of a piece with a general sense of resentment that Speedy's clan harbors towards Kimba's "legendary" father.

Can you really blame Dusty (Sonia Owens) for "flushing" Kimba out of the bathroom? Even if he "really hadda go" (and it sure looks as if he did), Kimba couldn't have expected a human to take that "invasion of private space" lying down. The confrontation provides the (rather contrived) means whereby Kimba enters the domain of Ed Norton's hero, Pierre-Francois de la Brioche, and meets Speedy's Grandfather Quasimodo (Owens). Apart from his problems with "water on the face," Kimba, who must be pretty young at the time this tale takes place, actually handles himself reasonably well in the fight with the old cheetah, who seems to possess abilities far beyond those of the mortal Acinonyx jubatus. (To wit: Spider-Cheetah!)

The visit to the police, aside from providing a Gallic non sequitur (the Prefect [Ray Owens] quitting the premises with a "Bonjour!" -- no wonder we hear the flushing toilet again as a reaction), leads to an obvious question. From the looks of things (mostly the stains on his body -- and I'm not interested in their origin, thanks), Quasimodo has been in the sewers for quite some time. So why are the police just now getting around to searching for "the monster"? Did they make an earlier effort, only to -- I almost hate to say it -- surrender?

Hard luck and living underground for so long have evidently given poor Quasimodo a touch of schizophrenia. Consider:

(1) He promises to fight until he "destroys" Kimba, then suddenly stops when he realizes how much Kimba resembles Caesar and starts a conversation.

(2) He claims that he's "not complaining" about his status, then turns right around and begins to -- you guessed it -- complain.

(3) He "wants to go back to the jungle," then suddenly decides that he's too old to make the trip.

Addled though Quasi's mental state may be, he deserved much better than to be given a cheesy "extra lease on life" when he is obviously shot by the police. The police actually had more reason to shoot Quasi down than Caesar had to be killed by Viper Snakely, since the old cheetah was charging right at them. If Quasi's death had been acknowledged, then Speedy's angry, disbelieving reaction to Kimba's story of what Speedy would surely have regarded as a pathetic, unworthy death would have packed far more emotional punch. The last fight would have represented Speedy's last psychological stand against what he no doubt sees as the pride and arrogance of the "too-perfect" white lions, and the tender scene in which Kimba licks the defeated young cheetah would have symbolized Speedy's final acceptance of the truth.

The final sequence was originally a "dream idyll" in which Kimba imagines a future world in which humans and animals coexist peacefully. Given that humans show both nobility and meanness in this episode, this was probably intended to be sort of like an animal's-eye version of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Dream"; humans and animals have a long way to go to realize the promise of coexistence, but the goal is certainly worth striving for. Instead, thanks to the refusal to accept Quasimodo's fate, we're left wondering where the "animal airport" is, how Kimba's followers will exchange "animal money" for francs, and how one validates "animal passports." A real shame.

Trivia question answers: The Angelus and The Gleaners by Jean-Francois Millet, both on display in the Musee d'Orsay (though not in 1965, when this ep was produced; the Musee, a converted train station, did not open until the 1980s).

Up next: Episode 6, "Jungle Thief."

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