Sunday, March 27, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 8, "The Insect Invasion"

A third straight good-to-excellent episode -- and this, despite a couple of fairly major "softenings" of the Japanese original -- this outing nonetheless features some rather controversial moments, namely, Kimba's first series of extended interactions with... his dead father Caesar's hide. These moments are sufficiently peculiar that they have even been used to label the entire series as an example of "Bad TV," which I think is ridiculously harsh. In fact, I have a perfectly solid interpretation of these scenes that should help leach a good portion of the "weirdness" out of them. More on that below.

The opening sequence of Kimba, Leopard (Gilbert Mack), Cheetah (Hal Studer), and Linda Lynx (Billie Lou Watt) trying to stomach skunk grass actually has more of a point than giving the actors a chance to display on-cue, overstated gag reflexes. The three meat-eating spear-carriers continue to appear off-and-on during the ep as a semi-humorous counterpoint to the otherwise serious goings-on. Interestingly, the later food-themed episode "A Revolting Development" takes much the same approach, with a goofy-looking lion being responsible for sowing discord among the offspring of the carnivores.

If you think that Kimba's reaction to Dan'l Baboon's suggestion that the animals "give up this farm idea" is a bit overstated, you shouldn't feel ashamed. According to Craig Anderson, Dan'l's actual (and far dicier) proposal was for Kimba to return to Caesar's old policy of stealing farm animals for the meat-eaters to consume. I thought that the idea was to free the farm beasts, as hinted at in "Go, White Lion!"? That would put Samson's actions in "Great Caesar's Ghost" in something of a different light. If Caesar really had such a policy, then you can hardly blame Samson for bringing the "sacrificial mules" with him; the water buffalo must have figured that Kimba, being Caesar's son, undoubtedly had the same policy. Craig reports that the 1993 redubbing of Kimba contained the harsher version.

Apparently, a certain species of crow really is indigenous to the part of Africa where the events of Kimba are supposedly taking place. No white feathering is visible on screen, though.

Are you as creeped out by the dream-image of the ravenous Kimba as I am? He never showed such a mouthful of fangage before, and he never would again. The scene provides a great segue into Kimba's first big "hide-bound" soliloquy... which strikes me as nothing less -- and nothing more objectionable -- than Kimba praying to his version of a religious relic or icon, the one tangible remnant of his ancestry. A few episodes down the line, "Journey Into Time" will flesh out the white lions' backstory and lend further credence to the idea that Kimba's actions here are simply a tactile honoring of the past, while "The Mystery of the Deserted Village" will introduce Kimba's sister Leona, whose devotion to the white lion hides is even fiercer than his own. Add on the fact that the TV series is simply reflecting a key detail of Tezuka's manga, and I don't really see what's to object to here... unless you're a writer of a guffaw-inducing pop-culture book with only a nodding acquaintance with the subject matter, that is. The fact that Ray Owens' Narrator speaks a few soothing words of explanation, however, indicates that the Titan crew was at least a little squeamish about the "ghoulish implications" of this scene.

Talk about creepy... the noise accompanying the "insect invasion" puts one in mind of some sort of alien attack! Later in the series, the insects would be described as "grasshoppers," but they look and "feel" a lot more like locusts (the connection to the Biblical plagues of Egypt is striking).

Cheetah's comment about "eating" the invading insects should have been expanded upon, since it is here that the carnivorous animals discover that they actually can stomach an insect diet. This convenient nutritional "swerve" would help to sustain relative harmony until a permanent solution to the meat shortage is found in "A Revolting Development." Perhaps Cheetah's smacking his chops was originally his announcement that insects are actually quite tasty (at least compared to skunk grass).

What is it about zebras "bailing" when the going gets tough? Do their two-toned bodies reflect a certain two-facedness? Besides, as vegetarians, they shouldn't be the ones abandoning the fields; it would have made more sense had the knuckle-headed meat-eating trio of Leopard, Cheetah, and Linda Lynx thrown in the towel. Notice that Dan'l softens what would appear to have been a pretty angry reaction from Kimba. I gather that "To the wild dogs with you, then!" was probably the gist of Kimba's original dialogue. Luckily, Kimba quickly shifts into proactive planning mode and puts in motion his elaborate plan to foil the second invasion...

...which he begins to lose faith in just at the moment of truth, leading to another "seeking of the hide." This second scene is carried off absolutely beautifully, though one piece of business is omitted; namely, a brief song from Kimba. Here is the Japanese version of the deleted scene.

As charming as this is, I don't think that it compares with the stark power of Billie Lou Watt's superb recitation, delivered without any background accompaniment. This strikes me as not exactly the ideal moment to deliver an "I Want," "I Wish," or any other Disney-esque musical number. This is Kimba briefly losing confidence and then demonstrating the truth of the old adage that true courage is doing what you need to do despite your fears... with the clock literally ticking outside. Doing it verbally is far more effective, I think, especially in the manner in which Kimba shifts from talking to/about Caesar to talking about himself and what he needs to do. Then, Kimba literally dons the mantle of his father and returns to lead his subjects. A wonderful scene.

The final victory is pretty straightforward in its presentation (and keep in mind that the insects are trapped in that cave -- that'll come up in several later eps). The very last scene, however, provides a significant "talking point" for those of us who believe that The Lion King was inspired by (nice version) or cribbed from (nasty version) Kimba. The episode "Round Springfield" of The Simpsons appears to have made direct reference to this "cloud scene." For some reason, however, most of the parallel-drawing attention appears to have gone to the final panel of Tezuka's JUNGLE EMPEROR. The animated version of the "cloud scene" seems to be a bit more relevant to the situation, I think, especially with its admission that the "white lion's burden" has well and truly now been passed. The appearance of Bucky and the three meat-eaters -- friends once again, rather than predators and prey -- provides a nice, circle-closing extra touch.

Up next: Episode 9, "The Flying Tiger."


Gregory Weagle said...

I find it silly that interacting with a dead hide as being creepy since I saw Baloo treat the SeaDuck like a human being and interacting with it a number of times on TaleSpin. So interacting with a hide (and how many hunters have a trophy of an animal's head in their basements again?) would merely be a small step further.

With that said though; I think it might be a problem now since it might imply that Kimba might be insane or have a mental illness of some kind.

Chris Barat said...


I think that, had Kimba been seen talking to the hide ON A REGULAR BASIS, then the "mental illness"/"insanity" issue might have been harder to argue against (and obviously would have made the future "life" of the series in reruns problematic). As it was, we only saw Kimba do it on a couple of occasions; this just happened to be the most prominent.