Sunday, June 5, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 17, "The Magic Serpent"

Kimba episodes very frequently had morals, but that didn't necessarily mean that they were moralistic. Usually, any life lessons that were learned were slotted into the context of some overarching adventure... though the "fit" was tighter in some eps than in others. "The Magic Serpent" is a reasonably good morality story, all things considered, but the rivets definitely show. The adventurous component -- Kimba's face-off against a lone-wolf would-be usurper -- has to be broken into two parts in an overly convenient manner, and a short flashback to Kimba's life in the human world has to be included, in order to lend sufficient bulk to a fairly simple fable about not judging people based on appearance.

Interestingly, the very next ep in the series, "The Runaway," will also feature a character -- Gargoyle G. Warthog -- who is misunderstood by others because of his outward form. Gargoyle's demons, however, are primarily internal in nature, whereas the smelly Rancid Reekybird (Sonia Owens) is presented as pretty much of a pure victim of prejudice. Psychologically, "The Runaway" is more satisfying, but "The Magic Serpent" has a better framing story. I'd have to rate both eps as about even in terms of quality.

Well, thanks loads, Mr. Narrator, for giving away the "magical power" of Puffy Adder (Gilbert Mack) before we've even formally met the character.

A vulture-esque bird very much like Rancid makes a very brief appearance in JUNGLE EMPEROR, visiting the animals' restaurant (which the TV series will be introducing just a couple more eps down the pike). There, however, the Rancid lookalike is pretty clearly a carrion bird. That would give other animals just as legitimate of a reason to shun Rancid as Rancid's smell (perhaps more of one, in fact; jungles have a way of being odoriferous by nature).

As if Ray Owens spilling the beans about the "evil eye" weren't bad enough, Puffy has to blather about it to Kimba, allowing the lion prince to be at least partially forewarned before "the beam goes on." It's as if Puffy is a supervillain who's arrived on the scene and told the hero exactly what to expect of him. It must be admitted, though, that this carelessness is believable coming from an exceptionally arrogant character. No doubt dominating a group of humans (who, from the looks of them, appear to be Indians of some sort -- apart from the bereted Tezuka cameo, of course) only added fuel to the fire of Puffy's pretentiousness.

Having done the "how great I am" routine, Puffy proceeds to demonstrate his mighty powers by... slithering away after a "fight" that is all chase and no clash?! How thoughtful of him to make way for the upcoming moral lesson, though I'll give him a few points for facing down Boss Rhino. Puffy would be much better served, however by hypnotizing Boss Rhino and other large animals into attacking Kimba than by using the critters he ultimately will coopt into doing the deed. Boss Rhino sticks up for Kimba here, an odd thing to do in light of the fact that he'll prove to be Kimba's harshest critic among the other animals, but he doesn't hate Kimba per se; he just dislikes Kimba's openness to ideas from the "stupid" human world.

What a trouper, that Kimba, ignoring the stench emanating from Rancid long enough to provide that well-timed pep talk. He then ignores his optimistic prediction that the other animals will change their minds about Rancid by forcing the issue while in his "Scrambled Eggs" schoolmaster role. The kids seem to recognize what's coming, as they pounce upon Kimba's "plaster and paint" comment and try to get Kimba talking about the human world. Kimba seems to fall for it but deftly shifts back to his "talking points" and the flashback story that will drive his moral home.

You know that a story has a dark tone when the role of the United Nations in the world is presented more positively than the outcome of a quarrel over a lost cat and a cash reward! The tone would have seemed even harsher had Kimba, Mr. Pompous, and the "Thames Triad" not been illogically capable of talking to one another. (By this time, "whatever works" appears to have become S.O.P. for handling the issue of animals and humans conversing in the Kimba "universe.") The jungle cubs don't quite seem to get the "barb" in the "tail" of Kimba's story, as Kimba concludes his narrative to gales of laughter. If they did miss the "barb," then at least they got the point, as demonstrated by their subsequent gesture towards Rancid.

I'm assuming that Pauley is referring to his experiences in the human world when he argues from the authority of TV detectives. In typical fashion, he takes his play-acting too far and soon becomes ensnared in Puffy Adder's mental web.

Speaking of which: Why does Puffy rely on birds to perform his dirty work? Wouldn't turning all of the larger animals in the jungle against Kimba be a more efficient plan? The problems with a Hitchcockian approach are that (1) you have to have a huge number of creatures involved and meshing together as a unit, and (2) Kimba could neutralize the attack simply by taking refuge under the heavy jungle foliage, where the birds couldn't easily get at him. Add on the fact that the birds' suspicious behavior gets Rancid concerned and then actively involved in the anti-Puffy campaign, and the rep of the "great magician" takes a major hit here.

How strong must Rancid be in order to carry Dodie Deer on his back?! And here I thought Foxglove's feat of remaining aloft while both Chip and Dale are hanging onto her wings in C&DRR #7 was impressive. In order for Rancid to be so strong, he'd have to be, what, two or three times as large as Kimba...?

Um... well, OK. This would be a little more convincing if Rancid's size hadn't fluctuated so much throughout the episode.

After Rancid's stench breaks the birds' spell, Puffy again chooses to retreat. And he wants to rule an entire jungle full of animals? In African colonies previously ruled by France, perhaps... This time, Kimba and Rancid refuse to let him off the hook, and there's no reason to disguise the giant snake's ultimate fate. The good Kimba does (in convincing the other animals to accept Rancid) comes back to him, and the "wheel of morality" completes its rotation. Not a great episode, but certainly a watchable one.

Up next: I'll be away next weekend, so will postpone the next KIMBA post until I get back. In the meantime, we'll take an ASTRO BOY BREAK later this week with an early ASTRO ep that greatly impressed me: Episode 11, "Strange Voyage."

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