Sunday, September 25, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 31, "City of Gold"

For me, this episode will always be the "Kimba meets Uncle Scrooge" ep. Actually, that's putting things a bit too strongly (ya think?). It's more like, "Kimba brushes up against a scenario that Uncle Scrooge would have given his back teeth to experience." No matter. For that glimmer of a Barksian vibe alone, this will always be one of my true favorites among Kimba episodes, despite the occasional logical hiccup. (No, El Capitan, I'm not referring to you. Just go right ahead and keep on digging.)

The ep is also notable as our first really extended exposure to Kimba's little pals, Dot, Dash, and Dinky. In several future "Kimba cast as a young child who just happens to be the king of the jungle" eps, D-cubed will treat Kimba very much like a peer, even mocking him on occasion. Their role in "City of Gold" is more satisfying and believable, because they basically serve as "junior partners" to "big brother" Kimba. Sure, they bait him a little bit on occasion, but they definitely see him as a role model to emulate.

If "Goldopolis" sounds contrived, that's because it is. The original Japanese opening narration clearly refers to the lost city as Timbuktu. (Actually, Timbuktu isn't really lost, just simply way down on its luck, but that's another story.) I rather wish that the Titan crew had kept the Timbuktu reference, given its historical heft. For it to make sense geographically, however, we would have to mentally shift the location of Kimba's kingdom many hundreds of miles to the north, away from the savannah country in which we typically envision it as nestling. So perhaps the change to an entirely fictional city makes sense, after all.

Try laying Dot's "We want to see something very spooky!" on the ticket-seller the next time you go to the theater to watch a horror movie. I'd love to see the person's reaction.

The ep makes its one sort-of-compromise to the "Kimba the Kid" genre in our hero's comically exaggerated reaction to the prospect of going into dreaded Twin Skull Cave after the fleeing Tom and Tab. Even so, Dot's wheedling, "butter-wouldn't-melt-in-her-mouth" encouragement still plays into the notion of D-cubed looking up to Kimba as an exemplar of true courage, to wit: doing what needs to be done despite your fears. And Kimba delivers, plunging into the abyss... though, after the fight with Fang near the conclusion of "Journey into Time," he probably should have been even MORE freaked out by the bats than he was. The shadow-effects on the cave walls presage what will turn out to be one of the series' more visually impressive eps.

Kimba's "turning Toon" (how else would you explain where he got the vine?) is a good lead-in to his violent meeting with the lost Tom and Tab. This scene reminds me a bit of the subterranean intersection of Scrooge, HD&L, Flintheart Glomgold, and El Capitan in DuckTales' "Treasure of the Golden Suns" part two (aka "Wrongway in Ronguay"). T&T, who are quite effective in their "tweener" role here, flip from villainy to obsequiousness with comical rapidity. It won't be the last 180 they perform herein, to be sure.

It was well established in "Dangerous Journey" that the flying lizards don't like sunlight, so it's not a surprise to see a colony of the critters down here. Kimba, Bucky, and D-cubed got to the cave rather quickly, so this saurian swarm is probably completely independent of the colony on Stony Mountain. They possess many of the same moves, though, or at least the recycled animation indicates as much.

Kimba sure is one amazing animal. Not only does he come equipped with built-in radar, but his tail appears to be constructed of adamantine! How else can you explain the thoroughly inexplicable maneuver that gets Kimba and T&T over the gorge and away from the lizards?! The subsequent double cross comes as no real surprise as we're actually teased regarding Kimba's possible destruction. But, with a caudal appendage like that, can anyone seriously believe that Kimba's second long fall of the episode has finished him?

D-cubed's comical turn at "going to the rescue" again indicates that they are clearly supposed to be considerably younger than Kimba here. I could have done without the "Look, she's so goofy!" pose when Dot shouts "GO!," however. At least the kids attempt to accomplish something, unlike Bucky, who, despite his role as the "teacher" and "adult authority figure," is pretty much useless throughout.

The return of Gold (Hal Studer) and Rush (Gilbert Mack) finally reveals their role in the ep over and above serving as Kimba's punching bags. Question: If Goldopolis is really, most sincerely "lost," then how can anyone possibly have a map leading to it? They didn't even have to figure out any tetchy clues a la the Ducks' deciphering of the Treasure Ship in "Golden Suns."

The reunited Kimba and T&T, of course, have no real use for Goldopolis' gold; the script amplifies this fact as T&T pine for water when riches are all around them. But I would think that the architectural importance of the city -- and the potential for hordes of humans coming to dig it up and disrupt Kimba's nearby kingdom -- would be reason enough for the animals to want to keep the city hidden. Kimba's later promise to the guardian Granddaddy Turtle (Mack, essaying an old, Spanish-sounding voice that sounds for all the world like a more gravelly version of El Capitan) not to reveal the location of Goldopolis arises, I think, from Kimba's simple sense of honesty and fairness, but this thought had to be lurking in the back of his mind somewhere.

It occurs to me that a turtle is not exactly the most efficient guardian that one could have for a treasure, but Granddaddy T. proves to have most unusual powers. No doubt he developed his locomotive skills during all those years of isolation. The business about wanting to keep the gold from being stolen makes no sense on the face of it; the city has been buried and lost for hundreds of years, so why would he be so paranoid about theft that he attacks visitors without even trying to determine whether they have hostile intentions? Perhaps he was simply desperate for food (I certainly can't see where he would get his comestibles from). Or maybe the natives of Goldopolis tried to loot the city during its downfall, and the memory has rattled around in Granddaddy T.'s mind for all these years.

I think that the Titanistas goofed when they had Kimba say that he would "let the water out" to cause Granddaddy T. to slip and fall. There is no water in the area, as T&T's yowling makes clear. Given that the liquid seeped out of a fire pit that would have no source of fuel otherwise, I'm guessing that Kimba let loose part of some sort of a naturally occurring oil deposit.

Kimba certainly doesn't show his love for these humans at any point, eh? After the second beatdown of Gold and Rush, we get the deus ex machina of the earthquake, featuring some very impressive effects (though the exploding statues and pillars seem like overkill to me, and the neatly descending rock spurs outside Twin Skull Cave bespeak the show's budgetary limits). As always seems to be the case in such situations, the heroes manage to escape in much shorter time than it took to get into "the spot they were in." It's especially impressive in that Granddaddy T. never got a chance -- at least, not on screen -- to TELL Kimba how to get out of the cave. It's also surprising that Gold and Rush are given an official exit scene. I know we'll all sleep better knowing that those two made their getaway. (It's almost as if G&R were being prepared for a return engagement, but they never appear again.)

"Lost his home"... and that ain't all, as the gang's tearful goodbye to Granddaddy T. makes abundantly clear. (Actually, this "deadly cover-up" is handled with delicate grace compared with what we'll be seeing in the next ep.) We close with a legitimately fine piece of ending narration from Ray Owens that links T&T's "return to the dark side" with the eternal vagaries of the natural world. "And things are again as they were" (except for Granddaddy T. and Goldopolis, of course)... as another teller of treasure tales would no doubt add to the Narrator's sentiments.

Up next: Episode 32, "The Last Poacher."

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