Thursday, December 29, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 46, "The Return of Fancy Prancy"

It's been almost exactly eleven months since I announced this series of posts. We're headed down the home stretch with only seven episodes to go. Six of them are good to outstanding. Unfortunately, we first have to vault over this stinker in order to get to them.

Like "A Friend in Deed," "The Return of Fancy Prancy" seems to be radically out of place in the "official" Kimba episode order. The Kimba we see here is explicitly presented as a juvenile, but that's not the worst of it. The jungle prince's authority over the other animals also seems to be in a nascent stage, which it clearly should not be by this time. In no other episode are Kimba's prerogatives as jungle leader repeatedly questioned on the basis of youth and (apparently) nothing else. Even when Bucky scolded "pupil" Kimba at the end of "The Troublemaker," he qualified his disciplinary action by saying that Kimba was a wonderful leader in spite of his behavior. Here, by contrast, Bucky is among the characters who give Kimba the "hey, kid, stay off my lawn!" treatment. To say that such an attitude doesn't ring true at this stage of the game is to state the obvious.

Unfortunately, Kimba comes off nearly as badly as some of his subjects here. As the jungle community tears itself apart following the homecoming of the "citified," self-absorbed Prancy Cheetah, Kimba essentially stands aside and lets it happen... at least, until he washes his paws of the whole mess and goes off to sulk in his lair. Then, when an invading army of ants threatens the safety of the jungle, Kimba basically pooh-poohs the disappearance of one of his best pals. To accept this level of indifference from the hero of "Jungle Thief" and "Dangerous Journey" is to demand the absolutely impossible. To be sure, Kimba redeems himself in a grand spasm of last-minute valor that manages to nudge this ep over the "low bar" of "Running Wild," but it's hard to ignore what came before. Internal evidence suggests that the Titan crew dubbed this episode sometime in the Summer or Fall of 1966; I wouldn't be surprised if they were a little taken aback at its profoundly retrograde approach.

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The kids' tree game (with no apparent safety precautions -- tsk tsk!) immediately alerts us to the fact that we're in "Kimba the Kid" mode. Perhaps the tykes are also playing "Character Mash-Up" in that Dot suddenly has a masculine voice, Wiley Wildcat has changed his name to Lynxie, and, most significantly, Dash is taking the role of "Speedy Cheetah" for the duration. Perhaps I should call Wiley "Wynxie" and Dash "Spash" the rest of the way?

It's a shame that Sonia Owens had to waste her delightful Southern accent (for Prancy) in an ep like this. Might the accents of Prancy and her former owner indicate that Prancy was brought up in... South Africa? (Ba-dump-bump!) Prancy's ex-missus makes a clear reference to the movie Born Free, hence my remark about "internal evidence" above.

Strange that "Wynxie" should be the character complaining about Prancy epitomizing a "citified" wild animal. If anything, Kimba, with his extensive experience in the human world, should have been the one to make that comment. But then, Kimba seems almost willfully obtuse in the early stages of this episode.

The old definition of a "Southern belle" as "a bulldozer disguised as a cream puff" certainly applies to Prancy. What's more, Prancy's wilfuness immediately appears to rub off on "Spash," who commences his own nose-in-the-air routine. It is this one-off moment, we'll ultimately learn, that apparently convinces Kimba that "Spash" deserves to be bitten to pieces by the ants. But did "Spash" actually do anything specific to rate such treatment?

Scarlett O'Hara would probably have killed for the "powers" that Prancy starts to exert once she determines that she wants to live in her own home. Holding a mystical attraction for other leopards/cheetahs/?? is one thing, but Prancy's "siren song" proves to be irresistible to other animals as well. Even if you grant that he was partially under Prancy's sway at the time, Rapid Cheetah's angry demand that "you kids" abandon the tree is exceptionally maladroit, just begging for a forceful Kimba to set things right. Kimba, instead, folds up like an accordion at a single wink from Prancy. Then, Kimba quietly acquiesces in Dan'l's decision to try to settle the bad feelings kicked up by Prancy's presence himself. Is Kimba a lion or a RINO in this episode?

The jungle's division into pro-Prancy and anti-Prancy factions is no doubt the silliest internal conflict that Kimba's kingdom ever experiences. Dan'l's claim to Kimba that "This is bigger than the both of us!" is, however, even more laughable. This situation is just screaming for something akin to the "open your borders some of the time" resolution of the Speed Racer episode "The Fire Race," yet Kimba refuses to exercise even the faintest sign of leadership -- passing over in silence Bucky's numbskulled comment about not getting involved in "grown-up matters," letting himself get dragooned into Dan'l's army, and finally blowing the whole conflict off with a childish "I don't wanna fight." He gets one final chance to put his paw down and stop the madness when Dan'l comes to tell him that he's been selected to face Rapid Cheetah in the "trial by combat," but he passes it up. We don't get a single "breakdown moment" akin to the one that disfigured "Running Wild," but this "death by a thousand cuts" is almost more distressing.

The dramatic ant invasion -- accompanied by a legitimately creepy musical motif that wouldn't have seemed out of place in a 1950's sci-fi movie -- gets everyone back on the same page. Even here, though, Kimba just seems like "one of the guys," cowering in the tree along with all the other animals. Strangely, everyone seems to be concerned with saving themselves, while the danger to the farm is not mentioned. Wouldn't this threat to the farm be just as dire as "The Insect Invasion"?

Prancy finally acquires some lovable qualities (those not impregnated into others by song, that is) when she panics over the absence of "Spash." Alas, we then get the painful sequence in which Kimba essentially writes poor "Spash" off. Dan'l's wrong; this is far worse than simply being "snooty." Indeed, Kimba probably deserves a brisk thwacking here even more than he did in "Running Wild." This whole sequence ONLY works if one posits the Kimba of "Fancy Prancy" as a very tentative, inexperienced leader who has not yet internalized the important truth that every animal under his rule deserves to be protected, no matter what the cost or risk may be.

To his credit, Kimba clambers over the "tipping point," sees the light, and just as quickly clambers down the rock face to rescue "Spash." A dramatic scene, and well played by Billie Lou Watt, who is in superb form the rest of the way... but again I ask, what is this "Road to Damascus" moment doing so late in the series?

The "salvation by burial" scene was also cadged from the manga; it was Kitty doing the burying and an unconscious (and considerably older) Kimba serving as the bury-ee. For me, however, the ultimate comics version of this scenario will always be from this story. (Oddly enough, in Episode 48, "The Red Menace," Kimba and his friend Pee-Wee the elephant brave a fiery ordeal similar to that faced by Donald and the boys. In that situation, however, they are more passive would-be victims than anything else.) Kimba's dramatic leap from the precipice -- with the ants trailing behind like so many spooked antelope -- almost makes up for his poor showing earlier in the ep. Almost, but not quite. It'll take more than one bath to wash that particular stink off.

The precise location of the reunion scene is a lot more confusing than it needs to be. Since Prancy locates "Spash" right away, we're presumably back in the jungle, at the place where "Spash" was buried. Kimba's "return" and Dan'l's claim that Kimba is "coming back," however, suggests that Kimba returned to where the rest of the animals had been waiting. So what happened? Did all the animals come back to the jungle, or did Kimba come back to them? This problem is present at the creation, not a product of Titan dubbing, so I don't know how it could have been repaired.

I have to admit, I got a chuckle out of the concluding bicker-thon between Dan'l and Prancy. Having met the Owenses, I can appreciate how far OUT of character this was for them. It does rather queer the mutual forgiveness of the previous scene, though. But, then again, it seems fitting that this particular "chamber piece" should end with a blown note. From here on in, though, Kimba will make plenty of sweet, sweet music.

Up next: Episode 47, "The Cobweb Caper."

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