To begin with, he was a capital-G Good Guy. He forgave his enemies, sometimes three times in one episode. He would travel miles to right a wrong, sometimes without even the satisfaction of doing so when he got there. He stood up for unpopular causes, all too often against friends. He saved the life of a rat fink who'd tried to kill him ten minutes before. (And these were his bad points.)
He was also Heroic in the tasks he undertook, not the least of which was the ruling of his kingdom -- keeping unruly subjects in line, dealing with reactionary subchiefs, and fending off attacks by would-be conqueror animals and human invaders (who were generally up to their eyebrows in technology, and who numbered some of the dirtiest stinkers ever to disgrace a species).
Add to all this the supporting cast he had to work with -- a collection of wise grandfatherly types, cute kids, stand-up comedy teams, villains sinister or stupid any of whom would have stolen the show at the least hint of blandness on his part and you begin to realize what I'm driving at.
For, with all this, Kimba constantly held center stage, never lapsing into a vanilla-pudding nonentity or a self righteous prick. We ramin interested in him because he was interesting; feel affection because he was lovable. How did he do it?
More than one of you will readily point out that Kimba was not a "plaster saint" -that under the noble ideals could be found a sensitive, emotional, believable individual. He laughed and cried; grew angry and impatient. He made mistakes, sometimes as a result of his ideals. He occasionally (however temporarily) gave up. Sometimes, heaven preserve us, he failed. This is a factor in his appeal; indeed, a major one.
It should also be noted that Kimba's lofty ideals had a way of not remaining abstract. Time and again, they would relate to concrete situations requiring urgent and immediate resolution. In "A Human Friend", Kimba's denunciation of the law of the jungle -- the strong survive, the weak die -- was no impersonal theory, but a defense of a crippled giraffe who was a friend to most of his listeners. His ideal of vegetarianism ("A Revolting Development", et al.) was shown to take its toll on Kimba himself, as his own physical needs intruded as atavistic nightmares. "The Magic Serpent" displayed kindness to the unattractive not only as a nice thought, but as a solution to a dangerous situation. "Jungle Justice" had Kimba oppose hasty judgment not in a vacuum, but in an emotionally charged situation that might have cost him a good many friends and forced him to defend someone he didn't like.
The supporting characters also played a part in "demystifying" Kimba's noble ideals. Contrasting Kimba's calmness with Pauley Cracker's volatile (and sometimes venal) nature, or his forward-looking with Dan'l's well-meaning conservatism, brought out the value of his outlook in a much clearer way than simple exposition would have.
But there is one factor in Kimba's appeal that might easily be overlooked. His feelings, his humanity (if you'll pardon the expression) were not simply "tacked on." Kimba the ideal and Kimba the character were a coherent whole; he was one not in spite of the other, but because of the other. To understand this, we must examine the major experiences of his life.
It's not hard to see that the loss of his parents -- particularly his mother, who, after all, he'd known -- would have a profound effect on Kimba. His first major decision was to accept his inability to save his mother and to save himself; his first major lesson -- at only a few months old -- was that sometimes one is helpless, and doing your best, doing what is right, doesn't take away the pain. Did he, in spite of the fact that it was his mother's wish, feel guilt for surviving? Did he make the association, deep within himself, between failure and loneliness, suffering? Did the thought perhaps come, "If only I'd been a little stronger, a little wiser, a little better, maybe..."? It is a fact that, ever after, the prospect of failure was likely to bring on fits of despondency that often grew quite alarming. ("Running Wild", "The Trappers", "The Cobweb Caper" and others.) This might also explain the lengths to which he would go (literally, in terms of distance traveled) in attempts to preserve life. ("The Last Poacher", "The Little Elephant", "Monster of the Mountain", "The Sun Tree".)
His relationship with his parents also clarifies his readiness to take up the burden of becoming the new king of the jungle. In "taking on the job", he brought himself closer to the father he'd never known except through the eyes of the one who'd loved him the most; he relieved whatever guilt he might have felt over his mother by carrying out her wishes; he found some reason, some justification for the suffering he'd gone through; and, incidentally, he left himself very little time for self-pity. In brief, kingship might actually have been more a relief than a burden!
His contact with humans also had an effect on Kimba, one beyond a simple inclination to try new ideas. In "A Friend in Deed" it is revealed that Roger Ranger, the closest thing to a human "regular" in the series, is the one who showed Kimba that all humans are not bad. James Brawn, though he appeared in only one episode ("Wind in the Desert"), also taught Kimba a valuable lesson: to temper pacifism with intelligence, and stand up for what is right. Extrapolated, these lessons are, "Judge every person on his or her own merits, and every action by the intent behind it and the results it produces. No one, and nothing, is 'automatically' bad." Any Kimba fan will recognize his consistent adherence to these principles, and will note ("A Human Friend", "Legend of Hippo Valley", "Volcano Island") that they were often the source of conflict between Kimba and his more hidebound subjects.
Friendship is an important part of Kimba's character. In "Great Caesar's Ghost", the first time Kimba had to contend with a recalcitrant sub-chief (Samson, chief Cape Buffalo) the support of his friends proved crucial in reinforcing his courage. Friends also proved invaluable on the occasions Kimba was wrong ("The Day the Sun Went Out", "Monster of the Mountain") , setting him on the right track again . In other instances ("Gypsy's Purple Potion", "The Wild Wildcat"), being a friend to another made the crucial difference. I belabor the point because it may provide an explanation for one of Kimba's few shortcomings: his trusting nature. It must be admitted that any villain smart enough to hand Kimba a line instead of thundering into a fray ("The Trappers", "Mystery of the Deserted Village", "The Pretenders") would generally fool him. But when you consider Kimba's life experiences -- the happiness, the relief from sorrow that comes from closeness to others, the cold loneliness without it -- you realize that, deep in his gut, he probably can't understand the depths of selfishness in other hearts.
one cannot speak of closeness in Kimba's life and ignore Kitty. On the surface, he seemed a little dense in his relationship with her. In reality, he was no more the obtuse swain than he is the insioid pillar of virtue. His feelings for her were quite clear as early as "Battle a,- Dead River", the episode in which they met. Considering the fact that he was still adjusting to being an orphan -- a brutal, but straightforward, statement of fact -- the extent to which he recognized his feelings may be more surprising than the reserve he showed in subsequent episodes. or perhaps not. Per-haps the need for closeness that is more than friendship is just as natural as a fear of getting burned again.
Perhaps the ultimate proof of Kimbals success as a hero and a being can be found in the things that stick in the memory. Kimba's speech on the futility of revenge in "The Trappers", as the tears come to his eyes ... Kimba the frightened child in "Insect Invasion", unable to turn to anyone save the memory of his father ... the con@sion of "The Gigantic Grasshopper", as Kimba, with the death cry of the grasshopper still ringing in his ears, realizes again that doing the right thing doesn't always make one feel a whole lot better ... the last scene of "Battle at Dead River", in which Kimba comes to grips with his own loneliness ... every Kimba fan could probably make a list of such moments.