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Tale Spin Episode 32, Last Horizons

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The first review I posted on this site was of Episode 33 of Tale Spin, "Flight of the Snow Duck."  One of the commenters asked me if someday I might review some of the other Tale Spin episodes.  I have decided that today is that day.  "Last Horizons" is probably my personal favorite episode of the series, and also one of the ones I was requested to review.

If you haven't heard of the series or read my last review, Tale Spin was a Disney animated series from the 90s that featured characters from the classic film "The Jungle Book." However, rather than set the series in 19th century India, they set it in a 1930s America-esque pulp adventure setting with the anthropomorphic animals taking on human roles.  Baloo, King Louie, and Shere Khan are all there (though oddly Bagheera and Kaa are not), but now they are a cargo pilot, bartender, and industrial magnate, respectively.  Numerous other anthropomorphic animals not in "The Jungle Book" also appear as characters.

This episode begins with Baloo and most of the rest of the supporting cast listening to the news in Louie's bar (it's the 30s, so there's no TV yet).  They are hearing the exploits of a famous explorer who is having a parade held for him, when Baloo destroys the radio out of jealousy.  He wants a big parade too.  Rebecca, a female brown bear who is Baloo's boss, explains to him that parades are for somebodies, and not everyone can be a somebody.


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Now, at this point in the series Baloo has discovered at least four buried treasures.  He has uncovered major piracy rings in the Bearmuda Trapezoid and the Master Run.  He has saved the city of Cape Suzette (his hometown) from an attack by death-ray wielding air pirates.   He has proven the existence of the afterlife by encountering a ghost.  And in episode 28 he proved mind-body dualism to be correct when he and Kit (his young navigator) got their bodies swapped.  All these accomplishments, and he's not a somebody?!  What did that other guy do, punch out Galactus?

Baloo goes on to talk about how he almost was a somebody.  He tells how he almost found Panda-La, the City Beyond the Last Horizon (an obvious play on the lost city of Shangri-La from James Hilton's 1933 novel "Lost Horizon").  He vows to find it again.  Somehow he manages to talk Rebecca into letting him use the Sea Duck, her company plane, to do so.



Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE Baloo flies into an arid mountain range and is quickly lost.  He is forced to land by a tornado.

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After landing  Baloo is able to find Panda-La, a towering city of pagodas built on a large plateau.  It is inhabited by a race of anthropomorphic panda bears with Chinese-sounding names and accents.  This follows what was at the time a common Disney practice, having Asian characters be portrayed by Asian animals.  Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers did it a few times too.


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Wan-Lo, the leader of the city, greets Baloo.  The Pandarians prove to be very hospitable.  They give Baloo food, housing, a ton of free stuff, and repair and refuel his plane.  They do, however, seem to be hiding something.  Wan-Lo becomes very evasive when asked how they managed to build a giant city of pagodas on top of an arid mesa.  The Pandarians also seem to be stockpiling an unusually large amount of rockets.   Baloo also sees a children's toy that has the remarkable ability to seek heat, and Wan-Lo frantically attempts to divert his attention from it.


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Eventually Baloo leaves, his plane overloaded with gifts that will prove the veracity of his story to the skeptical people of Cape Suzette.  As soon as he's gone the Pandarians pack up and follow him.  And I don't mean they pack up and leave the city.  I mean they pack up the city. 

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Now the story takes on a major conceptual shift.  The first ten minutes or so of this episode were a pastiche of the novel "Lost Horizon" by James Hilton.  From here on though, the episode is a lot more like the "Doctor Fu Manchu" novels of Sax Rohmer.  Baloo heads back to Cape Suzette, and the Pandarians follow him in giant pagoda-balloons.  Then they blow up Cape Suzette's entire military with cannons and rocket launchers.   That heat-seeking toy from earlier is used to make heat-seeking rockets to blow up airplanes.  The Pandarians declare that the city is theirs now and order the current inhabitants to leave.


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Stricken with remorse, Baloo decides to try his best to make things right.  He fills the Sea Duck with ice and flies into the air, dropping bombs on the Pandarian airships.  The ice renders the Sea Duck undetectable to the heat-seeking rockets , but eventually the sheer volume of fire brings Baloo down.  He is captured by the Pandarians.

Fortunately, Baloo's friends stowed away on his plane.  They release him and escape from Pandarians.  This teaches Baloo the lesson of the episode, which is as long as you have friends, you're a somebody to somebody.  As they run from the guards Baloo spots something that may allow them to defeat the Pandarians after all, and uses a rocket to get to his plane.


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Baloo dumps the ice and then flies around, waiting for the Pandarians to shoot heat-seeking rocketd at him.  When they do he uses his piloting skills to lead the rockets through the largest pagoda and into the armory.  The rockets collide with all the stockpiled weapons and an explosion tears the giant pagoda apart.  Rockets that were lit by the explosion fly out in a chain reaction and detonate the smaller pagodas.  Baloo barely manages to escape. 


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At the end Baloo does get a parade for saving the city from the Pandarians.  Even though he learned earlier that he doesn't need one, since he has friends.  But they get to be in the parade too, since he couldn't have done it without them.  We never learned what became of the Pandarians, presumably the survivors were relocated somewhere. 

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Overall, this is a really great episode.  It manages to do so much in 22 minutes.  When I got older and watched it again I was astounded that it wasn't a two-parter because I remembered so much happening.  The discovery of Panda-La and its subsequent invasion of Cape Suzette is conducted with a lightning fast pace, but it never feels rushed.

The scenes where Baloo is searching for the city convey the thrill and terror of exploration wonderfully, and the sense of wonder is palpable when he finally discovers it.  The reveal that the Pandarians are a city of conquerors is excellent, the music they play when the city takes off is wonderfully ominous.  The battle over Cape Suzette is excellent too, with tons of over-the-top aerial action.  This is simply one of the best episodes of the whole series.

I also think that this might have been the first time I'd ever heard of the concept of "Shrangri-La."  Like many kids of my generation, my first exposure to many of the classic stories and archetypes of our culture was when they were referenced by a cartoon.  I think it's a really wonderful thing that the writers decided to try to inject a little cultural literacy into the storyline, especially in such a fun way.

One issue that I should probably also bring up is that this episode was briefly taken off the air.  The reason seems to be that some people thought that the Pandarians were an offensive stereotype of Asian people.  I didn't find that aspect of the episode particularly troubling, and apparently Disney decided the complaints were frivolous as well, since the ban was eventually lifted.  The writers were careful to insert a line explaining that not all pandas are ruthless conquerors.  I think the writers just wanted a new adventure for Baloo and decided to pick an Asiatic setting because they hadn't done one yet, and Tale Spin is supposed to be about adventures in exotic places.  I doubt they meant anything malicious by it.

Overall, it's not something I'd worry about.  It's better to just enjoy one of the best episodes of one of the best cartoons the 90s produced.

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