Finding myself watching almost every single show on Adult Swim is one thing, but I didn’t really expect to find my newest animated obsession on the kid’s version of Cartoon Network. And yet, here I am.
I had seen this weird commercial for some show called Adventure Time while waiting for a movie to start. It just seemed very weird. There was this kid in a hat, a dog, and some wizard in blue. Having no real knowledge of the show, I chalked it up to just another bizarre kids cartoon that I would have no interest in.
And I felt that way until around three weeks ago. Flipping through the channels, desperate for something to watch, I decided to see what was on Cartoon Network. The first thing I heard when I turned was Bender. As any good Futurama fan would, I adore Bender and find the guy who does his voice, John DiMaggio pretty darned humorous as well. So I thought, if Bender is on this strange show, maybe I should give it shot.
A month later, I’m watching every episode I can find.
Because the show is already in its third season and I’m seeing everything in a very haphazard fashion, I am still learning about the relationships and backgrounds of the characters. But I have learned enough to say that Adventure Time is about this 13 (or 14 depending) year old boy named Finn (the human) who lives in a treehouse with his best friend, a magical talking, shapeshifting dog named Jake, in the Land of Oo. The Land of Ooo is populated by all manner of different kingdoms – the Candy Kingdom ruled by Princess Bubblegum, the Fire Kingdom, etc. And each of these kingdoms seems have a princess. And there’s this guy, the Ice King who keeps trying to kidnap the princesses, so Finn has to rescue them. Oh, and there’s this ranicorn (half unicorn, half rainbow), and vampire named Marcelline whose father is the king of the Nightosphere…
Yeah, it’s a really trippy show.
At the heart of it, Finn really just wants to be a hero. He deals openly with his own emotional states, usually focused on his unrequited crush on Princess Bubblegum, and never backs down from any challenge to prove himself. And Jake mostly wants to help him. He sometimes has his own fairly twisted agenda…
And like so many of the brilliant children’s cartoons before it – Looney Tunes, Animaniacs, Spongebob Squarepants – this is a show that can easily appeal to adults. Recently there was an entire episode devoted to film noire, aptly named “BMO Noire”. How many elementary school kids can talk about Double Indemnity or The Maltese Falcon? They probably just thought it was cool that the show became black and white and that BMO (Beemo), the walking, talking Nintendo Gameboy, turned into a hard boiled detective, looking in the mystery of Finn’s missing sock. And as you expected, the chicken clearly had something to hide. But every second of that episode had its nods to Bogey and film history.
Or take for example an episode called “Card Wars” from a few weeks ago. If ever there was a cartoon to appeal to the nerd in all of us, it was this episode. Jake was loudly lamenting that his girlfriend, Princess Ranicorn, didn’t want to play his great game with him. Even BMO refused to play the game with Jake. When Finn asks Jake about this game, Jake describes it thusly “It’s a fancy card game that’s super complicated and awesome”- and they play so “the loser is a dweeb and the winner is cool guy”… how would you NOT play? The game involves an ancient scholar, a very powerful cornfield (because cornfields are awesome), and flooping the pig.
The episode of course becomes about playing with someone who is so assured of their eventual victory that the moment they start to lose, they become a hideous monster. And I’m sure we’ve all been there.
The animation is both basic and highly evocative. Whether illustrating the simple details to show emotion or excitement in Jake’s eyes
or the intricate piecemeal creation of Princess Monster Wife (created by the Ice King from pieces of all the other princesses in the kingdom)
or the carefully constructed Dante/Bosch-esque world of the Nightosphere
the show is always a pleasure to look at and you feel the care and commitment that goes into every single episode.
Adventure Time is filled an assortment of odd but endearing, characters: Lumpy Space Princess (or LSP), a floating purple mass of, well, lumps, who talks like a very masculine valley girl and who is voice by the show’s creator Pendleton Ward; a Hug-Wolf who, via hugs, turns others into wolf-like creatures, with hearts shaped hands and feet and a burning to desire to HUG; Princess Cookie (voiced by Scrub’s own chocolate bear, Donald Faison), a troubled youth named Baby Snaps who only wanted to be a princess just like Princess Bubblegum. None of these characters is every just wholly on the surface.
I can’t believe it took me this long to start watching.