FYI: A quick/easy way to win an Adventure Time DVD can be found right here.
There is a show on TV right now that you should be watching.
It’s not about advertising executives, meth cookers, or prohibition-era criminals, nor is it about community college kids, network sketch show producers, or a stand-up comedian burdened by life‘s struggles. This animated show is about a boy and his dog (who live in a treehouse) and the silly creatures they meet while going on silly quests. It’s called Adventure Time, and there’s no show that’s as consistently fun, unexpectedly hilarious, visually clever and easily digested out there right now.
Centering on the adventures of Jake the Dog and Finn the Human, the show is currently in its third season as a part of Cartoon Network’s lineup. Though it is another of their many 12 minute shows, it stands out from the crowd by inhabiting the perfect place between the inaccessible weirdness of much of Adult Swim’s material, and an outright kid’s show like, say, Spongebob. There’s a little too much unrepentant violence and occasional yonic imagery to say Adventure Time is really the perfect kid’s show, but it is an amazing treat for anyone that can appreciate an off-beat sense of humor and the emphasis on imagination that the “children’s cartoon” format allows for.
Created by Pendleton Ward, a veteran of kid’s shows like Random! Cartoons and Flapjack, the show began its life as a short amidst many others on Nickelodeon anthology show, and after gaining popularity on the internet and being pitched to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, it was finally picked up for series by the later. The very birth of the idea though, goes all the way back to Ward’s time in college, from the pages of his sketchbooks.
“I was drawing a kid with a bear hat and his shape-changing dog friend. I was just writing weird dialogue for them. I was plugging in the personalities of my friends into them and seeing what they did. When I was in college I did a lot of comics that I wrote stream of consciousness style.”
Since then it has grown more and more popular with fans ranging from little kids to college students to parents happy with any kid’s show that’s actually funny or clever. Genre fans will find a ton of things to love in the show as well, be it the general debt owed to D&D in the show’s world and format, to cool character actor cameos like Ron Perlman showing up to do voices. Comedy fans will find miles’ worth of quotable lines from a show that uses phrases like “Algebraic!” and “Math!” as exclamations and curses respectively. Those who appreciate illustration and design will love the simple, clean lines of the show that accentuate bright colors and hilarious details.
Adventure Time takes place in a vaguely post-apocalyptic version of earth where the “Mushroom Wars” left behind a mostly destroyed landscape except for a expansive utopia call “The Land of Ooo.” In its center lies the Candy Kingdom, where pastries and sweets live in harmony under the benevolent rule of Princess Bubblegum, a shrewd politician and amateur scientist. While there’s a distinct Candyland/Perry Bible Fellowship vibe in the Candy Kingdom –with citizens like Peppermint Butler, and my favorite: a dude that is simply a stack of pancake with arms, legs, and a upward-pointing face– there is also the forests, plains, deserts, and seas of the land beyond. These are filled with creatures of all sorts, some of which you might recognize from fantasy and D&D myth, and some like the rainicorns and the Breakfast People that are brand new inventions. How Ward accumulated his vision for such a diverse, and yet oddly unified place, is anybody’s guess.
I don’t think it made any sense to anybody, like what it was going to be about. It was just in my head. Like I just knew it was–I just had an idea in my head of how these, these guys, how I wanted them to act in a certain casual way that I act with my friends. Wanted them to talk and make up weird slang that I thought was cool. And explore this weird Dungeons and Dragons-style world.
At center are Finn and Jake, a human boy (in a world with no other apparent human) and his best dog friend. Finn is a regular, adventurous boy who spends his time exploring and playing video games, but he has a indomitable streak of bravery and eagerness to help those in need. Jake is a bit lazier, and voice actor Jon Di Maggio brings a cavalier attitude you’ll recognize from Futurama’s Bender, but he ultimately tends to do the right thing and help Finn out. And while Finn has only his sword and the contents of his backpack to help him out through his adventures, Jake is able to warp his size at will, as well as stretch and sculpt his flesh into any conceivable. Just imagine a Dali elephant meets the T-1000 meets a cartoon English bulldog. Di Maggio isn’t the only recognizable voice actor working on the show either: Mr. Show alumni (and square/yellow/porous voice superstar) Tom Kenny lends his pipes to the show’s main villain, The Ice King, as well dozens of side characters.
There are some rules in the Land of Ooo though that guide (if not totally confine) the creators, and helps them along in their very unique brainstorming/writing process that will seem familiar to more than a few RPG fans…
There are real physics to the world around Finn. We tried to set their powers in stone at the beginning. Pat the creative director in the beginning made a list of all the things that were in Finn’s backpack. And so we tried to stick to that. We were sort of trying to play Dungeons & Dragons with the characters as we wrote them. So were trying to, you know, really roll these characters and then play them as if we were playing D&D. So we were trying to stick to that. But everything changes. We cheated all the time. Eventually Finn was jumping all over the place and flying high up into the air and doing all kinds of karate. And I guess the rule to break all the other rules: “funny wins”. That’s a thing I say a lot.
It’s hard to explain what makes Adventure Time so great, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say it’s clever, fun to look at, funny and all the rest of the accolades. The real sign will be if you give it a chance and that first out-of-nowhere moment of hilariousness hits you, be it a random exclamation from Finn (“I’m ALL ABOUT STUPID!”), a throwaway line during a scene change (my favorite example below) or the design of a background character that catches your eye and has you rolling on the ground. Then again, maybe it will be the weird flashes of darkness that sneak into the show without ever bringing down its exuberant vibe that draw you in, or the occasional abrupt insertion of an internet culture joke (the occasional 4chan troll-face shows up). OR maybe it will just be a good old fashioned fart joke. But once you’re in deep, you’ll have even more appreciation for the show’s tendency to mix things up with format changes and the occasional gender-bent episode.
And for people who have already caught on and love the show? Don’t expect it rest on its established brand of cute weirdness. I asked Pendleton Ward where he saw the show going in the future, and if he had any goals going into this last season and beyond.
I did have a goal—it was to try and do more sort of, expand on the side characters. I feel like that’s what the Simpsons did was after they did so many seasons of the family, they expanded Moe and they expanded Crusty a lot which I thought was awesome. It just helps build the world to help make it feel more real to people watching it and so I think that’s what we’re trying to do—do more episodes around the side characters that we’ve made. Peppermint Butler. There’s going to be a lot of BMO attention in upcoming seasons. Everyone in the crew’s a big fan of BMO—little computer that lives in Finn and Jake’s house. I think I want to do more Cinnamon Bun episodes.
I think we could all use more Cinnamon Bun episodes, but more BMO and Peppermint Butler will be music to many fan’s ears.
As for chewers new to Adventure Time… it’s definitely not for everyone, but I’d be willing to be that more than a few people would have a new show on their roster if they gave it a shot. If you care to join me (and CHUD’s own Justin Waddell, another big fan) then you can catch the show Mondays at 8:00pm EST on Cartoon Network, or by picking put the first DVD release from CHUD right here.
The show’s Facebook page.
Pendleton Ward on Twitter.
If you do check it out, let me know what you think…
Special thanks to Asia Matos for some transcription assistance.
**By the way, a bonus quote for any Odd Future fans:
R: Oh! In fact, real quick. How do you feel about Adventure Time showing up in Odd Future’s Tyler the Creator album? I assume you’ve heard that around…
P: Oh! I think he’s awesome. He’s super talented, and I mean that. I was listening to a lot of his music. He’s amazing! Yeah it’s cool. It’s cool.
R: Right on.
P: I don’t know what else to say about it.
R: No, that’s fine.
P: Poo-poo! He likes poo-poo a lot and doo-doo. Please print the part where I say poo-poo and doo-doo.
R: Oh, I will.