Adventure Time (2010) IMDb

Extent

Seen in 2019.

Review refers to the first three seasons.

Categorization

Comedy.

Subject

Jake the stretchy dog and Finn the 12-year-old human murderhobo do whatever they want, which is to fight evil in the happy fantasy land of Ooo.

The last four episodes of the second season pull the show decisively into post-apocalypse territory, already suggested by the atomic bombs of the opening sequence. By this time, Finn is 13.

Commentary

Grown in the soil of US videogame culture from the seed of first-edition D&D (see the season 3 closer) and watered with the fizzy drink of children’s cartoons. The internal contrasts are considerable: It’s got the soft and simple visual style of Japanese yurui-kei but the competitive, confident and moralizing attitude of US pedagogy. They clash on the question of moral dichotomy. Adventure Time routinely posits the reality of evil, like US Christian entertainment, yet retracts its claws, like typical children’s anime where evil does not exist and everybody gets along. Placed at an ironic distance, the action scenes are never remotely scary and there are plenty of grey areas, but the impulse to fight evil and take a Platonic pleasure from the act is wired into the show’s DNA.

This delicate simplicity forms part of the escapism, which would be a severe liability in a script-driven cartoon. The very first episode demonstrates the hazard: Evil zombies break in but do no harm, simultaneously contradicting both the idea of the threat and the idea of safety. The return of the zombies in season 3 is more skillfully executed by the more experienced production crew but has the same basic problem.

Adventure Time is decidedly board-driven and runs continually from the contradiction at its heart, usually getting away clean. Only rarely, but fruitfully, the show breaks this expectation, as in “No One Can Hear You”, a third-season episode blending Alien (1979), 28 Days Later... (2002), insanity and high weirdness, with relatively little adventure, humour, camaraderie or romance, like a children’s cartoon version of a Francis Bacon triptych.

The show’s usual attitude is infectiously fast and loose even about its own obvious flaws, which may be the reason why Finn’s face will sometimes crumple up in a display of ugliness for ugliness’ sake. Even the non-dichotomous moral messages are usually so artistically warped that they don’t bother me. It’s wholesome as long as you don’t think about it.

animation fiction moving picture series