I believe we are in the midst of a Kids’ Show Golden Age. Granted, I often bitch about children’s fare on this site, but that’s the product of having to watch the same damn shows over and over, the accursed Groundhog’s Day scenario that afflicts all parents at some point. Regardless, when I was a little shaver, there was virtually nothing but garbage on TV kids. Nowadays, there are some bonafide masterpieces aimed exclusively at children.
I’ve written in the past of my love for Flapjack, Phineas and Ferb, and Yo Gabba Gabba (easily the best toddler-oriented TV show ever, non-Sesame Street edition). All of these shows have a certain amount of anarchic weirdness that can tickle the funny bones of both kids and adults. I wrote about them because I fear adults without little kids in their lives may miss out on treasures like these that would be right up their alleys. And I am doing so again, because I have recently discovered a show that can easily stand among these giants: Adventure Time.
Adventure Time, which debuted on Cartoon Network about a year ago, stars Finn, a young lad who longs to be a hero, and his best friend, Jake, a magical dog (voiced by John DiMaggio, better known as Bender on Futurama). Together, they roam the enchanted land of Ooo fighting all manner of evil.
Most of the plots revolve around Finn and his strict, self-applied codes of honor and chivalry, coupled with Jake’s love of doing nothing at all. Such as an episode in which Finn vows to rescue a little girl’s stolen flowers from the infamous City of Thieves, even though he is warned repeatedly by an annoying old crone that no one can enter the city and not become a thief. While Finn valiantly tries to rescue the flowers as they are literally being stolen anew every two seconds, Jake dives right into the city’s thieving ways, swiping a sweet pair of boots, just because.
Tellingly, Adventure Time was created by a former Flapjack animator, Pendleton Ward. It shares with Flapjack a crazed energy, warped universe, and unique style. Finn and Jake’s limbs wobble and extend at will, almost like ancient Disney cartoons. The landscapes through which they travel are just as mutable, liable to change at a moment’s notice. As Robert Lloyd put it in the Los Angeles Times, Adventure Time resembles “the sort of cartoons they made when cartoons themselves were young and delighted in bringing all things to rubbery life.”
In the context of the show, virtually anything can happen. New characters and wondrous lands are introduced in almost every episode, as befits a show that revolves around magic and adventuring, though there are recurring characters. Like the Ice King, an angry monarch with a penchant for kidnapping princesses. Or Lady Rainicorn, Jake’s girlfriend, a unicorn with a rainbow tail who speaks through a voice box interpreter (which usually only broadcasts in Korean). Or Marceline the Vampire Queen, who loves to play bass and hungers not so much for blood as the color red.
I should also mention that it is laugh-out-loud funny. Take, for example, an episode where Finn spares some sugar for a poor beggar who turns out to be a Magic Man. The Magic Man horrifies Finn and Jake by turning a bird inside out, then does Finn a “mystical magical favor” by transforming him into a giant foot. “Today a magical life lesson comes to you!” he insists, though the lesson itself is far from clear. Finn demands to be returned back to normal, but the Magic Man refuses–“Not until you appreciate what a jerk I am!”–and disappears in a burst of fireworks that spell out EAT IT.
I am also greatly amused by another episode in which Finn tries to help a whiny talking mountain who is upset because he is forced to watch a nearby town of “roughhousing marauders.” Finn tries to mute the bad guys’ roughhousing by tying animals to all of the bad guys, which only bothers the mountain more. (“That was terrible! Now the men are just punching animals!”) You won’t soon forget the sight of tough guys with mice and cats strapped to their fists punching each other.
I’m just scratching the surface here, and I also fear these descriptions make the show seem saner than it is. Adventure Time is straight-up bonkers in the best, most organic way possible. It can’t really be understood unless experienced, because it truly is an experience. It’s unlike almost anything else on TV, kid- or adult-oriented. It could definitely slot into the Adult Swim lineup, alongside Aqua Teen Hunger Force et al, and not seem out of place at all.
The show’s tone and philosophy is probably best understood by this bit of dialogue, which comes at the end of one episode where Finn and Jake had adventured their way into and out of trouble:
JAKE: Let’s never be stupid again.
FINN: No, let’s always be stupid–forever!