"Adventure Time" is an animated fantasy series shown on the Cartoon Network. The concept and the pilot for the show dates back to 2006, but the show entered production in 2010, and is currently on its sixth season, with (at least) another on its way. Each episode of the show is a little over ten minutes long. The show was created and produced by Pendleton Ward, who was a student at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts.
The show is set in the Land of Ooo, a seemingly colorful land with a history that becomes increasingly convoluted as the show goes on. The show features dozens if not hundreds of recurring characters, but the main characters are:
- Finn the Human: a 13 year old boy who wears a distinctive rabbit hat and backpack. Finn is perhaps the last human alive on earth, and is a happy, seemingly simple boy that lives for adventuring and having fun. He lives in a rambling treehouse with Jake the Dog. Finn's voice actor is Jeremy Shada.
- Jake the Dog is a shape-shifting dog, and Finn's best friend and adoptive brother. Jake can talk, and his canine nature is almost totally anthropomorphized. Jake is also older and more worldly than Finn, and is a foil for Finn's youthful enthusiasm. Jake's voice actor is John DiMaggio.
- Princess Bubblegum is the ruler of the Candy Kingdom, and is said to be 19 years old when the story begins. Princess Bubblegum's main interests are scientific experimentation and protecting her candy citizens. Being some years older than Finn, Bubblegum is not interested in him romantically, but is good friends with him. Princess Bubblegum is voiced by Hynden Walch
- Marceline the Vampire Queen is a vampire who likes to play the guitar and sing. Due to her vampiric nature, she is dangerous, and is first presented as an antagonist. Later, she becomes close friends with Finn and is developed as a character. Marcelline is played by Olivia Olsen.
- The Ice King is an old man with magical powers over cold and ice, who lives in a mountain fortress. He is first presented as the series' main antagonist, due to his habit of kidnapping princesses, but he also becomes a more developed character later on. The Ice King is played by Tom Kenney.
When I first started watching this show, I knew only part of its reputation. I thought it was simple humor for people with short attention spans, and aspects of the show do seem like stereotypical stoner humor. The episodes, especially during the first two seasons, are full of bright colors, quick action and wacky humor. At first, the basic structure of the stories resembles the cartoons of the 1980s: brave adventurer with talking animal sidekick fights cartoonish wizard to save a princess. Even at this level, the series was innovative both in its art and storytelling, but the real appeal of the show starts around the third season.
It is heavily suggested that the world that they live in is our own world, after an apocalyptic conflict known as "The Mushroom Wars" destroyed civilization. The figures around Finn, at first stock cartoon figures, begin to change their personalities: Princess Bubblegum goes from being a "damsel in distress" to an increasingly Machiavellian ruler. The Ice King goes from being a cackling villain to a tragic figure who lost his sanity helping others. All of this is done slowly and subtly, and while at the same time telling a diverse assortment of fun stories.
One of the most noteworthy things about "Adventure Time", for me, is how it has helped define a change in aesthetics and narrative for the teen decade. The pilot was originally shown on Nickelodeon's "Random Cartoons", and the show at first seems to be full of "random" humor. But much like two other breakout hits of this decade, "Welcome to Night Vale" and Homestuck, Adventure Time has managed to go beyond just having wacky, surrealistic and idiosyncratic humor, to telling a story. And in some ways, the story that it tells is so big that it could never be told "seriously". While the bright colors, fast action and sometimes nonsensical approach of Adventure Time are in some ways a reversal of the past two decades of "dark and edgy" television, Adventure Time also manages to surpass them: there is probably nothing, in two decades of "Law & Order" that matches the ten minutes of loss presented in "I Remember You" or "Simon and Marcy".
And beyond the appeal of the program itself, this is why I was so happy with Adventure Time: it is a work of the 21st Century.