The weeks leading up to the release of “Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake” were full of excitement and social media buzz. From rumors that the voice of Ice King — Tom Kenny (“SpongeBob Squarepants”) — found the “Fionna and Cake” iteration to be “the most emotional thing (he) has ever recorded” to Donald Glover’s (“Community”) return to voice acting, most newcomers to the fantasy franchise were intrigued, yet skeptical. How could a series full of fart jokes and occasional relationship strain be that emotional? However, since watching the series, I can say for certain that it is important to give the new show a try. “Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake” takes the familiar strangeness found in every interaction and layers it with a lens of pensive reflection, forcing the viewers to consider the protagonists not only as silly extensions of Finn (Jeremy Shada, “Interrupting Chicken”) and Jake (John DiMaggio, “Futurama”) but as tragic individuals with their own difficulties and pasts.
The show begins with Fionna Campbell (Madeleine Martin, “Californication”) waking up from a dream of a more exciting and magical life. Known to hop from job to job and to be rather impulsive and brash, she finds herself in deep trouble more often than not. She leans on her cat, Cake (Roz Ryan, “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack”), and her friends, Gary Prince (Andrew Rannells, “The Prom”) and Marshall Lee (Donald Glover), for support. This sets the scene for her world: a small and boring town where nothing ever happens. But everything changes when Cake starts acting strange, gaining a newfound fascination with ice and feeling cold to the touch, before suddenly being sucked into a portal.
At the same time, Simon Petrikov is faced with a life he’d rather not live, forced to carry his immeasurable grief over his former life as the Ice King (when he created the alternate universe of Fionna and Cake), and the loss of his fiancée, Betty (Felicia Day, “Monster High”). His circumstances lead him to carry out a boring life full of regrets despite living in an environment that is anything but boring — with flying vehicles, magic powers and giant monsters populating the Land of Ooo. When reaching out to Finn and Marceline (Olivia Olson, “Phineas and Ferb”), he feels emotionally alone and decides to risk the safety of Ooo in a scheme to bring Betty back. Instead, he summons Cake from the portal he creates, thus merging the two worlds together and beginning our story.
Fionna and Simon are foils of one another — a type-B personality and a type-A personality respectively. Both frustrated with their inability to satisfy the expectations of the world while stranded in their feelings; however, the passage between the two worlds allows them to change each other’s lives for the better, fulfilling their desires to be understood as they both grow over the course of the series.
Showrunner Adam Muto (“Adventure Time”) wanted to focus on making character designer Natasha Allegri’s (“Bee and Puppycat”) characters more than girl versions of Finn and Jake by further complicating their personalities and lives. Muto and the show’s creator Pendleton Ward (“Adventure Time”) also worked to make the first two episodes as nostalgic to the original series and memorable as possible. Identifying every gender-bent version of the original characters was fun in itself, as it was clear that a lot of love and thought went into every character shown on screen and how they presented themselves. The crew took the characters and brought their universe to life, with the likes of Ellis P. (played by Ward) and Hunter (Vico Ortiz, “Our Flag Means Death”) making short but memorable appearances in the show. These appearances continuously add to the reminiscent atmosphere of the show, leading the average viewer to think back to simpler, calmer times when everything felt the same. Any fan of the “Adventure Time” series can take these same moments and remember back to notable episodes, big reveals and song releases as more and more of the story is revealed.
One great example is Rebecca Sugar (“Adventure Time: Distant Lands”); she is a multi-talented artist known for creating “Steven Universe” as well as other songs on various Cartoon Network shows (including the original “Adventure Time” series). Fortunately, she returned to the “Adventure Time” team to sing “Part of the Madness,” a song played near the end of the second episode about Simon’s deep-seated desire to truly belong somewhere. Sugar’s deeply emotional, reflective lyrics and soft voice make her timbre all too recognizable, while beautiful natural scenery matches the song’s somberness. With many other former composers for different series of the Adventure Time franchise also returning, the music is already transparent about being both upbeat and saddening, reflecting Fionna’s and Simon’s contrasting personalities. Known for their ability to make strange situations into existential thought exercises, both Muto and Ward use the freedom that making more “adult” animations gives them to hone in on the more upsetting aspects of known lovable characters, fleshing out their stories and giving the audience hope for these characters finally getting the happy endings they deserve.
Saying that this show has promise would be an understatement, as both the cast and crew are incredibly talented and the material provided thus far is incredible — from the intricate exploration of Simon’s depression and its effect on his relationships to the classic, simple art style that brings out the fun energy of the Land of Ooo, even in sadder scenes. Though “Fionna and Cake” might occasionally be “too weird” for those new to the Adventure Time universe, Muto and Ward have given Max’s viewers another classic to look forward to as they continue to unravel the worlds of Simon Petrikov and Fionna Campbell.
Daily Arts Writer Adaeze Uzoije can be reached at email@example.com.