It has been a long time since I’ve watched cartoons — not a cartoon in the “Family Guy” sense (a staple in every young male’s TV diet) but instead the sort of television that Calvin and Hobbes might get up early to watch on Saturday mornings. Shows such as “Courage the Cowardly Dog” or “Hey Arnold!” that blurred the line between adult and child television — bringing insane energy, stylized animation, clever jokes (that mixed potty humor with intelligent observations) and ambiguous morality to the TV in my parent’s bedroom — shows that in some small way shaped my youth.
I always thought cartoons like the ones mentioned above disappeared with my childhood in the suburbs. But, as is often true in my life, I was very wrong. Enter “Adventure Time.”
Created by Pendleton Ward (could there be a more appropriate name?) in 2010, whispers of “Adventure Time” popped up throughout my early college life. I largely ignored strangers’ advice to watch the show, predicting the series would be primarily aimed at stoners and crazy kids who would laugh at the mere concept of a dog and boy running around a colorful world.
Of course, I’m easily swayed, and one 24-hour layover in Cleveland with my one of my best friends later, I was rooting for Finn the Human and his adopted brother Jake the Dog and debating whether to join Team Marceline or Team Princess Bubblegum. I was hooked.
Immediately, the animation style of “Adventure Time” drew my eye. It was simple — curvy, clean lines, a crisp color palette that evoked Play-Doh or Crayola, and basic character design. But despite this spartan style, the creators are able to pack in an amount of texture similar to Wes Anderson at his best. These environments breathe with life: Finn and Jake’s house is packed with gold, diamonds, medieval weapons, rugs, mugs, animal pelts and whatever else an adventurer might come across in his travels. Each frame is engaging. Nothing feels recycled.
How the characters react to the environments and to each other is special as well. Jake possesses amazing stretching powers, so he can change his shape at whim, allowing him to twist and jump over forests and walls; Finn never simply walks, he flips and spins within the canvas — usually howling a battle cry and wielding a sword.
Movement is the basis for cinema, and “Adventure Time” fully appreciates this, transforming moving from point A to B into a work of art.
When the inhabitants of “Adventure Time” interact, this kinetic energy continues. The characters’ faces scrunch and widen with surprise and suspicion, and their hands are always moving. When the gang meets Party Pat (a bear voiced by Andy Samberg who loves to party), his hand motions in their first conversation contain as much humor as anything he says.
The story itself contains a surprisingly grand amount of depth and history, but never so much as to weigh down the fun. The Ice King wants to capture a princess (or princesses) to marry, and though his compulsions are treated with wit, there exists a layer of tragedy and loneliness. Marceline the Vampire Queen has daddy issues (stemming from him eating her fries), and Finn often struggles with wanting to do right, while not always being certain what right is. Beyond this are hints at where this crazy world may have stemmed from — an event called “The Great Mushroom War” (hint: think mushroom clouds). The brilliance of “Adventure Time” is how it provides this adultness without ever dropping completely the guise of “kids show.”
I’ve only been watching for a week, but I’m already excited to bite into season three and fill in my viewing gaps from the first two seasons. Why? Because in “Adventure Time,” it feels like anything could happen, like a summer day in the suburbs — friends everywhere, an empty world waiting to be explored, anticipating adventures ready to be had.