Friday, December 21, 2012

What time is it?

I confess, I'm one of those guys who looks back on children's programing of the present day and thinks to himself, "Jesus, when did Cartoon Network start to suck?" Looking back on my own childhood through my particular pair of rose-colored glasses, I'm one of those folks who likes to believe my shows were somehow untouchable genius, the likes of which no other cartoon can ever or will ever live up to again. Granted, I'm an adult now and I'm not exactly the target demographic for these shows, and not having children of my own either, there's no reason why I should even be sitting around watching this stuff, unless I were simply a sad, sad man.

Except that's a complete load of crap. Children's prime time programming has always had a certain adult appeal, going as far back as Hannah Barbara shows and the Looney Toons shorts of the old timey years. To this day, some of the best animated feature films are the ones that aren't written just for children, but the ones written for ANYONE, which in doing so, appeal towards both kids and adults. I offer you any Pixar flick as proof of that, or Shrek. Heck, even Disney back in late 80's and early 90's, when they were churning out hit after animated hit, threw in more than a few jokes and references aimed at the adults in the audience. 

These days, like I said, I haven't exactly noticed any cartoon that sparks a particular interest in me. All things considered, I am strange enough to have easily fallen in with the Brony crowd, but even that didn't happen. The only other show I ever noticed was Phineas and Ferb, and what little I have seen of that show only annoys me for some reason. Like that damn platipus with the fedora. What in the hell is his deal, anyway?

Then one day I found out about Adventure Time. I'm not sure, but it's very possible I saw merch for this show over the last few years. A plushie here, a character-themed beanie hat there. I never knew anything about the show, though. Or, more likely, I just sort of lumped all of the current cartoons together as being one and the same, and so as far as I was concerned, every animated program on TV had something to do with that god damn platipus jerk. 

Created by one Pendleton Ward, Adventure Time originally aired as a short on the Nicktoons Network, on something called Random! Cartoons. While I did search around on YouTube for it, I couldn't find the short which would eventually be picked up by Cartoon Network and turned into the Adventure Time we have today, so I'm fuzzy on what differences and similarities there exist between the two. Doesn't matter anyway, I guess. Adventure Time is about Finn the human, a teenaged adventurer, and Jake the dog, who is an anthropomorphic dog with the powers of Mr. Fantastic and the voice of John DiMaggio, because everyone has the voice of John DiMaggio these days. They live in the land of Ooo, a post-apolcalyptic Earth where, rather than turning into something along the lines of Fallout after nuclear war, the planet became something closer to the Candy Land board game.

Back to the characters, though. After all, a show is only as memorable as the characters written for it. Although trust me, the Land of Ooo is pretty cool; what with it's occasional hints of old civilization in the form of ruined, moss covered buildings, juxtaposed against, er... a candy kingdom. Other than Finn and Jake, there are a few others characters worth mentioning who populate Ooo.

This is BMO, probably one of my favorite characters. He/She/It is basically a handheld game system, similair to a Gameboy, who lives with Finn and Jake. The character is voiced by Niki Yang, who is North Korean in heritage, and so the character speaks with an East Asian accent, which I find just hilarious for some reason. I think what won me over about BMO is an episode where we follow the character around the house when Finn and Jake are gone and see what he does with his time. It turns out, he enjoys pretending to be a detective, and turns random animals and objects around the house into characters in his little make-believe noir story. So, a cat is a police officer, and in a bizarre turn, a chicken is a hot dame. Another time, we see BMO talking to his own reflection as though it is another person, teaching it how to drink tea. I love it.

Princess Bubblegum. While Ooo is ruled by various princesses (the Flame Princess, the Ghost Princess, and the... uh, Embryo Princess), Princess Bubblegum rules the Candy Kingdom. She also happens to be the object of Finn's unrequited affection, at least until he meets Flame Princess. Generally, she acts like your average princess type. She's smart, graceful, noble, and everything every other princess in the history of anything is. I suppose I find her a little boring, but I feel like she was worth mentioning mostly because of the way she once led a SWAT team of candy people in a hostage situation.

This is the Ice King. He's basically a bizarre wizard who lives in the mountains. While he comes closest to thing you might call an antagonist on the show, he generally doesn't do anything all that insidious. Most of the time, you just see him hanging around with his army of penguins, if not trying to win the love of Princess Bubblegum.

Marceline, the vampire. Her father runs a place called the Nightosphere, which is essentially a Hell dimension. In one episode, he reveals that he wants her to take his place as the ruler of the place, and Marceline ends up putting on this amulet that turns her into a crazy, evil tentacle monster. She briefly takes control of the Nightosphere, and during her short reign, forces all of the demons to line up and wish for things from her, just so she can give them a cruel twist. For instance, one demon wishes for abs, and so she turns his head into abs. Another one she forces to vomit up bananas for some reason.

Oh, yeah - then there's Lemongrab. Gosh, what do you say about Lemongrab? Basically, he's this Lemon drop person created by Bubblegum Princess. Except she somehow screwed up in his creation, and instead she created what amounts to a functioning lunatic. He communicates primarily by shrieking and screaming, and just generally acts like a complete freak. Just watch this video of him where the character is first introduced, and you'll see all you need to.

Now, Adventure Time generally has this absurd tone, crossed with sort of RPG-like elements. Like if it had been written by a child high on a sugar rush, who had been playing Legend of Zelda for a week straight. There's fantasy and adventure elements there, and this whimsical, bizarre little sense of humor I can't get enough of. At the same time though, the show is written with some real heart, and occasionally this clever subtext which kids would never notice, but the fact that the source material isn't dulled down because of the age of the target audience is I think what makes me dig it so much.

One episode I watched, called Hot to Touch, emphasizes this aspect of the show. The basic setup is that Finn, once again heartbroken over his rejection by Princess Bubblegum, has finally decided to move on with a new lady love - the Flame Princess princess. The episode that follows sees Finn chasing Flame Princess from place to place, eager to win her affections, and he almost does more than once, were it not for the fact that Flame Princess is well, made of fire and keeps burning him every time Finn gets close enough. Try as hard as he might, no matter how much Finn builds the princess up with talk about how awesome she is, and how badly he wants to hang out and play BMO with her, he can't help but stomp out her flames. For her part, the princess seems to like Finn, but grows more confused and frustrated when he just keeps hurting her by stomping her out. She can't understand why Finn keeps making her flame grow bright, only to put it back out again.

Rinse and repeat this cycle a few times. Finally, Flame Princess loses it and goes on a rampage, deciding she will turn the nearby goblin kingdom into her own personal turf. Finn and Jake launch into action to stop her, but midway into battle, Finn backs down and is reduced to tears, lamenting that he only wants to hang out with a girl. When one of his tears hits the fair flame maiden, she notices Finn rolled up in a sad little ball of emo, and comes to a conclusion: he is a water elemental, her opposite. That, she realizes, is why they keep hurting one another, despite their feelings. They may like each other, but they are too different and bound to repeat the same cycle. Flame Princess hugs Finn (burning him, I might add) and bids him sad goodbye, and takes her leave.

"How did it feel?" Jake asks.

Finn thinks for a moment, and tells him, "It hurt."

Alright, I know a got a little endulgant there, but do you see what I mean? And this is a show for kids, man. I know on/off again couples well into their twenties who aren't even able to surmise why their turbulant and often doomed relationships end this well, and Adventure Time did it using Flame Princesses and goblin kingdoms. Stuff like that, subtext kids may not even understand yet at their age, is what I'm talking about. The kids don't have to get it, but that doesn't mean the writing dumbed itself down because of that. Some day they will, though. Some day, one of the kids who watched this episode when they were like, eight, will break up with their girlfriend for the fiftieth time that school year, and he'll look back and realize that Adventure Time laid it all out for him. Some people, try as hard as they might, just aren't meant to be together, no matter how much they like each other. Well, okay, maybe at best he'll just remember it when he's crying and writing on his future Facebook equivilant, and just shrug and go "Oh yeah, it's like that one time on that cartoon..." But whatever, it's still clever.

I realize I'm getting a little lengthy here and anybody who is reading this probably wants me to shut up already, so let me wrap this up by suggesting one other episode, which I feel capture the spirit of what makes Adventure Time so darn special. One of them, called Princess Cookie, puts Donald Faison (that's Turk, from Scrubs), in the roll of the aforementioned Princess Cookie. Cookie is pissed because he wants to be a princess, but years ago, Princess Bubblegum crushed his dreams of becoming one, and now he's gone on a rampage, taking candy people hostages and demanding her crown. Faison's unhinged performance, coupled with the utterly ridiculous subject make the episode one of my favorites.

So folks, if you're like me, and you miss the spirit of those old cartoons from your childhood, give Adventure Time a whirl. It's creative, it's funny as hell, and it's certainly unique. I realize I just spent like, enough time to warrant an essay writing about a cartoon, so maybe I'm the only one who was searching for that. Or, maybe not. This is the internet, after all. Again, Bronies.

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