During a recent Rereaders recording, one of my co-hosts asked whether I could imagine what an adolescent boy would see in Adventure Time. I’ve never been a young boy, so I can’t speak on behalf of its target demographic, but I can speak for myself: as a female in her late-twenties, I seriously love this cult animation show.
With episodes that run for eleven minutes, Adventure Time follows the um, adventures of human teenager Finn and his best-friend/adopted brother Jake – a dog who can inexplicably change shape, size and form – in the fantastical Land of Ooo. Now into its sixth season, Adventure Time is the presumed childish brainchild of Pendelton Ward and the Cartoon Network (airing locally on GO!). Spend some time with the show and you’ll quickly see that it offers much more than hyper-coloured zaniness and fart gags (although it joyously provides that too).
On top of its psychedelic aesthetics, formal experimentation and juvenile qualities, Adventure Time is rollicking fun awash with philosophical ruminations and poetic dialogue. Building on storytelling clichés – the sword wielding hero, a boy and his dog, and fairy tale styled royalty – it’s a strangely optimistic and darkly funny exploration of life, culture and art.
Presenting a densely populated and layered world, Adventure Time has long gained serious acclaim from audiences (both adult and children) and is now winning the attention of critics. The Slate Culture Gabfest noted the increased interest in Adventure Time closely follows Emily Nussbaum’s published praise in the New Yorker, however I’d argue the fresh collective praise stems more from the show’s development – a marvellously curious beast that’s definitely come into its own.
In a relatively unprecedented angle for animation, Finn – the character – ages with the voice actor (Jeremy Shada) who plays him. In conjunction with his twelve year old to current day cadence, the now teenaged Finn experiences personal growth as the world of Adventure Time has expanded and the storylines have become, for instance, more explicitly sexual. The aforementioned boom in critical attention coincides with this growth; as Finn and the series mature, the series deepens the origins of the post-apocalyptic, post-Mushroom War lands and inhabitants therein.
Seasons five and six are ripe with insular and more emotional episodes that offer psychological insight into characters and their personal challenges. For instance, ‘Marcy and Simon’ gave some deeply poignant backstory into the once-plainly antagonistic (now primarily flawed) Ice King and Finn’s vampire friend Marceline. Likewise, the early sixth season episodes where Finn finds his biological father are truly heart wrenching, tapping into issues of abandonment, optimism and growing up – I certainly cried.
As viewers learn more and more about the seemingly endless array of finely crafted, beguiling and oddball characters – like pragmatic Princess Bubblegum, conflicted Lemonhope and superficial Lumpy Space Princess – the joy gained from the show feels like a sudden, candy-coloured pop culture eruption.
Bite-sized and dense, Adventure Time lends itself to fandom with its deep-rooted mythology and obsessive video game-culture styling, but it’s totally worthy of the commitment (as proven in this masterful and insightful work of longform television criticism from Maria Bustillos).
Adults watch animation for different reasons – nostalgia, art, entertainment, whatever the personal preference. Adventure Time definitely dabbles with each of these on differing scales, but almost transcends these labels and reasoning. You can dip in and out of the show an episode at a time, but I’d only recommend this sporadic viewership if you’re high at the time (and as an adult…say no to drugs kids, etc). Otherwise, I’d advise you to join me for the long haul adventure and check out the lot – as you witness the world of Ooo expanding, watch your love for the show blossom.
Stephanie Van Schilt is Deputy Editor at The Lifted Brow and a freelance writer. She tweets @steph_adele.