I suspect that Adventure Time is a lot like Monty Python or the Coen Brothers: people who get it think it’s the funniest, most awesome thing ever, and people who don’t will only stare at it in complete and utter bafflement. It’s a strange, surreal, and spectacularly hilarious show that defies easy description or categorization. While its off-the-wall humor and sensibilities may be inspired by nerdy pleasures like Dungeons and Dragons, video games, and comic books, its outlandish sensibilities produce its own unique, distinctive voice and set it apart from other recent, comparably bizarre cartoons like Chowder and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. While those two earlier shows were easily the weirdest cartoons on TV at the time, Adventure Time goes further out there than both of them combined and reaps exponentially more rewards as a result.
Adventure Time is a show that one can’t even sum up easily without sounding like you’re stoned out of your mind. The leads of Adventure Time are Finn the human boy and Jake the shapeshifting dog: a pair of knights errant in a brightly colored world of sentient candy, unicorns made of rainbows, vampires, gelatinous cubes, fairies, and even stranger things that barely have names. The first episode, “My Two Favorite People,” plays out like a standard jealous friend sitcom, except that the Yoko that nearly gets between Finn and Jake is Lady Rainicorn, a Korean-speaking unicorn made of rainbows who’s Jake’s girlfriend because of their mutual love of the viola. Jake’s attempts to spend time with both of them together flop miserably until he finds a voicebox that allows Lady Rainicorn to speak in an old guy voice and…
Dude, why are you looking at me like that?
Attempting to describe most Adventure Time episodes produces the same result. There’s just no telling what’s going to pop up next or how these things are going to resolve themselves, and the show seems to take great pleasure in confounding expectations and spraying laughing gas on the usual way such stories always play out as insipid morals on lesser shows. In “Evicted!” Marcelline the Vampire Queen keeps kicking Finn and Jake out of places they’re trying to stay. “Ricardio the Heart Guy” is the new dude in town (hilarously voiced by George Takei), but only Finn is convinced he’s really evil. “Trouble in Lumpy Space” sends Finn and Jake into Lumpy Space, a dimension populated by amorphous blobs speaking Valley Girl nonsense, where the two search for an antidote to keep Jake from turning into a Lumpy creature and…dude, why are you looking at me like that? I’m totally sober and I’m not making this up, I swear.
For the sake of completeness, the rest of the episodes on this disc are “Tree Trunks,” “Dungeon,” “The Pods,” “The Limit,” “Go With Me,” “The Eyes,” “The Chamber of Frozen Blades,” and “To Cut a Woman’s Hair.” I’m not going to attempt synopses of each one individually, since that leads to triviality or utter insanity (visit the exhaustive Adventure Time wikia if you must know). Attempting to pick a favorite is also an exercise in futility, since I can’t very well pick between the Dungeons-and-Dragons on LSD of “Dungeon” or the sheer visual outlandishness of “The Pods” or “The Limit,” or the Shaw Brothers kung-fu tributes in “The Chamber of Frozen Blades,” or the hilarous butt joke that drives “To Cut a Woman’s Hair.” I could babble until I was blue in the face about these episodes. Anyone sane would abandon me halfway through, and I would still never quite capture what makes Adventure Time so unique and thoroughly enjoyable. It’ll have to be good enough to say that this is a show that can find at least 20 different ways to make me laugh. It’s also a show I can also admire for its offbeat, surrealist sensibilities. Everything kind-of, sort-of makes sense, even if you can only feel this rather than define it.
It’s certainly easier to define the technical aspects of the show which I like, however. The beautifully fluid animation goes a long way toward establishing the surreal reality of the show’s world. The character models and world design look like the kind of thing a kid would idly scrawl in the margins of a notebook while teacher is droning on about something a lot less interesting, and I think this has a lot to do with the show’s charm. It’s also the kind of thing that just doesn’t play in any other form of animation because the hand-drawn stuff just lends itself to these kinds of weird flights of fancy more easily. A lot of episodes remind me of the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence in Dumbo, and when it comes to animation, that’s about as high as the needle on the Weird-Stuff-O-Meter goes without slipping into complete incoherence. Adventure Time also has a pitch-perfect voice cast. Jeremy Shada lends youthful energy and enthusiasm by the bushel as Finn, and is perfectly offset by the gruffer and utterly hilarious John DiMaggio as Jake. Add in other series regulars like Tom Kenny as the amusingly one-note Ice King, Hynden Walch as the sweetheart Princess Bubblegum, and series creator Pendleton Ward as the Lumpy Space Princess and comedy gold results. I also rather enjoy the music, which is often as off-kilter as the show itself.
The DVD “My Two Favorite People” bills itself as having 12 episodes, but its definition of “episode” is the 11-minute segment that forms half of a TV episode. Still, the running time clocks in at a little more than 2 hours, so if it looks like I’m complaining that the DVD is too short, it’s only because the show makes me want more. Like most modern animated series, the anamorphic widescreen transfer looks and sounds terrific. I appreciate that Warner Home Video has also included a chapter break that makes it easier to skip the opening credits sequence, and my usual gripe about absent chapter stops during an episode doesn’t apply given the short length of each episode. I am a bit baffled by the selection of episodes for this disc, but even this minor complaint is mitigated because it’s only a sampler and not the promised season set. Even so, the “Little Did You Know” bonus feature is a disappointment, being little more than an Adventure Time dictionary of characters and trivia from the series bible.
Adventure Time is a show best experienced rather than written about. What I can say easily is that I think it’s the most hilarious thing I’ve seen in a long time, and its near-endless creativity absolutely astounds me. It’s a refreshingly and endearingly self-assured in its bizarreness. That said, the hardcore fans might be better served by waiting for the season set. Those seeking something completely different or a show that really ties a lot of weird things together ought to grab on with both hands and hang on for the ride of your life.