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Review: “Adventure Time Season 4” Blu-ray Keeps Up the Quality

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Adventure Time Season 4 Blu-rayIf Adventure Time hit a high point in its third season, season 4 coasts along on the show’s momentum as it goes about gleefully playing in the sandbox built by its predecessors. This is also where the show touches on some substantive continuity in the wake of season 3 pioneering new and serious territory, but those who love this show primarily for its humor and bizarre happenings will find that the show’s clever absurdity continue to be where it shines the brightest and the best.

The season kicks off by concluding the two-part story begun at the end of the third, where Finn’s budding relationship with Flame Princess gets off to an explosive start. Finn’s interest in her is seemingly fraught with danger at first, as her supposedly evil nature is hinted at by her volatile temper and her capacity for destruction since she’s a being of fire. The season opening “Hot to the Touch” kicks things off with a dispute between Finn and Jake over whether Flame Princess is someone who can be tamed or someone Finn needs to stop as a hero, but fortunately Finn’s adorably awkward crush eventually manages to touch her heart and win the day. After Finn’s angst and setbacks with Bubblegum in the third season it’s nice to see the kid find someone he can open up to more and be around, and their young relationship sets up good stories in “Burning Low” and “Ignition Point.” The first brings in Bubblegum and raises the possibility that she might be a bit regretful and jealous over Finn’s crush, though the issue is left open for interpretation since any soap opera material is dwarfed by her immediate concerns about Flame Princesses’ intensifying emotions sending her powers dramatically out of control. “Ignition Point” sees Finn and Jake having to deal with a meeting with father when they run afoul of the buffoonish and prideful Flame King, who’d be entertaining just for the booming voice performed by the great Keith David (Goliath of Gargoyles and Dr. Facilier of The Princess and the Frog, among many other things).

But the real daddy issues here come in the terrific “Return to the Nightosphere” and “Daddy’s Little Monster,” which revisits Marceline’s relationship with the self-described lord of evil Hunson Abadeer. He’s a volatile and dangerous being but also revealed here as an awkward and willful individual, as Finn and Jake are faced with the challenge of undoing his plot to coax and then coerce his daughter into taking an interest in the family business. It’s implicit that what Hunson really wants is his daughter’s approval while she’s fixated on her independence, and it’s the stuff of good conflict while Finn and Jake’s exploits take them on a tour through the alternately scary and amusing version of the closest thing this show has to hell. Of course it brings the laughs as well, most gloriously when Finn spontaneously breaks into an absurd “political rap” to rouse the Nightosphere’s denizens into a riot to create an opportunity for him to save the day. This season again ends the season with the first chapter of a multi-part adventure, methodically building up to a dramatic “wham episode” in “The Lich” as a season’s worth of subtle plotting sees the show’s truly terrifying villain make a fearsome comeback. The cliffhanger it stops on is almost cruel, but AdventureTimeS4_5admit it TV-watching fans: you wanted to come back, didn’t you?

I think it’d be fair to say that on balance this fourth season isn’t quite as experimental and adventurous as the third, but there are still novel ideas and resonant episodes to be found. One standout example is the penultimate episode “I Remember You,” which rivals “Holly Jolly Secrets” for the heartstring pulling over the mental state of the Ice King, thanks to its exploration Marceline and the Ice King’s relationship long ago when he was losing himself to the power of his magical crown. Finn and Jake are secondary and music does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to getting the story across, as we find out the true origins of the “song lyrics” the Ice King spontaneously asks Marceline to help him out with. “Five Short Graybles” manages to pack five short stories featuring completely different characters into a single 11 minute episode and have them link together, albeit loosely. “BMO Noire” sees everybody’s favorite living game console relishing detective work to find one of Finn’s missing socks, with the episode making good use of black & white footage and some choice camera angles to complement its pretensions and pay a little homage to Film Noir genre flicks.

Of course, there’s also plenty of just plain fun material to be had, or this wouldn’t be Adventure Time. For instance “Card Wars” sees Jake introducing Finn to a magical card game quite obviously referencing the likes of Magic: The Gathering and poking fun at its complex set of rules, as well as people who take such things too seriously when it becomes apparent that Jake is a tremendously sore loser and borderline insufferable when he AdventureTimeS4_4thinks he’s winning or has an opening to explain about the game the novice Finn. Give me this over any episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! any day. In “Lady & Peebles” we get to see Princess Bubblegum and Lady Rainicorn have an adventure all to themselves when Finn and Jake go missing, which gives her a needed chance to shine and show off her quirky side again in this season. Perhaps the most ridiculous and imaginative episode comes in “Sons of Mars,” which sees the return of the troublesome Magic Man and a case of mistaken identity when he transforms Jake to look like him in an attempt to avoid punishment for his deeds when a four-faced alien drops in to bring him to justice. The show’s idea to have creatures from another planet would be interesting and silly enough in and of itself, but the revelation about who runs the joint is too random and hilarious to spoil. Revelations like that are great, just for the reaffirmation that this show can and will do very nearly anything it wants to.

Adventure Time Season FourBonus material on this set will be familiar to Adventure Time fans by now. Every single episode has its own robust audio commentary track, where creator Pendleton Ward and a host of other creative talent shoot the breeze and explain the background of the cartoon’s legion of jokes and many of its particular scenes. Compared to the season 3 set supplemental material takes a step upward by virtue of the 20 minute featurette “Distant Bands: The Music of Adventure Time”, where Pat McHale, Jesse Moynihan, Rebecca Sugar and Pendleton Ward discuss some key examples of tunes in the show that are either meaningful or just catchy or preposterously fun, like Rebecca Sugar’s goofy “Bacon Pancakes” jingle.

Ultimately season 4 of Adventure Time is more of the same, which is not at all a bad thing given its sterling record of unbound imagination and quirky sense of humor. If you’ve made it this far collecting the show there is no reason at all to stop now, while those seeking a selection of the best this show has to offer could do well for themselves by picking this up along with the third season collection.