Another year brings another set of Adventure Time to home video, and once again this seventh season continues to find a winning balance between advancing the status quo of the program while not losing sight of the quirky humor and adventure-for-its-own-sake story ideas that have made it such consistently strong quality entertainment.
The season starts off with Finn’s personal father issues behind him but also with things far less than ideal in the Candy Kingdom after the events of the sixth season placed the self-styled “King of Ooo” in charge. While he’s little more than an opportunistic con artist, the fickleness of popular opinion combined with the chronic naivety of the innocent candy people give him his opportunity, driving a frustrated, exhausted Princess Bubblegum to retire to a simple farm life. This can’t last, but while it does, Finn and Jake do their best to serve the current regime in the name of loyalty – and the call to adventure.
The King of Ooo’s idiotic despotism cannot and does not last too long, which is a mercy. The jokes connected to that are one-note and would get tired quickly over even half a season, but even during his reign the real stars are the cast we know and love – particularly Princess Bubblegum and Marceline. “Bonnie and Neddy” shines a spotlight on the better sides of Bubblegum’s personality, as the former exposes the existence of her larger, simpler, and emotionally vulnerable sibling and Bubblegum’s genuine investment to protect his innocence from the harsh intrusion of the “king.” “Varmints” does the same via a shared adventure between Bubblegum and Marceline, where some tough love from the latter ultimately prompts Bubblegum to acknowledge and express her recent frustrations rather than suppress and avoid them through escapist work. The episode is a strong example of the value a strong friendship can have for someone even when it’s awkward, while avoiding the temptation to be didactic with an overt moral.
All this paves the way to the anchor of the entire season: the eight episodes that would comprise the event miniseries dubbed “Stakes.” The adventure invests time in fleshing out more of Marceline’s history, which soon becomes relevant to the present when lingering regrets about it prompt her to undergo a procedure to cure her vampiric nature. Unfortunately the “essence” released from that process revives five deadly Vampires she once took down to protect emigrating humans, all of whom pose a threat to the land of Ooo in their own individual ways. It’s up to Finn, Jake, Bubblegum, and a now-normal Marceline to hunt them down once again and set things right. The adventure ultimately returns Bubblegum to power while compelling Marceline to work through her mid-life crisis and come to terms with her lot in life. To a large degree Finn and Jake are along for the ride to bust some heads and offer some supportive friendship, although Finn gets his turn at adventure and a quest for identity and closure with the “Islands” miniseries in the following eighth season.
Those intrigued by stop-motion animation will definitely want this set for Kirsten Lepore’s award-winning episode “Bad Jubies,” the show’s third “guest director” episode following “A Glitch is a Glitch” (David OReilly) and “Food Chain” (Masaaki Yuasa). It’s a smaller episode by necessity, owing to the meticulous craftsmanship needed for the props and character models and the confines of a television series’ production schedule, but Adventure Time is built on such simple ideas rendered interesting by the characters and their idiosyncrasies. In this case, the primadonna attitude of Lumpy Space Princess drives the humor as our heroes build a shelter to weather a storm, along with a steadily-building frustration as Jake abruptly takes an interest in meditation and abstract concepts of inner peace at the expense of giving Finn tangible help. Naturally, Adventure Time being the kind of oddball show it is, differences and petty resentments must be put aside when it turns out Jake’s illogical behavior was on the right track and their stormy adversary is a literal sentient cloud powered by positive thinking. After all, why not: in a crazy make-believe world like this, why wouldn’t positive and negative thinking have power?
Of other standalone episodes on this set, the ones starring Finn & Jake’s sentient game console BMO are highlights. “Football” sees it trading places with its titular alternate self in a mirror for a day, only for the lonely creature to give in to the temptation to try taking over BMO’s life. It’s up to BMO to set things right by haunting Football through reflective surfaces, although the humor of that is secondary to the running joke of Finn and Jake failing to notice the difference (in no small part because of how odd BMO is habitually). One of the best episodes on the set is “Angel Face,” which takes the unusual step of pairing up BMO with Jake for a play date, where BMO roleplays a Cowboy with a child’s earnest gusto while a passive Jake serves as his horse mount in exchange for sandwiches. BMO’s capacity to play pretend so completely and joyfully is a lot of fun to watch, and a brilliant creative stroke that gives kids something to relate to. BMO even gets to play hero when the mercenary Me-Mow returns to capture Finn, thinking one of BMO’s pretend posters starring our hero is the real thing.
Of course, in any Adventure Time set, Finn and Jake are bound to have strong outings of their own. The highlight by far is “Crossover”, where the nigh-omnipotent Prismo deploys the pair to the alternate “Farmworld” created by the events of “Finn the Human” to stop an Ice-crown-crazed Finn and a Lich-posessed version of Jake from achieving a magical plot to threaten the entire multiverse. Inevitably the duo’s mandate to “take care” of their alternates succumbs to Finn’s desire to do good and be heroic, and the ensuing battle for a happier victory recalls the best thrills of the season 2 “Mortal Folly” and “Mortal Recoil.” The lighter adventures are the kind of casual comic fare fans are accustomed to by now, though I’d highlight “Scamps” and “Flute Spell” for Finn fans in particular. The former sees Finn employing reverse psychology to discipline a band of rowdy, manipulative and misbehaving kids, while the adventure of the latter teases a relationship with a “Huntress Wizard” only for Finn to realize and then accept the reasons a relationship with her can’t work. The proceedings of both episodes are fine entertainment while also highlighting the growing maturity of our hero, who was formerly not above allowing impulsive decisions and a small degree of narcissism to sabotage his relationships.
Good as it is, the release of this seventh season comes with a caveat – this is the first time since the first season release that such a set has been released standalone on DVD before the stellar Blu-ray collections that became routine and simultaneous beginning with season 2. What this implies for the future of this series in HD is anyone’s guess, but what’s clear is that these DVDs is all we’re likely to have for these episodes the forseeable future. The extras made available here, fortunately, are a step up from the sixth season. “Good Jubies: The Making of Bad Jubies” is a worthy short documentary that thoroughly recounts the full creative process for the episode, and in just 10 minutes will give any viewer a proper understanding of the effort and eye for detail required for successful stop-motion animation. This is complemented nicely by a wonderful time-lapse video showing the construction of the entire set, from Finn and Jake’s treehouse to the surrounding landscape and the shelter. Art galleries and select song demos accompany the animatic clips we’ve come to expect, although for this set things have been taken a step further with “Behind the Title Card” videos. Any given Adventure Time title card is a small work of striking illustration art in its own right, and these videos give fans a chance to watch them be made on fast forward with the very tools the show’s artists used to make them. They’re simply a must for any viewer interested in witnessing or studying the artistic process.
At this point, it’s no surprise and no criticism to say that season 7 of Adventure Time is more of the same. The lack of Blu-ray discs for this set is a concern and one that I deeply hope isn’t a harbinger for the future, especially at a time where so many animated classics and such stellar ongoing works as Cartoon Network’s own Steven Universe cry out for it. There is no substitute for fan support to make such things happen, and this collection deserves it as much as any other, even at the risk of requiring a double-dip for the same material. Even after all this time, this is a show that continues to impress with its casual humor and a seemingly bottomless well of original and quirky story ideas. It is surely fated to do so right up to the end of one of the most consistently good animated series on television.