Home Channels Review: “Adventure Time: Stakes” UK Premiere: Hail To The Queen

Review: “Adventure Time: Stakes” UK Premiere: Hail To The Queen

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Adventure Time StakesAdventure Time has proven to be quite a success for Cartoon Network since snatching it from the jaws of death after another network (who shall remain nameless) passed on the pilot. Slowly gaining a mythology but always willing to prioritise the unexpected and hilarious, the show about a boy adventurer and his talking magic dog brother has managed to create an entire wider cast of memorable characters. One of the standouts from the beginning has been Marceline, the Vampire Queen. Originally a playful antagonist the character has been fleshed out across the show’s run, revealing a painful hidden past behind her public persona of thrill seeker and (literal) axe player. So when Adventure Time chose to do a spin off mini-series, it’s perhaps not surprising that Marceline would be placed at the centre.

Opening with an alternate night time version of the iconic title sequence, Stakes sees Marceline consult Princess Bubblegum for help in ridding herself of her vampire identity. The procedure is apparently a success but the extracted essence swiftly forms into a quintet of dangerous and powerful vampires, figures from Marceline and Ooo’s past. Teaming up with Bubblegum, Finn and Jake, the race is on to defeat this resurrected threat.

Adventure Time is no stranger to developing plots over time but the microcosm of a mini-series allows for one more direct and focussed than the usual style. Narratively of course the series fits in with the main show’s current status quo and of course assumes you’re up to date with that. However those looking for a tonal shift may be disappointed. Although attention is pointed towards Marceline and revelations about her past, this is still the familiar Adventure Time style in which shocking revelations and nightmarish visuals are balanced by the silly humour and nonchalant “ain’t no thang” attitude and dialogue of the cast. Each of the vampires are memorable in their own right, creating a set of villains that feel like a validation for this to be a special event and not just part of the normal run. My personal favourite proved to be the Hierophant, a traditionalist whose cunning is betrayed by his strict adherence to the bindings of vampire lore. In fact the series does quite well in knowing that the audience will be aware of these ideas and clichés and actually opts to have fun with them in various unexpected ways.

Although the familiar style is entertaining, I admit I would have liked a bit more from the story. Olivia Olson is on her usual pitch perfect form as Marceline but the character seems to have little conflict over how her desire to no longer be a vampire is quickly supplanted by her need to take said powers back to protect the world. Given that the Marceline episodes in the past have actually dived into her vulnerabilities, it’s particularly odd that here things are treated as more like a grand romp. Things do come to an effective head by the end but I feel more could have been done to get mileage out of the concept the mini-series exists to explore. At the very least it’s always heart wrenching to see the show dive into Marceline’s bumpy friendship with Simon/the Ice King.

The vocal cast are on fine form. Jeremy Shada, John DiMaggio, Hynden Walch and Tom Kenny do their usual brilliant job as Finn, Jake,  Bubblegum and Ice King respectively, joined by a few other familiar tones and faces in surprise cameos. Olivia Olson gets the most focus in the starring role, showing not only her acting ability but her singing talent as well.  We were treated to a live performance of one of these songs, Everything Stays (written by Rebecca Sugar, who cameos as Marceline’s mother), at the advance screening and it really is genuine talent.

Fans young and old will find a lot to enjoy in Stakes. It takes a proven breakout character and dives deeper into her past and motivations. Maybe not quite deep enough for my tastes but I’ll concede that shooting too melodramatic wouldn’t be the Adventure Time that is so fun to watch. Definitely something to sink your teeth into.

Adventure Time: Stakes premieres on Cartoon Network UK at 5pm Monday 14th March, running as a four night event.

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