It’s Adventure Time! Grab your friends, your backpack, your sword, and prepare to deal with trolls, giants, dragons, zombies, and more. But don’t expect a lot past that just because you’re buying the box set...
Okay, so Adventure Time chronicles the animated adventures (and misadventures) of Finn (Jeremy Shada), a human boy in his early teens, and his best friend Jake (John DiMaggio), a magical talking dog with powers to stretch and change shape like Plastic Man. Finn and Jake live in an amazing treehouse and spend most of their time traveling around the land of Ooo, punching evil and helping the oppressed. Over the course of their first season, our heroes conquer the evil, princess-loving Ice King (several times); a witch’s curse; a rockin’ vampire queen; the nightmarish dungeon of the Crystal Eye; a city full of thieves; two different types of zombies (not fast ones and slow ones); Finn’s fear of the ocean; a magical spirit who’s an admitted jerk; and their own aggressive tendencies when their childhood hero (Lou Ferrigno) explains the benefits of non-violence and community service. And in the process, Finn and Jake learn about...ummm...well, it’s made pretty clear that Finn and Jake don’t learn many lessons from their adventures, and the ones they do are often a bit tongue in cheek. Don’t kidnap things. Violence is awesome. If you break promises giants will come to attack you.
A few episodes stand out as seriously amazing among the 26 in this set. “The Witch’s Garden” has Jake cursed and without his powers for eating donuts from a witch’s...well, donut bushes. It’s a wonderful lesson in saying what people want to hear so they’ll forgive you. “Dungeon” is a wonderful parody of Dungeons & Dragons monsters. And “Rainy Day Daydream” is an absolutely brilliant take on all those imagination-based games we played as kids (you’ll never pretend the floor’s lava again, that’s for sure).
This all might sound a bit random, and I know hardcore fans of Adventure Time praise the show for this sort of goofiness and bold anti-storytelling. Here’s an ugly truth, though. This show isn’t so much bold and new as it is a throwback to those good ol’ days of animation you hear old people talk about sometimes (you know, when we bother to listen to them). Adventure Time is a direct descendant of Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, the Pink Panther, and Heckle & Jeckle. The stories aren’t really random, and most of them have just enough of a through-line that you can actually follow them from beginning to end. Really, they’re just thin plots which only exist to let goofy characters do their things, and that thing usually involves some wonderfully senseless violence. And sometimes -- not often but sometimes -- there’s even an honest moral lesson hidden among the insistence that there’s no moral lesson. It’s the best kind of classic animation, where half the jokes are for the kids and the other half are for their parents.
This two-disc set is loaded with bonuses and features. The commentaries and animatics are great and give a nice glimpse at some of the creative process (who knew that animated shows have bottle episodes?). There’s a pile of previews for different DVD sets. The two music videos are great, but I’ve got to admit I really liked “Finndemonium” with all its footage of Adventure Time cosplayers at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con.
To be honest, half of the features just feel a bit thin. Worse yet, a few of them feel like that guy who refuses to break character even when everyone’s telling him the gag’s over and they need to talk about serious stuff now. Take the “Behind the Scenes” featurette, which is mostly Pendleton Ward walking though the Adventure Time offices with his phone on a steadicam rig (which he bought on the internet for about $150). Instead of a chance to see behind the scenes, though, this is just another goofy story of a miniature Finn running through the halls and being chased by different staff members (not all of whom seem committed to the gag). The “Behind the Scenes of the Behind the Scenes” featurette is a single visual gag stretched out over two and a half minutes. “Adventure Time Music with Casey and Tim” is a series of extensive interviews with the show’s two music directors (Timothy Kiefer and Casey James Basichis). It’s probably the most serious attempt to get behind the scenes, but it’s hampered by poor production values. With all this talk about the musical inspiration for different episodes, there isn’t a single note of music or frame of animation from the episodes the guys are talking about. So the whole feature just feels like one of those lectures where you vaguely know what’s being discussed but can’t really connect it to anything.
Overall, Adventure Time is fun and will get laughs from the whole family. It’s worth buying just for that. But if you’re hoping for a lot of insight from all the special features, you’re probably going to be disappointed.
Length: 286 min.
Distributor: Cartoon Network
Release Date: 7/10/12
Starring: Jeremy Shada, John DiMaggio, Hynden Walch, Tom Kenny, Olivia Olson, Pendleton Ward
Directed by: Larry Leichliter
Written by: Pendleton Ward, Merriwether Williams, Tim McKeon, Adam Muto, Elizabeth Ito, Craig Lewis, Bert Youn, Sean Jiminez, Patrick McHale, Luther McLaurin, Armen Mirzaian, Kent Osborne, Pete Browngart, Niki Yang, JG Quintel, Cole Sanchez, Ako Castuera
Produced by: Pendleton Ward, Derek Drymon, Fred Siebert, Kelly Crews