“Bad Jubies” Review

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Original Airdate: January 14, 2016

Written & Storyboarded by: Kirsten Lepore

Bad Jubies is the fourth installment in Adventure Time‘s guest animator series, and it might be the best looking entry to date. I’m a sucker for stop motion; whether it be truly gorgeous pieces of cinema, such as Anomalisa or Isle of Dogs, or even some of the sillier examples, like Gumby or those corny Rankin-Bass holiday specials, there’s something undeniably charming about the art form that draws me in, even when the material isn’t particularly good. There is a clear sense of effort put into this episode, which took over a year to make. In fact, it actually started production before Water Park Prank, the previous guest animated episode, had even been conceived. And that effort really pays off; the characters look true to their 2-D counterparts, the backgrounds and scenery are absolutely gorgeous, and the animation feels thoroughly expressive and fluid throughout the run of the episode. The episode was directed entirely by Kirsten Lepore, an animator who specializes in stop motion. I actually had not known of Lepore’s work before this episode, but I did check out her stuff afterwards and quickly fell in love with it (with Bottle and Hi Stranger being my favorites). She’s also provided animation for Yo Gabba Gabba and recently has taken on the role of being a storyboard artist for Summer Camp Island. But, while I love the look of this episode, how does it fare when it comes to story and writing aspects? Well, it’s… alright.

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I really feel bad saying that, and I really wanted to like this one, but just as I’ve said with the past three episodes, it comes across being “just good enough.” There’s nothing particularly bad about it, so to speak, and I think it actually gets down the portrayal of the main characters much better than most of the other guest animated episodes were able to. Granted, some of the portrayals may have been a bit too exaggerated, but I’ll get into that in a bit. Ironically, however, Lepore’s attention to the characters and environment actually somewhat backfires in a way. Typically, guest animated episodes are a chance for the animator to blend their style with AT in a way that sets it apart, while still feeling as though its capturing the show’s essence. Lepore does so well, but in a way that feels like it’s playing it a bit too safe.

Elaborating on what I mean by this, Food Chain was obviously set apart by the detailed Flash animation and surreal stories it could tell through its medium. Bad Jubies is the opposite. It presents a pretty subpar story and doesn’t really do anything particularly creative or interesting with the use of its stop motion that sets it apart from any other episode. Really, if you take away the element of stop motion, this is just your average Adventure Time episode. With a genre as sophisticated and unique as stop motion, I wish a lot more could’ve been played with in terms of fun and surreal animation – imagine the possibilities with Jake’s stretchiness! Again, I hate talking shit on that aspect, because stop motion in general is really expensive and time-consuming, but it fails to get me invested on the story in general, and the animation doesn’t really benefit for any little added bonuses that help carry it through.

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Aside from the story being rather generic and bland, the episode isn’t really on the more humorous side either. In fact, I fail to remember a moment where I had even laughed once. A lot of the attempts at jokes in this one revolve around Lumpy Space Princess being really loud and selfish, and all of you longtime readers probably know how I feel about that by now. She’s obnoxious, intolerant, and unfortunately takes up half of the episode. This is around the last point in time where LSP significantly weighs down an episode with her own vanity, and thank God for that. I’m all for giving the girl a chance, because she has episodes like Bad Timing and Be Sweet under her belt, but I had grown exceedingly tired of her character by this episode. She’s Adventure Time‘s Eric Cartman without any of the charisma or subtle brilliance, and is merely there to be the loud valley girl and nothing more. Luckily, she has a nice breakout role in Elements down the line, which gave me a full season break from her character that I truly needed.

In addition to that exaggerated character portrayal, I thought Jake might have been a bit too zen for my own liking. I dunno, I might be nitpicking here, because I don’t think it was totally out of line with his character, but some parts felt a bit contrived to me. Jake’s spiel about people being way too locked into their technology just didn’t seem like Jake. He’s a cool guy and real spiritual, but he spent an entire episode dedicated to beating his high score on his favorite video game, so I feel as though Bad Jubies tries to showcase him in a bit too much of a Buddha light. He almost seems too unconcerned by the events of the storm that he doesn’t even care if anything happens to himself or his friends in the process. Granted, I do like his role overall, and I think it was a unique decision for Lepore to make Jake the star of the episode over everyone else. While Finn and Jake have had somewhat of an equal role in the past three guest animated episodes, this one is clearly leaning more towards Jake. I just think it would’ve been a lot cooler if Jake had some sort of grapple with his mortality, or something. That stuff is always fun.

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Finn and BMO are portrayed well, but as I mentioned, the story is what mostly suffers from this one. Again, it’s not particularly interesting, and I feeling like it’s trying to have a message at the end, but it really isn’t cohesive. It feels as if the episode is attempting to portray Jake in a better light than everyone else, because he’s managing to find peace and serenity while everyone else stresses out… but isn’t it kind of perfectly reasonable for them to do so? I mean, it’s a deadly storm, and the set up of the episode makes it pretty certain that this is not something that they can get around. If the episode had perhaps centered around insecurities and fears that seemed irrational, Jake’s zen behavior may have provided for a better light of positivity. I get that Jake ends up saving the day by being level-headed and peaceful, but I dunno, it kind of just reminds me of the people in disaster stories who put all of their faith in the church, and then end being swept up by a tornado. I feel like stress is a genuine necessity when it comes to dealing with crisis situations.

So, what do I like about this episode? Well, as I had mentioned before, the look of it is gorgeous. The backgrounds and models are great, and the music really sets the ambiance (which was composed by diasterpeace, whose work in this one sounds a lot like Tim Kiefer’s). That gag at the beginning with BMO’s super-detailed weather forecast face was pretty humorous, but that’s kind of it. Not to say that I hated the rest of the episode, but very little actually stuck out to me. I could see this concept working as a 3-5 minute short, but I don’t think it really makes for an entirely satisfying 11 minute segment. I still want to commend Lepore and her team for their work on this episode, as this is easily the most impressively constructed guest animator episode thus far. There’s actually a short 12 minute documentary about the making of this episode, entitled Good Jubies: The Making of Bad Jubies, which you can watch on Cartoon Network’s YouTube here, and you can also check out all of Lepore’s other wonderful animations here.

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Favorite line: “How bout some o’ dem bean-beans?” (It’s the inflections that really make this one)

 

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