Tag Archive | James Baxter

“Horse and Ball” Review

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Whereas the title card of James Baxter the Horse portrayed Baxter drawing at his desk, Horse and Ball depicts the actual sketches themselves. Really nice detail that ties in with this episode’s main theme.

Original Airdate: January 26, 2017

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Seo Kim

James Baxter the Horse is an episode I never really expected/wanted a sequel from. If you recall what I thought about that episode, I found it to be decent. Not one of the more memorable or funnier season five episodes, but a light and silly romp with sequences of stellar animation and a lot of heart in its subtext. While James Baxter the Horse was largely about the creative process, as well as the importance and drawbacks of inspiration, Horse and Ball is cleverly mostly about the life and journey of the creator themselves. And honestly, I think I like Horse and Ball a little bit better! The humor is sharper and more cohesive, and I actually find it to be an even more interesting exploration of the creative process than its prequel episode.

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It’s really nice that the real James Baxter was able to return to animate portions of this episode. Not only does it help add a rare bit of fluidity and zest to the animation, but it’s really what helps to make this character’s presence feel alive and entertaining to begin with. Without the talent of Baxter himself, I don’t think the character would be nearly as memorable, if at all. James Baxter, the character, has a pretty interesting role in this episode. I enjoy how he’s essentially motionless and dead inside after his ball pops, which is pretty obviously depicted as an existential crisis. Baxter is left with a horrifying dilemma: he’s an artist who isn’t able to create art. Given the circumstances of his past, of which are revealed in this episode, he also wasn’t coming from the most glamorous position. He had left his old life, and corporate America (or, in this case, corporate Ooo), and chose to start anew. Almost immediately in that process, he had unintentionally become an entertainer through the mere process of trying to cheer up a tearful bat, of which essentially becomes his entire life. So, Baxter’s left with quite the debilitating question: is his ability to cheer people up and to entertain others his main, or even his only, purpose in life? How is he supposed to go on if he can’t do the one thing he found that he’s good at?

There’s two subplots of this one, of which both provide their own individual aspects of entertainment. One involves Finn and his desires to care for James Baxter, while also exhibiting nervousness just being in his presence. These scenes are particularly hilarious, with some really great acting on Jeremy Shada’s part. Finn’s deepened voice as he tries to connect with Baxter is hysterically relatable. Any time I meet a somewhat decently prominent celebrity or artist at Comic Con, I’m an uncomfortably awkward dork the entire experience, so I feel you, pal. Another one of my favorite bits in this portion is the way that Shelby assists Finn through his anxiety. Shelby’s usually around to either be snarky or a know-it-all (in the best way possible), so it’s a surprising change of pace to have him so earnestly help his housemate on trying to relax. It’s an irresistibly sweet and fun time watching these two work off of each other, and really pays off when Finn does give his empowering speech regarding the importance of self-care and appeasing one’s self. Finn does a great job here, but let’s face it, Shelby’s the true hero who helps him pull through!

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The second subplot involves Jake and BMO as they seek out to find a new beach ball for James Baxter in Ooo’s Junkyard. It was also a pleasant surprise to have Raggedy Princess join the crew, and it even kind of continues her development as a character that was set up in Frog Seasons: Autumn. Totally didn’t expect for any of the Frog Seasons shorts to further impact the series, but here we are again with Raggedy Princess’s sad feelings of isolation. I do like how the show acknowledges that she isn’t without talent or beauty – BMO is so saddened by her poetry that he starts to cry, which he mentions isn’t bad, but just sad in general. I guess that’s what makes Raggedy Princess’s character even more tragic, because even though she is skilled, it’s hard for her to gather an audience because of the negative effect her poetry has on people, whereas James Baxter gains attention for leaving people with a feeling of positivity. Not sure how much I agree with this motif, as I think we live in a society where people are just as willing to consume content that makes them sad as well as content that makes them happy (just look at the popularity surrounding BoJack Horseman) but I suppose I can understand the desire of happiness more than I can understand the desire of sadness. The only aspect of this subplot that I don’t really like is that I feel Raggedy’s position as the antagonist is a bit unwarranted. I mean, what does she have to gain from keeping the beach ball in the first place? I suppose it gives her a legitimately captive audience, but aside from that, I don’t think it really adds anything to the episode aside from a contrived feeling of conflict. I do like Raggedy’s turnaround towards the end, however, as she decides to help a fellow artist, even if it means sacrificing her own audience.

The best handled scenes in this episode, however, are easily James Baxter’s backstory. A lot of it is really quiet and nuanced, with the addition of Tim Kiefer’s ambient score that really carries these portions nicely. I also adore the interactions between James Baxter and the bat. The way Baxter cheers her up (and also ends up gaining his alias by mispronouncing “games” and “bookstore”… priceless) is truly charming and well-animated, just as much as it is heartbreaking when we see how things progress. Really is sad to see how the bat essentially just became another audience member as Baxter’s fame rose. It does seem that, as one celebrity becomes bigger and bigger, those that initially surrounded themselves with said talent begin to shrink in prominence. Of course, I don’t think it’s James Baxter’s fault. He simply decided to share his talent with the world, while the bat saw it as something intimate and personal, and the fact that he chose to widen the popularity of his talent meant that the act essentially lost meaning and significance. It’s just a really sad misunderstanding between two friends.

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I know I’ve included this kind of analysis like, five other times, but I really can’t help but think of Pendleton Ward in Horse and Ball. Given that James Baxter the Horse seemed to be about the creation of Adventure Time, or just creative entertainment in general, this really feels like a look at Ward’s life without AT. Again, I’ve already compared this moment in Ward’s life to the events of Chips & Ice Cream, so maybe I’m just really invested in the life of Ward in general and insert subtext where it’s clearly not. Regardless, I do see the ending as a message that can easily apply to his journey with Adventure Time. His time as a creator has ended, and though people may want him to continue doing what he was best at, it’s important that he finds himself an area of happiness and prosperity in his own life. That goes for creatives and celebrities in general; those we look up to, no matter how much we enjoy their work, deserve to be happy doing whatever they want to be doing. It often comes off as somewhat of a betrayal when influencers step back from doing exactly what we want them to be doing, but truth be told, creatives can only offer so much to the point where the greatest gift they can receive is the patience and understanding of their audience. Though James Baxter won’t be dancing on a beach ball any longer, he’s at least left doing what he wants to do (through an impromptu dance sequence) and he can be happy that, for once, he’s defying society’s expectations of him and truly starting out on his own.

Horse and Ball is pretty good! It appropriately continues the motif from its predecessor episode, while also being a hilarious and heartfelt entry in general. Like I mentioned earlier, if I had to choose between James Baxter the Horse and Horse and Ball, I’d probably choose the latter. It has better jokes, more guest-animated sequences, and a more enthralling story overall.

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Favorite line: “Stab him… with a giant syringe… of respect.”

“James Baxter the Horse” Review

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Original Airdate: May 6, 2013

Written & Storyboarded by: Pendleton Ward & Somvilay Xayaphone

During his time at CalArts, Pen Ward had a special guest lecture by James Baxter, an animator who worked with both Disney and DreamWorks. Someone in the lecture asked James Baxter to draw a horse on top of a beach ball, to which James Baxter declined, but the idea of a horse on a ball stuck with Ward regardless. Which is why James Baxter the Horse stars Ward in a rare position at the storyboarding helm, because it turns out to be a pretty personal story in regards to being inspired by someone else’s work, but trying to make your own unique content out of it. And for the most part, I think it works.

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The beginning starts off pretty great with BMO’s pregnant song. Again, this is right after Rebecca Sugar left, so most of the songs following her departure aren’t exactly catchy or memorable, but this one is at least funny. While Finn and Jake try to cheer up BMO she breaks her egg, James Baxter appears and makes everything better with his beach ball routine. The real life James Baxter actually assisted with some of the animation in this episode, mainly the bits where James Baxter rolls on the beach ball, and man, is it a fluid breath of fresh air! Not that AT animation typically looks bad, per se, but you never really expect anything particularly smooth or fluid in terms of character movement. Baxter himself voices his horse counterpart as well, and it provides for a really enjoyably silly running gag throughout the course of the episode.

I think that’s how you can describe the entirety of the episode for the most part: enjoyably silly. I mentioned in my last review that Princess Potluck felt like an episode that was meandered by a plot that seemed as insignificant as an episode from season one, but I think this episode is able to also capture the spirit of the first season in a pretty solid way. Ward is far from my favorite boarder on the show; I have oodles of respect for the guy, but I think he’s more of a storyteller than an actually great writer. And his drawings, while perfectly serviceable, are very simplistic depictions of our main heroes that we’re used to seeing everywhere in AT media. But that being said, I think most of it works with the actual episode. There are moments of stilted dialogue and awkwardness, but it calls for some surrealistic laughs at times. Like the bit where Jake propels Finn into the air to kick the ghost as Finn and Jake randomly get coated in milk. Also, there’s just inexplicably no background music during this sequence. Ward has always been on the more random and silly side, and it’s a style that doesn’t really call for some of the funnier or more memorable pieces from the series, but it’s a style that’s definitely charming and likable regardless. It’s just like Rainy Day Daydream, another episode boarded by Ward that I don’t really think is downright hilarious or terrific or anything, but there’s something so delightful about it regardless.

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Pairing Ward with Somvilay was actually a pretty good choice in my mind. I think it’s fucking redundant at this point to keep bringing up issues with Somvilay’s drawings, because let’s face it, I literally feel that way about every single episode he has boarded thus far. From now on, I’m only going to bring it up if it poses a large issue with the episode itself, which there are some of down the line. Actual drawings aside, I think Somvilay’s simplistic character depictions and focus on wacky non-sequiturs actually really match well with what Ward was going for (there’s a ton of w’s in that last sentence, woah). I like the little added Somvilayisms, like Finn handing Jake his clipboard just to carry across an animated line of dialogue and then retrieving it back. Also, moments such as Finn and Jake disturbing the funeral and making noises towards the little girl are more direct methods of comedy, but two that play off pretty well and do make me laugh.

A good portion of the episode is watching Finn and Jake embark on this journey to create something as great as James Baxter has, and it’s pretty cool to connect the dots with Pen Ward in Finn and Jake’s position. It seems pretty clear that Ward has a ton of respect for Baxter himself, so he probably wanted to create something as great as he was able to, but always felt inferior and that he was never able to match Baxter’s standards. Ward instead tried to create something different that also appeared to people’s interests and what they like to see, which worked out for him, but his work still probably wasn’t looked at as quite as good as James Baxter’s. What this episode sets to point out is that, even if your work isn’t technically superior to another’s, you should still try and make other people happy with your talents. You shouldn’t try endlessly to recreate the magic that another person has invented, but instead try and create your own unique spin on already existing properties. I don’t know how many of the kiddies picked up on this one, but it’s a neat little message to carry across, and one that is particularly sweet.

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The backgrounds in this one are great! Again, a lot of nice skies and scenery to chew on. This is an episode that is featured pretty heavily in the Art of Ooo book, for good reasons. I like the simplicity of some of the Grassland scenes, as well as the dope-looking factory with its many colors and layers. Also, this is a really design-heavy episode. There’s James Baxter, the hitchhiker ghost, the furry people in the forest, the grieving family, and so on. It’s always nice to have a group of new background characters, a feat that is still unmatched by Ocarina, but one that makes the episode feel more inventive and that more time was put into the smaller details.

I don’t really have much more to say besides the fact that, well, it’s fun! Nothing particularly special, but it’s a sweet little episode that takes the time to channel a more personal story over the increasingly wild Land of Ooo. It’s always very special to get an episode boarded by Ward, which only happens every once in a blue moon. I’m glad he had a crucial part on this one, and I’m glad he took the time to share his story with the viewers of AT. All I know is that I could watch that scene of James Baxter riding into the sunset all day long if I wanted to.

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Favorite line: “Jaaaaaaames Baaaxter!”