Tag Archive | Pendleton Ward

“Bad Timing” Review

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Original Airdate: March 3, 2014

Written & Storyboarded by: Kent Osborne & Pendleton Ward

Lumpy Space Princess’s vanity and ego make her quite the difficult character to feel sympathy for. While all of the characters within Adventure Time have their fair share of flaws throughout the run of the series, all of them at least have something that gives me a reason as to why I should care for them, that is, all except for LSP. Bad Timing does the unthinkable. It manages to make me care for LSP’s character in a way I really never imagined. And this isn’t an episode that gives a cute or likable side to her character; the episode still does its damndest to show that LSP is crazy and arrogant in her own lumpy way, but it’s exactly that kind of attitude and behavior that directly contributes to the tragedy of her character as a whole. This is all tied together with a unique framing device that includes some delightfully silly creations from Pen Ward and Kent Osborne, and helps to all connect to Bad Timing’s piteous ending.

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The episode is introduced to Princess Bubblegum once again battling the logic behind anomalies and magic in contrast to her deep faith in her own scientific studies. Her method of time travel is also rather complex, but interesting. The back-to-back bickering between PB and Jake is quite enjoyable, as always; I really enjoy this playful conflict between the two. It’s pretty obvious that Jake is more captivated by presentation rather than the deep intervals of the space time continuum. He’d rather just see cool time portals and shit than a big presentation about the construct of time, which PB fails to understand, ultimately diminishing her faith in magic even more. It’s also nice to see one of the Mud Scamps from The Hard Easy back again! I love those quirky little critters.

As LSP enters the scene, it’s already clear what her current state of mind is. After literally sleeping in a gutter for the night (a terrific metaphor for her deranged mindset), she nearly tears PB apart for not allowing her to use the time device to visit her past boyfriend Brad. We haven’t seen a ton of LSP this past season and a half, as her only major appearances were in Candy Streets and Apple Wedding, where her deteriorating mental health is in clear view. And this one does not hold back when showing LSP at her absolute craziest and most desperate. It isn’t devoid of some of her funnier moments as well; Pen Ward gives his all with this performance, showcasing Lumpy Space Princess and her most loud and obnoxious, but also her most passionate.

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While LSP drowns her worries at the Candy Kingdom Tavern, as Tree Trunks softly sings “Slow Boat to China” (a referential moment I actually quite enjoy), she comes across Johnnie, or as she called him in high school: “Ugly Johnnie.” Johnnie is the perfect example of just a likable “nice guy” character. He’s certainly not the most interesting character that has ever starred on the show, but I don’t really think that was the point. He’s just supposed to be this really sweet guy who shows Lumpy Space Princess something that she has probably never received, or at least accepted: care and compassion. He’s also not without his funny moments, mostly stemming from his clear social awkwardness and quirky behavior. I like how corny and kind of stilted his interactions with LSP are. They laugh about using a vinyl record to stimulate a face, and then Johnnie immediately just tells Lumpy Space Princess to sleep on his couch. Talk about a confident and forward man! And honestly, Johnnie is the perfect representation of “that person from high school who went waaay under the radar.” I think all of us who have gone through high school know that one person you look at now and just wonder “damn, where were you three years earlier?” Is that rude? I don’t know.

But the utter tragedy of it all is seeing just how well LSP responds to all of this. She isn’t demeaning, she isn’t arrogant, and she isn’t being vain. She genuinely enjoys the company of Johnnie, and is much happier with herself and her life spending time with someone that not only benefits her own existence, but somebody that she can care and love for as well. Johnnie was able to build confidence and self-esteem through her own actions, and carried those skills over to get a job within the Candy Kingdom. Lumpy Space Princess most likely only dated guys who were physically attractive for a social status back in Lumpy Space, so this is definitely the first boyfriend she has had who isn’t completely materialistic. But of course, LSP’s desire for love is still a very self-centered desire. Though she’s able to give love to Johnnie, anything threatening the love that he gives her ultimately threatens the relationship as a whole. Lumpy Space Princess doesn’t know that love requires trust and flexibility; her only understanding of true love is that it feels good and that she doesn’t want the high to leave. Especially in this case, seeing as how Johnnie is a legitimately kind and loving guy, she does not want to lose him or the way he feels about her for anything.

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During Johnnie’s dinner with Princess Bubblegum, LSP sits sadly outside and utters a monologue that is so raw and passionate that I couldn’t help but include it in this review.

Oh, Johnnie… Ugly Johnnie, through my tender love you have metamorphed into Beautiful Johnnie Butterfly. Every relationship, I gamble with my heart. I go all in because the payoff is true love. I see you when I close my eyes, and thinking of you makes my mind feel light. All my problems fade away, and I can’t help smiling. To let someone you love go into the arms of another takes a big person. I don’t know… if I can be that big.

This is one of my favorite soliloquies in the show, and honestly the best representation about what Lumpy Space Princess as a character is all about. It’s easy to dismiss her as crazy, but even easier to empathize with her viewpoint on love and how important it can make one feel. Yet, it’s important to also realize that LSP isn’t in love… she has only known Johnnie for a day. However, the impact of the brief relationship and the effect it had on her is exactly what makes her feelings so validated. LSP is a person constantly looking for love, and one that struggles so hard to ever find it. For the first time in her life, she’s at least found a genuine person who she could actually see herself with. The thought of mutual love is enough to make her as high as could be, and the only thing that actually threatens her is the loss of that love. It’s a lot similar to Braco’s situation in The Suitor: if the two of these characters were patient and understanding with their alleged loved ones, they would have ended up having a much more positive resolution. Yet, LSP is left with only her paranoia and feelings of heartbreak, which continue to contribute to her own self-destructive behavior. She’s unable to look past her own insecurities because she is afraid of losing everything she has worked so hard to create, even though she’s actively destroying exactly what she wanted in the first place. In a very Lumpy Space Princess-y way, this is a very sad truth when it comes to love and infatuation.

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And of course, let’s not forget the tranch herself, Princess Bubblegum. I think PB is written pretty terrifically in this one, and it’s a nice balance to show her caring and compassionate side after sooo many episode of referencing her more shady and conniving nature (though he use of cyanide laced gum is quite questionable). Even though she initially threatens to declare war on Lumpy Space after a trivial fight between LSP (the chick can be petty sometimes!), her sympathy and understanding of Lumpy’s own self-doubt is exposed in all the right ways. Instead of reprimanding LSP for stealing her material, wrecking her castle, and sort of killing someone, she would much rather put a halt to Lumpy’s suffering, even if it means feeling the wrath of her own hostility. PB is a caring and understanding person when she realizes the emotional turmoil that is going on within other people, and after 800 years of trying to build a happy Utopian society, there’s still the underlying realism that some citizens do deal with deep emotional issues. And sometimes the only way to cope with the heavy issues of her citizens is to have a nice drink at the Candy Kingdom Tavern. Poor gal.

The ending is about as heartwrenching as it gets. Through the outer circle surrounding the episode, we see that these creatures are from an alternate dimension, and that the time machine sent Johnnie here instead of his past timeline. As LSP bawls over the loss of her love, we see that Johnnie can also see exactly what is going on within the Land of Ooo. As she angrily runs out, Johnnie sadly slouches himself, knowing that he’ll never be able to see his lover ever again. Johnnie perhaps receives the saddest fate out of any character in the entire show; he’s doomed to a dimension that he can presumably never escape from, and through everything, he really, really liked LSP. He never doubted his relationship or lost his feelings for his special someone, and Lumpy Space Princess’s failure to understand social cues is what ultimately led to the demise of their individual lives. It’s sad stuff.

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The outer circle is certainly an interesting gag within the episode, with many cute little characters and gags within it. I also think it was delightfully clever to tie the entire episode back to the actual visual gag. Though, I think this is definitely a feature that works much better on rewatches. When I initially viewed this episode, I was quite distracted by the actual circle and actually missed the emotional ending with Johnnie ending up in the circle. Thus, this is one that benefits from multiple viewings, so now I can either focus entirely on the circle, or the events going on within the episode. Each are equally interesting in their own right, and the cute little creatures have Pendleton Ward written all over them. Perhaps my favorite of these doodles are the peanut who splits into two individual nuts and the triangle and square happily see-sawing together.

This one is an emotional rollercoaster, and one that I’m quite fond of. This is the best Lumpy Space Princess episode to date, and it’s one that finds all the right ways for me to sympathize with her. By the end of the episode, she’s still entirely vain and insane, but Bad Timing finds just the right balance to still make her charismatic. One of Ooo’s most unsympathetic characters was able to also become one of the show’s most tragic, and I think that’s just another magical actual of great writing within the scope of Adventure Time.

Favorite line: “Boy, when this evening started, I was feeling so dump trucks, but now it’s like a hundred forklifts!”

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“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!”

“Five Short Graybles” Review

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Original Airdate: April 9, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich, Cole Sanchez & Skyler Page

The Graybles episodes never quite reached the heights of the other experimental types of stories AT has pursued. The guest animator and Fionna and Cake episodes have produced quality material that the Graybles stories haven’t been able to meet in my personal list of favorites. Though, I can say, where some guest animator and Fionna and Cake episodes have failed somewhat severely, I’ve never thought too poorly of any of the Graybles. They’re simplistic and cute stories that later contribute to the lore of the show’s world, but for now, they’re simply the former. And there’s nothing wrong with that, this one actually reminds me a lot of 22 Short Films of Springfield, one of my all-time favorite Simpsons episodes. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where Graybles episodes stemmed from, Pen Ward is a huge Simpsons fan after all.

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It starts out very uniquely, with the introduction of Cuber, voiced by Emo Phillips. It’s later revealed that he’s a futuristic dude, but I’m pretty sure in this one, we’re just kind of supposed to look at him as the narrator. But he’s pretty cool, though this is probably his most generic appearance. He later lends himself to some creative and clever scenarios, but here he’s just kind of in it to do his job, and that is to explain the purpose behind Graybles. It’s a decent first appearance, and I really do love Emo Phillips as a voice actor. Check out his stand-up if you haven’t, it’s hilarious!

The first story starts out with BMO, and it’s by far the best. It’s a pretty stellar look into BMO’s psyche that introduces the recurring character of Football, as well as BMO’s underlying desires of wanting to be a human, or wanting to relate to humans. It’s really cute and almost tragic in a way; I really love seeing the little guy take so much pride in what he’s doing, but at the same time, he’s putting on a farce that will later become a larger burden for him and lead to a psychological breakdown. I never get tired of watching him pee through that glass of water, though. Really nice voice acting from Niki Yang, as always.

Finn and Jake’s story is a bit simplistic, but I do enjoy their somewhat masochistic behavior and the depths they’ll go to perfect a measly high-five. The framing device with our main duo is pretty great: their high-five pretty much carries through and builds up till the very end, which caps off in a pretty satisfying and funny ending, but we’ll get to that in a bit. I also love the unique shots we get to see as they run at each other in a pretty cinematic way. This is Skyler Page’s first time boarding for AT, and he really showcased some of his talents by drawing shots we don’t typically get to see in the series.

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PB’s sandwich sequence is terrific! It’s a really drawn-out scene, but one that never feels like it’s dragging or stale. It’s done through all kinds of visual gags, such as the poor cow that endures that somewhat bizarre contraption, or his block of cheese that’s converted into a single slice using a sewing machine. Then there’s the pure absurdity of PB hitting a head of lettuce with a baseball bat for some reason. Wouldn’t it have made a cleaner slice if she just chopped it up? Also, it’s interesting to see Bubblegum using what is presumed to be black magic. They acknowledge this in the commentary, and no one really has a reason to back it up. I’m just gonna call this one a brief continuity error. And that final bit with Cinnamon Bun was all types of fucking nasty, in the best way possible. I cringe every time I watch his body spew out that diarrhea-like slop.

Ice King’s story is pretty damn funny. I love how 90% of it is just him abusing his penguins. First he sends Gunther off on a block of ice for smelling bad, then he uses penguins to clean himself off and abrasively throws in them in the trash afterwards. It’s some pretty horrifically amusing stuff that only Ice King could get away with, and only seems to get funnier each time I watch those suffering penguins. At least Ice King was partially right about what smelled by the end of it.

Finally, we have LSP’s story. Nothing much to say for this one from me; I never really cared for the These Lumps song too much and I think the story itself is a bit dry. Save for the ending though, which I think is a terrific punchline with Finn and Jake abruptly being named the winners of the talent show instead of LSP. That was priceless. A lot of oddly mean-spirited humor in this episode, wasn’t there?

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Of course, there’s also the connecting theme. I think this one’s pretty obvious, and also because I had already read somewhere what the motif would be before I had even seen the episode. Despite that, I do commend the writers for introducing this type of brainteaser that would eventually get more difficult as the episodes went along. I think this one worked fine, but the creativity and ambiguity of the themes would only good up from here. I think it’s something neat that helps the youngins do some thinking while they’re watching.

So, I like it. It’s a cute introduction to a new series of stories within the series, and pertains a sense of enjoyability and intrigue throughout. It’s always fun revisiting these because I often forget which story happened when (I could’ve swore Tree Trunks was in this one), and it’s always fun to watch AT in such a chronicle structure.

Favorite line: “I thought you had a stank booty, Gunter. My bad.”

“Hot to the Touch” Review

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Original Airdate: April 2, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Rebecca Sugar & Cole Sanchez

Here we are, kids! Season four! As I’ve mentioned a couple times prior to this review, season four is a really big turning point for the series. Things get darker, edgier, and more impactful from hereon in, folks. Fresh off the batch is Hot to the Touch, a continuation from where season three’s cliffhanger left off. When the original synopsis for this episode was released, I had much different expectations for it. I generally didn’t expect for this one to pick right up where Incendium left off, as it typically wasn’t really something AT had done before, aside from the Mortal Folly/Mortal Recoil two-parter. I thought there’d be a lot more of Finn just sort of observing Flame Princess from afar, and trying to learn little tidbits about her in the process. There is a little bit of that, but what we got as a whole was a pretty satisfying episode, though not without it’s issues.

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First off, I think Flame Princess’s character is crafted perfectly in this episode. I dunno, after this one, I think they kinda jumped the gun and made her a lot less interesting than this episode set her up to be. I like her curiosity, how uneducated of the world around her she is, and how her moral code is constantly put into question. With a few exceptions (and some cool development much later on) I think her character was sorta squandered down into just a straight good guy following Hot to the Touch. Not to say Flame Princess is an awful character after this episode, but it almost feels like day and night to watch her so recklessly destroy a kingdom in this one and then be all cute and bubbly the next. I just really think they had a lot of momentum going with her ambiguity and then sorta dropped it way too quickly. It’s not an actual issue with the episode, though, and is one of my very favorite appearances of FP’s character in general. Also, she frequently mentions that she’s an elemental! It’s cool to see this mentioned so early on, and makes me wonder how Flame Princess became so familiar with this label to begin with. Perhaps Flame King educated her on this matter? It’s really up for discussion.

Finn’s interest in Flame Princess is very cute; I love his instant infatuation with FP and how he’s quickly able to profess his love for her without even really knowing her. That’s a typical thirteen-year-old for you (or is he 14 now?). I love how honest he is right off the bat, completely contradicting his prior relationship with PB. It’s rewarding to see the little guy be so open regarding his feelings and to not hold back, learning from his mistakes the first time. In addition to that, there is an interesting bit of turmoil he experiences when he has to choose between being a hero or preserving the one he cares about. The decision seems simple at first, but it all becomes more difficult when we learn that putting out FP’s flames legitimately hurt her. All of us want Finn to choose the obvious route of being heroic, but also don’t want to see Flame Princess get injured in the process. As for his ending breakdown… we’ll get to that in a bit.

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Jake is the perfect everyman in this episode: completely supportive of his hormonal brother, but being very rational when handling the situation. I love how much he goes through just for his friend, from helping him pursue his new love interest to trying to protect the Goblin Kingdom in the process. And, as a result, Jake is actually the true hero of this episode! Yeah, he helps Finn get closer to Flame Princess AND saves everyone in the Goblin Kingdom. What did you do again, Finn? You’re slippin’, buddy.

There’s a lot of enjoyable moments in this one. I love Finn’s awkwardness when it comes to pursuing FP, right down to the fact that he’s basically being a giant stalker and even acknowledges himself in the act. There’s plenty of silly side characters, from the smoking bird (who, for some reason, speaks in rhymes) and the return of the quirky goblins! And hey, speaking of characters returning, my boi NEPTR’s back!! NEPTR is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s really delightful to see the little scamp once again. I love the fact that everyone just generally disregards everything he says, including his entire existence. It just seems like such an oddly cynical and sadistic turn for such loving characters, and I really like how different it is because of that. NEPTR will always be BMO-Light to the rest of the cast. Also, that rap was fucking dope!

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My one problem with this episode, which is actually kind of a major one, is Rebecca Sugar’s part of the episode. I think Cole Sanchez’s section is just fine, but Sugar’s work feels like it’s trying too hard to be really profound and emotional to me. This is a common criticism for a ton of the season six and seven episodes, but really, I think it comes out full-fledged here. Finn’s crying just didn’t hit home for me at all; Rebecca had some big obsession with wanting Finn to cry during her time on the show, and really, I’m not sure I get it. I think some of the most impactful and poignant moments on the show are done without any crying at all (Finn discovering Susan may not be human in Susan Strong, Simon’s video diaries in Holly Jolly Secrets, Finn being abandoned by his father in Escape from the Citadel, etc.). It’s something that carries over heavily into her own show Steven Universe, but really, I just don’t think it works here. And considering the ending is left so ambiguous and poetic, you’d think there’d be room for more development on how Flame Princess and Finn are in a somewhat “forbidden” romance, but it’s rarely even touched upon in the next episode FP is in, outside of the last half, and just feels like a cheap gimmick in order for me to feel something or be left with some lasting impression, but it just doesn’t work at all. Pendleton Ward had this brief bit of wisdom on the episode’s commentary:

“[in reference to writing kid characters] … you just think that they’re gonna skin their knees and cry a bunch, when it’s not fun to watch, I don’t think.”

Though he wasn’t speaking directly about that portion of the episode, it pretty much sums up my feelings. I criticized What Was Missing slightly in the past for Sugar’s style feeling off with AT’s aesthetics, but I think this is a prominent example of her writing failing to meet the emotional complexities of the characters, at least in my eyes. I think Cole gets it right from Finn’s monologue earlier on in the treehouse, that’s meant both to be funny and somewhat profound. That’s exactly what I was looking for throughout a majority of this episode.

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That being said, I do think it’s still a pretty decent season premiere. I think there’s still a lot of enjoyable moments, from the silly jokes, to the beautiful visuals (really nice blends of orange and yellow), to the general intrigue of the main conflict. The characters are written as perfectly as they should be; as I mentioned, this is one of my favorite appearances of Flame Princess to date. Even though I’m not crazy about the ending, it still leaves a ton of ambiguity and mystery that Incendium left off with, giving me enough motivation and anticipation to keep watching forward. And as long as I live, I will never get tired of Finn stretching out Jake’s face like silly putty.

Strap in, everyone! Season four is gonna be one hell of a ride!

Favorite line: “Listen, when I look at you, my brain goes all stupid, and I just wanna hug you, and sit on the couch and play BMO with you.” (the most accurate depiction of teenage feelings of all time)

“Dad’s Dungeon” Review

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Original Airdate: February 6, 2012

Written & Storyboarded by: Pendleton Ward, Adam Muto & Natasha Allegri

Dad’s Dungeon is just too fucking rad. It incorporates pretty much everything that makes Adventure Time so great: big laughs, great visual gags, terrific animation, beautiful colors, layered backgrounds, fantastic interactions between our main duo, and a big heart at the very center. This one collabs some of AT’s biggest talents, with Adam Muto, creator Pen Ward, and Natasha Allegri at the helm. It was originally going to exclusively be boarded by Pen, but he needed extra help as the process went along. That information alone shows you how much of a passion project this one really was; Pen has rarely ever boarded during his original run on the series, and he really only does so when he thinks something’s particularly silly or cool to be working with. All of the boarders did an awesome job of keeping the episode so simple in its plot that it harks back to the old days, but also keeps things fresh and new with elements we haven’t seen much of yet. It’s a fun dungeon themed episode, but at the center is a very interesting dynamic between Finn and his adoptive father.

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This episode is one that I consider funny and energetic from beginning to end. From the very first scene with Jake asking Finn and BMO to come up with suggestions regarding what he could shapeshift into, you’re immediately sucked in by the boys’ wacky antics, and it only continues full force from there. There’s a ton of really strong visual gags, including Jake jumping through the treehouse and posing as he lands, from Finn’s dynamic jump into the actual dungeon. There’s even a brief moment where, while in the dungeon, Jake briefly switches back into his cheetah form for no contextual reason. I really love these “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” AT jokes that the series has become so good at adding in overtime. It really makes every rewatch more worthwhile, as you’re able to pick up on more subtle gags occurring in the background. In addition, it’s filled with great jokes and lines, primarily from Joshua. His 1950’s accent provided by Kent Osborne will literally never get old to me, and pretty much anything he says gets a chuckle out of me (“The whole Kazoo!” “Cover your ears, Sue!” “You’re both squishy babies!”). I specifically love the absurdity behind him reminding Jake that he can’t hear any of his messages, yet anticipating all of Jake’s possible answers and responding back to him anyway.

The connection between Joshua and Finn in this one is particularly strong. The relationship between F&J and Joshua has really never been explored in great detail, so it was kind of neat as is to get some development on a connection between two characters that we really haven’t gotten a chance to see yet. It’s pretty interesting, mostly because I think Joshua is the most positively represented father figure we’ve seen in the series up to this point, and actually of all time in that regard (though you could argue Lady’s dad is a pretty good guy, but he tried to fucking eat Finn that one time). That being said, I think Joshua’s morally ambiguity has come into questioning at times. For one, he blatantly steals from demons for no other reason than besides the fact that they’re demons. Specifically in this one, he labels Finn as a whiny crybaby even though Finn is a literal baby at the time. It has a strong psychological effect on Finn as you would expect, and it’s debatable on whether Joshua’s actions are out of irrationality or his failure to understand the human culture at all. It’s clear that Jake is definitely more emotionally mature than Finn is, but even then, it may be that his ability to hide his deeper emotions and stresses came from his father to begin with. So Joshua’s desires to toughen up Finn may just derive from his methods of dog culture on how he feels Finn is supposed to act as a teenage boy. It might also be an elaborate setup. From Joshua’s pre-meditated answers to Jake, it could be concluded that he knew exactly what was going to happen, and used his backlash towards Finn as a possible way to motivate him. Or it could even just be that he’s the typical macho dad that believes that boys shouldn’t ever cry for the course of eternity. It’s really something that I think can be analyzed and allows you to draw your own conclusions. I also really love Finn’s desire to please his dad as well; it kinda shows that, even though it seems like he is, Joshua isn’t actually a jerk. Finn wouldn’t value him so much as a father, as well as his opinion, if he was just an asshole. It’s clear that Joshua was a caring and cool father, and that his respect and love is very important and well-appreciated by Finn.

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The dynamic between Jake and his father is great as well, mostly because Jake isn’t simply just a slave to Joshua’s wishes. I like that he initially goes along with Joshua’s orders simply out of curiosity and respect for his dad, but later loses trusts in his opinion, and ultimately chooses to side with Finn in the end. It’s a really sweet move for Jake to choose his brother above all, and even decide that, while he loves his father, the emotional state of his brother matters more to him. It’s evident that Jake is certainly more in touch with his sensitive and compassionate side than his father, and would rather care for his brother than to watch him suffer.

The dungeon in this one is dope. I love all the different aspects of it, from the burgers and hot dogs monsters (some really amazing animation sequences during this part!) and when Finn and Jake eventually reach the portal of flowers. The bit with the Fruit Witches is probably my favorite part of the entire episode. It starts out as a really beautiful scene: the colors are nice and lush, the music is soothing and pretty, and the general atmosphere is very calming and laidback. Once one of the Fruit Witches takes a bite of an apple, things go batshit insane in the craziest way possible: the Fruit Witch is wrapped with vines until she becomes an apple, is brutally eaten by her accomplices through demonic mouths on top of their heads, and the entire area grows dark gray and threatening. It’s a really amazing contrast that sets you up for two completely jarring moods: light and relaxed, and dark and frightening. Everything in this dungeon is pretty well-designed too; really love the extra detail to the Fruit Witches, especially during their transition, and even the gross monster that Finn and Jake encounter. I love how everything Pen draws blends grotesque and cute so perfectly together.

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The final climax is terrific as well: the beast Finn faces is awesome in its design, and the darkened lighting of the room helps the colors of the characters (as well as that totally kickass demon blood sword) stick out even more prominently. The final message from Joshua is too sweet. It’s a crowning moment of heartwarming that through everything, Joshua simply set up this dungeon not out of sadism for Finn’s mental and physical help, but out of love. He knew that Finn would love the dungeon, and even through his struggles, he’d be able to make it to the final stage. It’s a moment of beauty that leads into the final battle between Finn and monster, complete with Joshua’s awesome mash-up rap. It also segues into Finn obtaining his brand new possession: the demon blood sword! One of my favorites of Finn’s swords in the entire series, it’s by far used the most, and is frequently a key item from this point on.

Goddamn, this episode is cool. It has pretty much everything you could ever ask for in an Adventure Time episode, as well as doing so much more. I have very little to even nitpick in this one: I love pretty much everything from beginning to end. The connection between Joshua and his sons is so great; I love how, even in its rocky introduction, it still remains one of the strongest father-son relationships in the entire series. The dungeon setting always makes for a pretty bangin’ setting, and considering AT‘s strong roots to Dungeons & Dragons, you know these are the kinds of episodes that the staff (especially Pen) have a lot of fun with. Dad’s Dungeon is also Adventure Time at its absolute funniest, and the characters and visuals do their damndest to carry it through entirely. It’s certainly one of the most riveting dungeon experiences Finn and Jake have faced, and one of season three’s greatest efforts as well.

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Favorite line: “But(t)s are for pooping!”

“Holly Jolly Secrets (Part I & II)” Review

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Original Airdate: December 5, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Somvilay Xayaphone & Kent Osborne

Ice King has certainly gone through some major developmental stages during the past season. He’s almost completely transitioned from a villain to Finn and Jake’s creepy, annoying neighbor, and while that characterization has proven to be successful all season, it does risk a chance of being repetitive over time. Unless Ice King was at some point going to transform into a complete hero, it’d be awfully boring to just watch him attempt to capture princesses over and over again, or just endlessly try to be Finn and Jake’s best buddy. Holly Jolly Secrets is the one that changes everything. Everything we thought we knew about the Ice King up to this point was ultimately rendered moot, and an onslaught of new questions and mysteries arose. This introduction to Ice King’s backstory is also pretty much a turning point for the entire show: Adventure Time generally has become darker, more ambitious in its storytelling, and persistent in adding continuing bits of lore and mysticism in its ever-growing world.

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I guess I’ll kick-off this review by talking about its most crucial aspect: the videotape revealing the past life of Simon Petrikov. This portion of the episode is absolutely brilliant. It’s one of my top five favorite moments in the entire show, period, and I often forget how chillingly solemn and ominous it really is. There are so many nice little details, between the progression of time throughout each video journal to the brief existence of pre-Mushroom War propaganda. There’s a plane that flies by, which can honestly be taken as a sign of impending warfare (a later scene leads me to lean more towards this theory) and even the existence of a (presumably) Catholic Church. It really shows humanity and early society in the most explicit, uncut way that adds a bit of subtle lore to the existence of the post-apocalyptic world and how some aspects were generally lost in translation. I love all the subtle changes as Simon slowly becomes the Ice King; one aspect I really enjoy is how Simon’s first appearance in the video seems generally unaltered, yet his eyes are actually white and rounded much like the IK’s, rather than dotted and black like most human beings are shown to possess. It’s a nice bit that shows you just how doomed Simon was from the start, and how even before he lost his sanity, the crown had already claimed its victim. The exploration is fascinating; Simon’s transformation is often compared to Alzheimer’s, and while that correlation is quite accurate, it almost feels like a drug addiction in these video entries. Despite the way it’s destroying his life and pushing away the one he loves most, Simon continues to put on the crown, simply because of his failure to resist the feeling of power and strength it gives him. It’s some really tough stuff to get through, and the connection between his fiancee Betty and the Ice King’s desire to capture princesses is absolutely heartbreaking.

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Somvilay added this banner in to keep the viewer’s attention. A strange bit of meta-humor that AT typically strays away from.

The monologue was provided by Patrick McHale, who came up with the idea of Ice King’s tragic backstory. It really feels like a one-man play, but Pendleton Ward himself has compared it to the likes of a radio drama. The speech really shows what a fantastic voice actor Tom Kenny is; he’s so well-known for his portrayals of zany cartoon characters, but the dude can really pull off a legitimately serious and poignant role, and I think that’s a part of his abilities as an actor that’s sadly overlooked. The straight-forward fashion in which he reads these lines, without even slightly sounding phony or forced, is really impressive. It’s a very strong and powerful read through that really adds to this sequence being one of my favorite moments in the entire series. The monotone dialogue is surprisingly what keeps you so drawn to the screen.

However, with all that said, I honestly think the rest of the episode is just okay. The entirety of the episode is padded with quirky video diaries of the Ice King, and truthfully, they don’t do it for me. Like, at all. There’s a few funny lines readings, such as “good morning, you’re watching the evening news,” and IK’s hilarious rendition of Marceline’s Fry Song, (FORESHADOWING) but none of the other tapes do it for me in the slightest. I get it, the episode needed to be stretched out for the purpose of building up to the massive drama bomb, but I wish those tapes and time used at least incorporated more humor and entertainment. The tapes are purposefully boring, but end up slowing down the entire episode to the point where it feels like it takes an eternity to get to the actual meat. There’s an extended scene of BMO fastforwarding one of Ice King’s tapes, and it goes on for like, a solid minute. It’s another one of those episodes that showcases Somvilay’s odd approaches at anti-humor that just simply makes the experience a relatively dull one.

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The original pitch for this episode called for Finn and Jake to watch old Christmas specials, but Pen thought that the idea was awful in hindsight because it destroyed the fabric of the universe that the crew worked so hard at creating. While I can’t say that idea would’ve been better, I do think that the first 18 minutes of this two-parter should’ve been padded with something a little easier to chew on. I feel like it’s incredibly hard for me to think of anything noteworthy about Holly Jolly Secrets that isn’t the big reveal. The characterization of Finn and Jake isn’t that strong; they’re just sort of there to blankly observe until the ending. Even the Ice King isn’t that funny throughout this episode, and coming off the heals of great episodes like Still and Hitman, that’s no excuse.

After the video sequence does end, we do get some legitimately good moments as well. I love the IK’s delusional belief that the most significant thing about the tapes is the fact that he used to wear glasses. It’s a tonally appropriate moment to cap-off one of the heaviest scenes yet with a completely tasteful joke. Finn and Jake’s empathy for the IK is really great, too. It’s a nice moment for Finn to simply just give the Ice King back his tapes; I know people are always a bit annoyed that F&J don’t do more to help out Ice King, but really, what can they do? It’s completely out of their control and knowledge to be able to fix a pretty much unsolvable problem, so even showing him a bit of compassion and sincere appreciation is really sweet. Even though Ice King’s attempts at humor were considerably weak in these episodes, his characterization does come in strong when you realize that he actually hasn’t done anything wrong throughout. All he wanted to do was hang out with Finn and Jake, and when he completely forgets the fact that the two boys even watched his tapes, he rewards them with unusual gifts. It’s such a delightful view of his character that only makes the videos more effective and tragic. The second part ends on a perfect note, as all of the major and minor characters, including a booger and excluding Marceline (FORESHADOWING) sit together by a fire and essentially celebrate Ooo’s first Christmas.

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So yeah, I’m a bit half-and-half on this one. There’s some moments that are absolutely incredibly, yet others that are bafflingly mediocre. It’s safe to say that Simon’s backstory is more than enough to justify Holly Jolly Secrets’ existence, and that it still stands as a very crucial two-parter in the general expansion of the series. The Ice King only gets increasingly more interesting from this point on, and any story arc that was adapted from his backstory can be drawn back directly from this first episode. Holly Jolly Secrets isn’t a two-parter I happen to revisit as a whole a lot, but you can rest assured that I’ll continue coming back to Simon Petrikov’s story for years to come. It’s an emotionally scarring holiday special for the whole family!

Favorite line: “My alarm says it’s time for Finn’s bath. Finn, get naked.”

 

“The New Frontier” Review

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Original Airdate: November 28, 2011

Written & Storyboarded by: Tom Herpich & Bert Youn

Jake’s mortality and relationship with death have been very prominent features of his character over the years. His aging process, to say the least, is convoluted. Nobody can really figure it out how it works; even Jake himself has trouble putting the pieces together with just exactly how old he is. That said, Jake’s fear of growing older is significantly more prominent than his actual fear of death. He more so fears outliving the ones he cares about most and losing his sense of edge and mellow behavior than dying, which he seems to welcome with open arms as long as it’s in a fantastical and mythical fashion. The New Frontier revolves heavily around Jake’s intrigue of fate and destiny, and does so by raising some increasingly interesting questions about whether what he’s doing is ethical or not.

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I love anything with the Cosmic Owl, and aside from Prisoners of Love, this is his big debut as the dream wanderer of prophecies and foreboding outcomes, something which we come to realize that Jake is all about. The croak dream itself is really heavy-handed and atmospheric; I love all the little details of space, along with the rocket ship and Banana Man floating around, as well as the orchestral choir that gradually builds overtime. It’s a bit curious that the Earth is actually full in Jake’s dream, but considering that he doesn’t ever actually end up in space, it doesn’t necessarily feel like a continuity error.

It’s hard to say whether Jake’s behavior in this episode is rational or not; on one hand, it feels like a very selfish decision for Jake to allow himself to die with his thirteen-year-old brother left behind and his loved ones completely unknowing (I mean, he doesn’t even bid Lady goodbye. Harsh!) On the other hand, it’s sort of difficult to disagree with him being so open and unafraid of dying and what’s destined to come for him because most people are naturally afraid of dying. It’s a bit of an interesting balance between wanting Jake to stay with Finn but also wanting him to fulfill his destiny that was prophesied. I mean, then again, how does one even bounce back from a prophetic dream of death? Was Jake supposed to just wait patiently for the day when he eventually dies? It becomes more relatable when analyzing all of the various layers of Jake’s burdens, fears, and his general acceptance of the future that’s to come.

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Finn is written terrifically for this one. His entire presence is purely sympathetic from beginning to end. We really don’t wanna see our little guy lose his best friend, and his undevoted desire to protect Jake and decrease all chances of him dying are really endearing. I especially love the moment when Finn hopelessly begs Jake to let go of the rocket. It’s not overly dramatic, but it’s a really heart wrenching, heavy scene that really allows the audience to see both sides of the argument. Again, Jake seems selfish by leaving Finn behind, but he’s merely accepting the future in front of him instead of being wildly in denial. However, Finn legitimately needs Jake by his side, and is still too young to accept death so calmly. He’s already lost Joshua and Margaret in his lifetime, which only makes him more opposed to losing his closest relative that’s still alive.

The ending resolves any dark or uneasy feelings towards Jake’s attitude by helping him to realize the one thing that’s more important to him than his own life, and that is the life of his best buddy. It’s a sweet resolution, and one that acknowledges that, while Jake is perfectly fine accepting his fate, he wants Finn to continue to live a successful and satisfying life even if he can’t be by his side. It also leaves a bit of ambiguity for the future of the series and Jake’s life, as we’re left with the possibility that, at some point, Jake will relive his croak dream once more. Of course, it’s a scary thought for both Finn and Jake to swallow, as unpredictability can often be most frightening. Finn and Jake are all about living in the present, however, and are able to get through fearful outcomes through humor and goodwill.

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This episode also introduces the Banana Man, voiced by “Weird Al” Yankovic. I do really love Banana Man’s eccentric and quirky personality, but I think there are better examples of episodes where he’s utilized better than he is in this one. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy his weird mannerisms and extended dance moves (Pen Ward admitted that this episode came up a little short, so he just added longer, drawn out sequences of Banana Man dancing), but “Weird Al” is such a unique and interesting talent choice that you’d think he’d have a couple of more lines and even a song or two. But, like I said, there are better examples of spotlight episodes for Banana Man, and this one works just fine on its own.

This is also a really funny episode. While Finn and Jake’s interactions are quite tension-packed given the circumstances of Jake’s dream, there are still plenty of silly, fun moments for our main duo. I especially love Finn’s exchange about Banana Man walking into the sun (he really can be such a doofus sometimes), Finn’s ability to start a fire with his bare fucking hands, Jake’s explanation of how Glob World works, including the blatant disrespect he shows BMO by leaving an ice cream-filled pizza sandwich on his head. For as dark as the topic of the episode is, it’s still filled with fun, wacky jokes and character moments that really help lighten up some of the bleaker moments.

The New Frontier is a very enjoyable one. I love the headiness of Jake’s prophetic dream and all of the philosophy behind his decisions in the long run. It’s one that opens up a gateway for future opportunities regarding the fragility of Jake’s life, and the increasing importance of Cosmic Owl-centric dream sequences. There’s even a bit of lore when regarding The Great Mushroom War, as Jake mentions that rocket ships haven’t yet been reinvented. It makes sense with the world of AT that the only gateway to space would be portals and magical entrances, which means that rocket ships aren’t even really needed. It’s one that’s extremely amusing, but also thought-provoking at the same time. Something Adventure Time has really mastered.

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Favorite line: “There’s not enough boom-boom stick-hole sticks in the stick-hole!”