The geek appeal of Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time

News Rob McLaughlin 4/13/2011 at 11:00AM

A surreal fantasy series created by animator Pendleton Ward, Adventure Time is, Rob argues, an instant geek classic...

I wrote an article a few weeks ago (linked below) stating that the 1980s were the best time for cartoons. And while I stand by that article, I've since been convinced that now, in 2011, may well be the ‘second' best era for cartoons

What has changed my mind so much? Well, apart from a substantial amount of feedback from the forums stating that I forgot to take into consideration modern classics such as The Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy,  and SpongeBob SquarePants, which are, of course, shows we all know and love, I've recently been introduced to a new cartoon that may well shift the balance of ‘best decade' from the 1980s through to right now. That cartoon, ladies and gentlemen, is the subtle genius known as Adventure Time.

Through the haze of an early summer weekend, my sister and brother-in-law suggested I sit down and watch a few episodes of this colourful fun. and while I was cynical (I remember being underwhelmed by watching the pilot online a few years ago),  what happened instead was my cynicism disappeared, replaced by a child-like glee, as I was introduced  to one of the weirdest, fun and best cartoons I have ever seen. A cartoon that is essentially about a small boy and his dog and their magical adventures.

While there have been other ‘cute' cartoons and many, many more action-adventure shows throughout the past few decades of animation, there's yet to be one that finely balances both, and can satisfy both kids and adult animation fans alike.

The best comparison would be SpongeBob, a show that defies demographics and ages and just makes fun stories. Adventure Time is like that, only better.

A mix of Richard Scarry, David McKee, Quentin Blake and  a modern Oliver Postgate, Adventure Time is essentially the weekly adventures of Jake, a shape-changing dog who looks like Hulk Hogan, and Finn, an early teens boy who bears an uncanny resemblance to Max from Where The Wild Things Are.

Jake and Finn are not the only inhabitants of the magical world of Ooo, for this weird and wonderful place is packed with strange towns and lands, such as the Candy Kingdom, ruled over by the beloved Princess Bubblegum and Lady Rainicorn (who is part unicorn, part rainbow), the Ice Kingdom, which is the lair of the Ice King, the vampire queen, Marceline, forbidden forests, witch gardens, thief  cities, talking mountains and a Lumpy Space Princess, all of which are encountered in short twelve minute episodes (two a week). Wonderfully, they look like a horde of children at a playschool have designed them.

And that really is the beauty of the show. Creator, Pendleton Ward, has fashioned a dream-like world that is a mix of ultra-cute characters, marvellous monsters and deadly (but not that deadly) creatures, with a palette of vibrant cartoon brilliance that is neither overly cute nor harshly stylised. It's a perfect mix of thought out doodles bought to life and coloured with a melted down cocktail of chewy goodness in the hues of Spangles, Chewits and Skittles.

While no real reason is ever given as to why Finn is struck in this make-believe world, it doesn't matter. The series doesn't need deep origins, reasoning or any real form of logic. So what if in one episode Finn has eaten an Auto-Tune machine or that a mountain is crying boulders because he's upset that the blue-hued barbarians are fighting too roughly? It doesn't matter. Each adventure is packed with fun and excitement, with no swearing and no innuendo. This is for the first time in a long time a completely fun cartoon isn't reliant on giving the audience a little nod or wink.

It's for that very reason the show is so good. This is the first cartoon in a long time that is pure imagination, and its non-reliance on continually referencing pop culture (okay, apart from the Auto-Tune machine), and the general outlook is positive and fun. It's playtime, things get resolved and even when things get a bit angry, with a quick hug, things are back to normal and there is another adventure to be had.

While it would be very easy to scoff at this continually shiny happy-go-lucky writing style, the positive outlook is never forced. It's just there and gives the show a more innocent 1970s feel, before cartoons had to sell merchandise, toys and card games.

This harkening back to imagination, fun and enjoyment meant that even my cynical 35-year-old mentality was swayed by the sheer enjoyment of the show and by the fact that the guys and girls at Frederator Studios, along with Pendleton Ward, have created a piece of modern animation, an instant classic. And in creating the innocent land of Ooo, they have made something Oliver Postgate would be proud of.

Here's a video of one episode, The Chamber Of Frozen Blades, and you can catch Adventure Time on Cartoon Network.

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Adventure Time has alot of the same writers as the old SpongeBob episodes (Before it was revived) so it explains the similarities. I think Adventure Time is more deep and character driven where SpongeBob was more about the jokes (Doesn't mean it was bad or anything). The second comeback of animation started with Phineas and Ferb and it's only gotten ten times better from there :)