Adventure Time premiered on the Cartoon Network (CN) on April 5th, 2010. Since Pendleton Ward created its pilot in 2007, it was a journey to convince Cartoon Network Studios that it was a valid TV show. It took lots of pitches, storyboards, and changes of direction to produce the first season. But after that and over the years, Adventure Time became a success. Children loved the show and adults appreciated it as well. Finn the Human and Jake the Dog, the two protagonists, quickly became Cartoon Network’s icons, because of their simple and recognizable design.
Some people grew up watching Adventure Time, and the show grew up with them. Some watched it all as adults and were able to capture the more subtle and deeper messages inside it. Either way, Ward’s creation has a place in the heart of many, and the show itself is a result of love of animation and the will to improve it.
Realism and tragedy
The show’s main characters are Finn and Jake, two brothers who love adventure and fighting monsters. As the series starts, they have very basic roles. Finn is the hero in love with Princess Bubblegum, the sovereign of the Candy Kingdom, while the Ice King is the princess-kidnapper villain. However, as the series goes on, every character acquires depth and a backstory. Finn himself grows up, going from being a naive child into a teen. His journey deals with anger, trauma, and heartbreak. His relationships and unrequited crushes are relatable for both teenagers and adults.
Finn and the other characters hurt each other, but they also grow with it and learn from such an experience. Finn also deals with toxic parents, just like Marceline, the vampire queen. The Land of Ooo, where the series takes place, is a post-apocalyptic world. Despite the joyous and carefree look of the world, there is an undertone of death in every place they visit.
The animation style is fun and colorful but contains some heavier and almost gory moments that many countries censored. It is also filled with sadder moments, especially in later seasons. For example, when the Ice King’s story comes out, Finn and Jake realize that he is not just a crazy old man. As a result, they start treating him more kindly. Many viewers related this experience to dementia.
Adventure Time was also a gate opener for LGBTQ+ representation in a childrens’ show. Bubblegum and Marceline’s complicated relationship is at first only hinted at. Then, it becomes more and more explicit as the series goes on. The character BMO also uses both “he” and “she” as pronouns. Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe, was on the frontline for this issue, convinced by the need to bring more “LGBTQIA characters in G-rated content”.
Ward was always a huge fan of animation. His favorite show while growing up was The Simpsons, and that gave him the idea of writing for both children and adults. His idea was to create a fun cartoon that would not annoy nor bore parents: this is why Adventure Time‘s characters are not overly caricatural but have a range of feelings that makes them universal. Other inspirations were David Lynch for the horror side and The Office for the comedy one. Ward is also a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki‘s My Neighbor Totoro.
Many of Adventure Time‘s dynamics, though, are inspired by the game Dungeons and Dragons. In an interview with the game’s official website, Ward said: “When I’m writing an episode it feels like I’m playing DnD with the characters.” A card game in the show, Card Wars, seems to be inspired by a real game as well: Magic: The Gathering.
Adventure Time ended in 2018, after 10 seasons and 283 episodes. The series ended reiterating one of its big themes: reincarnation. In the final episode, Come Along With Me, a couple of adventurers named Shermy and Beth live in the Land of Ooo, many years later. They look and sound much like Finn and Jake and are speculated by fans to be their reincarnations.
Shermy and Beth’s adventures do not yet have their own series, and it is unknown if they ever will. However, HBO Max produced Adventure Time: Distant Lands, a 4-episodes-long special. And while the last episode already aired, another 10-episodes-long series focusing on Fionna and Cake is into production. Finn and Cake’s other versions, who already appeared in the original show, will be the protagonists.
As the theme song says, “the fun will never end”. Children and adults will be able to keep watching Adventure Time for a while, sharing characters, emotions and laughs.