March began with word of an official, feature-length Adventure Time movie, courtesy of Warner Bros. and the creative minds behind The Lego Movie, and there was much rejoicing throughout the Internet. Adventure Time’s multi-layered script has attracted a large and diverse audience and the success of The Lego Movie is hopefully a sign of great things to come.
For the uninitiated: Adventure Time is a tremendously popular series on Cartoon Network. It follows ‘Finn the human’ and his magical, shape-shifting dog Jake as they adventure through the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo. Though it was primarily geared towards children, like much of Cartoon Network’s programming outside of Toonami and Adult Swim, it has developed a considerable, highly loyal adult fan-base thanks to the inclusion of subtle, more adult humor and surprisingly deep messages.
Adventure Time strikes an interesting balance of whimsical, cartoonish antics and more serious moments, addressing topics such as the changing definition of family, family dynamics, tolerance, and how everyone is ultimately the master of his or her own destiny. Marceline the Vampire Queen struggles to connect with her evil, world-devouring father in a way that doesn’t revolve around causing mayhem. Finn learns the difficult truth that he needs to be able to love and accept himself before becoming romantically entangled with any of the many princesses he encounters throughout the show. There are enough examples that it’s possible to fill an academic paper with them. Though- to be perfectly clear: this is primarily meant to be a cartoon targeted towards younger children, which is made evident with plenty of easy chuckles from simpler humour, the more mature depths its themes explore though make it appeal strongly to a diverse audience.
Admittedly Adventure Time is not unique in this regard. There has been an increasingly large crop of cartoons attempting to cater to both their initial, young, target audience, as well as older viewers. The Avatar shows, Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, both address some very heavy topics as well. (Don’t mistake Avatar: The Last Airbender for the tragic catastrophe of a movie that went by the same name.) Toph Beifong, one of the main characters who plays a key role in helping Avatar Aang in his journey, is blind. Toph doesn’t allow her blindness define who she is, however, and she makes up for it by making use of her heightened senses of smell, hearing, and by feeling the subtle vibrations in the earth around her. Blind jokes do happen, but importantly they are on Toph’s terms instead of at her expense. The Legend of Korra, which was relegated to online-release only for its later seasons, had some darker moments and surprisingly progressive themes for a cartoon. There’s a lot of emphasis on the importance of family, fighting for what one believes in, and the differences between healthy self-confidence versus pride, and that is once again only naming a few prevalent themes.
The end result is a special kind of narrative magic that transcends specific audiences.
It’s interesting to see cartoons trending more towards positive, meaningful life lessons instead of slapstick ridiculousness. The medium lends itself to the absurd and unrealistic. Though Adventure Time and both Avatar shows have such moments they do so in a way that allows for the humor and absurdity to be a part of their shows without being the total focus. Finn may, for instance, spend part of an episode beatboxing with his talking dog, but the next episode could very well feature a look back at the Ice King’s troubling, tragic past and how he went from a normal researcher to… (We’ll spare you the spoilers). The end result is a special kind of narrative magic that transcends specific audiences and creates a unique learning experience for younger viewers alongside a thoroughly enjoyable watch for more mature viewers.
No word yet on the plot of the Adventure Time movie, but it’s easy to speculate that it will be a solid continuation of the series’ diversely appealing stories, with clever writing that will supply a great deal of fun for all age groups.
By Phil Gorski