‘Adventure Time’… A Kid’s Show or Something Much More?


I’m late to the game on this show. 

I happened to stumble on an episode some time ago and didn’t get it.  At the time, it reminded of an updated and more subtle version of Nick Jr’s SpongeBob SquarePants.  Considering that I never saw the fascination with that show either and won’t let my kids watch it because I found the messaging to be too off-kilter and not appropriate for any kid raised in my house.  This always leaves some other parents in a bit of a bind when they tell SpongeBob jokes to my kids to break the ice and my kids look at them with blank stares – look at each other quizzically – then back to them with “what the heck are you talking about” eyes.  Once I tell them they’ve never seen one second of the show, they look at me like a freakazoid as though I’ve deprived my kids of discovering the wonders of living in a pineapple under the sea.  I’m okay with that and the evidence proves that I’ve made a good decision by just finding an alternative for them to watch.  I’m not judging what other parents decide to let their kids watch – that’s a choice we each get to make for a kids, but that’s one show I found to be off limits.

Back to the topic….

I initially passed on watching the show and again, I chose not to let me kids watch the series.  Over the last year or so, I’ve been told by various people that the show was awesome and that I should watch it with the kids.  I pretty much nodded my head and summarily ignored the advice.  However, one day, I was listening to NPR and they were doing an interview with the creator, Pendleton Ward, and the show was revealed to me with new eyes.

Adventure Time, for the five other people like me who don’t know, is a series about two main characters; Finn the Human and Jake the Dog and they go on – well – adventures.  They live in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo.  This land is populated by many creatures, characters and mystical objects.  Finn is a human boy that loves adventure and having the maximum amount of fun.  His adopted brother and best friend, Jake, is a shape-changing dog who’s also in a relationship with Lady Rainicorn and has five kids.  You can stop right here and have a lengthy discussion around what’s been said.

There are also other main characters that are of particular note:  Princess Bubblegum is the ruler of the Candy Kingdom, rules over her candy-based inhabitants and a noted scientist/genius.  Marceline The Vampire Queen, who has a very complicated and mysterious backstory, rules the Vampire nation and loves playing the Axe guitar.  Lastly, The Ice King, who the more I watch makes my heart weep as you begin to get glimpse into his past and how he becomes who he currently is – the relentless tyrant who tries to kidnap princesses to marry him.

What I find almost genius about this show is how it interweaves so many very complicated and serious themes into an 11-minute episode series in a manner that begs to be discussed, but is fashioned in a way that is somewhat palpable to younger viewers.  Now, I say younger viewers, but I tow the line when it comes to my young children.  I find some of the imagery disturbing and frightening for some kids, plus I find some of the topics a little “too grown” for children under a certain age.  There was one episode where Peppermint Butler, Princess Bubblegum’s butler, was trying to summon a demon to sell his soul so that he could rule the Candy Kingdom.  It was a comical series of scenes, but how do I explain this to my six-year old?  I could, but I think it more important that she not be exposed to that at all at this stage in her development.  With that said, I found the topic of the grasp and desire for power and the lengths people/society will go to obtain this transient state very fascinating and front and center in today’s politics.

Another very disturbing, but fascinating character is The Earl of Lemongrab, the first being Princess Bubblegum created using her candy science.  This being is so twisted and disturbing because for all intents and purposes, he was created in a way where he is impossible to love nor has the ability to be loved.  Thus, Lemongrab hates Princess Bubblegum because she made him an unlovable being that can only connect with people in any meaningful way by watching unsuspecting sleeping citizens at night.  He holds her accountable for his freakishness.  How many people have cursed their creator for their condition?  The idea of being a freak and an outcast is a very relevant and striking state of being that some of our children in today’s society are dealing with right now.  When you think of the Columbine massacre, The Virginia Tech shooting or the Aurora, Co Movie Theater shooting – this is a serious issue that is beginning to surface more and more as a part of the American dialogue as these events become more common.

Even The Ice King is a very interesting character that is a proxy for people with Alzheimer’s disease.   The Ice King was once a good man who took care of a very young Marceline after the Mushroom Wars that devastated Ooo a thousand years before the series takes place.  His ice powers are derived from his crown, which is enchanted with an ancient but evil power.  In the past, he’d only put on the crown to protect Marceline from danger, knowing that every time he put on that crown he lost a piece of himself in the process.  The longer he wore the crown, the more evil he became, plus the harder it became for him to take it off.  Ultimately, he lost himself to the ice powers and forgot who he was.  He’s had the crown on his head for so long that even if he took it off, he wouldn’t remember the good man he used to be and he’d ultimately die for keeping it off for too long.  Thus, he remains the creepy and very princess-obsessed tyrant.  However, Marceline has befriended The Ice King all these years later because she knows that he’s only that way because he protected and loved her, thus she forgives all of his indignities because she knows who he is, even if he doesn’t.  Pendelton’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and this was a way to proxy his father who is slipping away from him, but loving him for the man who he was while dealing with the man that he is currently – who will one day be gone forever due to his incurable disease.

My heart broke hearing this story.  This series is in many ways about a man who’s trying to or has come to terms with who he is and the complicated life he leads.  This is a man who is crying out for understanding, but also trying to help others deal with their unusual quirks and oddities.  He’s telling them in many ways that life isn’t easy, but you aren’t the problem and that you are special in a good way.  This is a series that attempts to bring serious subjects to the young and old alike in a manner that will spark discussion and ultimately – discovery of self.

Adventure Time is more than just a cartoon; it’s a statement about the human condition and ever-changing impact on the development of human interaction.  My conclusion is that this show is too harsh for my three and six year old, but it is a show that I personally have come to love and hopefully will be one that I can show my kids one day so that we can discuss the various topics it presents.  I give all credit due to Mr. Ward and his wildly successful show.  For five seasons, this show has been in the mouths of many, and now it’s in my discussions as well.  Too many shows run away from sensitive issues, this shows fearlessly takes them on – one adventure at a time.