Adventure Time: Islands (Review)

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By Kelly Mintzer
 
In quick moments and the right light, I find myself wishing I could watch “Adventure Time” as my five year old, ten year old, maybe even twelve year old self. Not consistently, but in the strange breaths of intense silence, when I realize now, as an adult, that something profound and difficult has occurred in the cotton candy world of Jake and Finn, I find myself wondering…who, exactly, is the intended audience? After watching “Islands”, the (technically) eight part miniseries, the conclusion I’ve drawn is that the show is hoping that its audience has remained and chosen to grow alongside Finn. Because despite the vibrant colors and adorable characters (there is nothing in the modern pantheon that is cuter than B-MO. This is not opinion, it is hard, scientific fact) “Adventure Time” is not a children’s show anymore. And nowhere is that more evident than in “Islands”.
 

I am going to give as non-spoiler-y a synopsis as I possibly can, while still providing an even semi-comprehensive overview of the general plot. But full disclosure, up front and transparently, the internet and I have been known to have differing views on what constitutes a spoiler. The concept is nebulous and ill-defined. So let us all proceed with due caution.
 

“Islands” is divided into eight eleven to twelve minute sections. The first four are largely expository (a bit of irony, given that the final four take place largely in the past). Finn, Jake and Susan Strong endeavor to find the origins of an advanced robot ship that was seeking Susan but recognized Finn, hoping to find more humans. B-MO (adorably) stows away, but the four major characters are separated during their trip across the ocean and end up on different islands. Finn and Jake encounter a tree dwelling crone, and “Adventure Time” delicately tests the boundaries of solitude and what it can do to an individual. There is a profound philosophical current beneath much of the action in “Adventure Time” that goes far deeper than the questions of good or bad one might expect from a classic “boy and his dog” story (to say nothing of the fact that in this case, the dog is the boy’s adopted brother). When Jake and Finn find B-MO, he is on an island sustained by an elaborate Virtual Reality system. This odd, eleven minute interlude warrants an entire thesis paper of its own, complete with MLA formatting and works cited. In the VR world, B-MO is giant and statuesque, with unusually located eyepatches, and a voice lower than he normally speaks in. Though the plot is minimal, the show gently explores the dangers of allowing ourselves to believe that we are the things we pretend to be, while still maintaining that imagination and make-believe are healthy, and at times even necessary for a happy existence.
 
When the reunited Jake, Finn and B-MO find Susan Strong, the series shifts, and focuses a great deal on filling out backstory; who Susan is, where she came from, her connection to Finn and his mother, and in general, what happened to the human race. These remaining four sections are bleak. As with all things “Adventure Time”, they are also celebratory and non-judgmental. There are few if any real villains in the world Pendleton Ward has created-a world where a princess-kidnapping Ice wizard turns out to be one of the most compelling characters ever committed to the screen. People, stretching dogs, sea dragons and sentient Gameboys alike are all dimensional and facetted-flawed and often wrong, but motivated by better things. It is not surprising then, that the story of what happened to the human race, of Finn’s father and mother, of Susan’s lost childhood, bound together as they all are, is a deeply humane and forgiving one, even if it ends in destruction.
 

There is a great deal to marvel at, philosophically, within the tight, and well-paced 2 hours of the series. If the option is available, I strongly recommend binge-watching it. When the entirety is viewed as a cohesive whole instead of separate episodes, there is a depth to the early outings that can be lost when consumed individually. It is best to let the intensity build, so that when the show lands on an almost unbearably intense moment that echoes Jonestown, it feels breathless and inevitable. The opening episodes are smaller, quieter ways of communicating the same cacophonous message of the second half; that there is not necessarily one right way to live a life, and the each individual must determine what makes their existence feel worthwhile.
 

This is heady stuff, and could easily turn into a scene by scene dissection. “Adventure Time” has an almost ludicrous amount of layers, and increasingly lacks the feel so many latter day Disney movies have, of being largely for children, with little jokes peppered in for adults. Yes, the colors are brilliants and true, there is a certain childlike innocence to the show, but there is also mass extinction, paranoia and isolation. Though these are handled delicately, they are also faced directly, not through metaphor or symbolism. And while there is lightness at play (I have had fewer laughs that hit me quite as hard or unexpectedly as Mr. Cupcake saying “Not enough? You need to feel dem guns?” when being shaken by robot arms to ascertain whether or not he is strong) the second half is almost strikingly devoid of jokes. It is played mostly straight, and manages to include in a very short period of time a genuinely sweet and flirty romance between Finn’s parents. This is story-telling as it was intended. Concise, empathetic and wounded, without ever feeling self-important or pretentious; lovely and sad and worth every minute of time spent watching it.


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