The Case of Adventure Time

This week we are continuing Adventure August with a special guest: Robin’s sister, Becky! This week, we’re covering a show that is near and dear to Becky’s heart, and we thought she might enjoy geeking out with us. 

The late 2000’s was not the brightest spot in Cartoon Network’s history. The channel had begun to branch out, incorporating live-action shows into its programming in an attempt to compete with other kids’ networks. By July of 2009, this endeavor appeared fruitless, as almost none of the live-action shows proved to have any staying power. The network scrapped their block of live-action and started looking for new ideas. 

In April of 2010, Cartoon Network premiered a new animated series that would quickly become one of their most prominent properties. It followed the adventures of two best friends/brothers, a human named Finn and a dog named Jake. Together, they explored the magical land of Ooo, rescuing princesses, making friends, and going on various adventures. 

Adventure Time was strange and refreshing. Its world was rich with indescribably odd characters and yet completely relatable. Its themes were complex and sometimes dark, with a brightly colored coat of paint and enough humor to appeal to all audiences. It was a show that took the world by storm, knocking down barriers and opening doors for other off-beat animation for years to come. 

So this week, we’re meeting up with Finn and Jake in the Land of Ooo. Come on, grab your friends…because we all know what time it is! It’s Adventure Time! 

SUMMARY

  • Adventure Time centers around Jake the Dog and Finn the Human who, as the title suggests, go on adventures together. In these post apocalyptic adventures they fight evil, protect their friends, make new friends, and learn lessons. 

MEET THE CREATOR

  • Pendleton Ward has always been an introvert. In a 2014 Rolling Stone article, he detailed his experiences as an awkward, overweight child with a bowl cut. He never knew his dad but was raised by his mother, an artist that nurtured Ward’s creativity. 
  • Because he had difficulty understanding people, young Ward would take notes on the people he knew, trying to make sense of the characters around him. He loved Dungeons and Dragons and would roller-skate down to the comic shop. He felt like an outcast among outcasts.
  • When Ward attended CalArts, one of the top animation schools in the country, he found a group of peers that would become friends and collaborators. One of these friends was Adam Muto, a classmate and fellow artist who would join Ward on the biggest project of his lifetime. 
  • In the mid-2000’s, CalArts accepted one of Ward’s animated shorts into an end-of-the-year show called “The Producers Show.” Frederator, an independent animation studio that created TV shows like “The Fairly Odd Parents” and “My Life as a Teenage Robot,” was impressed by Ward’s work. At the time, the studio was accepting pitches for short films. They needed ideas to fill a Nickelodeon block of animated shorts, and they were taking pitches from anyone–even animators without experience or representation. 
  • Ward threw together a storyboard for a 7-minute short called “Adventure Time,” which followed the characters Pen and Jake, a human and dog that were best friends. The short made its way to Nickelodeon in 2007, which later broadcasted it in 2008 on the anthology show “Random! Cartoons.” Watch part of it here: Adventure Time Pilot (Nicktoons)
    • It was directed by Larry Leichliter, Hugo Morales, and Pendleton Ward. Adventure Time (2008) starred a group of actors that would eventually be replaced, except for John DiMaggio as Jake the Dog. John Kassir played the Ice King, and we might remember him as the voice of the Crypt Keeper. 
  • Initially, the short didn’t make a considerable impact commercially, but it earned a nomination for Best Animated Short Subject at the Annie Awards! Because of this, the short had to be available to watch online and was published on YouTube. Although the animated short didn’t win the Annie, something else incredible happened: it went viral.

As the video racked up over 3 million views online, it became clear that it had a far-reaching appeal. Frederator Studios decided to start pitching the show. Pendleton Ward found all of this exciting, but as he told Rolling Stone, “If the show hadn’t been picked up, I would have moved to the Midwest and gotten a cheap apartment. I would have been that guy with a telescope watching my neighbors, getting pizza and putting a sign on the door that says ‘Leave the pizza outside.'”

THE TROUBLESOME BEGINNINGS AND MAKING OF ADVENTURE TIME

  • After creating the original Adventure Time short, Pendleton Ward spent a year writing and creating storyboards for a Cartoon Network show called, “The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.” Years later, he would credit this experience with teaching him how to run an animated series. 
  • Ward and Frederator pitched a full Adventure Time series to Nicktoons, and were reportedly rejected 5 times. Once Nickelodeon no longer had the rights to produce the series, Frederator producer Frank Seibert brought the concept to Cartoon Network.
    • As Ward admitted in an interview with Fastcompany.com, it’s a huge risk for a network to put money behind an original idea. Usually, studios like to pick up established properties that have proven to do well, and Adventure Time was a hard-sell in general. In a sense, the show was very open-ended. It was simply about two best friends just having adventures, and there wasn’t much of a hook.  
  • Luckily for Seibert and Ward, Cartoon Network was interested in producing a full series. However, they would only commit to a deal if Ward could prove the short “wasn’t a one-hit wonder”. Cartoon Network asked Ward to submit a sample script for their consideration, but the vice president of Frederator, Eric Homan, convinced Ward to play to his strengths, and create a storyboard instead. 
  • Ward turned to his friends Patrick McHale and Adam Muto, and they began developing ideas. For years after, Ward would explain that the characters he and his co-writers created weren’t just characters. Finn, Jake, and all the others were extensions of the writers themselves, and the people that Ward chose to work with were the heart and soul of the show. 
    • The group’s first storyboard featured Finn and Princess Bubblegum going on a spaghetti-supper date, but Cartoon Network was disinterested in the idea. It was clear that Ward and his team needed to recreate the magic of the original short. So Ward, McHale, and Muto created a storyboard for the episode “The Enchiridion!”, which was their attempt to consciously emulate the style of the original “Adventure Time.” This tactic proved successful, and Cartoon Network approved the first season in September 2008, with “The Enchiridion!” as the first episode to enter into production. 
  • Just as Ward and his team began storyboarding more episodes, Cartoon Network once again became concerned about the direction of the series. Because Adventure Time was one of the only new animated shows on the network, they needed to ensure its success. Compared to other animators, Ward and his colleagues were fairly inexperienced, and production became a little hectic. One issue was finding the right team of animators to work in Ward’s unique and simplistic style. Also, the writers still hadn’t landed on a clear vision of the show.
  • Cartoon Network put production on hold, and hired three veteran animators who had worked on SpongeBob SquarePants. Derek Drymon, who served as executive producer for the first season of Adventure Time, Merriwether Williams, who served as head story editor for the show’s first and second seasons, and Nick Jennings who became the series’ long-serving art director. The team added artists like Phil Rydna and Dan “Ghostshrimp” Bandit, two animators that were instrumental in getting the show off the ground as they were able to draw in Ward’s style. Derek Dryman was able to help the production team storyboard a new episode called “Prisoners of Love,” that would finally ease the anxieties of the network. Four long years after the original short, the show finally premiered on Cartoon Network on April 5, 2010.

SHOW PRODUCTION

  • Growing up, Ward was a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons and The Simpsons. He was able to combine the two to make Adventure Time. Ward told The A.V. Club that the show’s writing process usually began with the writers telling each other what they had done the previous week to find something to build on. He has compared the writing process to creating D & D characters, and playing them in that universe. To Ward and the other writers, they were just animating the campaigns of their assigned characters each week. 
  • Adventure Time was produced using hand-drawn animation. Because each episode took roughly eight to nine months to complete, multiple episodes were worked on at the same time. After the crew got a storyboard approved by Cartoon Network, the board was then worked into a script for the voice actors. The recorded dialogue was then placed under the polished storyboard panels, making a rough cut for the episode that the animators could follow. Then, character and prop designers would meet to see what needed to be designed for the episode. After the design phase, the animation was outsourced to South Korea. The animation was largely hand-drawn, and then scanned into the computer. Once it was completed, the American team looked over the episode for errors, sometimes making minor changes at the last second. 
  • Pen Ward kept an open mind as the showrunner. He would often let his team contribute their own ideas and stories while keeping control of the show overall. 
  • After four and a half successful seasons, Ward decided it was time to step down as showrunner. Although he stayed to contribute every now and then or look over stories, he felt it best for his personal health and wellbeing to step away. The pressures of controlling a massively popular show became too much for his introverted personality. He handed the reins to Adam Muto, his college buddy that helped him develop the show.
    • When Muto took over, the show went in a different direction. Although the show never lost its sense of whimsy, the tone shifted to be more introspective. There were more series’ of episodes, rather than one-off adventures, and the plots became even more complex. 
  • In an article for the LA Times Rebecca Sugar talked about what it was like working on the show, especially the finale. She said, “I wrote a song for the finale called “Time Adventure.” I wanted to write about how even if something ends, it continues to exist in the past, nothing ever really goes away, you only feel like it does because our mind has to process information one moment at a time in order for us to function as humans. I’m so nostalgic for the time that I spent working on “Adventure Time” and I find it comforting to think that I still exist in that office with Adam, working on those stories. I would be so happy to come to work and brainstorm with him and sit down and draw on paper and pitch these stories with Post-its tacked up to the wall, just like they did in the 1930s with the stick and the song and the dance, the most traditional way of doing cartoons.”

CAST

  • In order to create dialogue that would naturally flow between the characters, Adventure Time preferred recording as a group under the direction of Kent Osbourne. 
  • Hynden Walch, who voices Princess Bubblegum, said in a Comic Con interview that, “It’s just like doing a play reading—a really, really out there play.”
  • In order to bring some variety into the voice acting, the team has employed many actors for small roles within the show. Some actors were reached out to but others were fans of the show and asked to be a part of it! In an interview at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con Adam Muto and Kent Osborne remarked that they had a strange goal of getting all the actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Office to voice recurring and minor roles. Kent made it clear though that when someone like Rainn Wilson had asked to guest star, they did not immediately put him in. They have a list of actors that have contacted them and when a character arises that would fit their voice they are brought in.

STARRING

Voice actors typically voice more than one character and so we will mention the main character that the actors voices but know that they voiced several others throughout the series.

  • John DiMaggio as Jake 
    • He is also known as Bender in Futurama.
    • In Paul Thomas’ “Exploring the Land of Ooo,” John DiMaggio is quoted saying, “I was trying to figure out from the beginning what the big deal was. I was like, ‘I’m not sure I understand what’s going on here.’ … You just had these lines that said whatever, and it was like, ‘I don’t get it.’ I said to Tom Kenny once, I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t get this show at all. I have no idea.’ And he was like, ‘Listen, man. Just trust me. This is this generation’s Yellow Submarine. Just leave it at that.’ And he was right. The art direction on the show, the whole world is great—the Land of Ooo is just weird. … It’s just a weird thing, you know. I love doing the show. It’s fun as hell.”
  • Jeremy Shada as Finn 
    • Jeremy is Reggie in Julie and the Phantoms!
    • The character of Finn was originally inspired by another animation by Pen Ward called Bueno the Bear. You can easily see how the style carried over to Adventure Time.
    • Bueno the Bear
    • Jeremy’s older brother Zach was the original voice of Finn
  • Tom Kenny as Ice King 
    • We all of course know Tom Kenny but in case you are not aware he is Spongebob!
  • Hynden Walch as Princess Bubblegum 
    • Hynden often voices Starfire in the Teen Titans shows.
    • Bubblegum was one of the first characters created for the show and was originally named Bettie after Ward’s mother. 
  • Olivia Olson as Marceline the Vampire Queen
    • She has been voices in other shows such as Phineas and Ferb, also played Joanna Anderson in “Love Actually”,  but is best known for Adventure Time
    • Ward got the idea for Marceline from a childhood friend!
  • Nikki Yang as BMO 
    • She also voices Candy Chiu in Gravity Falls.
  • Pendleton Ward as Lumpy Space Princess
    • He works on many Cartoon Network Studios projects as a screenwriter, animator, voice actor, etc.

RUNNING JOKES/ GAGS

  • Snail in every episode
    • Excluding the very first episode and a few others, the snail can be found within each episode. His appearance becomes a running gag as the seasons go on. He is even possessed by The Lich in a few episodes and can be seen with green eyes and an evil appearing expression.
  • Ice King kidnapping princesses
    • Many Fans believe that the Ice King is obsessed with Princesses because his human form, (Simon Petrikov) before becoming the ice king, had a fiancee named Betty. He would often call her princess. This leads those to believe that he is trying to find his princess or at least replace the love that he has lost.
  • Squirrel that hates Jake
    • His most famous words to Jake, “You son of a Bleep, Blop!”
  • Shelby the worm that lives in Jake’s viola 
    • His voice is created by altering Pen Ward’s! He is also specifically labeled as a male earthworm even though earthworms are in fact hermaphrodites. 
  • Finn being able to sing with auto-tune
    • We do not get to see in the show how Finn is able to sing auto-tune, but he says that when he was younger he swallowed a little computer.
  • Peppermint Butler being secretly evil
    • Peppermint Butler is Princess Bubblegum’s trusted butler, advisor, and friend. Throughout the series many instances show how he may have a dark side and past that is unbeknownst to the citizens of the candy kingdom. With this dark side he never turns on Princess Bubblegum and stays by her side making sure she is safe. 
  • The hints at Ooo being in a post apocalypse (Business Time)
    • Adventure Time is set in The Land of Ooo. The land of Ooo began as just a magical land but in the first season it quickly began to have a history emerge. This history does not become the main focus but rather a background to the main characters and their stories.
    • In a USA Today article Ward said, “I never planned it – I just saw this world as a magical place. The show developed organically – someone would add an element to the world, and it would stick. At some point, we did an episode about businessmen rising up from an iceberg at the bottom of a lake (“Business Time”) and that made the world post-apocalyptic, and we just ran with it.”

FAVORITE EPISODES

  • Wizard – Season 1, Episode 11
  • Dungeon – Season 1, Episode 18
  • Rainy Day Daydream – Season 1, Episode 23
  • The Other Tarts – Season 2, Episode 9
  • “What was Missing” Season 3, Episode 10
    • It is the genuine band episode
    • This episode is famous for deepening the relationship between Bubblegum and Marceline. After reading the episode, storyboard artist Rebecca Sugar suggested to Adam Muto that Bubblegum and Marceline had been in a romantic relationship that had gone south, which explains their complicated interactions and the cryptic lines of Marceline’s song. The show liked the idea, but knew that they had to approach it in a very subtextual way. Still, audiences understood what the writers were going for, and the episode sparked some controversy among the fanbase. 
    • Several seasons later in 2018, Cartoon Network aired the final episode which confirmed the relationship. 
  • Jake vs. Me-Mow – Season 3, Episode 16
    • This is a fan favorite because people love Me-Mow.
  • I Remember You – Season 4, Episode 25
  • The Lich – Season 4 finale
    • A big turning point for the show and first appearance of Prismo.

AWARDS/ RECEPTION

  • Although on first look Adventure Time seems to be for children, it has garnered an audience from a wide range of ages. Many teenagers and even adults relate to its offbeat humor and characters. This has caused some of its episodes to obtain over three million views! It paved the way for Cartoon Network after its failed attempts to compete with live action shows. 
  • Adventure Time has won several awards which include eight Primetime Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, three Annie Awards, two British Academy Children’s Awards, two Behind the Voice Actors Awards, a Motion Picture Sound Editors Award, and a Kerrang! Award. It has been nominated for many others as well. 
  • The series was so popular that lots of merch has been made which includes books, video games, clothing, and more.
  • The original series ended in 2018 but with it’s popularity still big, HBO brought it back in 2020. Adventure Time: Distant Lands has three episodes with a fourth on the way. The 42 minute specials explore new and distant worlds based on the universe that Pendleton Ward created.

INDUSTRY IMPACT

  • One example of Adventure Time’s positive impact is the continued careers and success of its crew. Many of the people that worked on the show went on to produce their own shows which include Over the Garden Wall, Steven Universe, OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, and City of Ghosts. 
  • Adventure Time brought in a new era for cartoons where artists could come together and create a series without holding back. It has inspired countless shows after it with its storyline and animation style. Adventure Time demonstrated that independent artists could not only animate but create interesting and successful stories. 
  • Finn and Jake are so big that they are also now included in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

In the late 2000s, Cartoon Network took a big risk, and boy did it pay off. In a world already overwhelmed with remakes and revivals, they decided to take a different path; a unique path; a weird path. Adventure Time is one of the most important animated shows of the 2010s. It not only gained an unbelievable cult following, it ushered in a new era of animation for Cartoon Network and even some other animation giants. But putting the needs of big studios aside, it’s a show that likely inspired other animators, proving that success isn’t out of reach–even for the weirdos. Adventure Time is out there, and that’s what makes it special. Its humor is off-beat, and not everyone will understand it all the time, but every moment is understood by someone. So, if you’re in the mood for an adventure, go check out the land of Ooo. The fun never ends. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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