Adventure Time is not so much an animated show as a cultural phenomenon. It is a show with a very unclear demographic. It is clearly aimed at children in how it looks, but if you spend five minutes watching it you realize, this show is aimed at adults, too. The humor is brilliant and subversive. The art style is wonderfully colorful and inventive. The voice acting is second to none, and the writing is deep and layered. So how do they do it? I have a pretty good idea, actually.
The best fiction aimed at kids (and adults) never panders to kids. It never treats them like they are stupid. The most insulting shows gift wrap their jokes and messages and hand them to the kids watching. Adventure Time is like Harry Potter in the sense that is actually UNDERSTANDS how kids think. Yes, we have talking candy and bad guys versus good guys. All the stuff on the top layer seems perfectly aimed at its demographic. But then there are these moments between characters that will blow my mind. Complex, adult relationships permeate this show. Just look at Finn and his love interests across the show.
Princess Bubblegum was his first true love, though she did not reciprocate that. Whether or not people want to accept it or admit it, that is mostly because it is implied quite intensely that Bubblegum is in love with Marceline. Yes, a female is in love with a female on a cartoon. They rarely make an issue out of it, but they do not shy away from it, either. Guess what? There are kids who have two Moms or two Dads in real life, too. That is not a show being adult. That is a show being honest.
Then, what about Finn and Flame Princess? Being in love with someone you cannot physically touch and the torment that goes along with that would be right at home in any Shakespeare piece, yet we get it in a cartoon. Are you starting to see what Adventure Time resonates with so many people? It a show that understands its audience “gets it”. It understands that kids are smart and wise and have lived some very adult things. It understands that relationships are complex and complicated.
In other words, Adventure Time wears its animation like armor, almost to scare off the unworthy. Those who stick around, quickly learn it is one of the best shows on TV right now. I mean, no spoilers or anything, but that recent episode with Finn and the arm thing? That blew my mind and only went further to cement my adoration for Adventure Time and everything it is brave enough to tackle.
Plus, it has monsters. I love monsters.
[Photo via Cartoon Network]