May 4, 2013

Reviewing the Competition: How Peter Pan Might Hold a Clue to Adventure Time's Success

Adventure TIme Review Peter Pan Wizards Mad Libs similarities
Have you ever wondered what an average day in Neverland is like for Peter Pan? Sleep late, fry up some crocodile eggs, fight pirates, play games, visit mermaids, fight pirates, have lunch on the volcano, fight pirates....

In a nutshell, that's the drawing power of Cartoon Network's smash hit animated series, Adventure Time: Its hero, Finn, lives every boy's dream of the perfect treehouse-based life. Blend Neverland with the post-apocalyptic world of Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, add heaps of Mad-Libs random craziness, and you've got a show full of endless story possibilities.

If you're an Adventure Time fan, think about it a moment:
Peter Pan Adventure Time Captain Hook Ice King Finn Jake

Finn is Peter Pan.
Jake the Dog is Tinker Bell and the Lost Boys
The Ice King is Captain Hook.
Princess Bubblegum is Tiger Lilly.

I don't think these (probably unintentional) parallels hurt the show one bit: Adventure Time is a unique, surprising and hugely entertaining creation. Its similarities to James Barrie's timeless tale, however, help make the show instantly appealing and accessible to a wide audience of children, teens and adults.

And, just as Pan carries a sad subtext to its story of a boy blessed and cursed to never grow up, Adventure Time's comedy and surreal action take place against a backdrop of tragedy and loss. The show's writers are taking their time gradually unspooling the tale of the "Mushroom War" that mutated Earth 1,000 years past, but as bits and pieces of the puzzle are revealed through flashbacks and clues, the show gets more compelling with each passing season.

Other factors have helped shoot Adventure Time to the top of the ratings charts: Sharp writing, a stylized-but-rich visual style, unpredictable plots and a great, likable voice cast (this show could easily work as a radio adventure). Plus, the show's got heart. At first glance, it might seem like a typical modern cartoon full of gross-out humor and random weirdness, but it doesn't take long to reveal its sincerity. There's nothing smug or self-conscious about Adventure Time (two elements I never enjoyed in Disney's otherwise-wonderful Phineas and Ferb). Despite Adventure Time's goofball humor, its heroes Finn and Jake genuinely want to help people no matter how complicated, thankless or frustrating that task may become.

Other reviewers have compared the settings and characters of Adventure Time (in a positive way) to The Phantom Tollbooth, The Chronicles of Narnia and Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog. I'd add to that list echoes of Gumby, Lidsville and Little Nemo in Slumberland. It's the Peter Pan element, however, that I think truly makes Adventure Time's intensely strange fantasy plots accessible to viewers of all ages and interests.

* Bonus coincidence for die-hard Disney fans: The Vampire Queen who's become one of the show's most popular characters shares the name of Walt Disney's home town: Marceline. *

If you haven't yet taken a journey to The Land of Ooo, give Adventure Time a spin. You just might get hooked. Season One is streaming on Netflix, and the rest of the episodes are on iTunes and DVD.

Newcomers Hint: Once you've watched a few episodes and gotten to know the characters, seek out the Season Four Episode called "I Remember You"...and prepare for one of the most heartbreaking revelations ever to appear in an animated series. I can't think of any other animated tv show that's ever delivered such a powerful emotional knock-out punch.

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