After eight years, ten seasons, and nearly three hundred episodes, the legendary animated children’s fantasy series, Adventure Time, has come to a close. Come on, grab your friends as we say goodbye to one of the most intriguing and successful cartoons of our time. But before we do that, let’s take a closer look at the cultural phenomenon that is Adventure Time.
WARNING: In case it wasn’t obvious, MAJOR spoilers ahoy. But really, if you haven’t watched the series up until this point, why are you even reading this?
The Early Beginnings and Unlikely Success of Adventure Time
Adventure Time follows the high-flying adventures of Finn the Human, who runs around swinging his sword at evil monsters and villains like the Lich. He’s joined by Jake the Dog, his shapeshifting, wise-cracking brother. They’re the heroes of the world of Ooo, which is actually Earth after being devastated by nuclear war.
Finn and Jake live together as roommates and heroes for hire, rescuing princesses and battling evil, saving the day and having fun while doing it. They are joined by bass-playing Marceline the Vampire Queen, the mad and sad Ice King, motivated and logical Princess Bubblegum, their video game console/robot friend BMO, and many more weird and wonderful friends.
The show was masterminded by Pendleton Ward, who developed his animating skills at the famous CalArts animation university. Ward created the first Adventure Time short in 2006 and pitched it to Nickelodeon . . . twice. Nickelodeon wasn’t interested, so Adventure Time was left to build its cult following online, and build it did. Adventure Time was finally picked up by Cartoon Network in 2008 and quickly became the gold standard in animated children’s entertainment.
The Importance of Adventure Time
Adventure Time is the ultimate Millennial fantasy show. Pendleton Ward is himself a Millennial, having been born in 1982 (per the Pew Research Center). That makes Adventure Time among the first significant creative works to be produced by Millennials, and among the first to be made by Millennials for a younger generation. And like so many creators of children’s shows before him, he has injected themes into the show that ring true to people around his age (again, Millennials, like me). It’s little wonder the show counted as many adults as kids among its fans.
In that way, Adventure Time became very much like Sesame Street, Doug, and other shows, in that it tried to speak to children directly, in the hopes of bringing them up with positive ideas like tolerance, empathy, and the power of cooperation, that would hopefully follow them into adulthood.
Adventure Time never shied away from deep, even difficult questions and dark moments. It treated children like normal people who were open to learning and capable of handling heavy topics, not just, y’know, as kids. Yet at the same time, the show was notable for its exuberant yet heartfelt optimism, but one that felt mature and characterized by that Millennial doggedness. It was as if the show was saying that, yeah, there will be times when you feel sad or angry or like things are so bad you’ll want to give up. But it is better to keep your positivity through adversity because it will get better. And even in the worst of times, you always have your friends to back you up.
Most importantly of all – and this is especially indicative of its Millennial generational roots – Adventure Time is a show that throws its full weight behind the notion that, unless you are truly and unrepentantly evil, every single person is deserving of love and respect, no matter how strange or different they may seem.
Come Along With Me: A Finale
The finale opens far in the future and follows Shermy and Beth (who is possibly a distant descendant of Jake the Dog), when they discover Finn’s robotic arm. They climb Mt. Cragdor, once home to the Enchiridion, to meet with the King of Ooo – who happens to be BMO – to ask what s/he knows about it. BMO’s little hovel kingdom is home to many recognizable artifacts from the show, including most of the princess’s tiaras, Simon Petrikov’s glasses, AMO’s gutted body, a statuette of the former King of Ooo, and many more. When Beth presents Finn’s old arm, BMO then tells the two adventurers the story of his old friend.
We then observe the beginnings of the Gum War (which opens with a purple butterfly – a symbol perhaps of the bookending of Finn’s childhood journey?), which is cleverly interrupted by Finn and Jake trapping Princess Bubblegum, Uncle Gumbald, Fern, and the two of them in a dream state. After some trippy moments including a singing poodle and Lady Rainicorn cooking Jake’s children, Finn and Fern defeat Fern’s demon together and Bubblegum calls off the Gum War.
So everything is fine and the show is over, right? Wrong. It all only gets worse with the arrival of the most terrible of all monsters, the entity that the Lich kowtows to: GOLB. Lumpy Space Princess fits in a selfie with the multidimensional being of ultimate evil.
GOLB creates an eldritch abomination out of the candy soldiers and proceeds to wreak havoc, as the Banana Guards flee the battlefield (on PB’s orders, of course). Meanwhile, Normal Man enlists Ice King to stop Betty, the one who summoned GOLB in the first place in an effort to save Simon from the crown. Unfortunately, GOLB’s beast destroys one of Bubblegum’s Gumball Guardians and corrupts the other. Jake tries to contain the corrupted Guardian’s attack, but his stretchy body pops!
In the face of unbeatable odds, LSP makes a proposal to Lemongrab that the latter finds ACCEPTABLE: a kiss. The brief moment is a delightful parody of similar romantic moments in other series finales, in which the creators attempt to appease fans by canonizing their favorite character pairings.
GOLB then devours Ice King, Betty, and Finn, and the eldritch monster appears to squash Bubblegum, leading an enraged Marceline to kick the monster’s butt. In one of the most striking moments in the episode thus far, Bubblegum and Marceline confirm years of speculation about their relationship with a kiss. It may be just a kiss, but considering that back in 2011, during the earlier years of Adventure Time, mere speculation about a same-sex relationship between these characters was highly controversial and set off shockwaves among American and global audiences, the fact that such a scene can be presented so casually today just goes to show how far we’ve come.
As Ice King, Betty, and Finn are digested by GOLB and reverted to their puny human forms, Jake pursues GOLB’s minions as they wreck Ooo. In a tragic climax, the eldritch monster destroys Finn and Jake’s Treehouse! With everything appearing hopeless, Jake shrinks into the fetal position in the wreckage of his home and is scooped up by his video game console and friend, BMO. Always the “baby” of the Treehouse family until now, BMO takes it upon himself to be Jake’s “Papa,” and sings him a song that will likely go down in Adventure Time history: Time Adventure.
GOLB’s minions can’t stand the music, and with the help of all the main characters singing along, the heroes of Ooo beat back the invaders just long enough for Finn and Simon to escape from GOLB’s innards. But Betty stays behind and makes one last wish on the cursed crown, one last desperate gambit to save Simon for good: she becomes GOLB.
With GOLB’s departure, everything wraps up. Gunter turns into the Ice Thing using one last wish from the crown (after which it inexplicably disappears forever), and Fern dies, leaving a seed to be planted where the Treehouse once stood. Later on, Finn and Jake hang out with the Music Hole, who shares with them a song she just wrote, bookending Jake’s new song that he downloaded from the Internet in the original Nickelodeon short all those years ago. That song, as it turns out, is the one heard in the end credits of every episode for the last eight years. After a montage of how our heroes moved on after the great Gum War, Shermy and Beth visit the Fern tree, where they pull out his sword and raise it to the sky.
Endings are hard. Was Come Along With Me perfect? Not by any stretch, and I certainly have my gripes such as not really connecting with Shermy and Beth, and Gunther turning into Ice Thing seeming like a bit of a cop-out (I would have preferred, as Death once said to Simon, if he had remained Ice King until the sun blew up). But it is quite possibly the most “Adventure Time” ending this show could have had. It didn’t answer all the questions and not everybody got a perfectly happy ending, which is at it should be.
Some Final Thoughts
I am dragging this post out and I am aware of that. As much as it is “just” an animated television show, and as much as I have known for more than a year that this day was coming, it is heartbreaking to finally have to say goodbye to Adventure Time. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who began following this show as children, when they may have been no more than ten years old when it debuted. Many of those young fans are now entering college, and a show that very well may have been a mainstay throughout their young lives is leaving them just as they emerge into adulthood.
I’d imagine it’s the same feeling I got from Toy Story 3. I was around the same age as the character Andy at the time the original Toy Story came out: a carefree and cheery kid who loved toys, with his whole future in front of him. But growing up, namely middle and high school, was tough and stole some of that childhood innocence away from me. Doors were closed as who I would be got further and more sharply defined, and I had my heartaches and disappointments along the way.
When Toy Story 3 released in theaters, an older Andy that was a reflection of my older self stared back through the screen – a lot had changed in the world and in my life, and things that seemed important weren’t anymore; that childhood wonderment had been replaced with cynicism, the responsibilities of being a college-age adult, and maybe a less wondrous and exciting world than when it was all new. But even with all of that, like Andy rediscovering his old toys, the magic came back while watching that movie, as if all those years had never passed. It was like being a kid again.
And like Andy, at the end of the movie I found it difficult to let go of a story of such central importance to my childhood, and indeed it felt like I was saying goodbye to childhood itself, once and for all. Maybe I was, but that’s okay, because even in adulthood, I’ve found things that made me feel hopeful and reminded me that the world was an incredible place, things like Adventure Time.
So don’t be sad, Adventure Time fans. This show may be gone, but what it taught you will always be true: there will always be something to remind you that life is beautiful and that it’s okay – no, encouraged – that you remain hopeful and positive. And like Finn, your childhood may be over, but as BMO said, you will keep living your lives, and you will find that being an adult is an adventure all its own. See you next week.
How old were you when you started watching Adventure Time? What are your favorite moments from the show? What did you think of the ending? Share your thoughts in the comment section!