SDCC 2014: Our talk with Adventure Time

adventure time

Good television is pretty hard to find nowadays, especially animation that works for both the kids, tweens, teenagers and adults. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons because of the crude yet subtle humor. Family Guy, American Dad and South Park were definitely out of the question and placed in the “Adults Only” category. It was pretty rare to find that medium that could entertain all these age brackets. That is, until Adventure Time. 

Adventure Time is a story about human hero Finn and his best friend Jake, a dog with magical powers to change shape at will, living in a post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo. They live among the other main characters in the show – Princess Bubblegum, the Ice King, Marceline The Vampire Queen, Lady Ranicorn, and a variety of different yet hilarious characters. It may sound like a silly, weird cartoon show, but you know what… it is and it’s brilliant. Critics and fans have praised the show for their rich characters, creative storylines, and the ability to have the audience empathize with the characters.

The Emmy-winning show’s popularity has exploded in pop culture within the six seasons it had been on The Cartoon Network. There are cosplayers dressed as the characters at almost every comic book/geek convention, a home painted in honor of the show, loads of merchandise, Adventure Time forums and fan clubs, and of course, the beautiful fan art.

adventure time crew

We spoke with two of the writers from the show – Adam Muto and Kent Osborne about the evolution of the show from season one to the current sixth season, their whole thought process behind it and what they are planning for the future of the show.

Muto commented, “Season one and season two was just establishing [the story]. It grew out of not wanting to fall into cliches and repeating the same sort of set-up every time. Ice King kidnaps the princess, Ice King gets beat up. We didn’t want to keep doing that season after season. We left it open to start to change. One episode started, we started spreading it out.”

Osborne added, “It’s a [story]board driven show. So when we are in the writers room, we are writing these simple, sort of premises outlines. Then, the borders have a couple of weeks to write it all out and board it and pitch it to us and add stuff. Sometimes we go to the pitches, and we think that’s great. We go to the writers room and go, let’s go with that.”

We asked about the serious storylines and where they came from, like the Ice King’s sad past and Finn’s father. Muto responded, “Usually, it’s experience. Like if somebody has a specific anecdote or memory they can turn into a story. We don’t usually start with an emotion and try to make a story out of that. But, sometimes someone had a really crappy weekend and we spin that into a story. Like from a specific experience and hopefully it becomes universal from that specific story.”

With the show maturing and evolving, the writers have written about death and grieving but they “aren’t trying to traumatize kids”. “We’re not monsters,” commented Osborne.

Mutto added, “If there is something that seems terrible or miserable or there is nothing really funny about it, we try to steer away from it. But I mean, all those things exist. So it seems weird trying to sugarcoat them more than we already had. The show is the sugarcoating. Really hoppy and simple times. We try to get away with more ‘torny’ issues as sort of make up.”

We asked if there will be any changes on the show, Muto responded, “Yeah I think so. But when you look at Finn and Jake, their relationship is the same from the first season. It’s not like they become enemies in season six. Yeah, I think it’s inevitable. If they don’t evolve, it’s harder to put them in an episode. It just feels like we’re doing the same thing if the Ice King keeps kidnapping the princess at this point. Plus, it feels mean when they beat him up afterwards. It’s like an old man with dementia-like symtoms.”

Osborne mentioned, “Flame Princess is evolving.”

They spoiled us with some special guests that will be coming this season – Lena Dunham and Rainn Wilson. Wilson is a known huge fan of the show and previously voiced Rattleballs in the 5th season episode ‘Rattleballs’.

As for the final episode for Adventure Time (which won’t happen for a while), we wondered if they had that planned in the near future. They don’t have any plans but each of the writers have an idea for the ending. Osborne joked, “It’s gonna be a snow globe and a little kid. A little kid holding a snow globe.”

Adventure Time Cast

An animated story cannot be told without the voices to bring them to life. The cast of the show features the talents of voice veterans John DiMaggio, Tom Kenny and Hynden Walch (who unfortunately could not make it to the interview) and introduces us to young up and coming actors Jeremy Shada and Olivia Olson. I asked them about their thoughts on the popularity on the show and if they expected it to become quite a phenomenon and why they think it is what it is.

John DiMaggio, voice of Jake, commented, “You can never predict anything like this. Trying to predict the success of a television show is like predicting where the chicken is going to poop in the grid.” Tom Kenny (voice of the Ice King) exclaimed, “Chicken Sh*t Bingo!”

Kenny then added, “I got to say, you never know when the show is going to hit on a deep and emotional level like that. For me, because I have kids, the stuff that they respond to, above and beyond, is the stuff that goes deeper. You know what I mean. We showed the Sponge Bob pilot when it was made and thought “Wow, I don’t know why. I don’t even like cartoons. This is great.” And Adventure Time is like that. Adventure Time, that first short, was on YouTube before it was a series, where he goes to Mars and meets Abraham Lincoln. My kid and his friends were obsessed with that and wanted to see more of those characters in a way that most shows don’t resonate. People watch all kinds of TV, video games and stuff like that online content and go, “Oh, that was pretty good.” But, Adventure Time went deeper and now that was happening to a s***load of people.”

DiMaggio added, “He said to me once, I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t get it’. He went, ‘Look, it’s this generation of Yellow Submarine.’ I went, ‘Ok, I got it’. ” Now, that makes sense.

The show has been on for a little over four years, the show has matured along with the characters. Kenny mentioned all of the characters have changed: Finn is different from when the show first started and Jake is a dad now. DiMaggio commented, “He’s gained weight. They added weight onto him.”

The show has also changed in direction in an emotional sense – the Ice King has become more understood throughout the seasons. Jeremy Shada (voice of Finn) stated, “I love those changes. I think those changes are really cool because it sets it apart from most animated shows. Because a lot of animated shows, they don’t really have an overall story arcs as characters. They wouldn’t do something like Finn losing his arm and going through crazy trials with all this backstory, which is really cool.”

Olivia Olson added, “I think it gives us a lot of knowledge about our characters. At the beginning to the series, I didn’t really realize who Marceline was and why she was kinda weird and trying to mess with you guys all the time[to Shada and DiMaggio]. She had a really long hard life and she’s bored now.”

DiMaggio commented, “When there is this much depth now, you can really approach the characters with a lot more forethought and with a lot more appreciation with where they can go.”

Kenny opened up about his feelings of the show, “It is a really nice mix of, which life is too, the hilarious, the awesome, the tragic and the sad. Life is just a salad of that. I know with us, when we work on various shows, it’s either comedy or it’s superhero angst-ness [in superhero voice] ‘With all my powers, I will save her’. That’s not the same depth of wistfulness and sadness to these shows that is really unusual and definitely in American TV series animation. It really does let you be a part of something that is different from anything else you really done. ‘That episode made me cry’, it’s like ‘Wow, don’t take this the wrong way, but I think it’s awesome our show made you cry.’ It’s the best”. He commented on his character, “The Ice King had got dementia. And you know, as someone with an 85-year-old mother, you do start finding these parallels [to life].”

Olson would like to see her character do a full circle to have the Ice King remember Marcy and maybe turn back into Simon “and stop being so crazy.” Kenny added, “The Ice King is starting to have friends. He’s starting to be able to have human interaction.” The show has touched upon the Ice King’s past as a human and the loss of his ‘princess’/fiancee Betty. It was an emotional episode that affected many. Kenny said, “He’s getting a little more functional. Now that the Ice King has a sad past with Betty and all that stuff. The writers feel like they can’t have Finn and Jake beat up the Ice King anymore. It’s like beating up a old guy with dementia. It makes them not nice.”

Shada followed up on the Ice King character, “I like how he starts off as the main villain on the show. Now he wants to be bros with Finn and Jake and never be the villain. It’s so awesome. I love it. He’s roommating with them.”

We asked about Jake’s character, DiMaggio said, “You know, Jake is just chilling. He is always just chilling. He is the one who is kinda stuck. Everyone else is just growing. Him being a dad , he’s the dad that won’t grow up – the father who has Peter Pan syndrome.”

As for Finn, Shada joked, “Finn’s got his arm back. So, that’s the main thing. He’s got his arm. I think, Finn is in that interesting place where he’s kinda like in the mid, well, he’s been liking girls, he just has no luck. But, really like girls. He’s kinda in that interesting mid-teen range right now. He’s maturing really fast, there’s a lot of serious stuff happening to him, but he’s still kinda that kid at heart… That’s the great thing with Finn. [People ask] ‘So what’s Finn going through now?’ I just say what I’m going through now.”

He later spoiled, “Finn is going to be maturing very quickly in these next two episode in the rest of season 6 as there is more stuff with his dad. That will be very great. Depressing but also kinda cool. There’s a little bit of reconciliation with his father. It’s coming up pretty soon. In an interesting, opposite way from Jake and his kids, it’s the opposite with Finn and his biological dad. It’s kinda like his dad is the one who never grew up and never wanted any of this. And, Finn is kinda has to be mature and ‘Well, my dad is kinda…'” DiMaggio begins singing, “He’s gonna make it on his own!”

It was announced a San Diego Comic-Con, they have been renewed for a seventh season. Adventure Time airs on Cartoon Network.

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