Once upon a time, before television and video games and indoor plumbing, children would sit around the hearth and listen to stories told by their parents or grandparents or slightly crazy uncles.
They were children's stories.
Most had children in them, at least—children who might be attacked by wolves on the way to grandma's house or lured into massive gingerbread houses to be cooked and eaten. These children were always in danger of being eaten, it seems, or attacked by trolls or killed by their evil stepmothers.
Ah, such carefree, innocent days those must've been.
Cartoon Network's hit show Adventure Time With Finn & Jake recalls, in a way, those curious stories told generation after generation. It looks cute and might seem innocent at first … but it's darker than you might think.
The characters look as if they were drawn by particularly talented second-graders, full of bold lines and whimsy. Finn, the 13-year-old protagonist, is a dot-eyed little lad with waggly arms, a weird pointy-eared hat and time on his hands for—well, adventure. He's joined by his faithful dog, Jake, and together they keep the land of Ooo safe from such nefarious evildoers as the comically drawn Ice King—a lonely soul who occasionally kidnaps one of the land's many princesses in an effort to cajole her into marrying him.
Finn, meanwhile, has a crush on someone known as the Bubblegum Princess (first name: Bonnibelle), who rides a rainbow unicorn (first name: Rainicorn) across her Candy Kingdom. Ooo can seem, on the surface, like a land created by Care Bears.
But all is not what it seems. While not an explicit part of the story, Ooo is actually in post-apocalyptic shock from something residents call the "Mushroom War." Various countries and kingdoms are pocked with bits of bracken from a time before, and there's a suggestion that Finn is one of the relics—perhaps the last real human to survive.
All Finn's friends and acquaintances are, um, less than human. The Bubblegum Princess is, for instance, a mishmash of bubblegum and human DNA. And Lich, one of many bad 'uns inhabiting Ooo, is a fearsome undead wizard. Sign Zombies (zombies that look like signs) shamble through the Evil Forest. A Demon Cat haunts a largish dungeon. Marceline the Vampire Queen—a sometimes sullen 1,000-year-old teen—boasts a father who is evil incarnate, a stand-in for Satan himself.
Dark magic, it turns out, flies fast and furious in Ooo. In fact, almost everyone but Finn seems to have a knack for casting spells. Even his dog can shift shapes at will.
So you can forget about those Care Bears—creatures who would most certainly blush underneath their fur at the very thought of some of the suggestive and crass things that happen in Ooo. In one episode, Jake spends time with his girlfriend Rainicorn in a closet—part of a "Seven Minutes in Heaven" game. Marceline, at one point, moves in with her boyfriend. Conversations about painful death are common, as are sly references to bad words or slimy situations.
"I think if you put a bunch of wisecracking adults in a room together you can't help end up with something slightly subversive," Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward told Animation World Network. "But I really think there is humor for adults and kids. And I think the stuff for adults just goes over the kids' heads just like [Pee-Wee's Playhouse] or The Simpsons did. And that was another goal I had in mind was to make something that everyone could watch."
Folks of all ages are watching Adventure Time. It's become something of a cult hit among high schoolers and college-age adults, who join their younger siblings around the television—our modern-day hearth—to take in Ward's bizarre, somewhat askew stories.
Whether everyone should watch, though, is another matter—a dilemma not exactly solved by the creator's calm assurances. While Adventure Time might not make kids look under their beds for wolves or witches, it might make their parents a little afraid … of television.
"Memory of a Memory" / "Hitman"
Marceline's ex-boyfriend, Ash, tricks Finn into magically removing the memory of them breaking up. Finn runs into various memories while exploring Marceline's head, including: One where Marceline's a little girl, playing doctor with a stuffed bear in the ruined wreckage of the world; another where Marceline picks her nose; and another where she and Ash move in together. Marceline later crawls into Finn's memories, where she sees him as little boy dancing in his underwear and singing about "fannies" and "buns." Marceline kicks Ash in the groin and repeatedly in the head. Finn chimes in, jumping up and down on his chest before a Monty Python-style foot comes down to squish the offending boyfriend.
Ice King tries to seduce a pair of breakfast princesses with honey. Finn grounds him for a month, whereupon Ice King, very angry, wishes he could hit Finn and Jake. Since he can't, he goes online and hires a "hit man." When he learns that the spectral, mummy-like assassin plans to kill them instead of just hitting them, the Ice King tries to save them, and finally does so by freezing them.
Ice King has posters of muscular, bikini-clad women in his workout room, and he tries to offer the hit man a pair of night vision, X-ray goggles for "when you have a lady houseguest." We see the naked rear of an animated goblin and hear characters make fun of Ice King's "bubble butt." A reference is made to being burned alive. Jake expresses regret at eating meat that came from Meat Man. Characters say "freaking," "dang," "gol" and a euphemism for testicles.