Adventure Time: “Little Brother”
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Adventure Time: “Little Brother”

Shelby and Shelby’s butt take the spotlight

If there’s one thing to learn from Adventure Time, it’s that heroes come in all shapes in sizes. In “Little Brother,” that hero is Shelby’s butt, which is cut off during a freak parkour accident and given sentience because it is the back half of a worm. Butty Butterson, “Kent” for short, goes through a traditional hero’s journey over the course of this episode, avoiding temptation to grow more powerful in his mission to defeat the Rat King that is sapping the life from the roots of Finn and Jake’s willow tree. He’s just a small little round pink thing, but Kent has a bigger impact than anyone could expect, and he leaves a significant mark on both Shelby and the tree house by the end of “Little Brother.”

As I mentioned last week, part of the enjoyment of reviewing Adventure Time is never knowing where the show is going next, and there’s no way to guess that tonight’s episode would be about Shelby’s butt waging a one-worm war against a terrifying Rat King. It’s not a groundbreaking episode by any means, but it shows how malleable this series can be, even when working in a very conventional story structure. This episode introduces a hero, sets him off on a quest, shows him overcoming various trials, and then ends his story on a reverent note, and while the plot isn’t anything new, it’s told with style and humor that make it fresh and engaging. 

I’m going to confess that I have a considerable Shelby bias, so this episode hits a personal sweet spot, but even beyond my irrational love of that adorable worm (“Check, please!”), “Little Brother” still stands as a strong chapter in this series. It continues to expand the scope of the show, going in a different direction from last week’s oversized action to tell a story about miniature warriors whose battles are still full energy and speed despite their diminished size.

It’s remarkable just how much the writers are able to fit into 10 minutes in this series. Compare an episode of Adventure Time to a segment of equivalent length from an old Hanna-Barbera cartoon like The Herculoids and it becomes clear just how much the animation medium has evolved while still maintaining a youthful, exhilarating spirit. Even with all the growth of the last 50 years, Adventure Time still stands out for its ambition, using those 10 valuable minutes to tell experimental stories that push the boundaries of children’s programming. “Little Brother” isn’t one of the show’s most daring episodes, but it still exhibits a level of craft that makes it more than the typical kids’ fare.

The episode starts with a goofy tone that is very much in line with early Adventure Time installments, especially the bug dance party, which immediately reminds me of the teddy bear rave from “Belly Of The Beast.” The background details are a lot of fun in that sequence (my favorite is the drunk bug crashing into his red Solo cup), and the chill dialogue in the opening is a considerable contrast to the heightened script later in the episode. Everything becomes more serious and heavy as the story continues (while still maintaining steady bursts of humor because this is Adventure Time), and that shift occurs because Kent is maturing at an accelerated rate.

Early on, Kent and Shelby’s dynamic is one in which the younger brother develops faster and finds more success than the older, making Shelby long for the life of adventure that Kent is experiencing. Kent is able to grow arms and legs shortly after he’s born because his body hasn’t settled on a specific form yet; no matter how hard Shelby tries, he’s never going to grow those extra appendages because his form has been cemented as a worm over time.

Shelby waits alone while Kent is off realizing his destiny, and his solitude causes him to sing a Belle And Sebastian-styled number about how much he appreciates his new brother/best friend and how much he misses him. After the heaviness of Kent’s psychedelic battle with the Rat King, Shelby’s musical number is nice moment of levity, even if it’s about how sad Shelby is. The music is sunny but the lyrics are dark, which is the exact type of contrast I expect from this series. Overall, this episode is a fun little diversion from the main plotline, but it gains unexpected poignancy in the final moments as Shelby’s reunion with his brother is cut short by Kent’s new responsibilities.

Because Kent had partaken of food from the underworld, he has to return there by dewdrop law, or at least that’s what he tells his brother. “Maybe he was having second thoughts about infinite riches, true love, and eternal life,” Shelby says in the closing voiceover. “Or maybe he’d just decided that fighting bad guys wasn’t really his deal. But I do know this: Free from the Rat King’s cursed teeth, that spring, for the first time in many years, the willow tree was in bloom.” The final image of Finn and Jake’s tree house, now white from all the blossoms on its branches, is a great visualization of the impact one tiny worm butt can have on the world, and while Finn and Jake will likely never know what Kent did for them, his influence will be felt for years to come.

Stray observations:

  • Thurop Van Orman, creator of The Marvelous Misadventures Of Flapjack, is the voice of Kent. I miss Flapjack.
  • I love that the Rat King’s body is kept in shadow, only revealing the mass of rats that make up his body when light shines directly on them. It makes the villain way creepier.
  • Jake’s advice on how to raise a younger brother: Give younger brother a sharp object and get him to fight bad guys. Stretch all big if he gets in real trouble.
  • “What’s going on there...with your butt?”
  • “Myth is a powerful force in my life, dude.”
  • “Someday, you’ll be Kent’s food.”
  • “I’m from my brother’s butt!”
  • “I was born earlier today so I don’t really get a sense of my own mortality.”

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