Good lord do I love Adventure Time. I’ve been reviewing this series for over two seasons (one of which was 52 flippin’ episodes), and not only is it still a pleasure, it’s still a surprise. I have absolutely no idea where the plot will go next, but I know that I’m going to be entertained, even during the less than spectacular episodes. And I can’t really remember the last bad episode of Adventure Time I reviewed. Some stories have less impact than others, but the visuals are always engaging and imaginative, making me want to spend time in this world even if I’m being annoyed by what’s happening on screen.
Episodes like “Something Big” are when my job is the best. Let me pause to give thanks to whatever ancient beings have blessed me with the opportunity to write about something this strange, substantial, and provocative, because this episode is just awesome, and I mean awesome in the classical sense: “inspiring an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, or fear.” The “something” of this episode’s title could be the huge earth giant summoned by Maja the Sky Witch or the existential crisis experienced by the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant (Eli for short), but I like to think that writer/storyboarder Jesse Moynihan just decided to name the episode after its defining quality: it’s something big.
When we enter the story, the Candy Kingdom is under attack, and Root Beer Guy has just sacrificed himself to put Gridface Princess’ force field up around Maja and Darren, a massive ancient being made of trees and rocks that wants to turn the Candy People into salt to season his meals. Root Beer Guy is dead, and he stays dead for the entire episode (there’s even an “In Memory Of Root Beer Guy” card at the end). The stakes are set incredibly high from the first second, and they don’t ever lower, even after the threat of Maja and Darren is eliminated.
The first half of this episode is an exhilarating battle sequence between Maja, Darren, Princess Bubblegum, Colonel Candy Corn, Finn, Jake, and the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant, and it’s exactly as fun as it sounds. I’m going to run out ways to say big over the course of this review, but that’s just what everything is. The scale is so massive in terms of the visuals and the situations, but the dialogue has that typical down-to-Earth Adventure Time coolness, creating a delightful contrast between the light tone of the dialogue and the heaviness of the action, a contrast that can also be found in Jesse Moynihan’s comic-book work.
As the first episode written and storyboarded solely by Jesse Moynihan, I expected “Something Big” to share some similarities with Moynihan’s comic books, specifically his most recent Forming graphic novels for Nobrow, and holy cow was I right. The title card immediately calls to mind the kaleidoscopic cover of Forming I, and the design of Darren is heavily reminiscent of the character work done in Forming II. For those who don’t know, Forming is Moynihan’s take on the birth of civilization, a story full of cosmic action, R-rated comedy, and interpersonal drama that all come together to form a complex, hilarious epic with eye-popping visuals. Except for the R-rated part, that pretty much describes Adventure Time, except this show looks at what happens after civilization has collapsed and been rebuilt.
Adventure Time has grown so much in the past six seasons because the producers have embraced change, expanding the writing and animation team to include more idiosyncratic artists who are given freedom to follow creative impulses. Those impulses altered the shape of the show, and made it exponentially more interesting as a result. Change is an essential part of life, and “Something Big” looks at three different characters who live or die based on their ability to embrace change.
Darren doesn’t understand the magical power that compassion and other emotional feelings have in the new world he’s woken up in, and he’s not interested in learning. When Finn kills him by destroying his brain-seed, Darren says, “Thank you.” He’d rather be dead than live in this world that is different from the one he used to know. There’s a part of Colonel Candy Corn that also wants to live in the past, but unlike Darren, he’s been awake for all these years and he’s not going to give up his life after surviving so much. He misses his dead wife Linda and wishes he could find a young girl to show an interest in him, but he doesn’t let himself get weighed down by despair. Instead, he picks up his sword and fights on, charging into a new world by becoming the warrior he used to be. He survives the battle.
The Candy Kingdom would be doomed if it wasn’t for the Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant, an old acquaintance of Darren that knows his weakness. After helping Finn save the day, Eli is released from his servitude, which causes a slew of problems for a war machine that needs psychic commands in order to function. He doesn’t know what to do with his new autonomy, and watching other autonomous beings in nature doesn’t make Eli feels any better. That’s when the sun starts talking and things get really heady:
Hey, elephant. I’m more ancient than you. Someday I will engulf the solar system. What was and what will be is meaningless. Meanwhile, you should wonder: Are you just a two-headed pile of meat on a crash course with the cosmic dump? Or do you contain the soul memory of a million dead stars? How do you light a candle without a match?
The sun essentially tells Eli that the world only has the meaning we give to it, making each person a god in his or her own way. It’s all a matter of perception. We may be just flesh and bone, but we’re also universal miracles, each as brilliant as a star in the cosmos. It’s up to Eli to choose what he will be. Will he be a pawn to his programming, or will he forge a new path for himself? He chooses the latter, tapping into the power of compassion by rescuing Maja and devoting himself to her recuperation. He survives the battle.
After 10 minutes of big, the episode ends by getting very small, showing a pink leaf that has been knocked off a tree by Eli in flight. A caterpillar wiggles into frame to eat the plant, leaving the viewer with a reminder of the brevity of life by taking a trip back to the food chain. The leaf’s life is forever changed when he falls to the ground, and it can’t do anything about it because he’s a leaf. We have the ability to take control of our destinies, so there’s no excuse not to.
- Those mourning Root Beer Guy will probably want to pick up Boom’s upcoming Banana Guard Academy miniseries, a Police Academy-style story about Root Beer Guy building up Ooo’s police force. I remain hopeful that PB will find a way to resurrect Root Beer Guy, though.
- This episode is setting up a date between Colonel Candy Corn and Marceline, right? That’s where my mind went when he talked about looking for a young woman with an old soul.
- How cool is that time-freeze summoning sequence? Moynihan brings such a sense of grandeur to his storyboards.
- “Eat it, tranch!”
- “What the flip is feelings?”
- “Well, I guess my kids still have a daddy.”
- “I’m doing this for a reason. What choice is there?”
- “You bonked your head.”
- Maja: “Are you powerful?” Eli: “Yes. I can fly and do lasers from my nose.”
- Eli: “For now I am the match and the candle.” Maja: “Whu?”