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Adventure Time: “Up A Tree”


Adventure Time

“Up A Tree”

Season 5 , Episode 4

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It’s amazing how Adventure Time can take a story as simple as losing a Frisbee in a tree and turn it into an epic—well—adventure. While playing a game of throw-and-catch with his throwing-and-catching disc, Finn accidentally throws the object on top of a nearby tree, failing to accomplish the perfect throw he had so heavily hyped. He refuses Jake’s help in retrieving the disc, choosing instead to make his way up the tree by himself, coming across various obstacles along the way and ultimately gaining a new friend in the form of a non-flying squirrel voiced by Marc Maron. It’s a light but very entertaining episode, and captures the sense of exhilaration that can be found in the best Adventure Time episodes.

In the totally algebraic video above, the argument is made that the reason Adventure Time is so popular with adults is because at its heart it is about nostalgia. The show not only awakens the emotions that make the adult viewer feel like a kid again, but is itself nostalgic for whatever world existed before the Great Mushroom War. Both of those concepts are incorporated in “Up A Tree,” and while the latter idea isn’t emphasized too heavily, there’s a bit of wistfulness for a former world at the start of the episode.

When Finn and Jake run off to play throw-and-catch, Finn and Jake assume the roles of human and dog, assigned by Jake. Jake yells “dog dog dog” before Finn corrects him to say “bark bark bark,” and Finn just repeats “I’m a human” as they run off and play. They don’t really know how humans and dogs acted in the time when the catching disc was first manufactured, so they put on identities that they think are a close approximation. Their past is the audience’s present, and the difference between Finn and Jake’s perception of the past and how the viewer knows it to be is the source of much of this show’s comedy.

I’m not a big throw-and-catch player, but I absolutely love climbing trees, so “Up A Tree” strikes a very specific nostalgic chord for me. Unfortunately, my tree climbing adventures are rarely as eventful as Finn’s. After a brief encounter with a hedgehog leaves him with two needles in his butt, Finn uses the needles to start his trek up the tree, meeting a squirrel on the next step of the way. The squirrel forces a magic apple in Finn’s mouth, shrinking him down to woodland creature size, and that’s when Jake shows up to check and see if his friend needs any help. Finn is set on getting through this mission on his own, but when he finds himself the prisoner of the forest animals, he needs to get some assistance if he’s going to prevent himself from becoming part of the tree.

Like Kumail Nanjiani in the season premiere, Marc Maron’s distinctly neurotic voice is a great fit for Finn’s squirrelfriend. The squirrel has a great gimmick, answering all questions with yes and no, revealing a character that is kept in check by his indecisiveness. In his most telling moment, the squirrel answers Finn’s question about whether or not he is also a prisoner of the tree: “Yes and no. Am I allowed to leave the tree? No. Have I already left the tree, am I miles away from the tree right now, flying around like the flying squirrel that I am? YES. In my mind. In my mind.” The squirrel has the same active fantasy life and bleak world view as most stand-up comedians, and when he finds someone who believes in him, he soars. 

The squirrel would escape if he had a buddy to help him, so Finn agrees to be his accomplice in getting out of the tree. Squirrel helps Finn retrieve the throwing disc, and they make their way to the exit, with Finn planning their escape by having them jump on the disc after he performs the perfect throw. He throws it and immediately loses the disc on the air, leaving the pair stuck at the end of the branch with an army of animals on their backs. No worries, though, because the squirrel will be able to save them. That’s why Finn throws them off the tree, although he’s forgotten that it’s a non-flying squirrel and now they’re plummeting to their deaths. Luckily, the disc comes to save them at the last moment, picking them up and carrying them on a majestic flight through the skies of Ooo. As Jakes watches them fly through the air, he whispers under his breath: “The perfect throw.” Finn finally did it, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Stray observations:

  • There’s some nostalgia for old-school cartoon physics when the hedgehog offers to shoot Finn to the top of the tree by sticking his needles in Finn’s butt. Physics doesn’t work that way, Mr. Hedgehog.
  • “Jake, wanna play throw-and-catch throwing a catching disc?”
  • “More like the perfect blow! That blew.” “Come on, that was the wind. The wind blows.”
  • “I ate a magic apple by mistake.”
  • “Wrap it up good so I don’t trip and fall on my face like the last time.” I hope we get more of this sad squirrel in the future.