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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Adventure Time makes a bold visual shift for its Wizard Of Oz pastiche

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The Wizard Of Oz is a film full of iconic moments, but none are quite as magical as Dorothy’s first steps into the land of Oz, discovering a world of color when before her life was black and white. Adventure Time is already a bright, colorful series, so it offers a different kind of visual shift for its Wizard Of Oz pastiche “Beyond The Grotto,” which sees Finn and Jake traveling into a crudely rendered, dramatically altered version of their usual surroundings. Guest directors/animators Lindsay and Alex Small-Butera (best known for their Baman Piderman Mondo series) handle the majority of the episode, and they do fantastic work reinterpreting the show’s setting and characters in a rougher style that is still extremely bold and imaginative.

Background painter Matt Cummings (whose Boom! comic Power Up was one of The A.V. Club’s best of 2015) plays an essential role in this episode’s visual aesthetic, creating lush environments that still maintain the coarse look of the animation, but in a very different way. The world beyond the grotto isn’t as fully formed as the normal one, an idea emphasized by the jittery lines of the animation and the expressionist backgrounds, with their simplified geometric shapes and aggressive color palettes. The visuals are especially dreamy, but there’s also something unsettling about the way the visual rules of this series are broken in this new world, and there’s danger lurking beneath the enchanting visuals.

Just like in The Wizard Of Oz, Finn and Jake encounter new characters inspired by people they know when they pass through the grotto, and a big part of this episode’s appeal is seeing what these characters are turned into. Princess Bubblegum is a pink pond that this world’s versions of Finn and Jake (a rabbit and tadpole, respectively) drink from early on; Marceline is a flower that sings about wanting to escape her plant body and see the sea; Ice King is Princess Purple Patch, the guardian of a field of purple that shares similar qualities with The Wizard Of Oz’s poppies. The purple patch is where the danger of this setting becomes clear, and Finn and Jake begin to forget their identities and their motivations as they spend time in it.

No longer aware of who they are or what they’re doing, Finn and Jake (Jinn and Fake?) continue on their way, encountering an “apricot anteater” Tree Trunks by the name of Bush Boots and a BMO bee that gives them a cryptic riddle to help them reclaim their old selves. The only reason Finn and Jake are saved is because the Sea Lard they’re chasing pushes them into the escape portal (which is inside PB Pond), and the episode ends with the two of them gaining a new appreciation for the creature they previously found to be pretty gross and irritating.

The story takes a backseat to the visuals in this episode, and unlike The Wizard Of Oz, there isn’t a very strong narrative through line beyond Finn and Jake chasing after their Sea Lard, which is basically a living Yellow Brick Road that takes them throughout this strange place. The episode doesn’t really need deeper thematic content, though, and it functions as a fascinating artistic experiment with form and color, showing audiences how a stark visual shift can change the storytelling in weird, exciting ways.

“Beyond The Grotto” is a very cool-looking episode, continuing this show’s trend of bringing on idiosyncratic guest animators to push the series in different directions that reveal the range of the concept and the versatility of its visual style. The simplicity of the character designs allows this week’s guests to offer new interpretations that are alien but still recognizable, taking the distinctive visual elements of these characters and putting them in a new context. Lindsay and Alex Small-Butera also have a keen talent for dynamic movement, and the action in this episode is reminiscent at times of Masaaki Yuasa’s phenomenal work on “Food Chain,” although much less clean. This episode of Adventure Time reveals the benefits of being rough around the edges, making for an especially engaging homage to The Wizard Of Oz.


Stray observations

  • Anyone catch the “Frog Season: Spring” Adventure Time short that aired last week? These shorts will be airing for the next few weeks, telling a story that calls back to a small moment from season 1’s “The Witch’s Garden” where Finn and Jake follow a frog, eagerly waiting for him to put on his crown. What happens when the crown is finally worn? We’ll find out tonight!
  • Seo Kim writes all the songs this week, and she does a great job setting the tone of each scene with the music.
  • I love the way the environment explodes with growth at different times, like when Bush Boots’ house runs off, springing up trees in its wake.
  • “See ya larder.”
  • “Smash that frog.”
  • Finn: “Please don’t change. You’re perfect just the way you are.” Flower Marcy: “Oh, I know. I just like to write sad songs.”
  • “The hugs helped my crying, but it didn’t help me find my rolling pin.”
  • “Ma’am, I think that rolling pin is sentient.”
  • Finn: “A bee.” Jake: “I see.”
  • Ice King: “I’m like a goldfish over here.” Jake: “In what way exactly?” Ice King: “Hmm? Oh, hey, Jake. Where am I?!”