Slumber Party Panic
Air Date: April 5, 2010
Coverage: Sir Guy
Well, you gotta start somewhere, right? Slumber Party Panic was neither the pilot for Adventure Time nor was it the first regular series episode produced—it wasn’t even the first chapter to hit the cablewaves. Truth be told, it isn’t much of an adventure either, with all the action taking place in and around the castle—mostly in one room. But we do get an introduction to a fair-sized chunk of the cast. There are some tantalizing hints as to how the cartoon logic of the Land of Ooo will work, with science and magic working hand-in-hand. We see the darkness and the light. And we learn that the show is funny, with oddball humor and charm to spare. But why start here? With zombies?
Honestly, it’s possible that somebody just picked this adventure out of a hat. There’s no story logic to the choice. This isn’t an origin of anything. No relationships are forged. And nothing important happens (with the exception of dozens of people coming back to life.) But Slumber Party Panic still proves to be a pretty good place to start.
Adventure Time is a wild, sprawling show filled with bizarre characters, deceptively simple-looking designs, playground storytelling and jokes that don’t care whether or not they make a lick of sense. Every episode is crammed with so many ideas and feelings and images that people are naturally going to miss a lot of the details while they settle into the swing of things and learn how to watch. It actually makes perfect sense that the show’s producers would not want to waste their best stuff on the premiere.
Much the same logic has gone into choosing me to write the inaugural review in this epic series. As we go along, these write-ups will get better and deeper and more revealing, but we’ll have to start by throwing out some ideas and seeing what sticks. The pace will be frantic and the tone will be all over the place. Not all jokes will land. That’s okay. There’s so much more to come…
Perhaps the most unusual thing about using this particular show as the introduction is the short amount of time we spend with Finn and Jake together—their friendship being the crux of the whole series. Sure, we get to see them talk and express their bond in words, but there is not a lot of their playful dynamic on display. Things are so upside-down here that, in one stunning moment, a confused Jake will literally ask Finn if the time at hand is “adventure time” and a conflicted Finn will be forced to answer, “No.”
This reversal leaves the opening credits and theme song with a lot of heavy lifting to do. Without them, we wouldn’t even have a clear indication that Finn is a human boy and Jake is a dog. (After all, most of the characters presented here are sugar-based people in a magic castle. Why couldn’t Finn could be a marshmallow?) The first chapter presents itself more like a nevertime fairy tale than a science fiction epic set in a post-apocalyptic future. But the opening credits reassure us that this is just the tip of the ice kingdom. What follows will take place in a hundred fantasy worlds stitched together by boyish enthusiasm and no single episode could hope to contain it all.
However, before we go too far down that road, let’s start at the beginning, right after the misleading title card that depicts a trio of dancing wiccans performing a magical rite. (Or maybe it’s supposed to be the sexy kind of slumber party? The 25 cent cover price floating in the corner suggests the kind of sleazy vintage paperback with which a good chunk of the audience would have no familiarity… At any rate, these ladies don’t appear in the episode.)
In the first few crowded seconds of the series, our attention is drawn to the tiny figure of Jake strolling past a fairy tale castle. A rainbow creature whips through the sky and Jake radically increases his mass in order to playfully chase her into the forest. For an establishing shot, this scene takes curious pleasure in annihilating our sense of perspective. Jake’s entrance here probably doesn’t even register with most viewers until the third or fourth viewing. Our eyes haven’t adjusted to the style yet. He sure doesn’t read as a dog.
The shot continues, panning down to the cemetery where Finn and Princess Bubblegum are performing some kind of science experiment. I like this off-model introduction to the Princess in lab coat and goggles—even if she is meddling with forces beyond mortal control. She may be sugary and sweet, but she has no compunction about performing ghastly experiments on the corpse of a former suitor. Presumably old Mr. Cream Puff died of old age, but we don’t know for sure. Was there some kind of horrible tragedy that led her to develop a de-corpsinator formula in the first place? Maybe we don’t want the answers. Not yet.
Things go wrong, of course, and before you know it we have an outbreak of rancid sugar zombies. To protect her people, Bubblegum gathers everyone in the Candy Foyer and… announces a slumber party! She has her reasons, but… All of this bewildering action takes place in the first three minutes of a show that will stretch out for another fifty hours without commercials. So let’s catch our breath before we continue. Stop and smell the sugar…
Why does everything look like a doodle? I get that Finn is twelve years old and this is how he would draw things, but Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels never looked like a cave painting. How exactly does this choice serve Adventure Time’s subtle ambition and boundless diversity?
Consider Filmation’s He-man and the Masters of the Universe. An extremely good-hearted young man with blonde hair takes short trips around a land of science fiction and fantasy, doing good deeds with the help of a magical, talking, shape-shifting animal. He swings a sword and has many colorful friends. His enemies are humorously pathetic. There is no end to the unexplored corners of his world. And for all the light-hearted fun, he is the champion of the castle and protector of its ancient secrets. Sound familiar?
Now imagine Slumber Party Panic produced in the Filmation style with rotoscoped action recycled over lush backgrounds. Not only would the animation be prohibitively expensive with a giant cast of characters moving around in the same frame—you sure couldn’t move the camera the same way—but any attempt at realistic character designs would ruin the tone of the show. Either the dessert people would lack verisimilitude and come off as too silly or their detailed appearances would distract us into thinking too much about how they live and what their origins might be—we don’t want to consider their reality yet. As it is, Adventure Time can play it fast and loose with what is science and what is magic—and what is pure cartoon. The ambiguity leaves a lot of room for play.
He-man was also slower-paced show with smaller episode casts and fewer visual elements spread across twenty-five minutes while Adventure Time regularly packed whole notebooks of ideas into its eleven. I love both, but He-man actually does a better job of savoring moments one-at-a-time in the manner suggested by Adventure Time’s ending credits song. It has a serenity. But Finn’s more adolescent show is intoxicated by the emerging outline of the world and overflowing with inspiration. It would be difficult to watch in a more realistic style—too busy to feel young and free…
Now back to the action: The moral conflict at the heart of the episode comes when the Princess makes Finn royal promise not to tell anybody about the zombies. Apparently, the citizens will explode if they get too scared? (Pretty sure this never comes up again.) The entire premise is silly on its face, but when Finn gets caught between a promise to one friend and loyalty to another, it hits home. We learn that our hero takes his word and his friendships very seriously—and his best buddy trusts him to the end. Maybe that’s corny stuff, but it’s also worth admiring.
Perhaps this episode is a great place to start…
In the end, I’m not sure what to make of the Gumball Guardians of the Royal Promise outside of the fact that we have confirmation of powerful, time-stopping magic at work. Bubblegum’s rationale for keeping zombies a secret was pretty weak in the first place. The guards’ intervention doubles down on that weakness and makes it obvious that… the animators just needed some plot to happen here.
Don’t get me wrong, the sequence is fun and funny. But breaking a royal promise doesn’t have any consequences. Which is odd because the point of the episode also seems to be that Finn takes his promises seriously. I don’t buy that he doesn’t see the irony, but I will let it slide. The show will get better as future stories flesh out the land and the people—and Ooo begins to feel like a real place.
The important thing for now is basking in the optimism. Everybody lives. The Princess is as brilliant as she is benevolent. Our heroes are pure and ready to sacrifice everything. Science and magic are working together. It’s a good feeling. A new viewer may very well be confused by great chunks of the madness they just witnessed, but those who follow their hearts and seek whimsy will be clamoring for more.
- The reason you don’t need nails to play Blockado is that everything in the castle is made of sugar. You can pound a bench against a door and it will just stick.
- On the Guardian’s quizboard, the lack of an equals sign after “2+2” really bothers me. That’s not an equation! For a show that equates mathematical with cool, this is a disappointing lapse.
- I’m not a big fan of ending on a fart joke. Starchy trying to eat Finn’s leg just for the flavor could have been a great place to end. As it is, that one poot held me back from completely surrendering to the show for at least a few more episodes.
- What is with Jake’s eyes? A quick survey of ancient Greek pottery will reveal that the hero Heracles was always depicted with eyes twice the size of every other figure—just as he was often referred to in poetry as “wide-eyed Heracles”—in order to convey his semi-divine status. But then, I just realized that Lady Rainicorn has the same weird eyes. Damn it! Um… she’s Persephone? Maybe?
Trouble in Lumpy Space
Air Date: April 5, 2010
Coverage: Mrs Queequeg
Finn, Jake, Princess Bubblegum, Lumpy Space Princess, and Hot Dog Princess are having a Mallow Tea Ceremony, which consists of bouncing on giant marshmallows and drinking tea. Finn calls out LSP’s floating as not being mastery, causing her to turn off her star gem, and fall. She lands teeth out on Jake’s leg, infecting him with The Lumps. “Ah, lame. Sorry I bit you.” “You’re still biting me!” There is an antidote, but they will have to go all the way to Lumpy Space to get it and it’s time sensitive.
From a portal of a frog on a mushroom, we’re into Lumpy Space, whose color palate looks to have inspired Steven Universe with pastel purples, pinks, and blues. There are no straight lines in Lumpy Space, but the backgrounds are uniformly circular, while the foregrounds are free handed with only a general outline. Lumpy Space King and Lumpy Space Queen arrive and argue with their daughter, causing LSP to be banned from using the royal vehicle. LSP is reluctant to call her only friend, Melissa, who is dating her ex boyfriend, Brad. Finn takes the phone and impersonates LSP for the ride. Melissa is both offended and intrigued by Finn, and we see Brad try to get a rise out of LSP.
At Make Out Point, Finn smooth talks the Smooth Posers, who have the antidote, before LSP checks on him. She offends the posers, who leave with the antidote. Finn gets mad at LSP, who then accuses him of being a fake friend like everyone in Lumpy Space and attempts to storm off with Jake. Jake says that Finn always has his back, then turns fully lumpy and ditches Finn. Finn screams and punches the ground, drawing the posers back. They give Finn the antidote and he forces them to bite him, so that he can float into Promcoming.
Finn arrives just in time for him and Jake to become fully Lumpy, which is a great design. Finn is particularly adorable. They fight over the antidote, causing Jake to accidentally be saved, and Finn to knock himself out, allowing Jake to save him. They make up with LSP and dance the rest of the night away, you guys.
Princess Bubblegum is prim in the second episode, drinking effortlessly as she has already mastered the ceremony, which takes years. She gives off an untouchable, unknowable air, until she breaks for the bathroom.
Finn is firmly ensconced in his role as the Knight, he only calls her “Princess.” We see that Finn’s first reaction is violence, or at least a proactive physical response. He attempts to punch The Lumps out of Jake, and then forces the Smooth Posers to bite him. This fits with the way he sees himself, he has a call to action to do whatever is required to protect those around him. He appears to interpret Jake’s request to be accepted as a mercy killing.
Finn’s Character Arc (spoiler level: mild)
Given where Finn ends up in the finale, it’s interesting to see how forceful he is early on
Jake doesn’t have much to do in this one, but it’s a great chance for John DiMaggio to use his bro voice. My favorite episodes have the crew play with Jake’s fluid design, and it is on display in Lumpy Space.
Lumpy Space Princess is a delight as a character who’s a perpetual sullen teenager. She’s voiced by series creator, Pendleton Ward and given a stereotypical valley girl accent. She fights with her parents, her best friend is dating her ex-boyfriend, she has to go to the weekly Promcoming dance. Her stakes are small but so vital to her, as they were when we were that age. Who didn’t think, “I can’t help you because my parents are horrible idiots!” in high school? Ward’s delivery of ‘idiots’ is fantastic. LSP is selfish and often rude, but she is often the most vulnerable character, which fits into the characterization as a teen.
LSP’s strength comes from her confidence (which we’ll see more of as the series progresses) and her ability to move on. She might wallow a bit, but she is always moving forward and that’s what I like best about her, paired with her untethered-to-reality brand of comedy. She is clueless, but she is doing her lumping best!
New Characters: LSP’s parents (Tom Kenny and Maria Bamford), Melissa, Brad, Smooth Posers
New Characters (spoiler level: mild)
We see LSP’s parents periodically, most notably in The Monster and The Prince Who Wanted Everything
We do not see Melissa or Brad again, although they are talked to and about. LSP often calls or mentions Melissa, and Brad comes up several times while LSP is being introspective about herself or romantic interests. See: The Creeps
Quotes & Notes:
The password to Lumpy Space portal is “Whatevers 2009”
The Lumps follows werewolf rules
Melissa is in LSP’s phone as ‘BFF 66’, and Melissa’s license plate is ‘SXY LMP’
According to the AT wiki, this is the most censored episode in Australia
Wordplay: I love how Adventure Time creates its own slang from existing words and made up words
- We get ‘lump/lumping’ as a catchall stand-in
- First ‘Oh my Glob’
Waving Snail (spoiler level: high)
The snail can be seen waving at the camera at Promcoming. It was added in later according to notes. It took me three views to find him.
Adventure Time is streaming on Hulu and Max