Overthinking Adventure Time: Creation, Frustration, and Masturbation

We know we’re supposed to love the series ADVENTURE TIME, but so far we haven’t been able to get even lukewarm. Shana Mlawski, however, sees the show quite differently (so we’re letting her handle the overthink here):

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by Shana Mlawski on OverthinkitIt.Com

Yeah, I’ve been away from Overthinking It for a while, writing books, makingwebsites and Twitter accounts and such. But like the mob bosses always say, just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. “They” in this case being the writers of Adventure Time, because HOLY HELL is this show overthinkable. In my opinion, it’s the most overthinkable show on TV right now. Mad Men might come close, but it has less autotune and fart jokes, so advantage Adventure Time.

Can I compare Adventure Time to East of Eden for a sec? I’m gonna compareAdventure Time to East of Eden for a sec.

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I’ve heard it said that East of Eden is a Great Book because it simultaneously works on a bunch of different levels. It works as a family epic, a religious allegory, a philosophical treatise, a discussion of America with a capital A, and so on. Similarly, the recent Adventure Time episode “All the Little People” has at least five levels of textual depth. It works as

  1. A simple fantasy story featuring a magician
  2. A Matrix-type story about different levels of reality
  3. A meta-type story about Adventure Time’s writers
  4. A meta-type story about Adventure Time’s fans and
  5. A coming-of-age story about love, porn, and masturbation

You can find explanations of all five readings elsewhere on the Internet, but let me go through them quickly before we move on what is, in my mind, a much more interesting discussion about how all five readings work together and how they work within the context of the series as a whole. If you’re already familiar with the five readings, you can skip my summaries and go straight to the analysis.

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1) A simple fantasy story featuring a magician

“All the Little People” begins with Finn the Human and Jake the Dog hanging out in a post-apocalyptic landscape and having a discussion about love. Along comes Magic Man, the biggest jerkface in Ooo, who slips Finn a bag filled with small magical dolls. Each doll represents a character on Adventure Time, and while they aren’t exactly intelligent, they can interact with each other in interesting ways. While Jake is off with his pregnant girlfriend, Lady Rainicorn, Finn plays with the semi-sentient dolls, putting them into various romantic configurations to see who will hook up with whom.

Finn, as he is wont to do, becomes obsessed. For sixteen weeks he forces the little people to make out with each other, and they are miserable. Finally Jake comes home, sees that Finn has become a scary otaku hermit, and Finn realizes he has to apologize to the little people and stop this god game he’s been playing. Big Finn figures out a way to communicate with Little Finn so all the little people know they are free of his interference, and the little people have a dance party to celebrate.

2) A Matrix-type story

Interestingly, when Big Finn talks to Little Finn at the end of the episode, he tells Little Finn “I’m not coming back,” which is exactly what Magic Man told Big Finn at the beginning of the episode. So there’s a suggestion that, just as Big Finn acts as God to Little Finn, Magic Man is God to Big Finn, which makes sense, seeing as Magic Man actually has a relationship with Grob/Gob/Glob/Grod, the four-faced deity of Ooo. So in Adventure Time there are at least three layers of reality: the supernatural reality of Magic Man and Grob, the regular world of Finn and Jake, and the mini-universe of the little people.

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