Monday, April 15, 2013

Mutants & Candy-men ~ A Look At Adventure Time & Wizards

Mutants & Candy-men ~ A Look At Adventure Time & Wizards

Michael Hale & Patrick Saikin


"I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

As quoted by Robert Oppenheimer from the Bhagavad Gita

    So if a person has to pick a more ominous quote to open this, I don’t know what it could be. We could perhaps pick nothing darker than the famous spiritual reference by R. Oppenhimer, the man who helped bring us the atomic bomb. Why bring up a quote focusing on the ushering in of man into the Atomic Age?

   Cartoons, that’s why!

   Look, sometimes discussions begin as one thing and they quickly turn into something else, something perhaps darker, but certainly no less entertaining or enlightening. What began as a fun, “bring this up to make a neat point” remark about two thematically linked shows during a work break soon took a turn for the inspired.

   If you are a younger reader, possibly between the ages of 18 and 21, you are about as likely to know what Adventure Time is as you are to know that fire is hot and water is wet; Adventure Time’s marketing arm is as vast as Finn’s and just as powerful. The show has been put on Netflix, DVD, and still airs new episodes. Pendelton Ward’s penultimate title is funny, stylish, and ( as we’ll look at in a second ) shockingly dark.

   So, what about if you are a little older, dear reader? Would you perhaps remember a movie called Wizards? Possibly, but it is understandable if you don’t, it’s very much a cult film. It was created in 1977 by the dynamite film maker Ralph Bakshi. The setting, which can only be describes as ‘D&D with a load of tanks thrown in and weird mutants’ showcases a world similar to that of Ward’s Adventure Time.

Just … ya know … darker.

   ‘In a nutshell,’ Wizards is a battle between the technologically superior forces of evil ( orcs in tanks ) whose leader, Blackwolf, has inspired them with dug up Nazi propaganda film reels. Adventure Time does not have a central plot, however it includes the main protagonist Finn the Human fighting off all manner of monsters to become a hero.

   Wizards and Adventure Time both take place in worlds that have been ravaged by the horrors of a devastating nuclear war, however both have subsequently been re-built by different fantasy races. While the cutesy cartoon candy-citizens of Ooo are more chipper than the fantasy denizens of Montagar, the shows both depict certain races as friendly and welcoming.  Wizards and Adventure Time also have “villainous” elements to their worlds – Adventure Time has all manner of orcs, goblins, fantasy beasts that breathe fire, and even a horrifying undead Lich. Both AT and Wizards includes elements of comedy that they intermix with their villains, like the Goblin King who reforms and raises bizarre mutant birds, or Blackwolf’s two ‘schtick’ grunts, Max and Fritz, who have dialogue more akin to an Abbot and Costello routine. Both titles parody the Fantasy Genre in their own tongue-n-cheek ways, from Adventure Time making parody references to Dungeons & Dragons, to the fact that Wizards presents a ‘Tolkien-esque’ alliance of fantasy creatures trying to stop a ‘Dark Lord’ before he takes over the world.

   Both Adventure Time and Wizards are dominated by the theme of atomic war, from their narratives to their sub-plots. What makes both the titles interesting however is the way both creators subvert some more obvious topics, instead subtly lacing their wares with unique talking points that the creators desire.

   In Adventure Time, for multiple seasons the nature of ‘what’ destroyed the Land of Ooo is a cryptic mystery, one Ward himself admitted he was keep to leave un-answered directly. The ‘fun’ for many AT viewers was coming up with insane ( or, not credible ) theories about how the land of man became and the land of walking, talking candy people.

   Wizards, a film with already overt nuclear references, decided instead to tackle more real-world issues, specifically the situation is Israel circa 1977. While it had only been a decade since the the Six Day War, Bakshi himself references the rise of fascism and the movement of the Jewish people towards Israel as a powerful factor he wanted to discuss … but not overtly. Many viewers have made connections between certain images in the movie, as well as the fact Blackwolf uses Nazi propaganda, to support many theories that they can connect back to Bakshi himself.

   So, returning to the quote by Oppenheimer we had at the start? Ironically, this choice is as interesting as anything from AT or Wizards. The book that Oppenheimer quoted from, The Bhagavad Gita, is a powerfully spiritual texts which accounts how the warrior Arjuna met the deity Krishna. During his journey Krishna is lead to understand he must kill countless people, to which Krishna responds that it is his role to do so. When Arjuna tried to say he would do no such thing, Krishna explained that death is apart of life; life is apart of death. What Arjuna was was pre-determined and this it was his responsibility to ensure that no worse events occurred  that the battle ended here and not spill out into eternity. Death was apart of life, as was responsibility in unleashing it – it was not to be feared, but understood.


   Ward and Bakshi never explicitly set out to frighten their younger audiences, but to educate them and show them how the ‘darker elements’ of life can co-exist in fantasy and kids films. For all their weird/odd animation styles, or creepy themes, certainly no shows have been as fun to experience as Wizards and Adventure Time.

   In the end there is a radioactive silver-lining to everything, even to a mushroom cloud. 


Adam J. Olansky said...

Just the other day, I read this story on NPR's website :

In the days since, it occurred to me that Adventure Time shares a lot in common with the strange psychadelic cartoon my parents showed me when I was a teenager, Wizards. The internet being what it is, you, of course, had already had the same thought and contributed this excellent examination.

I say all this simply to preface my thanks! This article is exactly what I was looking for, and as far as I can tell, nobody paid you to write it, so thanks again!

Anonymous said...

What if when Finn retires of being of adventurer and married to princess bubblegum and busy creating the new land called Beach City,How's about a new villain,Phantom Quartz(connie's father),lich(vowed to return)and melissa of lumpy space(human form),were attempting tro free all the prisoners in ooo?

Anonymous said...

That's a great idea!
old friend,Thank You<:)>

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