HBO Max Revives Adventure Time with Distant Lands Series

“Adventure Time” is one of those modern cartoons that’s primed to warp the minds of kids and adults equally. Anyone who has been sucked into the world created by Pendleton Ward knows that it’s about more than just a boy named Finn and his shapeshifting dog friend Jake—the serial approach that takes Finn and Jake to a new kingdom in almost each episode essentially advocates the freedom of imagination itself.

The Cartoon Network series ended in 2018, but now returns on HBO Max in a new four-part series called “Distant Lands” (in reference to the original theme song’s lyrics: “C’mon, grab your friends, we’ll go to very distant lands.”) The first installment is based around one of the show’s scene-stealing characters, the walking computer/video game hybrid BMO, voiced by Niki Yang. The upcoming episodes for “Adventure Time: Distant Lands” will include Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, and eventually bring us back to Jake and Finn. This BMO episode, which is certainly charming but not as gripping as a regular episode, has me curious about where other episodes will go, but confident that it'll all look like "Adventure Time." It’s great that “Adventure Time” is back, but more of a question of whether HBO is properly maximizing such an excellent show. 

BMO is at the center of what feels very on-brand from “Adventure Time,” a whirlwind of new characters (a teen rabbit name Y5; a floating, green robot with one eye that BMO names Olive; kleptomaniac bug-looking things), and a task that involves rescuing a new land (in this case, a colony called The Drift). The creative forces behind “Adventure Time” continue to work overtime in offering bizarre new creatures and architecture, like a batch of furry crabs who grow bat wings. Like "Rick and Morty," part of the fun is just imagining all of the creatures and characters who were dreamed up simply to fill the background of any particular scene. And this new episode is funny too, keeping up the goofy asides by characters, almost playing out like a parody on serious dialogue.  

Proving why he's one of the show's best characters, BMO gets to show off all of the different sides of a personality that’s made him such a winning, adorable presence. He sings, he wears a cowboy hat with a big smile on his screen/face, he often talks to a sadder version himself in a puddle's reflection. It's totally endearing, and if you've ever wanted more BMO while watching "Adventure Time" this will more than satisfy that fix. Best of all, during the episode’s course of events, which see BMO going through self-realization and teamwork, BMO creates a fairly complicated character of sometimes being vulnerable, stubborn, or excited. Like the Charles Schulz version of a computer with limbs, BMO is always a robot with a golden heart that a smile of its own, and this episode always has that sweetness in mind. 

A significant change to HBO Max's approach is length. Episodes in “Adventure Time” would usually consist of 11-minute stories, a factor that gave a punchiness to its humor, storytelling, and world-building. But “Distant Lands” is going for 45-minute episodes, and if this BMO episode is any indication, it doesn’t have the same degree of punchiness. And perhaps because this first episode takes viewers to a whole bunch of different locations and follows BMO through some sudden emotional developments, it seems more erratic than that “Adventure Time” tightness. This size is not a deal-breaker, and I don’t think this factor would even separate the fans from the non-fans. But there’s something to be said about leaving audiences wanting more instead of just giving them the full thing. 

One episode screened for review.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is an Assistant Editor at RogerEbert.com and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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