I Can’t Go for That, by David Bax
I love Adventure Time. I believe it’s easily a top three finalist for best show on television. A stuffed Lemongrab doll perches on the bookshelf to the left of my TV. My dog wears a collar around his neck that features likenesses of Ice King, Lumpy Space Princess and others. I recently even acquired an Adventure Time belt, though I have yet to find an outfit to pair it with. So, with my fan bona fides intact, one would assume I was elated to hear that Warner Brothers is planning an Adventure Time movie. I was not.
That’s not to say I’m dreading the idea, only that Adventure Time was created for the medium of television and it is in that arena that the show has flourished. When one watches an episode of the show, there’s no telling what the story is going to be, only that you, the viewer, will be spending the next eleven minutes in the Land of Ooo. In recent weeks, the show has explored the remnants of Ooo’s distant, pre-apocalyptic past; a girl’s journey from adolescent angst to self-actualization; and a sublimely weird discussion about “the ecstasy of ego death.” All of this with plenty of goofy jokes and lush, candy-colored animation.
That flexibility is crucial to Adventure Time‘s continued success and, by transferring the show to a medium with a longer format, the risk of losing it looms large. Do you tell a grander story and abandon the show’s hyper-focus on mini-narratives? Do you string together a collection of stories, resulting in there being a new climax every ten minutes?
Most, if not all, art is inextricable from its medium. Translating a single work’s power from one to another is a gamble. Watchmen is one of the great comics of all time but that wasn’t enough to make it a good movie. In the case of Adventure Time, I realize, a direct adaptation like Watchmen isn’t exactly the best corollary. So let’s look at the relevant examples, those situations wherein television series were adapted into movies. For every The Fugitive, there are the corpses of dozens of Mod Squads and Car 54, Where Are You?s.
What this tells us is that, regardless of the strength of the source, there’s no guarantee a property will thrive in a new medium. Of course, it very well could. For instance, I’ve enjoyed the hell out of Ryan North’s Adventure Time comics. Still, the plain truth remains that a movie based on a popular show has the same odds of working as any other movie. And those odds, let’s face it, are not very good.