Bursting with imagination, sweetness, and a ridiculous sense of humor, "Adventure Time" quickly became a runaway hit on Cartoon Network with kids and adults alike. I was introduced to the show by one of the two previous DVD releases, which respectively offered 12 and 16 episodes specially selected from the show's three seasons (the fourth is currently airing), but, of course, die-hard fans have been understandably anxious for full-season sets for years now. Well, they can rest easy, because "Adventure Time": The Complete First Season is finally available for anyone to take home.
If you're not familiar with "Adventure Time," the show follows Finn the Human (Jeremy Shada) and his best friend Jake the Dog (John DiMaggio) as they quest across the Land of Ooo. They have a regular rivalry with the Ice King (Tom Kenny), who kidnaps princesses to be his bride. More importantly, he focuses most of his attention on the lovely Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch), who is almost as happy to have Finn rescue her from the Ice King's evil plots as he is to rescue her. Other recurring characters include Lumpy Space Princess (series creator Pendleton Ward), video game machine Beemo (Niki Yang), and Marceline the Vampire Queen (Olivia Olson), who drop in on Finn's adventures from time to time.
Cartoon Network has made a name for themselves with cartoons that appeal to adults, and some of the weird, goofy comedy of "Adventure Time" fits right in next to "The Venture Bros." or "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast" (although, "Adventure Time" rarely gets more risque than a PG). What sets this show apart from the others is its boundless creativity in the universe the show takes place in, which is filled with hilarious riffs on every kind of fantasy trope a D&D player can imagine. It's not every day you get to see a storm in which knives rain from the sky, or a goblin that torments one of the heroes with a laser pointer, but that's the kind of thing "Adventure Time" packs into every episode. The characters each hail from their own section of Ooo (as glimpsed in the title sequence), from Princess Bubblegum's Candy Kingdom, to, say, the "City of Thieves" featured in an episode of the same name, which is as advertised in a way that is both logical and utterly absurd. The art style is simple yet detailed, with every nook and cranny filled with additional bizarre jokes, including a wonderfully evocative and unusually dark backstory that younger fans won't even notice.
Having previously watched the compilation discs and finding I enjoyed the Season 3 episodes the most, I was a little concerned a Season One set would be all uneven growing pains. I had nothing to worry about. Although some of the show's characters are more simple than they'll end up being later, the show is quality entertainment right off the bat. There are only six episodes in the can (three if you go by broadcast episodes) before Ward and company trot out George Takei, guest-starring as Ricardio the Heart Guy, a super-suave organ who may be out to steal Princess Bubblegum away from Finn, and only a couple more before Marceline is introduced in "Evicted!", which has one of the show's many inspired musical numbers. Even the worst episode in this two-disc set -- and I'm hard-pressed to pick one -- is beautifully designed and packs at least one or two killer gags.
In terms of the DVD itself, the presentation on this set leaves two things to be desired. First of all, the show is broadcast in HD and therefore deserves an HD release (more on this in the A/V section). Two, the show airs on television in a 30-minute block, containing two of the 26 mini-episodes included here. The nature of the previous compilations dictated that titles and credits were slapped onto every episode, but Warner hasn't done away with that here, meaning twice as many intros and outros as the show had when it aired on television, which both uses up disc space and artificially inflates the total running time. I doubt either of these details will scare any fans away, but they're worth pointing out, especially given that a Season One DVD took so long to finally arrive on shelves.
Cartoon Network has done up some clever artwork for "Adventure Time": The Complete First Season that makes use of a slipcover, the chapter insert, and disc art as part of a theme that I won't spoil. The two-disc set is housed in a white Amaray case with a flap tray, and the insert lists episodes on one side and advertises other CN DVDs and the "Adventure Time" iPhone game "Legends of Ooo" on the back.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and English Dolby Stereo 2.0, this DVD of "Adventure Time" is good but not great. Just like the previous releases, there's a persistent haloing issue around the show's black-line animation. The image also looks sort of soft on closer inspection, and all animation tends to show a little bit of aliasing if you're looking for it, although it's kept to an absolute minimum. Audio is pretty basic, but works just fine when paired with the bold, colorful score and sound effects of the show, even if fantasy adventuring definitely seems like it'd lend itself to a 5.1 mix. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
Overall, the show looks and sounds fine -- this is standard broadcast quality -- but, then, the real complaint fans are going to have with the presentation is that it's not on Blu-Ray, despite the fact that the show also airs in HD. It's definitely a bummer, since the show is gorgeous and these tiny nitpicks would all probably be resolved in 1080p, but hopefully strong sales of Season 1 will get Season 2 here faster, and in both formats.
On the first disc, four audio commentaries are included: Jeremy Shada, John DiMaggio, Tom Kenny and Pendleton Ward on "Trouble in Lumpy Space and "Prisoners of Love," Jeremy Shada, Hynden Walch, Tom Kenny, Pendleton Ward, and George Takei on "Ricardio the Heart Guy," and Polly Lou Livingston and Betty Ward (Pendleton's mother) on "Tree Trunks." Sadly, three out of four tracks are a little underwhelming: the Pendleton Ward tracks seem like they're in need of a moderator or something to help guide the conversation. "Tree Trunks" is the best, with both women sharing their memories of Ward as a child.
Disc 2 is where all the video features are held. Three featurettes kick things off. "A Behind-the-Scenes Featurette" (9:38) starts out like a standard look at the "Adventure Time" production offices, and gets progressively weirder as it goes along. It's not as clever as an episode of the show, but it's amusing...in a sort of creepy way. "Behind-the-Scenes of the Behind-the-Scenes Featurette" (2:34) goes further down the rabbit hole, although anyone who's seen the first featurette can guess what this one will be like. "'Adventure Time' Music With Casey + Tim" (10:18) is a little more in-depth, but still extremely weird, like an informative nightmare.
Four animatics are offered next, for "The Enchiridion!," "Rainy Day Daydream," "Slumber Party Panic," and "Dungeon," with (non-optional) commentary on all four by Pendleton Ward, storyboard artist Adam Muto, creative director Pat McHale, and executive producer Derek Drymon. These were more interesting to me than the episode commentaries on Disc 1, although they're more about the nuts and bolts of animation than the creative process. These also allow the viewer to hear snippets rough voice tracks, underneath the commentary (the original voice of Beemo is bizarre).
The disc wraps up with a few short clips. Although the menu promises a music video (1:52), it's just the live-action promo for Season 4 (which many might've seen during the preshow at movie theaters in the past few months). "Finndemonium" (1:58) is also some sort fo promo, with footage of fans at conventions and fan artwork spliced in. Finally, "The Ward" (2:08) is a mini-mini-episode that I seem to remember seeing somewhere before, in which Finn and Jake team up with the Ice King to defeat a magic wand.
Promos for "Adventure Time," "Regular Show": Season One, "Adventure Time": It Came From the Nightosphere, and "Adventure Time": My Two Favorite People play before the main menu on Disc 1. It also might be worth mentioning that, if you'd like to hear the song that plays over the credits of every episode in its entirety, you can just sit on the main menu of either disc to hear it.
The formatting of these episodes leave something to be desired (both in terms of formatting of the episodes and the media format of the disc), and the extra features are almost too bizarre, but I'm sure fans won't care at all. The chance to finally own a complete season of the show is more than worth the low price tag WB and Cartoon Network are asking for this attractive set. Let's hope that Season Two and Three aren't far behind. Highly recommended.
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