Although Cartoon Network and Warner Bros. remain dead set on releasing these sets as slowly as possible (two a year would be preferable), "Adventure Time": The Complete Third Season has finally arrived on home video. Although I admit I'm a couple seasons behind (I'm one of the people waiting for these season collections, guys!), this batch contains maybe the largest number of my all-time favorite episodes of any season, most of which focus on expanding the characters in ways that are not just funny, but also warm, insightful, and emotionally satisfying.
If the first season was creator Pendleton Ward and company finding their feet, and Season Two was about exploring the universe, Season Three sets about fleshing out the characters viewers have come to know and love. "Memory of a Memory" expands on color vampire Marceline (Olivia Olson) through her memories, which Finn (Jeremy Shada) and Jake (John DiMaggio) enter in order to retrieve one from a mysterious wizard. Her post-apocalyptic childhood adds another measure of detail to the show's surprisingly dark backstory, and a crucial moment in her relationship with her father is seen for the first time. A little more information comes out in "Marceline's Closet", in which Finn and Jake's game of hide and seek becomes invasive. The bond between Finn and Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) is explored in "Too Young", following up on Season Two's regression of the Princess to age 13 (young voice by Isabella Acres). "The Monster" explores the neuroses of Lumpy Space Princess (Ward himself), who has run away from home and taken up residence in a small village.
Development is not limited to the "good guys", either. "Too Young" also reveals a number of weird and sometimes paralyzingly funny quirks about the truly bizarre Earl of Lemongrab (Justin Roiland), whose iron grip over the Candy Kingdom can only be loosened by devious offenses, such as a Rube Goldbergian contraption which unfurls the message "You really smell like dog buns." The Ice King (Tom Kenny) forces his way into Finn and Jake's treehouse in the uncomfortable "Still." One of the series' most unconventional and wonderful episodes, "Thank You", focuses on the bond between a snow golem and a Fire Wolf Pup, while Finn and Jake's antics take place in the background. Season 3 also introduces the Flame Princess (Jessica DiCicco), a new love interest for Finn.
Throughout, "Adventure Time" keeps its remarkable blend of off-the-wall humor, visual invention, and -- most importantly -- inspiring and important messages alive. In the set's first episode, "Conquest of Cuteness", there's a pretty overt jab at 21st century sexism that will fly right over younger viewers' heads while subconsciously skewering its targeted trope. Similarly, "Ghost Princess" has an inspiring twist on convention, taking cliche and turning it on its head with its big reveal. Other episodes are more pure entertainment, particularly the Halloween party in "The Creeps" (a semi-sequel to Season 2's "Mystery Train"). The gang gathers at a mansion for a costume / murder mystery event, only for people to go missing for real. The gang's character names are hilarious, and those who have stayed current with the show will know how the episode's final throwaway gag has subsequently been developed into something more.
The absolute highlight of the set, however, is the one-two knockout punch of "Fionna and Cake" / "What Was Missing", which aired in a block together on television. The first half (star of its own DVD collection) is a gender-swapped version of the Land of Ooo, based on something animator Natasha Allegri made for her own amusement. Each alternate version of the show's characters is pitch perfect, and each adjustment is fully realized (a fact that's allowed this alternate universe to take on a life of its own in "Adventure Time" comic books). The latter half reveals some interesting subtextural details to the friendship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, as well as including the knockout musical number "I'm Just Your Problem," which is not only incredibly catchy, but reveals quite a bit about Marceline -- a feat that's right in line with the rest of this wonderful season.
This third season follows the same art design set by the first two, utilizing a cardboard slipcover, the case art, the chapter insert, and the disc itself to reveal the layers of a character, in this case, Finn and Jake's video game machine BMO. As an added bonus, this disc's chapter insert includes arms and legs to cut out and glue to the package exterior, to bring BMO fully to life. The one-disc release comes in an eco-friendly case, and the insert also features episode titles and an ad for a BMO iPhone game. There is also a second insert with a UltraViolet Digital Copy code.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.78:1 1080p AVC, "Adventure Time" looks as good as ever in high-definition. The show's animation style is consistently eye-catching, and this high-definition transfer captures each line and color with a pleasing vivacity that blows away Season 3 episodes I've seen presented on standard def, which were plagued by slightly muted palettes and unsightly edge halos. Although the film's hand-drawn lines can sometimes give the impression of aliasing, that appears to be an illusion.
The real point of contention, as with the last two releases, will be Warner Bros.' continuing decision to use not just lossy audio on these Blu-Ray releases, but Dolby Digital 2.0 (the show airs in 5.1 on Cartoon Network's HD feed). To be fair, the 2.0 track sounds unusually good, boldly and crisply capturing the bright music and vocals the show is known for, but if the show exists in 5.1, there's really no conceivable reason to encode it in lossy stereo rather than full high-def surround. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
The bulk of the extras on this release come in the form of audio commentaries, on for each episode of the third season, featuring creator Pendleton Ward and a wide selection of the writing and animation staff. The commentaries on Season Two were often hamstrung by a wealth of subjects and language that were off-limits, which Ward covered up by playing short, improvised musical interludes. These are similar, frequently plagued by weird gaps and strange sound effects to cover up topics that the participants can't mention for legal or content reasons. From time to time, they achieve the heights of the "Futurama" commentaries, where the humor and insights are fueled by the comfort of the participants with one another and love for their own world, but "Adventure Time" commentaries remain a slightly spotty proposition, thanks to their insistent acknowledgement of what the viewer is missing.
Two short (one very short) video extras are included. The longer one is "How an Idea Becomes 'Adventure Time'" (7:35, HD) sounds like a documentary about the production process, but it's really a loose little interview with Pendleton Ward, Adam Muto (Storyboard Artist, Supervising Producer), and Kent Osborne (Head of Story). They talk about the creative direction of the show, what it's like meeting fans, casting, and what they hope people like about the characters and the show. It's brief and clip heavy, but very funny. The other is an alternate opening (0:32, HD), which is not the animatic version that can be seen on Art of the Title, but a LEGO-animated version of the titles that currently exist.
Trailers for "Adventure Time": Season Two and "Regular Show": Seasons 1 and 2 play before the main menu.
By the third season, "Adventure Time" had really hit its stride, deftly blending its oddball comic sensibilities and boundless creativity with some surprisingly ambitious expansion of its universe and characters. Although this Blu-Ray, like the ones before it, is stuck with lossy stereo audio, it still looks and sounds fantastic, and features a nice selection of extras. Highly recommended.
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