Writer of the "Harry Potter" franchise, J.K. Rowling, once said that when writing for the fantasy genre it's paradoxically much more important deciding what your characters can't do, than deciding what they can. This helps ground the story in some level of relatability and makes sure there are still stakes to be had in a world where hypothetically anything can happen.
The same can be said for the animated genre, too. "The Simpsons" may have always revolved around wacky and crazy storylines, but at the end of the day Homer always returned home to his wife and three kids. This pattern can be found in more recent animated series too, for example the extremely popular "Bob's Burgers". This show also exhibits a pretty quirky tone, but at the same time finds itself grounded in a sub-urban setting, surrounding the pretty banal story of a middle-aged man trying to keep his business afloat whilst at the same time successfully raising his kids. Since it's inception, however, "Adventure Time" has been dancing to the tune of it's own drum.
Reach For The Stars
"Adventure Time" has become so successful precisely because it's the first show to unashamedly ask what it is that we can do, rather than what we can't. How far can the envelope be pushed? How many barriers are there to bulldoze? For example, one episode in "Bob's Burgers" surrounded Bob's struggle to pay car repairs without making a claim on his insurance. It's precisely this banality of subject matter that made the story feel claustrophobic, and as such frustrating and real. Knowing the series is grounded in a more realistic tone meant that the viewer was genuinely invested in ensuring Bob got out of it ok, and as such served as great entertainment. A typical episode of "Adventure Time" however, surrounded the idea of a monster who wasn't too happy due to the fact that teddy bears were occupying his stomach and partying way too hard by shooting off fireworks left, right and centre. As such, the monster had contracted indigestion and purposefully hurts himself by drinking volcanic lava as a way of forcing the unruly teddy's out. Jake and Finn play the diplomatic role of finding a reasonable middle ground thus making way for the moral of the story; namely the importance of compromise in co-habitation. Both episodes were very entertaining, just in very different ways and for very different reasons.
Fantasy Is Always at The Periphery of Reality.
Adventure Time relates with it's audiences by acknowledging the fact that we all may be normal, regular people, but that we all have wacky and wild imaginations! Our imagination is by it's very nature limitless. Therefore, it is not tied down to the disappointment of reality, the pragmatism of age or even the laws of physics. It's a space where literally anything and everything can happen. "Adventure Time" and The Land of Ooo, is unique not only because it utilises this fact, but celebrates it. We've all dreamt up some crazy fantasy that, for example, our pet dog could converse with us, or might expand and shrink in size at will. Whether it be while we're daydreaming at our desks, or on the bus, or in the playground fantasy - it is always at the periphery of reality.
In one ten minute episode, "Adventure Time" managed to capture the style and complexity of one of the greatest films made to date, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. It is only with the imaginative spirit of the creators and with the knowledge that the animated genre has no limitations that this could be accomplished. As a result, "Adventure Time" ultimately relates to its audience not by trying to mirror how things are, but instead on how we feel about the way things are. As such, it's humanity is found in it's limitlessness, not in it's limitations - as is the case with other great fiction. We all see the people in our lives in an exaggerated tone, our crushes are always beautiful princesses, and our foes are always villainous wizards! It's this precision in understanding this that makes me love "Adventure Time" and who knows, it could be the reason you do too.