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Analysis of Pendleton Ward’s Series, Adventure Time

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Adventure Time with Finn and Jake is an animated comedy/adventure cartoon created by Pendleton Ward about a boy named Finn and his magical-mutated dog Jake. Being siblings, Jake often acts as Finn’s mentor and adventure companion in this post-apocalyptic world. There is probably some remediation/advertence to the 1975 film titled A Boy and His Dog that was originally intended for a younger audience, but has since its release gained a much wider, older audience.

Adventure Time has drawn in anime fans and appealed to many of those who generally watch adult animation, such as Futurama, and Rick and Morty. In fact, Adventure Time shares much of the same voice actors with these shows. The appeal to the show is in the rich fantastical setting, and happy-go-lucky adventurous plot that poses many artistic questions, and reflects many issues that all sorts of people face, while still maintaining a certain innocence that allows for the wide audience. Thematic elements of raw emotional struggle often take the reins on the rollercoaster that is this show, as characters often struggle with their pasts and their presents, living a day to day life of surviving in a post-apocalyptic nuclear world. The fact that the setting is a post-apocalyptic, mutated nuclear wasteland is not always so obvious and is actually extremely well hidden yet underlaid by the fact that the animation, cartoon, and adventure all subvert the attention to the childlike air and awe of exploring the kingdoms of living candy creatures and other should-be inanimate living things. A recurring issue faced by Finn is the fact that he often feels so very lonely and romantically deprived living in a world without humans.

Loneliness is a universal feeling relatable to both children and adults, as is the desire to belong. He makes up for this by dating the denizens of Ooo, notably the Flame Princess; as well as ogling over his recurring crush, Princess Bubblegum, but these relationships are not perfect and he, more often than not, ends up facing rejection and heartache. Flame Princess and Finn have a relationship that ends up spanning many episodes without crossing over into the romantic genre territory which is the key distinction that preserves the integrity of the adventure, cartoon genre. By not delving too far into the romance, yet giving enough of it to poke interest and draw from an untapped source, so to speak, the show can appeal to younger audiences and remains intact while expanding into teen and even young adult grounds.

The show also seems to grow emotionally while simultaneously growing in seasons. The content seems to age along with Finn, who was 12 years old in the debut of the show, and has had several birthdays, bringing him to the age of 16. The text often takes on a comedic tone in a light-hearted and humorous way while the characters go on adventures that often address personal and cultural issues with an almost satirical flavor. For instance, after being arrested Jake explains the formation of law and government and goes on to state that laws are built to benefit the greedy and “not made to help earthy cats like us” which seems to touch upon anarcho-liberal political values in the United States and grants a sense of Jake’s opposition to Capitalism and centralized government. The way these cultural and personal issues are addressed significantly aids in character development. Finn is, very obviously, a “good” character as he often even says so throughout the show to the point of often asking an opponent what their moral alignment is, and very rarely breaks the law. At some point he even releases a prisoner after proving that there is no evidence that he had committed a crime, and so Finn takes his place. He vanquishes evil wherever it may be; however, he faces many internal struggles and demons that make him question his moral compass. Issues with romance, friends, “growing up,” the deaths of loved ones, injuries, and past family issues (he was orphaned as a baby and adopted by talking dogs) often leave him in strange mental places where he needs to find himself. One episode that specifically shows these qualities was Billy’s Bucket List from Season 5. After Billy, a close friend of Finn’s, dies Finn completes his unfinished bucket list and Billy appears in the form of a constellation revealing to Finn that his father is alive (an apparent tribute to The Lion King.) The next ensuing episodes involve Finn finding his father; realizing that he is a terrible, irresponsible person, and then losing his arm in an ensuing struggle. After losing his arm, Finn struggles with his identity and ethicality, to the point of declaring to his friends that he must find his father again, and take his arm for revenge.

There is similarly a deep sense of three dimensionality for Jake, who despite being a hero currently, was once a thief and criminal. Upon revealing this past to Finn, he states that he “didn’t know it was wrong,” which is well accented by the animation because the bright colors and disconnection from live action prevent the show from being too actual and becoming serious, which would detract from the show and what is already expected by the intended audience. This aids in maintaining the comedic integrity, while also allowing for much more leeway before the need for comedic relief. The extraordinary world of Adventure Time could not be accomplished without the use of animation. Live action would prove expensive and perhaps too real, which is why many live action renditions of animation often turn out poor. The animation evokes a greater willingness suspension of disbelief based on the fact that the theatrical conventions for animation and cartoons are obviously much different than those placed upon live action.

The practicality of using cartoons and animation over live action leads to a much more overall effective design in many regards. Budgets are more easily met, the creation of props, costumes, sets, and lighting are only limited by what an individual is capable of drawing and animating. For instance, Jake has the ability to stretch his body into vast shapes and sizes which allows him to be the protector of the duo, and often provides comedic relief when he makes fun of Finn by stretching his butt into Finn’s face to mock him. This would not be possible, at least not easily and to the extent done in animation, by using live action. Earlier, I touched upon the theatrical conventions and willingness suspension of disbelief which are paramount to the success of the genre via the mediums used. By using animation and cartoons, the adventure and comedy genres are able to accomplish new things primarily due to the differences in the conventions people come to expect when seeing a cartoon or animation. When the audience witnesses Finn floating around building a tower into space using a magical ghost arm in cartoon form, one says “alright, this is normal.” But if that was done in live action with CGI effects, one would probably be distracted by the CGI and by how unrealistic it is. In a sense, live action prevents the immersion into the artist’s world, and takes away from what should otherwise be an amazing adventure. Also, by being so new, there aren’t as many established conventions as with other mediums, and therefore there is much more room to try new things. The navigation of the set is also much easier, as there are no constraints to physics and no human actors who need to take safety precautions. All of these factors in conjunction serve to support the production and concept of the text, greatly allowing for a superior ability for the creators to express themselves. The lack of live action actors is also a key factor to take into consideration. Voice actors and voice acting is not easy by any means, but by using voice actors the director and editor can accurately create and draw what he wants to see done. This allows for an ease of presentational acting. There are also things like frames to take into consideration.

The mechanisms behind live action prevents a lot of speed that is often found in animation, and gives editors a much wider array of possibilities. Plenty of things done within animation simply could not be done otherwise. Animation therefore stretches the spectrum of possibilities within the visual arts by allowing for what some might argue is a superior sensory, particularly visual, experience. I believe that there is a far greater sense of personal connection between writers and the end result as well. Many people often complain about a director, movie or even an actor butchering a book, comic or character, respectively this can be very easily prevented by using animation.

For instance, program creator, Pendleton Ward performs three roles in Adventure Time. He creates story boards, assists in animating them, and also voice acts for multiple characters; removing many constraints and allowing ward to explore different genres and mediums, rather than attempt to fit something he didn’t make into some sort of agenda. In a sense, this is Ward’s true vision.

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Analysis of Pendleton Ward’s Series, Adventure Time. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 20, 2021, from
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