Adventure Time has nuked our brains with its mixture of weird humor and colorful post-apocalyptic characters. Last summer at Comic Con, people who shrugged off appearances of A-list celebrities were completely captivated to see Lady Rainicorn and the Ice King zooming down the sidewalk.
So we were super excited to speak to series creator Pendleton Ward about the show, in honor of the second DVD collection coming March 6. And here's what he told us about keeping Adventure Time fresh and weird.
On avoiding the season four blues:
Adventure Time is in post-production on its fourth season and already the writers are working on writing season five. And yeah, brainstorming has gotten a lot harder as a result, because they've already used a lot of cool ideas. According to Ward, head writer Ken Osborne calls this the "season four blues." Adds Ward:
Not to say that anything's unoriginal — everything's still coming out super weird and interesting — but it just gets a little harder. You have to dig a little deeper.
In particular, they have to get into some weirder ideas and more off-the-wall notion, along with introducing new characters and exploring the existing characters more. "We're experimenting with more types of storytelling, and introducing new characters," says Ward.
On the difficulty of pitching a show about two friends hanging out:
Ward really wanted Adventure Time to be about two friends who hang out and "have normal friend conversations." He didn't want Finn and Jake to be rivals, or be "pitted against each other in every story." Says Ward:
When I was making the [series] bible, I wanted to make a show about two cool friends who could talk like normal friends do, and have normal friend conversations — and that's not a very engaging plot. I think that's why it was a hard idea to sell: Two buds who spend time together in a weird fantasy world.
So the network was taking a huge risk greenlighting this show. The show probably wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for support from Fred Seibert, of Frederator Studios. "I had just graduated from college and didn't know exactly what I was doing, except that I had a clear idea of the kind of show I wanted to do," says Ward. "Fred pushed it along."
On Adventure Time's female characters:
Ward says it's hard creating cool female characters, like Princess Bubblegum, because "there's so many stereotypical girl characters, and the easiest thing to do is the opposite: girl power, making them extremely intelligent or extremely tough. I just want to make girls that are normal, just like Finn is normal." He likes writing Princess Bubblegum because she's not just great at science, she's also kind of a "goofball, and her experiments are wacky. She's not the smartest person in the universe."
The secret inspiration for Adventure Time's romance storylines:
A lot of the romance in Adventure Time is inspired by Archie comics featuring Betty and Veronica, says Ward. He enjoys writing the storylines where Finn is confused about romance, and Bubblegum is much older, so she understands stuff a lot better than he does. In Archie comics, "Archie's always sort of going back and forth between Betty and Veronica, but they're also having fun with him, and there's always a new girl in town." And Betty and Veronica are jealous of each other, but also of the new girl. "That was the cliche that I was interested in, and I liked that there were these two girls that liked messing with Finn's head, and he's totally true of heart. And I liked that relationship. But it's evolving all the time, with Flame Princess now, this new character."
On creating a post-apocalyptic world that's not like The Road:
One of the funny things about Adventure Time is, it's a post-apocalyptic world but it's sort of whimsical and fun instead of grim. Says Ward: "I think that contrast is really funny. We do a lot of sad episodes and dark episodes, but yeah, it's true that they're always partying to electronic music with, like, skeletons buried in the ground right below them." Oh, and Ward says we won't be learning any more about the dog-rainicorn war, because "war is a touchy subject in children's television."
On making a show that he wishes he'd had when he was a kid:
"I like making children's television," Ward says. "The point going into this was to make stuff that I would have liked when I was a kid. That's what I'm interested in doing: making stuff that's going to blow kids' minds for the first time." So the creators of the show are careful not to get too grown up or too "out there" for kids — they do occasionally have a run-in with the network's Standards department when they have "too much poop or too long of a fart sound, or too many uses of the word 'murder' in a scary episode." But for the most part, they're on the same page as the network, says Ward. Also, he doesn't see the show as having a lot of irony in it, aimed at adult viewers. "I don't know that there's very much intentional irony in it," he says. "I try not to reference pop culture or anything, [to] try to keep it fresh." The only way in which the show might be a little bit ironic is that when there needs to be a moral at the end of an episode, "I like to flip it on its head" and make fun of it a little bit.
A while back, we showed you some concept art from Bravest Warriors, a new space show that Ward was developing. We asked Ward about it, and he said that's not really involved, and he doesn't really know much about where it's at now. He created the pilot for Frederator Studios, and then handed it off, and now "cool people are working on it, that I trust." Breehn Burns from Dr. Tran is writing, "and also the Pete and Pete guys, who wrote Pete and Pete." He added: "I think it's going to be really cool, though. Breehn is really passionate about making sure all the scifi elements are there, that everybody loves. They're going to make it super funny. If you know Dr. Tran, it'll have that really fast-paced super-bizarre vocabulary that Breehn uses."