Cartoon Network, HBOMax, New Episode, New Season, Show

The first “Distant Lands” episode doesn’t go very far.

In this age of streaming entertainment, franchises are no longer allowed to die. They must be rebooted every few years, be given sequels or spin-offs or prequels or just given more seasons – even if all the concepts have been used up, there’s no place for the characters to grow as characters or if the main issue has been resolved and the story has already properly concluded.

 Rarely do these expansions seem necessary. But I think the mini-series Adventure Time: Distant Lands attempts to expand upon its source material. It’s hard to judge with only one episode currently out but “BMO” isn’t exactly groundbreaking, nor do I believe it adds anything substantial to the lore of the world that has already been established.

This 45-minute long episode available only on HBO Max, focuses on BMO’s adventure aboard a space station known as the Drift, where he joins with the bunny person Y5 and repairs the droid Olive to save the day when it becomes apparent the whole place is falling apart.

Though at first Y5 wants to bring BMO to her mother for parts, she starts growing attached to the robot and the group uncovers a sinister conspiracy led by the leader of the station, a mysterious being called Hugo.

It’s nothing that hasn’t been done before. 

The episode is only made truly memorable by its last minute plot-twist, which shows the episode is actually a prequel and not a sequel, which the mini-series was announced to be. While I think fans of the original series will appreciate the episode, I don’t think there is enough to justify this episode, which doesn’t answer some of the questions it does bring up.

Animation Upgrade

Adventure Time has always had wonderful and distinct animation. At the time of its premiere, its noodle-armed characters and saturated color palette were unique and stood out. The backgrounds were still detailed in the style. It was fine.

In Distant Lands everything moves more fluidly and everything is much more detailed. The color palette is much less saturated than the original series and is more pastel, which works much better with the sort of melancholic and whimsical tone of the episode.

The ship that BMO goes to, known as the Rift, is cluttered and homey. Unlike Ooo, every bit of the spaceship is well lived in – there’s no broad wide open spaces or new lands to discover and the beings who live there aren’t as half as fantastic as Ooo. There are only a few different species, which allows the artists to focus on other aspects rather than character design.

Y5’s design is one of my favorites of the episode. Olive’s reminds me too much of Squidward for me to like it. Even though Y5’s design is extremely simply – I feel like she stands out in many ways. She doesn’t have any special powers or abilities -she has her intellect, curiosity and a pair of anti-gravity boots. And her design reflects that.

There is one particular scene where the animation style changes briefly to a more simplistic, kind of Ted-Ed educational video, an extremely saturated type of animation when Hugo’s backstory is revealed. This works doubly so, as it’s a BMO knock-off that shows the story through her own face screen.

Even the creepier moments of the episode, like where BMO believes he is dying and his body keeps breaking apart and coming back together and then talks to several versions of himself, are animated completely beautifully and seriously.

It makes the episode stand out from the original series where even the most serious moments are presented with the most care, and with the proper sense of humor if there’s any at all.

Thanks to being on HBOMax and no doubt having a lot more time to work on the episode than they normally would, the animation is so fluid and brilliant – and it more easily matches the tone of the story they’re trying to tell.

Atmospheric Tone

The tone of the episode is also pretty low-key as well. 

It has the same relaxing, somber, melancholy feeling of Girls’ Last Tour or Boy and the World. It’s a nice change of pace from the often hyper-active, semi-action packed and loud original series. People don’t yell at each other or have slang catchphrases.

It’s kind of sad – but it’s that same type of sadness where there is a bit of hope that things can get better. 

One of my favorite moments of this episode is towards the end as the Drift is being torn apart as Hugo is preparing to leave in the only working escape pod and BMO is still unconscious. Y5 is crying, pleading for BMO to wake up and help her because she’s “just a little kid.” Seemingly her tears bring BMO back to life, and he convinces her that by saving him, she can save the Drift – and that he said the same thing while he was dying.

One of my favorite moments of this episode is towards the end as the Drift is being torn apart as Hugo is preparing to leave in the only working escape pod and BMO is still unconscious. Y5 is crying, pleading for BMO to wake up and help her because she’s “just a little kid.” Seemingly her tears bring BMO back to life, and he convinces her that by saving him, she can save the Drift – and that he said the same thing while he was dying.

This gives her the confidence to not only stand up to Hugo and show everyone that he’s been lying, but also convince everyone that they can work together. The way it’s presented it’s as if there’s a chance the people onboard the Drift will find a way to survive by coming together but it’s also plausible that no matter what they do – they won’t survive as most of the station is unusable, and they’re low on resources.

And it’s not a place known for people working together – which makes it even more difficult. But there’s a clear chance they can make it.

After all, Earth made it out just fine.

Theorizing Fun

I’m normally not a huge fan of prequels. When you go in watching something like Rogue One – you know that these characters are fucked. You already know how things are going to conclude and it can be weird, seeing characters get introduced that nobody ever mentions in the original because they weren’t even concepts at that point.

It works better with BMO, as BMO has already been established as a long-lived character and an untrustworthy narrator – so it makes sense he wouldn’t recall this adventure during the main series or think it’s important.

And we don’t know how long he was traveling through space to get back to Earth. Or how long he had been traveling for beforehand. And I suppose it also helped that going into the episode, you don’t know it ’s a prequel. The mini-series was advertised as a sequel series and it’s not until the very end that it’s revealed that the episode took place before the series.

The episode also shows how Earth got its giant crater and what happened to some of the humans – those that didn’t get killed, eaten or moved to the islands. And apparently they genetically modified themselves with alien DNA.

But what is most intriguing are the theories surrounding the true identity of Mr. M – Hugo’s assistant. The theory I and most others subscribe to is Mr. M is none other than Martin Mertins, Finn’s father. We never see his face, but the voice, timeline and personality all match up. And this would explain why he was imprisoned on the Citadel.

And it would still bring up many questions like how he ended up on the Drift with Hugo since he certainly wasn’t on the original flight. But, Adventure Time has never been a show that always made sense.

You’re not supposed to think too deeply about the world – the four elements are Flame, Ice, Candy and Slime, for Glob’s sake. I’m not going to worry about how all this works.

But it’s still cool and it adds something that many fans have been curious about this. But it also brings up just as many questions.

How is this too short?

I can’t help but feel like we’re missing something from this story. Quite a lot of the time is spent setting the story and setting up and I feel as though that certain aspects like Y5’s and BMO’s relationship got ignored.

It feels like they don’t get time to bond. For BMO, I suppose this is fine. He is forgetful and airheaded, and speaks to his own reflection – but he generally considers everyone to be a friend, so it makes sense for him to bond so quickly with Y5. Meanwhile, the poor bunny girl is originally bringing BMO to her mom for spare parts, doesn’t like her birth name (Y4) and is desperate to get her parents to be proud.

None of these are properly explored and I’m never sure what motivates Y5 to have a change of heart. I think this partially due to the length.

45 minutes is actually a sufficient length for an episode. There’s a lot you can cover if you do it right. But when you’re used to 11-minute long episodes, I imagine it’s hard to write an episode nearly four times as long. So, there’s a lot of padding.

It seems this could either be a couple 11 minute episodes pasted together or a longer hour and half mini movie, but with a bunch of it cut out.

I just feel something is missing from this episode. The plot is far too generic and doesn’t dig that deep into any of the lore, nor does it reveal anything about BMO. It seems kind of unnecessary. And I’ve seen this type of plot done so many times before.

I’m just kind of disappointed even with the apt social commentary.

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Score: 6/10

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Info

Year of release: 2020

Length: 45 minutes

Executive Producer: Adam Muto

Supervising Director: Miki Brewster

Writers/Story Boarders: Jack Pendarvis, Anthony Burch, Christina Catucci, Charley Feldman, and Kate Tsang 

Voice Actors: Niki Yang,  Glory Curda, Stephen Root, Randall Park, Simone Giertz

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If you liked this review, read: Adventure Time’s finale shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

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