I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: HBO Max is fighting tooth and nail to weaponize your childhood against your wallet. The latest salvo in its assault is aimed directly at millennials who came of age alongside Finn the Human and his magic talking dog, as Cartoon Network Studios has agreed to produce four new hour-long Adventure Time specials for HBO’s streaming platform.
It may seem odd that Cartoon Network would revive its most beloved series for a completely different channel, but such is the false illusion of choice in modern Capitalism. Cartoon Network is owned by Warner Bros., which is in turn owned by WarnerMedia, which also owns HBO, Cinemax, TBS, TNT, Rooster Teeth, Crunchyroll, VRV, CNN, DC Comics, New Line Cinema, Castle Rock Entertainment, TMZ, and 50 percent of The CW, along with dozens of other domestic and international assets. (WarnerMedia itself is owned by AT&T, so if you’ve ever seen an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, your choice to go with Verizon means nothing.)
The news comes courtesy of Variety, which quotes an attempt by an HBO executive to use Adventure Time slang that is so painful I dare not repeat it here. HBO is referring to the four specials collectively as Adventure Time: Distant Lands, with the first two installments, BMO and Obsidian, debuting sometime next year. The next two, Wizard City and Together Again, will premiere at some future, post-2020 date, assuming we all make it that far.
While the announcement makes sure to call out fan-favorite characters like BMO and Marceline the Vampire Queen, it glosses over some crucial background details. There’s no mention of series creator Pendleton Ward’s involvement anywhere in Variety’s reporting, and I’ve been unable to dig up anything in the wider Hollywood reporting apparatus that would suggest his confirmed involvement. Likewise, there’s no word on whether Jeremy Shada (Finn), John DiMaggio (Jake), Tom Kenny (Ice King), Hynden Walch (Princess Bubblegum), Niki Yang (BMO), or Olivia Olson (Marceline) will reprise the roles they originated.
I’ve got mixed feelings about this, y’all. Adventure Time came to an end last fall with the conclusion of its 10th season, after a truly historic run that redefined the parameters of young-adult animation, thanks in no small part to Pendelton Ward’s absurdist style and Rebecca Sugar’s willingness to push at the seams of what is “acceptable” in children’s programming. Granted, Sugar left the show after its fourth season to helm the even more radical Steven Universe, but the seeds she planted continued to blossom through the end of the series. To make more Adventure Time after the fact just feels kinda, I dunno, disrespectful.
Final judgement is withheld until more details emerge about who is actually making this thing — throwing some team of randos at it is obviously worse than getting the band back together for one more rooftop concert. Still, I’m not filled with confidence by an announcement that includes quotes from HBO Max’s “Head of Original Content” and Cartoon Network Studio’s “Chief Content Officer,” but not anyone involved in the production of the original show.