On Adventure Time‘s guest-animated, stop motion episode “Bad Jubies,” Finn, BMO, and LSP prepare for a doomsday storm, while Jake seems too absorbed in thought to help. It’s the eponymous time again!
Positivity has never been a more facile concept than in the present day, which is why it’s so interesting that Adventure Time arrived alongside, and thrived into, the ‘doomsday’ era, obsessed culturally with post-apocalyptica, and marked politically by increasing awareness of climate change, terrorist threat, social unrest and frightening consolidations of political power. In a period that begs for significant action on so many fronts, on scales that dwarf the common man and woman, it takes either an impossibly insightful, or foolhardy soul, to stand up and preach ‘positivity.’
That was the pessimism I grappled with in watching “Bad Jubies,” the newest in the series’ continuing guest-animator episodes, which have previously featured the work of luminaries like Masaaki Yuasa, David O’Reilly, and in an upcoming entry, Lindsay and Alex Small-Butera (of Baman Piderman fame, and which has me absolutely stoked). It tells the story of an impending disaster storm that has our heroes (plus Lumpy Space Princess) scrambling to put together a survival bunker. The episode was written and animated by yet another CalArts wunderkind, Kirsten Lepore (with the help of Bix Pix studios), whose graduating thesis Move Mountain earned her an invitation to direct from executive producer Adam Muto.
I was pleased to see that, in keeping with previous guest episodes, the change in style / medium interacted meaningfully with the thematic material; for example, David O’Reilly’s CGI-rendered episode was a no-brainer stylistic choice for an episode exploring the concept of an operating system for the universe, and Masaaki Yuasa’s unbelievably kinetic stylings (oh my god, just check out Ping Pong) fit his own theme of life-teeming-and-running-in-all-forms, hand in glove.
For her “Bad Jubies,” Lepore spins a morality tale about present moment-awareness and connection that’s enhanced gloriously by the stop-motion animation. I could not stop staring at every single textured figure on-screen, from the feel of Finn’s blue shirt, to the remarkably detailed wrinkles in Jake’s facial expressions. The decision to include Lumpy Space Princess into the narrative was brilliant: if I had to pick just one character to see rendered in full 3-D and texture, it would be LSP and, of course, her lumps. But as I was saying, the stop-motion brings to life the idea that life is simply more vivid, textured, more alive, when you’re paying attention, a sentiment that comes heavily into play later on.
Amidst a discussion about negative people and their negative influence, our crew catches wind of the storm via BMO emergency broadcast. Everyone’s survivalist, reptile-brain kicks into high gear, everyone save for Jake, whom Finn finds staring skyward at the top of a hill. After a cryptic reassurance, Jake is left to pursue his esoteric work while Finn, BMO, and LSP begin gathering supplies and building materials for their underground bunker. While the ensuing work-montage sees the survival team hard at work, hollowing out a cavern, boarding up walls and entrances, and stealing stockpiled food from a nearby cabin, we find Jake meditating by a stream, in a meadow, jotting down notes on falling leaves.
Predictably, LSP is the first to voice the obvious drama; fed up with Jake’s New Age-y, do-nothing approach to survival, she sends BMO to check up on their pensive friend. BMO finds Jake befriending birds in a field, and learns that Jake is indeed working on something, something that can’t be quantified or perceived by physical means. When BMO returns with the unsatisfactory news, LSP confronts Jake herself, and receives the same treatment. While she points to the physical goods they’ve all stockpiled together, demanding that Jake begin pulling his weight, Jake points at the sunset, asking her if she’s ever seen such a beautiful sunset, and asking her to consider how long they’ll likely be down there in the bunker, trying to wait out a storm that will likely end them.
LSP’s viewpoint isn’t off-base at all, and I think it’d take a mighty forgiving stretch for the viewer to sympathize too deeply with Jake’s pie-in-the-sky activities. Jake does eventually join them in the bunker, and when Finn confronts him about his doings, all Jake can offer is a journal of observations, to which he responds sadly, “So, you brought nothing…” Again, it’s tough to argue with Finn’s sentiment; it’s clear now that Jake’s been stockpiling some sort of spiritual sustenance to augment the physical, but the glaring question is, what good is the spiritual if there won’t be a body left to contain it?
After a few short of hours of boredom and a catastrophic lack of phone signal, LSP has consumed all the food and water, Finn’s shoddy carpentry falls to pieces before the storm, and fingers are pointed in every direction, including Jake’s, who has a suspicion that the storm isn’t merely meteorological, but psychological as well: it’s a storm of negative energies as well as negative atmospheric ions, and it’s causing the crew to turn on itself.
Despite the fun-in-the-sun philosophizing of present-awareness in “Bad Jubies,” I initially failed to see Jake’s perspective: surely if he had helped build the bunker, they’d be more comfortable, more relaxed, and more forgiving to each other? Reasonable, but: LSP didn’t eat and drink all the food because there wasn’t enough of it, she did it because she’s selfish and short-sighted. Finn’s carpentry didn’t crumble because Jake wasn’t there, but because, well, he’s not a carpenter, this is a doomsday storm, and they had a single day to execute a hopelessly ambitious project, an idea that’s borne out when Finn compares the blueprint to the reality during construction. They aren’t screwed because Jake didn’t help, but because of the reality of the situation, in combination with their own personal shortcomings.
The fatalism of their situation made me think of the global issues mentioned earlier, and how they seemed to loom so hopelessly gargantuan in comparison to us all, and how the prevailing strategy seems to be to engage in internet argument and meme-warfare, in pursuit of some unrealistic endgame in which we ideologically bomb our dissenters into silence, so that we can get on with our own promoted agendas. There is a small but persuasive current of thought that points the finger not at the magnitude of these problems as the primary issue, but the resulting division, political polarity, and extremist fear-mongering that prevents meaningful action. If you were confronted with someone who disagreed with a political viewpoint that you saw as essential to peacekeeping and survival, your natural instinct would be argument, because why not? But extrapolated to the scale of a society, that most obvious and direct line of reasoning breaks down horribly as we descend into hysteria and sectarianism.
Similarly, it seems as though Finn, Jake, and BMO have been preparing for the wrong thing. Crisis demands spiritual preparation as well as physical; it’s a mistake to safeguard only against the physical, while ignoring attacks that degrade our moral sensibilities, and our ability to cooperate. From this perspective, the ‘pure survivalist’ becomes the idealist.
At this point, Jake is ready to unleash the fruits of his preparation, which are: a birdsong, the sound of a bubbling stream, a breeze blowing through a field, all perfectly mimicked. The sounds serve to transport Finn, BMO, and LSP out of their claustrophobic panic room, out of that panic-inducing mental state, and into a clear-headed one where they can operate to their maximum capacities. Coincidentally, I was asked about the utility of art not too long ago, and I didn’t even know where to begin, but this is a good start. If nothing else, art is a device with which we cut through present stimuli that cloud our perceptions and sow illusory dangers. The bunker that they’ve constructed symbolizes the cocoon of paranoia and impaired suspicion that a mind sows when under duress, and Jake’s art works by breaking that mindset, and creating an atmosphere of natural sounds, stimuli that don’t portend danger, or ulterior motives, or anything, well, ‘unnatural’ like that. That’s where we operate best, and that’s where we need art to take us.
However, even given Jake’s surprising abilities, the danger hasn’t yet passed: the embodiment of the storm (charmingly rendered out of what looks to be darkened cotton and fiber, with light sources inside to simulate lightning) bursts into the bunker, and confesses that the only way he can feel good is to tear others down. Against this negativity elemental, the crew bands together, blending their natural forms of expression with Jake’s beat-enhanced ambient sounds to remind the storm of birdsong, which he’d forgotten, and the forgetting of which has caused his pathetic state. The storm disembarks, with a renewed connection to his surroundings.
The takeaway of “Bad Jubies” isn’t that we’re going to bomb ISIS with fingerpainting and recordings of butterflies being born, but that the doomsday mindset arrives in advance of doomsday itself. The very instincts that we rely upon for survival can easily work against us, to sow discord among our allies, pervert our values, and cloud our judgment, causing a premature self-destruction before the perceived threat ever arrives. Positivity, therefore, isn’t childrens’ wishful thinking, it’s clarity of mind, the power to transcend the narcotic effects of fear-programming, and act with mindfulness and ability.