Adventure Time is the best all-ages cartoon on TV today.
This isn’t the first time an adult has made this statement, and it’s not even the first time I’ve made this statement – but I usually say it with a bit of trepidation. There’s a certain amount of shame associated with being an adult who enjoys the occasional cartoon, and it seems to get a little worse every day. The adult cartoon-appreciating demographic skews increasingly towards maladjusted adults who either return to the loves of their childhoods for security, or who never really evolve beyond the impulses of their youths. I’ll never understand the weird adult affection for Phineas and Ferb. I’ve given My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic a chance, and when it completely failed to present originality, charm or depth, I even watched (the unfortunately titled) Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony. Still nothing. Well, nothing but a sense of nauseated sorrow and a little more anxiety about how the world will look in 15 years, and a bit more shame about enjoying cartoons.
But who am I to judge? I buy toys so I can understand the world better. And I love Adventure Time.
Adventure Time has a few lines of figural toys associated with it, all produced by Jazwares, and there’s no gentle way to say it: the toys are kind of a tragedy, as far as very small, unimportant tragedies go. When you have a TV show of quality and intent, the things associated with it need to have those same properties. These things have problems.
- They’ve been produced in at least four different scales, and all of these lines are either currently incomplete or abandoned by the company.
- Adventure Time has an incredible roster of characters designed by some of the best illustrators alive today, but these designs rarely make it into Jazwares’ toy lines.
- The construction quality is dicey at best, with bad joints and sloppy paint.
- …and they cost way too much for what they are.
So, we have a small, unarticulated 2″ line of figures designed to represent a few characters, but it mostly focuses on Finn and Jake in different forms. A handful of these never made it out to general retail, but show up at specialty shops. This line hasn’t produced any new figures in a year, but the ones that were produced are pretty neat, if a bit overpriced for being “gumball machine” quality. Eight bucks for a couple of low-quality, tiny plastic figures is painful. Party Jake and Party God notwithstanding. Those are worth a billion of dollars.
Accompanying this was a 5″-ish line of figures, featuring Finn, Jake, BMO, and the truly awesome Finn in Jake Suit figure, followed by Lumpy Space Princess, Ice King and Marceline, the Vampire Queen. It’s not really a 5″ line in the truest sense, because the scale is all over the place; Jake’s size is irrelevant in any scale, but BMO is larger than Finn, and LSP is as large as the Ice King. There’s no consistency, even though having these figures in a larger size is great. Of these figures, BMO is a stand-out, with a rotating face panel displays four great faces, but on the other end of the line, “stretchy” Finn and Jake don’t really stretch. They have rubbery arms attached to loose joints, and terrible leg joints with knobby, delicate connectors that just don’t capture the spirit of the character designs. How are you supposed to have fun if you’re afraid that the cheap joints are just going to snap? Ice King and LSP are just chunks of brittle, hollow plastic, while the Finn in Jake Suit feels like it uses some really solid materials to make a figure so awesome and bizarre that it actually DOES capture the spirit of the show. Why the line vacillates so wildly between quality and garbage is a mystery. I’m not looking for a collector’s line of figures for a kids’ show. I’m looking for something that doesn’t so wantonly suck.
This 5″ line was abandoned, and replaced by a 3″-4″ line of two-packs: Finn and Slime Princess, Jake and Tree Trunks, LSP and Brad, and Fionna and Cake. These include the same shoddy and unnecessary joints as before, but at least they start to branch out into other interesting characters, which are really the heart of the show. This line is ongoing, but hasn’t seen any movement in a while.
There are also 10″ Finn and Jake figures with alternate faces, but they’re the lone figures in the 10″ line, and about $20 each. It’s a high price to pay when the rest of Jazwares’ output is so rife with disappointment.
Through all of this, there’s a weird lack of Princess Bubblegum, but there’s also a weird lack of fun. It’s like someone looked at the show with dead eyes, ran it all through a marketing filter, and just indifferently made whatever came out the other end. Someone fed the “Do people like action figures with joints?” question into the toy-algorithm-muncher and it spit out an unabashed “YES! OH GOD YES!”, but without any sense of context, or realizing what it was slapping brittle joints into.
My main disappointment with Jazwares is that is has literally hundreds of characters to work with, and all of them have very clear and very well-documented roles and designs; Frederator posts their full character turnarounds regularly, and the Adventure Time Wiki is one of the most organized nerdcyclopedias out there, but these resources are being underutilized. Every episode does an excellent job giving these characters memorable roles and personalities and voices; these are not background players. These are all important. So, why doesn’t Jazwares crank out a blind-packaged series of twenty 2″ figures that explore this range of visual design?
Jazwares doesn’t make toys for kids (too fragile), and it doesn’t make toys for adults (too generic), so who are these for? And how did they allow McDonalds to do it better than they did?
This month, McDonalds have released Adventure Time toys with their Slow Obesity Death Meals©, and it’s immediately obvious that they hit the spirit of the show more accurately than most of the toys that precede them. There’s only six toys, and they’re all main characters, but they’re great.
Finn and Jake are both figures with bendable pose-able arms and legs. It’s simple. It’s fun. It’s almost unbreakable. And best of all, it actually fits with the curvy, noodle-y design of the show. This is the most well-rounded, charming Jake yet, and Finn’s design is not the perfect cylinder of Jazwares’ designs, but a flattened, rubbery thing. It works a lot better, because it’s like a toy. Like those things that kids actually play with.
McDonalds’ BMO is a very small figure with a lenticular face that reveals three expressions. Again, it’s simple and charming. The Ice King isn’t a figure as much as it is a small sculpture of a guy shooting a beam of ice, and it still has more personality than the other bulky, hollow Ice King.
These fast food toys (about three bucks each) shouldn’t be better than an expensive line which consumes retail shelf space, but there’s one simple reason why they’re generally vastly superior: they’re simple. The voice, spirit and context of the show is simplicity. All of the show’s complexities are either in subtext, or only mentioned briefly. While I’m certain that McDonalds’ mighty toy deciders didn’t really delve into the “why” of a cartoon, this is what came out.
McDonalds’ politics are awful and shameful. By now, you know that they expect their employees to live without home heating, even during the dreaded Polar Vortex and/or Winter Storm Murdermus or whatever the Weather Channel is calling this week’s snowflake. They literally make food which only barely fits into the legal definition of “food”. I know these things. I’m a living, breathing human with a whole lot of anxiety about how the world is ending. But if McDonalds is going to get one thing right… well, I’m glad its toys, but I’d rather it be labor rights or more identifiable species of animals in their burgers.
There’s a mechanism in my brain when it comes to buying toys, and it looks like a scale. On one side of the scale is ‘fun and meaning’, and on the other side is ‘guilt’. The ‘guilt’ side is loaded down with the weight of the world: the use of resources to produce this item, the labor conditions under which it was produced, and the money used to purchase it not going towards some kind of charity or world-bettering agency. Because of the inherent importance of every object granted by its existence in a miraculous world, that ‘fun’ side of the scale really has to outweigh the guilt for it to be a worthwhile object; it has to be an object that inspires, or at least makes my very small life a little more enjoyable. So, there’s a whole new level of existential tragedy when something is produced poorly or without purpose.
But that’s just me.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.