When I was 16 years old, I read War and Peace for the first time in a highschool literature class. Like so many others before me, I emerged from the book as if from a dream, with the sense that this little object on the desk before me, no bigger than a jewelry box, carried between its two covers the entire world. I have only ever experienced that feeling one other time in my life: a couple years later, when, after nearly a decade of dedication, I finished the last episode of the brilliant animated Cartoon Network TV show: Adventure Time.
Over the course of ten seasons, one eleven-minute segment at a time, Adventure Time reintroduced me to the world. The show’s cast of rainbow-colored characters—including a princess made of bubblegum; a yellow dog with the power to stretch itself like putty; and a floating blob of teenage, valley-girl melodrama named “Lumpy Space Princess”—became as real and complex as any I had ever encountered.
Only Adventure Time could capture a piece of the trans-experience with a short allegory about a sentient cookie who just wants to be a princess. Or viscerally illustrate the pain of Alzheimer’s with a simple couplet, sung by a little blue man who flies around by flapping his beard and a bass-playing vampire queen: “please forgive me for whatever I do/ when I don’t remember you”. These stories—which form part of epic narrative arcs that see the characters through a near-Tolstoyan journey of growth and discovery—have the power to teach us new things about what we think we know. And the show accomplishes this by doing something rarely seen in the adult world: stirring up the innocent feelings of childhood, buried within us over time like ancient sediment at the bottom of a stream.
Although many disregard animated shows, Adventure Time uses the cartoon medium to sketch out the world in a way we can all understand, regardless of our age, and communicate its central message: never lose sight of the child within you.