While Cartoon Network’s animated series Adventure Time is a fun show about adventures in a fantasy world, it’s always had a deeper, sadder side. Whether it’s Marceline singing to the Ice King about how he can’t remember who she is or Finn hugging his mother for the first time, creator Pendleton Ward never held back from the emotional gut-punches. It’s fitting, then, that the first episode of HBO Max’s Adventure Time spin-off Distant Lands captures that same melancholy feeling on an otherwise fun romp through space.
Adventure Time: Distant Lands is a planned set of four specials, helmed by producer Adam Muto, which follow a different set of Adventure Time characters at different times in the chronology of the series, and in different places throughout the world. The first 45-minute installment follows loveable, genderless robot BMO as they explore a distant space station while grappling with the loneliness of their existence.
[Ed. note: This review contains minor spoilers for Adventure Time and the Distant Lands — BMO special.]
The only thing initially connecting BMO’s adventure to the rest of Adventure Time is BMO themself. The special takes place far from the land of Ooo, and doesn’t include any other familiar characters. BMO starts off in a rocket, drifting in the vast expanse of space, singing about being alone. They have a mission: to plant potatoes on Mars. But after a meteor shower wrecks part of their ship, BMO encounters a mysterious drone who beams them away to a space station known as the Drift, made up of interconnected hubs.
The Drift is separate from the land of Ooo, full of different life forms than any seen on the show. A rabbit girl named Y4 (who later starts going by Y5 at BMO’s prompting) scavenges the station looking for spare parts to bring her parents, who work for a mysterious figure named Hugo. When BMO’s quick thinking saves the day by repairing a breach in the Drift’s exterior, she decides to take the little robot back.
Though BMO explores the Drift with excitement, a layer of desperation hangs overhead. The station is slowly failing, and the aliens are racing against the clock to try and fix it. BMO is blissfully undaunted, delighted by everything they come across, and determined to help. This is sharply juxtaposed with Y5, who wrestles with the weight of her parents’ expectations and the impending doom of the space station, while struggling to be true to herself.
Free of any greater connection to the overarching Adventure Time narrative, Distant Lands — BMO feels like a chance for Muto and the team to flex their zany worldbuilding skills, filling the Drift with kooky creatures and habitats which bring to mind the wacky neon world of Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts. One of the pods in the Drift is a jungle, sealed off from the rest of the citizens because everything inside has mutated to be carnivorous. A herd of blue blob-like creatures float above the station, grazing on the stars. Y5’s rabbit brethren live in underground burrows, just like actual bunnies. It’s fun to see what BMO discovers next, but through Y5’s eyes, it all has a touch of poignancy.
In spite of their chipper attitude, BMO isn’t entirely happy themselves. The initial introduction of BMO alone in a spaceship, readying themselves for a long, lonely existence on Mars, already sets up this feeling of sadness. BMO’s storylines tend to lean on the melancholy — they sometimes talk to their reflection in the mirror to cope with loneliness that comes with essentially being immortal — but BMO is eternally positive. Sometimes this gung-ho attitude makes their sad situations a little more bearable. Other times, like when they’re coming to terms with death, it’s even more depressing.
BMO declares Y5 the deputy to their sheriff, convinced that the two of them are going to make a splendid team. BMO is trying to forge connections. They know they can’t be a good hero and save the station without a best friend at their side. But to Y5, life isn’t so simple that its problems can be fixed by being a good friend. BMO’s undeniable optimism can be grating, and Y5 going along with her parents’ orders feels frustrating. But BMO and Y5 learn to understand one another and work toward the same goal — making their eventual parting of ways particularly stirring. They’ve learned something from each other, but must move on.
We eventually learn where BMO’s one-off adventure fits into the overall show: Big revelations about where the space station came from, and Hugo’s actual identity, clearly set the events of this special within the timeline. That doesn’t add much to the existing lore, but that’s all right, because this is BMO’s story. The timeline revelations add an extra layer to BMO’s loneliness, making the ending revelation particularly bittersweet.
Adventure Time: Distant Lands — BMO is streaming on HBO Max now. Release dates for the other three installments in the series have not yet been announced.
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