“Food Chain” and Adventure Time

by tigermanifesto

Apparently on a field trip to a natural history museum in the desert, the candy children in “Food Chain” don’t care much about their biology lessons, preferring instead to muse about whether nonhuman beings play football or galumphing about the building cheering at the top of their lungs. Meanwhile, Finn the human and Jake the dog are similarly unimpressed until, on the way to the museum snack bar, they encounter the mischievous (and more than a little malign) Magic Man, who gives them a rather direct and harrowing lesson in empathy for the little creatures. What follows is a kaleidoscopic journey through the food chain, where our heroes go from decomposing corpses to ravenous predators, hungry caterpillars and plants that are horrifyingly conscious of being eaten.

While its value as an educational tool might be dubious and its narrative can be charted in a four-step circle, the episode is noteworthy for showing why Adventure Time is such a reliable font of wild creativity. The show is rooted in characters’ personalities rather than narrative tropes. Unlike a great comic strip like Krazy Kat, where the characters are put through infinite variations of the same plot for results both poetic and funny, Adventure Time takes its characters into the unknown more often than not. And though “Food Chain” is breezy and self-contained, likely having no impact on the rest of the show’s world (the episode’s setting is left almost totally abstract) its gratuity is a virtue rather than a problem. Though the show has no problem venturing into emotionally fraught, mythic, or heavily plotted  territory, I feel that it’s never more at home than in episodes like this, including the “Graybles” episodes. The children can enjoy its pure colorful weirdness and musicality––and maybe learn a thing or two about biology––and animation obsessives like me can marvel at Masaaki Yuasa’s mastery of his craft, along with the stark depiction of death and animal drives the episode contains. It’s not profound, but rather gratuitous and joyful.

Both the current episode and the Graybles start from the standard format of a children’s educational show: a patronizing narrator telling children what’s up. From there, “Food Chain” gets into the meat and bones of what the food chain really is, taking a humorous look at its grotesque aspects, speculating about how different species perceive the world in different ways. At the end of the episode, Finn is enlightened, having transcended pure book knowledge and really grasped how the food chain works. It’s tremendously optimistic and constructive filmmaking, even if it’s also very fluid and lively. I find it an irresistible pick-me-up, almost like a song in that I can watch it over and over again without tiring of it quickly. Indulge your creative side and give “Food Chain” a look or ten.