We’re living in frightening times. Earlier today, The Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists announced that it was moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to midnight, leaving the world two and half minutes away from catastrophe. The Doomsday Clock is a symbol, but it’s an effective one reflecting the danger posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons, climate change, and other international social, political, and scientific factors. Every day there’s something new to be terrified about, so it’s been very nice to have a new episode of Adventure Time every night to help escape an increasingly miserable reality.
“Horse And Ball” is all about finding solace in entertainment, and it’s the exact kind of episode the world needs right now. Somvilay Xayaphone and Seo Kim’s script opens with a group of mole children lamenting the forthcoming death of their mole elder, but their sadness is immediately alleviated once James Baxter rides in on his beach ball, radiating an infectious, carefree joy. In my review of season 5’s “James Baxter The Horse,” I wrote about how the image of James Baxter on that ball was one that made me smile every time it came on screen, and I actually felt a wave of delight and relief when he first showed up in tonight’s episode. James Baxter is here to wash away all the bad feelings! I don’t have to be sad anymore! I rejoiced along with everyone else on the screen, and then the ball popped.
Losing his means of artistic expression sends James Baxter down a spiral of depression, forcing Finn, Jake, and BMO into panic mode as they try to find a way to get James Baxter back to his former self. The stakes are huge, and without James Baxter, there will be no happiness in Ooo. This episode makes the argument that artists are largely responsible for bringing pleasure to the world, and that message feels very important in a time when the U.S. government is taking strides to cut support of the arts. The Trump administration has already threatened to defund the National Endowment for the Arts even though it accounts for a tiny fraction of the national budget, and without support from organizations like the NEA, artists are going to suffer. Artists need resources to create their art, and unfortunately the situation our country is facing is going to be harder to solve than what the Adventure Time gang is dealing with in this episode.
While BMO and Jake dig through the Rag and Bone Kingdom to look for a replacement beach ball, Finn tries to console James Baxter by bringing him into the tree house, but he doesn’t know how to interact with such a renowned artist. Shelby tells him to just act normal, but that’s easier said than done. I’m very familiar with this feeling, and it reminds me of all the times I’ve gone to comic conventions and walked up to the Artist Alley tables of creators I admire, stood there awkwardly, rifled through whatever’s in front of me, and turned away without saying anything to the person in front of me. It’s intimidating talking to a person whose work you respect, but as Shelby says, most of them just want to be treated like normal people. Shelby is hilarious in the episode, and this exchange made me laugh a whole lot:
Shelby: “You gotta slap him, dude.”
Shelby: “Slap him with some real talk.”
Shelby: “Stab him.”
Shelby: “With a giant syringe.”
Shelby: “Of respect.”
Finn ultimately does slap James Baxter with some real talk, and convinces him that he doesn’t need his beach ball to make other people happy. He’s a wonderful, genuine, one of a kind horse, and he can bring people joy simply by being himself. James Baxter can find a deeper sense of fulfillment if he lets go of what he’s lost, and when Jake and BMO show up with a full stock of beach balls, James Baxter ignores them because he’s taken Finn’s words to heart. He doesn’t need the beach balls anymore, and he runs out onto the grass and begins to dance gleefully, realizing that the most meaningful art is the art that satisfies him personally.
I foolishly didn’t mention animator James Baxter in my review of James Baxter The Horse’s debut, but he’s the reason why this animated character is such a wonderful figure. James Baxter The Human is a prolific animator that worked on Disney classics like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, and The Lion King, and he’s had an equally fruitful career working on computer animated movies like Kung Fu Panda, the How To Train Your Dragon and its sequel, and The Spongebob Movie. He lent his remarkable talents to the animation for James Baxter The Horse in his debut episode, and he returns with this week’s episode, getting the opportunity to do even more with the character now that he’s been knocked off his beach ball.
The animation for James Baxter The Horse stands out from everyone because it is so meticulously detailed, and the specificity of facial expressions, body language, and movement makes him an incredibly rich character despite his extremely limited dialogue. There’s so much life in the animation, and his emotions read with total clarity. The flashbacks to James Baxter’s old life as a citizen of a town full of workhorses do excellent work capturing a creatively stifling, bleak atmosphere, and the vitality of James Baxter highlights that he doesn’t belong in this environment. He doesn’t belong in an office or in traffic. He should be out sharing his gifts with the whole wide world, bringing joy to those that desperately need it.
- Like “James Baxter The Horse,” “Horse And Ball” has James Baxter’s raw animation playing behind the end credits, which is a nice little touch showing extra appreciation for the contribution from a modern animation master.
- I want an entire episode spotlighting Raggedy Princess, mostly because I love Maria Bamford’s voice work for her. BMO should have let her finish her poem!
- “Yes. Cry, and hug me.”
- “Thank you, James Baxter! Now I can explode a happy mole man!”
- “A transfixed world surrounds me / Like a monarch with her open wings / Held in place with tiny pins / A lifeless—” A lifeless what, Raggedy Princess? A lifeless what??
- “Truly, this is a fine kingdom.”
- “The world is crud.”