When Adventure Time ended roughly two years ago, it did so with a finale that encapsulated almost everything that made the Cartoon Network series so special: music, comedy, a light smattering of cosmic horror, and an overriding sense that the show’s magic relied less on showcasing the fights and follies of any one set of fantastical characters than in championing (to quote Ashley Eriksson’s immobile song-spinner, Music Hole) “a really specific feeling that’s difficult to describe.” “Come Along With Me” was the end of one story, yes. But for as much time as it spent on the latest apocalypse to imperil the Land Of Ooo, the series finale spent nearly as much time reminding fans—including god knows how many kids who literally grew up with the show, in the decade-plus it was on the air—that Adventure Time might be over, but the adventure itself never has to end.
So is it any shock that showrunner Adam Muto and his team (including writer Kate Tsang, story editor Jack Pendarvis, and storyboard supervisor Mira Ong Chua) seem to be able to slip back into the vibe so easily? Distant Lands—BMO, the first of the show’s four hour-long HBO Max revivals, takes place in a setting about as far from Finn, Jake, and the Candy Kingdom as it can get, focusing as it does on the space-based adventures of everyone’s favorite self-assured little robot, BMO. But it still feels like Adventure Time, operating on the same blend of dream logic, comedy, and surreal heroism that made the show such a delight and for so long.
Some of the special’s similarities are surface-level, admittedly; stranded on a distant space station with a distinctly Old West vibe, BMO quickly finds himself teamed up with a shape-changing sidekick and a kid hero with animal ears (real, this time). That’s to say nothing of the inexplicable appearance of yet another theme tune from the wider Cheers TV canon. But beneath those simpler signifiers, BMO also retains Adventure Time’s signature ability to tackle surprisingly big feelings with a mixture of humor and out-there sci-fi/fantasy antics, forcing new hero Y-5 (Glory Curda) to face up to her own fears about her parents’ disapproval in order to save her new robot buddy—and her entire world. BMO also gets to work through some of his “always the sidekick, never the hero” issues, but given that his character has always been a bit of a lovable cypher, most of the special’s emotional focus is rightly placed on the new kid’s struggles to fill a hero’s boots.
If you’re unfamiliar with Adventure Time, BMO makes for a solid introduction, with a title character who’s always been one of the show’s favorite ways to foreground its kid-logic underpinnings. The best thing about BMO—besides Niki Yang’s voice performance, as smugly childlike as ever—is that the world, and his actions, make perfect sense, to him. If others can’t keep up, that’s on them for missing out on the fun of letting their subconscious do some of the steering. The little blue bot thus makes the perfect sort of reverse tour guide, dragging Y-5 (whose first interaction with him sees him encourage her to name herself, rather than accept her parent’s labeling) all over the space-based dystopia of The Drift, forcing her to confront problems she’s spent her whole life ignoring with the forthrightness of a little kid who’s perceived an injustice somewhere, anywhere in the world.
If there’s a weakness to BMO the hour of television, then, it’s that it’s trying to move a hefty portion of (largely self-contained) story within only 60 minutes. As a consequence, some of the special’s emotional beats can come off as forced or pat, robbing it of the nuance that the original series was able to luxuriate in with surprising frequency. That same need for speed forces the headier satirical intent—including a bleak impression of mealy-mouthed corporate apology culture, and a cutting-if-rote environmental message—to feel a bit tossed off as the special races for a resolution. But the art itself is as gorgeous as ever, with The Drift a wonderfully weathered space station setting, and lots of fun games being played with perspective, courtesy of Y-5’s gravity-defying boots.
More importantly, it just feels fantastic to be back in this world—even if said world isn’t actually, well, Ooo. The show’s comedy writing is as sharp as ever, and a whole host of great guest stars and returning voices (Randall Park, John Hodgman, John DiMaggio, Tom Kenny, Stephen Root, and more) all bring their characters to life with that very specific Adventure Time blend of irony and sincere weirdo glee. BMO might not hit every target when it comes to telling its tale of a little robot lost. But as a template for Distant Lands to follow as it reintroduces audiences to that “really specific feeling,” it’s an excellent first step for a tiny, sassy robot, and a great first leap for this franchise’s welcome return.