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Adventure Time: Distant Lands- BMO (2020)

Back in 2015,  we were promised that Pendelton Ward's gloriously imaginative Adventure Time would be headed for the big screen. The show's finale came and went and no new news ever came of an Adventure Time movie. Happily, the end of the show would not be the last we would see of the series, as follow on series Adventure Time: Distant Lands was announced for HBO Max. The mini-series would consist of four extended specials, each focused on a particular character (or pair of characters). The first features- and is named after-Finn and Jake's faithful robotic companion/roommate/occasional games console BMO.

As the title suggests, Distant Lands takes us to new worlds beyond Ooo. The first special opens with BMO in space, travelling alone in a craft towards Mars. Thrown off course by a service droid (who BMO dubs Olive), they crash- quite literally- into the middle of a squabble between a gang of crab-men and a band of elves over a mysterious artefact. The belligerents decide to put their differences aside, to turn their wrath on this intruder. With the help of a friendly local Rabbit girl named Y4 (or possibly Y5) BMO is able to escape, and discovers they have landed on a derelict space station named The Drift.  After learning that the Drift is in peril, BMO appoints itself Sherrif of The Drift (wearing Olive as a hat) and sets out to help. But those on the Drift may not be as they first appear.

It would be fair to say that if you were asked which characters from Adventure Time could be the focus of their own special, BMO would not be likely to be the first name that would come to mind. "You're not a hero, you're a sidekick!", BMO berates itself, in a rare moment of self-doubt.

However, it turns out to be something of a masterstroke. The dinky robot is an unusual choice for a hero- but one that it is easy to root for. BMO's naivety and bravery (and enough self-confidence for someone 10 times the size) leads them to easily throw themselves into dangerous situations without a second thought. Whatever gets thrown at it, the diminutive 'bot just keeps moving forward. If it gets knocked down, it gets up again. Nothing is going to keep BMO down. Chumbawamba would be proud.

The Drift is another wholly realised world, full of unique characters. In that respect, it's similar to but distinct from the land of  Ooo. The station is populated by several distinct species- the anthropomorphic Rabbits,  to which Y4/Y5 and her parents, belong, elves and Crab people. Additionally, there are numerous other creatures BMO encounters that there appear to only be one or two of (such as the beetle people, seen robbing a vending machine) just as you would have found in the series. And just like in the series, they are designed with a wonderful sense of creativity, imagination and humour, accompanied by hilarious and memorable performances from the talented cast of voice actors.

One of the questions hanging over these specials is how they will adapt to the longer format. With the exception of the finale, Adventure Time has been told in 11-minute episodes. Will the longer running time feel like too much of a good thing?

Based on this first special, definitely not. The storytelling adapts naturally to a longer-form narrative. It moves forward at quite a pace (as in the original series) but never feels like it's overstretched. The scope of the story feels suitably bigger, too. If you think how much Cartoon Network Studios were able to pack into the standard length episodes, imagine how much they get into this.

The special runs for 45 minutes- a 'broadcast hour'- ie it would fill an hour slot on TV when accounting for commercial breaks. This does raise the suspicion that these specials were originally headed for TV before the decision was made to switch them to the streaming service (which would not be unusual, the same happened to Close Enough). Or maybe, it's just to make it easy to sell to broadcasters overseas, where HBO Max is unavailable. Whatever the reason may be, it doesn't really matter, as the running time feels like the optimum length for this story, somehow.

From the flashy Distant Lands intro on, this is made to feel like more of an event than just an extended episode. There are some pretty big scale set-pieces, and it is accompanied by a brilliant (and appropriate) electronic score.

We may never get to see Adventure Time on a movie budget (although I'm still holding out hope, Glob dammit), but Distant Lands' animation is still a step up from TV quality.  The design work is just as good as ever, but the whole thing just has an extra sheen of quality to it. Not quite movie quality, but not that far off.

Due to the fact that other than BMO, the cast is entirely new an Adventure Time newbie could watch this without any issue. But of course, it's longtime fans, who have been missing the series, who will enjoy this the most. If the series wasn't your cup of tea, this certainly isn't going to change your mind.

Distant Lands will effectively fill that Adventure Time shaped void in your life. It's as funny, inventive and downright bizarre as ever- and with BMO involved, the cuteness factor is ramped up too.

The specials are off to an excellent start. This first episode doesn't do anything particularly groundbreaking, but when it's this entertaining that doesn't matter. We can't wait to see where Distant Lands will take us next!



IN A NUTSHELL: BMO takes the spotlight for an irresistible return to the world(s) of Adventure Time.