Adventure Time: The Complete Fourth Season [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Warner Home Video
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (30th November 2014).
The Show

A surrealistic, occasionally psychedelic animated series, Pendleton Ward’s “Adventure Time” is an ambitious and anarchic kids show for adults. Part of its genius is — albeit, largely in a sort of strange savant-esque frame — that Ward and his writers refreshingly rely not on pop culture references, per se, but rather the elaborate landscape in which their odd adventures are set. On the surface, this candy-coated and whimsical world — where life long friends and adoptive brothers Jake the Magical Dog (John DiMaggio) and Finn the Human Boy (Jeremy Shada) get into all sorts of weird, wonderful trippy, and at times totally bizarre tales — is little more than a sandbox from which numerous playful peculiarities spring.

In Finn and Jake’s many journeys across the vaguely post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo — a place of many kingdoms; the remnants of a world once destroyed by a great mushroom war, now rebuilt as a sort of feudal democratic-dictatorship, where Ice Kings and Lumpy Space Princesses (Pendleton Ward) reign supreme — they befriend manic misanthropes and other maybe-magical-probably-mathematical friends and foes. There’s a thousand year old vampire named Marceline (Olivia Olson); Jake’s one-time crush, Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch); a bewildered wizard, who was once a man named Simon Petrikov (Tom Kenney); and a host of other oddities — a talking horse (James Baxter), the loyal and literal Peppermint Butler (Steve Little), an anthropomorphic gaming system named Bee-Mo (Niki Yang), and The Lich King (Ron Perlman), an undead demon trickster that Finn and Jake are frequently forced to combat.

“Adventure Time” is often overflowing with enough content to fill twice its 11-minute runtime. Cutesy yet horrifying, and silly but also kind of smart, the series is a contradiction: a children’s show, but one that has plenty for adults to enjoy — occasionally exclusively — as well. Although some tenable, teachable lesson about friendship or something else is tacked on to each end, rude and occasionally crude-for-a-kids-show humor is mixed with concepts like reincarnation, lucid dreams, and inter-dimensional parallel universes long before then. Likewise, against a backdrop of simplistic visuals and standalone stories, the series’ enjoys a subversive and impressive scope and scale, all exploited — and explored — through a subtly serialized narrative that has taken seasons to slowly reveal its deeply buried secrets. Over the many seasons, Ward and his writers have established a vast, expansive world, with hundreds of years of history, complicated if not convoluted back stories, and a ‘verse with its own subset of absurdist jokes, surrealist visuals, and just generally imaginative story lines and characters.

Season four introduces — and is loosely structured around the arrival of — the feisty Flame Princess (Jessica DiCicco), Finn’s on-again, off-again ex with a fierce temper. She proves to be both a major antagonist and complex love interest for the boy, whose finally moved beyond Bubblegum. In-between the serpentine serialization, there are also episodes in which Jake and Finn delve into such diverse and hazardous realms as alternate dimensions and lucid dreams, tackle topics like the meaning of friendship, responsibilities of fatherhood, feelings of a romantic kind. And there’s even more — including a funny film-noir send up in the middle of the season, which only a small minority of the series’ audience will likely fully appreciate. The fourth season finds the creative crew firing on all cylinders: various adventures accomplish two-fold, entertaining on a small scale with individual episodes that are warm, weird, and wickedly funny. But the cleverness of their creation is clearer in viewing the separate pieces in serialized succession, as collected here in the full season. Several episodes are set aside to flesh out secondary-characters, and others delve into semi-serious subplots tied to the larger narrative of a world gone wonky in post-apocalypse. The revelations within the fourth season reveal an intricacy not known earlier — and in fact, several others are setup in season four, but don’t fully take form until seasons five or six.

All 26 episodes of the fourth season of “Adventure Time” are included on a single disc. These include:

- “Hot to the Touch” —Finn goes on a quest to prove Flame Princess isn't really evil.
- “Five Short Graybles” — A series of short stories all centered around the five senses.
- “Web Weirdos” — When Finn gets trapped in a giant spider web, he ends up playing marriage counselor.
- “Dream of Love” — Tree Trunks is courted by an oinking suitor.
- “Return to the Nightosphere” — Marceline's dad banishes Finn and Jake to the Nightosphere.
- “Daddy’s Little Monster” — Finn and Jake return to the Nightosphere to rescue Marceline.
- “In Your Footsteps” — A bear befriends Finn and Jake, but what are his true intentions?
- “Hug Wolf” — After an encounter with a Hug Wolf, Finn goes through a Jekyll and Hyde-like transformation.
- Princess Monster Wife” — When Ooo's princesses start losing body parts, Finn and Jake investigate.
- “Goliad” — Princess Bubblegum, concerned over her mortality, reveals her designated successor to Finn and Jake.
- “Beyond This Earthly Realm” — When Finn finds a porcelain lamb, it transports him into the spirit world.
- “Gotcha!” — In order to do research for her tell-all memoir about men, Lumpy Space Princess goes under working for Finn and Jake.
- “Princess Cookie” — Finn and Jake are called on to solve a Candy Kingdom hostage crisis when a rogue cookie takes over.
- “Card Wars” — Finn and Jake embark on an epic game of Card Quest.
- “Son of Mars” — A case of Martian mistaken identity comes to Ooo when Magic Man turns Jake into a copy of himself.
- “Burning Low” — Finn starts spending a lot of the time with Flame Princess.
- “BMO Noire” — When Finn thinks he's lost a sock, Bee-Mo covertly takes the case.
- “King Worm” — Finn has a particularly vivid dream, and all of Ooo is in it.
- “Lady and Pebbles” — Princess Bubblegum and Lady Rainicorn go on a quest to find a missing Finn and Jake.
- “You Made Me” — Princess Bubblegum tries to find a way to help the weird and creepy Earl of Lemongrab after he begins to annoy her people with his disturbing ways.
- “Who Would Win” — Finn and Jake challenge a giant monster to a fight... but they end up fighting each other!
- “Ignition Point” — When Finn and Jake sneak into the Fire Kingdom, they get caught.
- “The Hard Easy” — A delicate race of frog people employ Finn and Jake to help them deal with Prince Huge.
- “Reign of Gunters” — The Gunters go on a rampage against the Ice King.
- “I Remember You” — Ice King and Marceline share a tender few moments reminiscing about their past.
- “The Lich” — A visit from the Lich King shines some light on some of Ooo's secrets.

Video

“Adventure Time: The Complete Fourth Season” is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps high definition using the VC-1 codec. So vibrant and colorful, it looks almost good enough to lick, by it’s fourth season the animation — no doubt, at least in part as a result of the increased budget — is more refined and in line with modern standards. The series is not quite as rough as it was in earlier seasons, which had a decidedly low-fi look. Improvements in animation aside aside, the simplistic style is still a caveat: a flat, 2D production with an adorable child-like innocence to its character design. “Adventure Time” will always have a series that is naturally less polished, but nonetheless competent and aesthetically interesting — and quite pleasing in high definition. The series translates incredibly well to Blu-ray, with crisp line art and clean color and texture fills. Warner has made the questionable decision to compress the entire season to a single disc, and I did notice trace instances of banding and some infrequent compression artifacts — no doubt the result of the crowded confines. But, overall, the high def disc handedly makes waste of both the bit-starved cable broadcasts and the problem-plagued DVD's many fans are more familiar with.

Audio

"Adventure Time: The Complete Fourth Season" is authored with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track. That's right: lossy and stereo. Get out the pitchforks, folks. Well, no, not really… but it is disappointing see that WB and CN have saddled the most recent season of “Adventure Time” with a DVD-quality Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track, even on Blu-ray. Not that such tech specs aren't par for the course... and I suppose there is at least some logic in an argument for lossy over lossless on this release, in that with over five hours of high definition video content on a single disc, compromises were necessary to maintain quality. In that regard, lossless would've only complicated matters, by overstuffing the already cramped confines of the lone BD-50; had a TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio mix been included, it would've either resulted in overly compressed video or fewer special features. One the other, it’s always distressing to see lossy audio on Blu-ray this many years into the format cycle. On the other other hand — or back on the first one, I suppose — “Adventure Time” relishes in a sort of low-fi aesthetic, especially from an aural standpoint: most of the music in the show is deliberately “bit starved” to sound like an old video game. Still, stereo seems silly, as episodes are almost always an action-packed adventure that could make good use of rear channels. And the show is broadcast in surround on Cartoon Network, so I really don’t understand where this 2-channel mix factors in. At the very least, lossy 5.1 should’ve been an option, no? For the record, English subtitles have also been included.

Extras

“Adventure Time: The Complete Fourth Season” includes quite a few extras, mostly in the form of audio commentaries with the cast and crew. An interesting featurette and a couple of bonus trailers are also included. An UltraViolet HD digital copy of the fourth season has also been provided.

First up are 26 audio commentaries with the writers, storyboard artists, and producers. The tracks are pretty wacky, with as much goofing off — and, as the episodes go on, even in-commentary in-jokes — as there is actual discussion of the episodes and larger goals for season four. These include:

- “Hot to the Touch” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Five short Graybles” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Web Weirdos” with Ako Castuera, Cole Sanchez, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- Dream of Love” with Ako Castuera, Cole Sanchez, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Return to the Nightosphere” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Daddy’s Little Monster” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “In Your Footsteps” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Hug Wolf” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- Princess Monster Wife” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Goliad” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Beyond This Earthly Realm” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Gotcha!” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

“Princess Cookie” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

“Card Wars” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Son of Mars” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Burning Low” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “BMO Noire” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “King Worm” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Lady and Pebbles” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “You Made Me” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Who Would Win” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Ignition Point” with Andy Ristaino, Rebecca Sugar, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “The Hard Easy” with Andy Ristaino, Rebecca Sugar, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “Reign of Gunters” with Ako Castuera, Jesse Moynihan, Nate Cash, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “I Remember You” with Andy Ristaino, Cole Sanchez, Rebecca Sugar, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

- “The Lich” with Andy Ristaino, Rebecca Sugar, Pendleton Ward, and Tom Herpich.

The fourth season’s single featurette,“Distant Bands: The Music of Adventure Time” (1.78:1, 1080p; 19 minutes 33 seconds), is a throughly enjoyable and quite comprehensive look at the series’ soundtrack, with comments from Ward and his crew, who write and sing most of the songs on the show.

Pre-menu bonus trailers are for:

– “Adventure Time: Season 3” on Blu-ray (1.78:1, 480i; 1 minute 3 seconds).
– “Regular Show: Season 3” on DVD (1.78:1, 480i; 22 seconds).

Packaging

Warner and Cartoon Network bring “Adventure Time: The Complete Fourth Season” to Blu-ray in an Elite keep case with a nifty cardboard slip-cover in first pressings. The single disc — a dual layered BD-50 — is region free.

Overall

“Adventure Time’s” absurdist, surreal humor is refreshingly light on pop-culture references, built instead on a wildly imaginative self-contained world slowly revealed over the course of each episode and season. The pint-sized 11 minute episodes are so packed with colorful creativity, and bursting at the seams with the stuff of pure imagination, the show’s kind of hard to hate. With all 26 episodes of the fourth season collected here together on a single disc, the series’ subtle serialization through which the many secrets of Ooo, and the larger story unfolding, become something to appreciate even more. The Blu-ray offers vibrant video, audio commentaries on every single episode, plus a very interesting featurette on the show’s music. The only disappointment is the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack, albeit mostly as a matter of principle. Lack of lossless audio aside, “Adventure Time: The Complete Fourth Season” is highly recommended for fans of the series.

The Show: B+ Video: B+ Audio: C+ Extras: B Overall: B+

 


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