This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.
It’s that time again, but we’re not adventuring with Finn and Jake this time! After a three-year hiatus following the Adventure Time: Distant Lands mini-series, one of the cornerstones of modern Cartoon Network has returned in the form of Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake. Since its inception, the original show has grown in popularity across the world with its iconic characters, heartfelt and personal stories, and ever-growing universe. However, in this show, things go a bit further as the multiverse has opened itself up for one more adventure.
Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake follows the journey of the now-recognizable, gender-swapped versions of Finn (Jeremy Shada) and Jake (John DiMaggio): Fionna (Madeleine Martin) and Cake (Roz Ryan) as they journey of self-discovery through their ventures in the multiverse. After accidentally being displaced from their (mostly) normal universe, the duo embark on a wild adventure alongside a disgruntled Simon Petrikov (Tom Kenny). Together, Fionna and Cake must discover who they really are while travelling through familiar worlds, like Farmworld, and new realities as well as running from something that wants to erase their existences.
On a visual level, this show manages to make each and every universe unique including Fionna and Cake’s world, which is structurally bland similarly to ours. Each universe, from a vampiric Ooo to Wish World, has its own colorful stylizations and palettes that strongly support the thematic and universal premises of specific moments and episodes. In addition, due to its TV-14 rating, there’s some liberty taken to show blood and gore that the show takes to emphasize character-driven scenes. Luckily, it doesn’t make the gore its focus aside for a few episodes.
Though showcasing multiple universes at face-value is the norm like The Flash or Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, that isn’t the case in this show. Instead, Fionna, Cake, and Simon actually get to fully indulge themselves with the world around them. There are so many characters that are both original and variations of memorable Adventure Time characters, like Finn and Huntress Wizard, that play their own important roles in the main trio’s journey. This is especially the case in episodes six and seven, which are heavily reliant on exploring Simon as a character. Be it major or minor, the show maintains a good combination of comedy and seriousness thanks to its manageable usage of its side cast.
Besides its visuals, Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake also has a lot of actual songs that are quite catchy and will probably stick with a lot of fans. In the first episode, there’s a song by Zuzu called “Not Myself” (which you might’ve heard in the sneak peek) that got itself pleasantly hooked in my head. Most of the episodes have these character-specific songs that give more depth to the specific episode’s world-building. Hopefully, they’ll make these songs available because they’re all great rhythmically and provide more definition to each universe’s environment.
As the show’s title suggest, there’s a huge focus on Fionna and Cake as they explore the multiverse to discover their true purpose. When the show begins, it throws you straight into a Sailor Moon-inspired action sequence with the duo saving citizens in this dream-like scenario. It creates this impression of the “true” roles they embody in the original show. However, after Fionna wakes up in her messy, unkempt apartment, she can no longer return to her own fantasy. Fionna thinks she knows everything and feels like she’s someone else, but in the grand scheme of things, she really doesn’t.
As for Cake, she’s trying to break free from herself characteristically, but the only thing she can really do is meow, scratch, and run and the third episode charmingly explores this. This show’s curious take on exploring identity and character is certainly enough to feel unique, but there’s also another character who’s also a part of this journey.
Aside from Fionna and Cake, Simon’s role in this show is extremely important as he tries to find a new purpose for himself. No longer cursed by GOLB, Simon’s basically on his own after Marceline (Olivia Olsen) moved with Princess Bubblegum (Hynden Walch) and Betty merged with GOLB in the show’s finale. Even though he wants to lead a peaceful life, most people only remember him as Ice King, a personality that Simon wants to leave behind and forget. Once Fionna and Cake enter his life, Simon gains these almost existential thoughts, leading him to embrace his past and offering a fresh perspective on the show’s central themes. Will Simon be okay with being normal in a completely magical world or does the Ice King give Simon the purpose he’s been looking for? You’ll have to see for yourself.
Intriguingly, there’s also the interesting relationship between Marshall Lee (Donald Glover) and Gary Prince (Andrew Rannells). While I can’t get too deep into spoiler territory, all I can say is that the show mostly saves this storyline as its “best for last.” It doesn’t try to integrate itself into the big overarching story and its personalized focus on Marshall and Gary remained delightfully sincere. I’m very sure that Gary-Marshall fans are gonna be ecstatic with this!
These characters and this overarching multiversal story all root deeply in this idea of discovering who you really are and embracing who you want to be. The creators beautifully display this thematic message through each episode, especially because they have insight into why this is more complex than just your usual multiverse story. People find themselves in positions where they have limited control, and they somewhat lose their freedom of expression. Through Fionna and Cake, it showcases how freedom of expression and self-realization is important in the overall picture of self-discovery as Fionna, Cake, and Simon venture to save themselves. It’s a universal message that hits a little close to home and the show is emotionally mature enough to hold to its investment.
Though this show is great overall, there are some caveats that hold this show back. Sadly, it mostly has to do with its main antagonist, aptly named Scarab (Kayleigh McKee) (in no relation to Blue Beetle.) He’s threatening to be sure, but there’s only a few moments in the show where he’s developing his egotistical character or providing comedy. It’s mostly done in scenes where he’s present or through exposition. Outside of this, he’s mostly your usual assassin/bounty hunter-type bad guy who’s there to catch the good guys. In addition, Prismo (Sean Rohani), while another interesting character to explore, is mostly relegated to a few episodes for exposition and occasional flaunting. He provides a lot of the comedy in the fourth episode, but he sticks to these two traits throughout most the show. Fortunately, these are the only problems I had, but this season was great nonetheless!
Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake is a wonderfully charming spin-off that remains faithful to the original show with a mature thematic message that’s bound to resonate with fans old and new. Though Pendleton Ward has taken a step back, Adam Muto‘s approach to the franchise adds a mostly subtle, yet endearing touch similarly to the later seasons of the original show. With Fionna and Cake taking huge steps forward in their own show, I have a strong feeling that this series will return in the future.
Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake releases on Max on August 31.