Adventure Time Monsters!
Written by Jonathan Wojcik 3/25/2013
Since its premiere as a proper series on Cartoon Network, Pendleton Ward's Adventure Time has rapidly become one of the most rabidly successful cartoons to come out of America in nearly two decades, and in my book, rightfully so. It's as alternately funny, bizarre and touching as you could ask for, it's pleasant to look at, it's socially progressive in ways much more serious websites have already explained in excrutiating detail, and of course, its post apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy setting enables a limitless variety of stories and characters - including some of the most inventive creature designs to grace television since Courage.
Every time I nearly started on an Adventure Time monster list, another episode would premiere with something else I wanted to squeeze in, and chances are good that this page will just have to keep expanding as long as the series keeps getting renewed. These are, of course, only going to be some of my personal favorites of note in no particular order; if I were aiming for completeness, we would have a multi-page archive on our hands, but feel free to discuss other creatures in the comments!
A great deal of Adventure Time's setting draws inspiration from fantasy role-playing games, and this was the first episode to really drive that home, with a string of monsters lifted almost straight from Dungeons and Dragons. Many gaming worlds offer their own take on the shape-shifting "mimic," usually disguised as a treasure chest, but Adventure Time's bug-eyed, babbling, treasure-vomiting example is at once one of the coolest and funniest I've seen in quite some time.
Though referred to by Finn as a mere "trap," this living dungeon floor is a dead ringer for the Trapper, a flesh-eating monster from the original AD&D Monster Manual. Phased out of the actual game, it's nice to see one of my old favorites get a television role even this minor. Whatever pays the bills!
The adorable Jelly Cube, meanwhile, differs only from D&D's iconic Gelatinous Cube by name and the delightful presence of free-floating, tentacled eyeballs. Of course, nothing says those really have to be the Jelly Cube's eyes. For all we know, they could just be a pair of cute little eye creatures who happen to take up parasitic residence in dungeon-dwelling oozes, perhaps alerting their symbiont to dangers it would otherwise never detect. Feel free to stat that up, guys!
The "cat" monster is a little more vague of a reference, but likely inspired by D&D's Displacer Beasts, tentacled felines who always appear nearer or farther than they actually are. In a humorous but still rather frightening reversal, this monstrosity boasts the power of supernaturally "approximate" knowledge. It almost knows where you are, and can nearly guess your correct name! Its secondary kitten-tongue, missing limb segments and worm-like tendrils lend to a pretty disturbing design for a cartoon feline.
Just when Finn is maybe almost about to get pounced and eviscerated in a second encounter with cat-thing, a "guardian angel" shows up to carry him away to freedom. Or so it seems!
I love a cartoon with deliberate, well timed nightmare fuel, and the reveal of the "angel's" crypt-keeper face is a great moment.
Horror quickly gives way to morbid hilarity, as the "angel" begins preparing her "little boy soup," an integral part of which entails playing the xylophone in a chef's hat. You would know this if you've ever prepared the dish at home. She's right about the low, slow flame.
The very last thing to talk about from "Dungeon," these flying, flaming demonic eyeballs are kept contained in a tremendous bottle plugged by a magical diamond, the entire surrounding Dungeon actually set up as a part of their prison. We never learn much more about them, but it's left to Princess Bubblegum and her flying, beam-throwing swan to round them back up after Finn lets them out. I like how expressive they are when she shows up and starts blasting. Such a nice variety of eyeballs, too!
Episode: "Tree Trunks"
The Flesh Wall is one of several interesting foes Finn and Jake encounter while escorting a tiny elephant named Tree Trunks through the Evil Forest for apple pie ingredients, because why not? I've seen living, fleshy wall creatures in a number of fantasy games, but seldom with such personality. Tree Trunks thinks she can calm the putty-like beast by putting stickers on it, which is a pretty natural assumption to make, but her lenticular "unicorn" sticker, lacking an actual horn, seems to confuse and enrage the poor thing.
Episode: "Tree Trunks"
Another beast of the Evil Forest, this attractive fiend seems to be some colonial mass of squishy, slimy serpents in the shape of a huge brain, though apparently only alive so long as the conveniently huge "magic gem weak spot" on its back is left intact, video game style. On encountering what she identifies as a "tentacle critter," Tree Trunks thinks the best course of action is to "seduce" it with her feminine wiles. She's awfully casual about it...has she done it before?
When Finn becomes the unwitting minion of Marceline, the Vampire Queen, he's ordered to perform of tasks that appear at first to be pointlessly malicious, until it turns out that Marceline is a fairly decent undead demonspawn. Perhaps his harshest lesson comes when he refuses to destroy the adorable "dimple plant," worked over by its happy little smile.
As it turns out, however, a Dimple Plant left unchecked will instantaneously grow an immense, ambulatory, predatory root structure, leaving us to wonder why anyone but me would ever put it in a flowerpot and bring it into their home. I love the multi-mouthed, asymmetrical central tuber, like a giant ginseng root or a deformed potato.
Episode: "Dad's Dungeon"
This lumpy, hairy, dripping globule, with a cute little vertical mouth and a daisy on its head, guards one of two paths in a dungeon set up by Finn and Jake's late father to house the family sword. Our heroes opt to take another route because this poor little guy is "super gross," initially hurting the monster's feelings until they assure him that they're just his "bros" being "real" with him, which cheers him up again. I'm glad his saga had a happy ending.
Episode: "Dad's Dungeon"
These cuties seem like a deliberate effort to one-up the horror of the "guardian angel" from our previous dungeon-themed episode, and they do a spectacular job. Presiding over a lavish smorgasbord of fresh fruit, persistently urging intruders to have at least one bite. We find out why when Jake forces one to try one of their own apples...
Bursting with vines, the hapless nymph is instantly transformed into a gigantic apple herself, at which point her fellow witches ghoulishly lose all control and begin feeding their former sister - chunk by chunk - to the leech like symbionts atop their heads. The apple's dark, meaty interior and tangled bones are the icing on the surreal, horrific cake.
Aren't those little things just precious, though? Perhaps they're even the "true" bodies of the fruit witches, since the women themselves don't actually eat.
Episode: "Dad's Dungeon"
The final boss of Dad's Dungeon, this crystal-eyed creature never stops laughing and laughing with a devilish glee, and without a screenshot to dwell on, it's easy to miss how its body just keeps on going into the surrounding darkness!
Insanely weird even by Adventure Time standards, these oozing, pitch black horrors dwell exclusively within inflatable toys, drifting innocently in an ancient sewer until agitated or merely hungry. No two are exactly alike, and we'll probably never know how a bunch of pool floaties came to be the vessels for flesh-eating shadows.
Lub-glubs seem to be the (un)natural predators of the Hyoomans, a tribe of sewer-dwelling fish-people, and we're offered a lovely glimpse of one gnawing on what looks like a partially fleshed head, imagery I'm glad we finally get to see on Cartoon Network.
The master of all lub glubs appears to be a conglomerate of many individuals, including several different pool toys, dotted with rings of teeth! These damn things probably fascinate me more than anything else in the show. Why pool floaties? I don't honestly want to know. The beauty is in the mystery.
Episode: "Return to the Nightosphere"
The hellish Nightosphere dimension is inhabited by a lot of neat demons, including Marceline's soul-eating father, but the most interesting are probably these bisected behemoths, one of whom assures Finn and Jake that its insides are habitable and they will not be digested. Who wouldn't trust a face like that?
Episode: "Vault of Bones"
Of all the monsters I'll be featuring here, these lovable ghouls could possibly be my favorites. Animate skeletons are endearing enough on their own, but these skeletons clamber along walls and ceilings, spit streams of green slime to reel in and cocoon their prey in a spider-like fashion, and apparently strap various sharp implements and tools to their highly variable skulls in a rather Boschian fashion. I particularly love the cute bird-head with the golf club, and the terrifying beast-skulled specimen with an egg beater.
The largest and presumably highest-ranking goo skull, of course, is adorned with a whole collection of chainsaws, apparently for nothing more than decoration, though they're all seen running. Do the other goo skulls rev them up? Where do they get the fuel? And could this in fact be the "queen?" Are goo skulls eusocial? Oh, to be a field biologist in the land of Ooo...
Episode: "Simon & Marcy"
I won't ruin anything else about this heartwarming episode, but it features another mysterious race of slime-spewers, and whatever the production crew calls these eerie, moaning mutants, I'm going to call them Ooze-its because that's almost definitely what inspired them:
This beautiful bastard was a bit of a cult hit in the late 70's and early 80's, an era many of Adventure Time's creators were born in, and we've certainly seen more obscure references.
There's really no mistaking the way goop gets pushed out of this one. That is the unique goop-squeezing of an Ooze-it or I'll give you back every dollar you paid to read this.
I wouldn't have thought so myself, but pursuit by a ravenous horde of Ooze-its seems surprisingly terrifying. I guess it's another dream I can cross off the bucket list.
Episode: "Beyond this Earthly Realm"
In this rather Lovecraftian tale, Finn finds himself trapped in the spirit realm, surrounded by surreal beings visible only to the wizard eyes of his least favorite person, the Ice King. As you can see, the spirits come in myriad shapes, each more fun than the last!
If I tried to show all of these guys, this would drag on even worse than it already has. I really like that box thing with the creepy teeth. There's shades of Yume Nikki in many of these.
Check out that giant tick spirit! That thing with all the teeth is also just horrific!
The miserably lonely Ice King thinks this one is a "real cutie," but reassures the disturbed Finn that he can't touch any of them. How he hates them.
One of the most darling little things in this whole series has got to be the rolling, hopping, burbling eyeball that apparently always watched the Ice King in the bathroom. Counting on the wizard to get him back to the material plane, Finn is suckered into clearing out all these supernatural freeloaders.
The last spirit left in Ice King's castle is, according to him, the very worst one of all..."The Dead One." Not this flopping, crawling, babbling "gross head," but something that leaves these lying everywhere. It's as wonderful as it sounds.
The "Dead One" itself is a gooey, eyeless, loping thing straight out of Silent Hill, adorably puking up its "gross heads" like massive wads of phlegm.
How freaking great is this thing? So far, there's just about only one thing in the show that I find any greater, and we'll get to it pretty soon.
Episode: "All Your Fault"
Quick recap for non-fans: one of Adventure Time's most prominent locales is the Candy Kingdom, a land of living gumdrops, peppermints, marshmallows and all things sugary ruled by and presumably created by Princess Bubblegum. One of her earliest creations, however, came out...different. The screeching, antisocial Earl of Lemongrab was so insufferable, he was cast out of candy society, forming his own "Lemon Kingdom" where he ruled alone for many years. Taking pity on her failed creation, Bubblegum created a second Earl to keep him company, and later provided them with enough "candy seeds" to grow enough food.
Unfortunately - or fortunately, for us viewers - the Lemongrabs stumbled upon the secret to turning candy seeds into candy people, and at the cost of a food supply, populated their kingdom with offspring of their own! What could go wrong?
Nothing, obviously. The Lemon Children came out beautiful.
By far some of the most appealing characters ever put to animation.
I feel like the baby from Eraserhead would fit in well in the Lemon Kingdom.
The AT crew knows exactly how to delight children for generations to come.