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The “Adventure Time” Film May Be Too Little, Too Late

The "Adventure Time" Film May Be Too Little, Too Late

Deadline
says
that Cartoon Network
juggernaut Adventure Time
is headed to the
big screen. It’s not
the first series from
the network for do
so, but has the
studio learned from the harsh lessons of 13
years ago?

Despite a lowly start as a mere broadcast outlet for the
hundreds of Hanna-Barbera shows that Ted Turner had acquired, Cartoon Network
successfully managed to establish itself with innovative and exciting original
content. Their first big hit was Craig McCracken’s Powerpuff Girls, and it
became the network’s first bone fide phenomenon.

Unfortunately the network was unprepared by the success they
were suddenly saddled with, and they struggled to capitalise on the show’s
runaway fame. In the true spirit of a fad, the show’s mainstream popularity
came and went relatively quickly; but not before a feature film (The Powerpuff
Girls Movie)
  was produced and released in 2002. By then the show was definitely
on the wane and the $11 million film brought in a paltry $16 million;
worldwide, by the way.

Which makes it all the more interesting why the network is
willing to try again with Adventure Time. The good news is that Cartoon Network
is a much more competent outfit this time around; thanks partly to the painful
experience with the Powerpuff Girls, but also partly because of greater
experience with managing hit properties. The bad news is that just because they
learned some lessons from the last time, doesn’t mean that they’ve learned
enough to avoid mistakes this time.

The first concern is: why now? The show remains popular and
does a decent job of acting as a halo show for the rest of the network’s
lineup, so it seems natural to give it the big screen treatment and bestow on
it that extra sheen that only comes from a theatrical release. Yet if there is
one thing that anyone who is reading this ought to be aware of, it’s that
animated films are not made in a day. The Deadline article makes no mention of
dates, but two years from now does not seem like an unreasonable estimate.

Will Adventure Time still be a hit in two years? It’s not
going to fall of the face of the earth, but audiences are fickle. Given that
the show already has 6 seasons under its belt and is on a kid-oriented network,
it’s dubious at best to say that it will be as popular in 2017 as it is today.
I hope I’m proved wrong, but even The Simpsons – the very best of the best –
only really made it to 10 seasons, and that was with a mostly adult audience!
Adventure Time doesn’t have that luxury, will likely have at least another two
seasons under its belt before a feature is released.

Which highlights the second question: has Adventure Time
already peaked? A big-screen adventure is always the final frontier for
animated shows. The vast majority never even make it that far and many only get
to 65 episodes; the threshold for syndication in the US. A theatrical release
lends a degree of gravitas and respect to a show that cannot be had any other
way. Kids love it because the cinema is an event for them; network executives
love it because the potential for profit is unlimited.

A cinematic feature can indeed do all those things, but it
can also prop up ailing shows too; and that’s the concern with Adventure Time.
A theatrical release has long been a reliable trick to stimulate interest in a
show that has started to fade from the public’s view. They can help
reinvigorate a show in oh so many ways; from attracting new fans, to opening up
new merchandising opportunities hitherto unseen, and yes, by giving it a
special place in many fans’ hearts by telling a longer story. There’s no
doubting that the complex, layered characters and storytelling of Adventure Time
have been crying out for opportunities to shine, and a film may well be the
most suitable format to do them justice. But many have been down the same path
before, and there is a degree of guilt-by-association to be had by following in
their footsteps. 

That said, I am cautious in welcoming the news; knowing what
happened previously, and because the fall can sometimes be quick and
precipitous. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic managed to cultivate a
similarly large, diverse, and active fanbase. Yet nobody can deny that it’s
star is fading as I write this post merely a few years after it all began.

The euphoria of an Adventure Time feature film that is
evident today, may not be around when it finally makes it to your local picture
house in a couple of years. Features need to strike when the iron is still hot.
The Powerpuff Girls unfortunately missed the mark, and opened to a whimper.
Adventure Time shouldn’t be afforded a similar fate.

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