The cat’s in the box

Adventure Time – “Box Prince”

With the exception of “Time Sandwich,” which was ostensibly Jake-centric, every episode of Adventure Time since “Frost & Fire” has dealt with the fallout from Finn’s breakup with Flame Princess. The breakup has been difficult on Finn, and without a real guide to help him through it, the messy melodrama has creeped into every aspect of his life, culminating in Finn’s desire to never leave the titular Dungeon Train from last week. But it seems Finn has come to terms with this latest lesson in adolescence, as “Box Prince” finds both he and Jake in small, relaxed stories, perfect for a couple of bros who’ve been through a lot lately.

As Jake settles comfortably into middle-age, his desire for on-the-dime adventuring has waned immensely, while Finn still finds the exciting in the mundane. It’s not hard to imagine Finn standing by the window the entire length of the storm, just waiting for it pass while Jake plays Pro Football 1861. And when it finally does, he just wants to go outside and play. This isn’t the Finn of late, desperate for adventures to stave off his feelings about the breakup, or getting roped into the complicated schemes of the older people in his life. This is closer to seasons one and two Finn, a kid just trying to have some fun. And if he can help someone in need in the process, all the better.

So it is that Finn meets (or rather, finds) Box Prince. The Land of Ooo is full of bizarre denizens, but Box Prince and his constituents might be some of the strangest yet: they’re just cats who walk around wearing cardboard boxes with faces drawn on them. The cats don’t speak English, though they do seem to understand it, and the facial expressions on their boxes do change from shot to shot, though never while they’re on screen. It’s that slightest twist on the mundane that makes the Box People so unique, and the true nature of their being is left a mystery. Are the cats the true Box People, or are the cats just vessels for the boxes, or is it a symbiotic relationship between box and cat? Even Ooo’s most outrageous beings make sense, usually because they’re able to explain their existence. The Box People’s inability to express themselves through understandable speech sets them apart in a way that only becomes more unsettling the more you think about it. The fact that their existence is oddly reminiscent of Schrödinger’s Cat only adds to their creepiness.

But that’s a self-made rabbit hole, as the actual Box Kingdom isn’t creepy at all, just really laid back for the most part. In fact, it mostly resembles the kind of cat play houses you see in the homes of cat lovers, made of cardboard boxes, and its citizens don’t seem to really care that their ruler is an imposter, though once Finn makes the accusation and reattaches Box Prince’s crown, the imposter Prince challenges the rightful Prince to a joust. It’s here that the logistics of the Box Kingdom really break down, the entire kingdom breaking out in a massive catfight, and when Finn grabs a spray battle and squirts both Princes with water to stop them from fighting, even he has to ask, “Is this a real kingdom?” (More shades of Schrödinger’s?) But it doesn’t matter, as the cats just want to play in end, and for Finn, it’s a mission accomplished.

Ever since the birth of his pups, and maybe even before, Jake has been dialing back the amount of action he sees, both for the sake of his pups and Lady, and because middle-age is making it much easier to give in to his lazier proclivities. Unless Jake is going on his own business, we usually don’t get to see what he’s up to when he chooses not to join Finn on adventures, but this time, we stick around, and we see the kind of silly boredom buster any 20- and 30-something can relate to. While eating nachos, Jake gets a tiny piece of tortilla stuck in his teeth. BMO suggests he just grow big and let the piece fall out, but Jake rationalizes that he can’t just use his powers to get what he wants all the time, so he must remove the tortilla without them. Of course, this triggers a hilarious series of flashbacks for BMO, recounting many times Jake has used his powers to perform even the most basic of tasks, like getting a glass of water he can’t reach by extending his belly to carry it to him and shrinking between the couch cushions to hide from Finn and avoid taking his vitamins. Jake uses this opportunity to teach BMO about living with life’s problems, and tries various methods to remove it, such as brushing his teeth (but not flossing, because according to Jake, “floss is for losers”) and picking it out with a playing card (but only one that matches his devil-may-care attitude). When he triumphantly confronts BMO, ta-da and all, at the end of the episode, he reveals that he never removed the piece of tortilla, and is leaving it in as “a constant reminder of what life’s all about,” but BMO is not amused.

By Adventure Time standards, “Box Prince” is a remarkably small and low-key episode. Aside from the denizens of Box Kingdom, the only characters who appear are Finn, Jake, and BMO, and while the joust and its fallout has the action set-piece feel of bigger episodes, it’s really just a facade. After wallowing through Finn’s heartache (a necessary choice, I should add), it’s great to see Adventure Time return to a pleasant, low-stakes episode. “Box Prince” wasn’t astounding by any means, and if the episode had been entirely devoted to Finn’s adventure in the Box Kingdom, I would probably think slightly less of it. The unsettling nature of the Box Kingdom only really hit me as I thought about it post-viewing, but I’m fairly certain that spending an entire episode there would highlight the utter weirdness of the entire biz. But thankfully, Jake’s life lesson for BMO was there to balance things out, especially since we haven’t seen very much of BMO since “Be More.”

It seems Finn’s romantic pinings have taken a back seat for now, which allows Adventure Time to tell these smaller stories freely. It’s a welcome respite, especially in this mega-sized season. I’m sure there are hearts to win and monsters to slay in the future, but for now, Finn and Jake (and even BMO) get a chance to live life with a little less care.

Stray Observations:

  • The intense running animation when Finn runs between Jake and the window was a hilarious gag, as were the tire and tree branch blowing past the tree fort like a couple of tumbleweeds.

  • “There’s a box outside with a face on it!”

  • Pro Football 1861 is much harder than it looks. Trust me.

  • Jake hates cats, which isn’t surprising after his encounters with Me-Mow. When BMO asks, Jake just says, “It’s personal. Cats know what they did.”

  • Finn’s cardboard replica of his bear hat was awesome.

  • “Trial by combat shall prove which prince is true!”

  • The score for this episode was very Sufjan Stevens-esque, especially in the joust scene and the catfight afterward.

  • After Jake reveals that he never got the chip out, BMO exclaims, “This is unsatisfying!” Jake’s response? “Zip it!”

  • Welcome to my Adventure Time recaps! Adventure Time is a show I have a lot of affection for, so hopefully this will be a fun way to channel that love and maybe kick up some bigger conversations about what’s going on within the show.

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