Review: If you’re worried about missing ‘Adventure Time,’ ‘Summer Camp Island’ will help
If you have not made plans for the weekend, you might consider watching and rewatching the 20 episodes of Cartoon Network’s new “Summer Camp Island” taking over the channel in a two-day marathon starting Saturday morning. (They will also show on Boomerang, the network’s premium cousin.)
It is, I admit, inimical to the spirit of a show called “Summer Camp Island” to sit inside all weekend, and you will of course rob yourself of future surprise, as when you eat the whole pint of ice cream at a single sitting, not that I have ever done that. But the series is smart and charming oddball fun, morally improving in a sideways way, and it is supposed to be very hot this weekend.
It is perhaps not entirely coincidental that this big rollout precedes the big roll-up of the network’s “Adventure Time,” a landmark of 21st century television — there is no irony in that statement, doubter — whose eight-year saga comes to a close next month.
The new series shares certain aesthetic and temperamental characteristics with the earlier series, as well as creative personnel: “Summer Camp Island” creator Julia Pott was a late-period “Adventure Time” staff writer; storyboard artist Seo Kim designed the new show’s opening credits, as well as writing and singing its theme song, very much in the naive “Adventure Time” tradition; and writers and storyboard artists Jack Pendarvis, Steve Wolfhard and Kent Osborne, pillars of the departing series, have followed Pott to her new project.
While “Summer Camp Island” creates its own world and rules, the look and feel of the series — with its mix of the ordinary and the uncanny, its generous apportioning of sentience, its thin line and rubbery animation, its propensity to burst briefly into song — is suggestive enough of “Adventure Time” to be … just suggestive enough of “Adventure Time.” In form and content it provides at least a shadow of continuity between the shows, and the coming of the one may ease a little of the pain of losing the other.
Appropriately, then, separation anxiety is the theme of the opening episode.
We are in a world of talking animals. (And no people — the animals are the people, essentially, as in a Mickey Mouse cartoon.) Oscar, a young elephant (Elliott Smith), and his best friend Hedgehog, a girl hedgehog (Oona Laurence), are starting their first day of camp. Oscar is an anxious young elephant, fearful of being without his folks for the first time, but taking some comfort in the presence of Hedgehog and what he expects will be a summer of simple, regulated, “normal” pleasures — “canoeing, making potholders for your best friends, holding pots with your best friends.”
Those expectations are atomized the minute the parents depart.
“You thought you were gong to a normal summer camp,” says head counselor Susie (voiced by Pott herself), who turns out, like the other counselors, to be a witch. “This is a magical camp, you can do whatever you want here. Don’t come crying to me with your dumb baby problems because I am not your mum. I’m the prettiest girl who ever talked to you.”
There are monsters in various shapes and sizes and colors and one imagines textures, of a generally sweet disposition who fear the witches as “teenagers with magical powers — they can’t be trusted.” Most anything might come alive, from a door to a banana (slipping on its own peel), from a dollar bill (crying “My value!” when it is torn in half) to the pair of pajamas Oscar brought from home (Naomi Hansen, age 5). The sun (Melanie Lynskey) and the moon (Cedric the Entertainer) have their say.
Hedgehog, who was not looking forward to the summer, wakes up. And Oscar’s anxiety will not survive the opening episode, apart from the introduction of a cooler kid, Max (a badger played by Ramone Hamilton), who will make his relationship with Hedgehog uneasily triangular, like a pre-adolescent “Jules and Jim.”
Pott’s independent animations, some of which contain the seeds of characters seen here, are not for kids: Visually intricate and sometimes a little “off,” closer in tone to the recent last season of “Twin Peaks” than anything you are liable to see on a Saturday morning, they can be melancholy and haunting — it’s not hard to see why “Adventure Time” took her on. (You can find a selection of her work, including award-winning short films, music videos and ads, at www.juliapott.com.) As tamed and made practical for a television series, the drawing maintains a slightly wobbly, handmade look, while pushing Pott’s native style through a filter of Richard Scarry.
Incidental delights and details: Fortune Feimster as a monster who wants to “get all up in” Oscar’s personal space; Alfred Molina as a monster under Hedgehog’s bed (he also plays Oscar’s father); Richard Kind is a shark with poetically comforting words (“I think what you’re experiencing is newness, not the strangeness of the world”); and the fact that Oscar’s mother (Kathleen Wilhoite) has tagged a box of sweets, “For my bubeleh.” That bit of Yiddish is as magical in its way as anything else to be found on “Summer Camp Island.”
‘Summer Camp Island’
Where: Cartoon Network
When: 6 to 11 a.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-G (suitable for all ages)
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