A narrative, as defined by Bordwell and Thompson, is “a chain of events linked by cause and effect, occurring in time and space” (Film Art: An Introduction, 73). However, narrative in film always has a form, usually a definite beginning and a definite end. The most common of which is the three-act-structure, where the equilibrium of the status quo shifts into disequilibrium by a specific catalyst, which is then brought back into equilibrium by a new status quo.
The Adventure Time episode ‘Jake the Brick’ is a salient example of the three-act structure. Jake the dog, observing from an objective perspective (one that allows him no agency over the story), broadcasts his observations across the Land of Ooo. He observes the initial equilibrium of the bunny existing safely in his/her burrow. A ravenous deer, a cataclysmic thunderstorm, as well as a more destructive encounter with the deer disturb the equilibrium. The equilibrium is then restored, when the bunny, rather resourcefully, locates a new home inside the trunk of a fallen tree leftover after the devastation.
What begins as a simple story about a shape-shifting dog living out a day in the life of a brick experiencing the collapse of its shack, almost unconsciously (the transitions are only made poignant by the synchronous score of highlighting chimes, pings, and soothing synth), distills into a ‘War of the Worlds’-esque spectacle of Orson Welles proportions. The main mode of narration is purely subjective in and through Jake’s interpretations of the subplot as broadcasted over a walkie-talkie, which itself is broadcasted all over Ooo, reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Radio Days. Secondary to this is an emphasis on an emotional score, which underlines the overall plot involving Finn and Jake. What then makes this episode cinematic, why have the visual components at all, and why does this distinctly conventional narrative structuring ‘feel’ particularly peculiar?
As mentioned above, the overall narrative of ‘Finn and Jake’ brackets the story. It is expected of the viewer a certain investment into the characters by this point in the series (Season 6, Episode 20). It is the inconsistency in the narrative dimensions of the series that accentuate Adventure Time’s overall framework. By presenting the viewer with a conventional plot structure, a completely inconsequential story (relative to the overall series), and a dynamic interplay between the diegesis of the sub story and the true diegesis of Adventure Time, it is only upon this holistic stylistic and narrative framework that one is able to acknowledge the dissonance of this episode.
Akin to Black Mirror’s (a British Surrealist series depicting a new dystopian reality every episode, with the goal of social/political commentary; 2011) constantly shifting realities, or Radio Days’ (1987) frequently shifting plot perspectives and vignettes, Adventure Time employs similar stylistic and narrative strategies veering in and out of the conscious and unconscious, the subjective and objective, unity and disunity, with the goal of a clear focus on the emotional over the plausible.
See episodes: BMO Noire (Season 4 Episode 17), Five More Short Graybles (Season 5 Episode 3), BMO Lost (Season 5 Episode 17), and Princess Potluck (Season 5 Episode 18) for a better illustration of Adventure Time’s changing stylistic and narrative approaches (pay particular attention to the connections between S4E17 and S5E18.