Adventure Timefoodchain

“Food Chain”

Directed by Masaaki Yuasa
Cartoon Network

“Hey, have you noticed we’re birds now?”

Written, storyboard, and directed by guest animator Masaaki Yuasa (Samurai Champloo, Ping Pong, and Kick-Heart, which aired on Cartoon Network last winter), “Food Chain” is an especially weird episode of Adventure Time, a show all about weird. This is the second episode, following last season’s episode “A Glitch is a Glitch” directed by David O’Reilly, to completely hand over creative control to a guest animator, and Yuasa’s results are spectacular. When many children’s cartoons are content to be formulaic and repetitive, it’s refreshing to see Adventure Time, now in its sixth season, continually reinventing itself.

The episode opens at the Candy Kingdom’s Museum of Natural History, with adorable candy children playing in an elaborate obstacle course depicting the food chain (“Let’s try to be eaten!” says the helpful sign). The animation is immediately kinetic, colorful, and joyful–a visual sugar rush–but there’s an educational center. Princess Bubblegum gives a presentation depicting the life cycles of flowers, caterpillars, birds, and bacteria, but our hero Finn, the typical sulky teenager at a museum, is unimpressed. Enter Magic Man, who transforms Finn and Jake into birds, bacteria, flowers, and caterpillars, sending them on a new mystical journey down the food chain.

Like “A Glitch is a Glitch,” this episode is a self-contained, continuity-free adventure, so viewers expecting more information about Finn’s father or the curse of the grass sword may be disappointed. But “Food Chain” does continue the ongoing plot thread of Finn’s complicated love life. At the museum, Finn is unimpressed by the dioramas depicting a caterpillar family–mother, father, etc., but when he’s turned into a caterpillar, he falls for a pretty pink caterpillar named Erin (Minty Lewis, aka Regular Show‘s Eileen). They quickly marry, but a bird attacks the wedding–circle of life, yo!–and Erin gets the best line of the episode: “When we’re bacteria, I might see other people.” For those keeping track, Finn’s love interests are a princess made of fire, a sentient pillow, a queen bee, and a caterpillar. Love is weird.

Masaaki Yuasa is a perfect fit for Adventure Time’s energy and humor, and “Food Chain” is both surreal and scatological. But it’s not weird for weirdness’s sake–it’s a story about nature, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this episode starts airing in classrooms. The soundtrack is also on point, linking Music Man’s transformations with the aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute and ending with an original song by Finn as he reaches enlightenment about the food chain. It’s an exuberant episode that celebrates life in all its caterpillar-eating weirdness, and another successful Adventure Time experiment.