„I can only be with someone who is my equal in every way.“
The day I learnt the Adventure Time mythology includes gender-swapped versions of all the protagonists, I came to understand that this show strives for actual greatness. „The Prince Who Wanted Everything“ is only the 3rd episode that features Fionna and Cake as their protagonists; but while the concept is still novel and interesting, the newest episode in Adventure Time’s alternate universe is a little lackluster.
Lumpy Space Prince feels oppressed by his parents and flees to earth. There, he antagonizes Fionna and Cake, yet Fionna is charmed by the prince‘ good looks and charming personality…
Spoilers from here onwards.
The joy of character designs.
There are a lot of layers to the gender-swapped version of Ooo. For one, there is a lot of fun to be had by just looking at the gender-swapped designs of the characters we are familiar with, and while the previous installments „Fionna and Cake“ and „Bad Little Boy“ introduced a lot of new characters by necessity, „The Prince Who Wanted Everything“ puts in extra work to show off some new characters in brief cameos – not necessarily in an organic way, unfortunately. Notice, for instance, how lazily the episode integrates Flame Prince, Marshall Lee (in the sunlight?) and Prince Gumball into the storyline, neither giving them a proper introduction nor send-off. Characters such as the gender-swapped candy people or Magic Woman look just as out of place during the flight-montage, which incidentally also features one of the show’s least inspired songs. In Fionna and Cake episodes, the show has a lot to live up to – „The Prince Who Wanted Everything“ feels like the show is trying too hard.
Some of the episode’s faults have more to do with how this alternate universe was set up in the beginning. Thanks to the casting of such well-known (and busy) artists such as Neil Patrick Harris or Donald Glover, for example, Adventure Time is pretty much unable to just throw in a „thank you“ from the princes after Fionna rescues them, instead having to resort to just send them off, cheering in unison. It also means the show has to write around the potential unavailability of certain characters (though the LSP-focused episode may not have needed that). Another consequence is that the show will never be able to merge the two universes seamlessly – which may be a blessing, but is certainly a constriction the show has to work with.
I am not saying that the two worlds should merge – after all, this would mean an incredibly big shift in the way Adventure Time is set up. I couldn’t imagine Fionna and Cake not wanting to live in the tree house with Finn and Jake, for instance, and the same is basically true for every other character as well, making constant interactions inevitable. Then again, Adventure Time has never shied away from shifting its character constellations, and I think a merge – not necessarily a permanent one – would be one hell of an interesting development that could fuel dozens of interesting new episodes. It will probably never happen (even though the show keeps teasing it – but I knew the countdown at the end of „The Prince Who Wanted Everything“ would just end up be some random creature), but it is certainly interesting to think about all the implications a portal between the two worlds would mean. Yes, I’m aware Fionna and Cake is just fan fiction in the show, but the show has pulled off crazier things than turning fictional characters into reality.
When I think of Adventure Time’s „Fionna and Cake“ episode, I still cackle at the twist of this alternate universe literally being a fan fiction, when in fact the whole thing got going thanks to real-life fan fiction. Fortunately, Adventure Time uses this meta-humor not as a one-of joke, but instead makes it the narrative engine for Fionna and Cake episodes. „The Prince Who Wanted Everything“ is more than just a look at what gender-swapped versions of all the characters look and act like, it is also an exploration of what Lumpy Space Princess (or the respective storyteller) thinks of herself and wants herself to be like. The characterization of Lumpy Space Prince veers between too subtle and too on the nose, which turns the episode into a fun and challenging exercise in the art of character studies.
It already starts out with the choice of Lumpy Space Prince‘ voice. LSP is notorious for being voiced by a man (Pendleton Ward, the show’s creator) in a grumpy and exaggerated manner, and the choice of using an arguably beautiful (or at least stylized) male voice in the alternate universe is an interesting one – particularly after the Ice King starts off with LSP’s normal voice. It tells us that the Ice King is aware of how male LSP sounds, whereas LSP remains unaware – instead presuming to have the feminine equivalent of the Prince’s sophisticated voice.
LSP“s alternate version is a funny yet tragic counterpoint to LSP. For instance, the oddly expressive eyes of Lumpy Space Prince is both a romanticized way to tell the story as well as LSP’s belief that she does indeed look as expressive. Understandably, though – who hasn’t held it against people to not have realized one’s actual emotions? Then again, I also noticed the bee swarm LSP stumbles into after travelling through the hilarious frog portal – the perfectly positioned bees seemingly just wait for Lumpy Space Princess, showing how she thinks the whole world is operating against her, lamenting her luck. Just as interesting (and actually somewhat hilarious) are LSP’s presumptions that her alter ego would read mind-bending books (Siegmund Freud!), befriend and become popular with Fionna and Cake, help them thwart their foes and eventually become the one to best the enemies. Of course, though, Lumpy Space Princess remains just as ignorant as LSP during the span of the episode, since LSP is entirely unaware of her own ignorance.
What also features very prominently is LSP’s strained relationship with her parents, which is shown by having Lumpy Space Prince‘ parents be literal monsters. While the real Lumpy Space Princess is still camping in the woods and living a life as a hobo, at least her alternate version has the courage to stand up and eventually defeat her ill-meaning parents – albeit in ways that resemble reality only in fragments. For instance, Lumpy Space Princess envisions herself to be altruistic in nature, but offering golden sandwiches to the peasants turns out to be an act of ignorance – as Fionna reminds her, people can’t eat gold. Also noteworthy is the discrepancy between how the animals immediately turn out to be obedient and seemingly very skilled subordinates (they manage to kidnap several princes) – all of this being pure wish fulfillment on Lumpy Space Princess‘ part. Just as fake is the animals‘ actual behavior when they hear the Prince address them. LSP shows her ignorance not only by having Lumpy Space Prince be inexplicably popular among the animals, but also by the failure to show them any kind respect, e.g. by respecting their free will and personality, in the first place.
LSP’s unique vision.
Lumpy Space Prince‘ popularity is only one of many clues that show how the story of the Prince who Wanted Everything is not quite a coherent story, but is at all times infused with LSP’s wish to see a world go her way, but also by LSP’s lack of storytelling expertise – a typical mistake, for instance, is to call a character by their name without having to gotten known it beforehand, as Cake correctly points out. It also happens when the Ice King misinterprets Fionna’s line of „I don’t care about your clothes“ – he does so because LSP’s characterization of Fionna does not entirely correspond to the one we have seen before (i.e. that he conceived of), and there is no evident reason why she should trust Lumpy Space Prince after just having thwarted his plans to enslave the princes. The inconsistencies are of no matter to LSP – she emphasizes plot, corrects the Ice King and makes the story move forward – the turning point of the story.
The episode loses even more semblances to reality when Fionna seemingly and uncharacteristically falls in love with Lumpy Space Prince, with LSP making up some random (and, of course, selfish) excuse why her alter ego cannot engage in a relationship. „Finally someone who is not impressed with my noble looks!“, Lumpy Space Prince shallowly exclaims when they meet, once again displaying LSP’s ignorance. LSP projects her admiration of Finn’s simple lifestyle onto her story, but when she goes to praise and emulate it, she has Lumpy Space Prince cluelessly insult it at the same time.
Unfortunately, the story is just a little too occupied with all of the above to provide a compelling conclusion. „The only way to defeat parental disapproval is not caring about anything“ is just such a bland ending, including the Sailor Moon-esque use of a magic device to defeat Lumpy Space Prince‘ parents. Of course, this is by design in order to reflect LSP’s somewhat poor storytelling techniques, just like the bland „I’m free“-song shows LSP’s inability to write a compelling and memorable song, but all of this also results in a less compelling episode as a whole. Still, just by virtue of taking place in the alternate universe and inverting much of what we know about Adventure Time’s characters, „The Prince Who Wanted Everything“ is a welcome entry in the show’s episode roster.
Even more bla:
– „And sharpen your teeth!“ Ugh, with a file! Stuff like that causes me nightmares…
– While LSP is a somewhat poor storyteller, it goes to show that the Ice King is actually a pretty good one.
– The episode’s funniest bit: Cake slapping the bunny, and Fionna punching away attacking (or innocent) birds.
– Fionna has a cool sword!
– Interesting: the painting in the tree house that depicts a naked woman, torn down just at the right parts, exists in the gender-swapped universe as well. Is the show saying that idealizing naked women as the epitome of beauty is not sexist?
– I cannot quite wrap my head around the episode’s title, which is taken from the title LSP gives to her fan fiction.
– I found LSP’s and Ice King’s initial conversation to be rather touching and poignant. When Lumpy Space accuses the Ice King of his wrong-doings („You’re so weird, and old, and you kidnap princesses.“), all he can come up with as an answer is a guilt-ridden, sad, but can’t-help-himself „Yes“.
Rating: 7,5 out of 10 stars.
„The Prince Who Wanted Everything“ is a little undercooked and one-note in the depiction of the gender-switched version of Lumpy Space Princess, but still provides a fascinating window into both the character of LSP and the gender-swapped world of Fionna and Cake, both of which prove to be quite fascinating.