John DiMaggio Didn't Understand Anything About Cartoon Network's Adventure Time

Cartoons can be pretty weird, and the Cartoon Network series "Adventure Time" is definitely one of the weirder ones. It follows a human boy named Finn (Jeremy Shada) and his best friend, a dog with silly putty-like characteristics named Jake (John DiMaggio). Created by Pendleton Ward, the series takes place in the post-apocalyptic, magical land of Ooo, full of princesses and monsters and all kinds of wild adventures for Finn and Jake to get up to. It ran for 10 seasons on Cartoon Network before getting spin-offs, won multiple Emmys, and had a huge cultural impact that even served as the "structural godfather" for Donald Glover's surreal FX series "Atlanta." (Yes, really.)

Back when the series was still in its infancy, however, one of its most important contributors didn't understand "Adventure Time" at all. In an oral history of the series for the LA Times, DiMaggio revealed that he struggled to fully wrap his mind around the unusual world even as he helped make it a part of cartoon TV history. It's a good thing that he took a leap of faith because he's absolutely flawless as the laid-back, smart-alecky Jake, who serves as the perfect counterpart to the eager and occasionally naive Finn.

Some great advice from the voice of SpongeBob

In the oral history, DiMaggio explains that he struggled with his role in the series until he got some advice from some sagely co-stars:

"I was like, 'I don't get this show.' It was non sequitur, it was hard to follow the scripts. I felt I was in the dark about a lot of stuff and uncomfortable as an actor approaching the role. A couple of people kind of clued me in, like, you know, 'Get over yourself, this'll work.' Dee Bradley Baker that's in the show was, like, 'Dude, you've gotta just gear up and do this thing and go home and cry in your bag of money.' And then Tom Kenny said to me, 'This is this generation's "Yellow Submarine"' and I was, like, 'All right, let me let it go and follow that advice.'"

Baker, who voiced numerous characters on the series including Cinnamon Bun and Fight King (and was the voice of Olmec on "Legends of the Hidden Temple"), gave pretty good advice, but Kenny's was better because it helped DiMaggio get past his fears and embrace the show. It's probably advice Kenny, who voices The Ice King on "Adventure Time," probably had to give to folks on his own show, "SpongeBob SquarePants," where he voiced the titular pineapple-dwelling optimist with geometrically-shaped underoos. After all, it was once one of the weirder shows on TV, but the big swings on both "Adventure Time" and "SpongeBob" paid off because kids love weird!

The limitless power of animation

One of the great things about "Adventure Time" is that the show is completely earnest even at its silliest, which makes the absolutely ridiculous world of Ooo feel more relatable. It's kind of funny that DiMaggio had difficulty with "Adventure Time" given that he really broke into voice acting by portraying the booze-guzzling robot Bender on the sci-fi animated series "Futurama," which can also occasionally get very weird. Then again, Kenny's comparing "Adventure Time" to "Yellow Submarine" isn't too far off, because both operate on a similarly dreamlike wavelength, whereas "Futurama" is a little more traditionally linear (when it's not playing with time travel tropes, of course.)

The dreamy storytelling works great for a kids' show because kids don't necessarily need traditional linear storytelling and their imaginations are way, way bigger than adults'. It also appeals to many adults because it's so delightfully, earnestly weird and leans into that weirdness, hearkening back to the days when we played pretend with our friends on the playground. Thank goodness for "Adventure Time" and Kenny's wonderful advice to DiMaggio.