‘Adventure Time: Distant Lands – BMO’ Review: Come Along on a Far-Out New Story

     June 25, 2020

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[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Adventure Time: Distant Lands – BMO.]

When last we saw BMO, the fan-favorite robot was telling Beth and Shermy the tale of the great Gum War some 1,000 years after that conflict ended in the Adventure Time series finale, “Come Along with Me.” But like most of the acclaimed animated series, we never quite know where in time, space, or canon we are with any given episode. That remains the case in the new spin-off specials, the first of which is Adventure Time: Distant Lands – BMO, which delivers a wonderful standalone story for the optimistic bot and even provides a bit of tie-in lore for the fans out there.

Those fans and viewers from all walks of life are invited to return to the Land of Ooo and beyond in Adventure Time: Distant Lands. Based on the animated series Adventure Time created by Pendleton Ward and executive produced by Adam Muto, these four breakout specials explore the unseen corners of the world with characters both familiar and brand new. The first of these specials is BMO, which follows the lovable little robot on a new adventure. When there’s a deadly space emergency in the farthest reaches of the galaxy, there’s only one hero to call, and it’s probably not BMO… except that this time it is!

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Image via HBO Max, Cartoon Network Studios

If you were on board with the first of these HBO Max specials simply because you’re a fan of BMO, you’re in the right place. But for the uninitiated, here’s a bit of background on the character, as provided by WarnerMedia: “BMO may look like a run-of-the-mill game console/computer/video camera/space cowboy, but this sassy little robot is so much more! He’s a hero wired for adventure and a loyal friend to all. Even if that friend is an alien rabbit who BMO only just met, upon a world teetering at the brink of destruction. If there’s danger, BMO will run towards it. Because that’s what he does. Sometimes.”

Niki Yang returns as the youthful, hopeful, unflappable voice of BMO for this special, along with newcomer characters like Olive, Y4, Mr. M, and more. But we don’t get to meet them just yet. In fact, we don’t even see BMO until after the bot’s narration of a very 2001: A Space Odyssey-like opening sequence that’s more for show and style than it is for substance. Soon, we learn that BMO is on a rocket bound to deliver potatoes to Mars on a terraforming mission… or at least that’s what BMO’s song tells us. (It’s not the first time that the red planet is mentioned in the franchise either.) That mission is soon thrown off its course by the first of this special’s newcomers. It’s through the innocent and yet experienced lens of BMO that we get to meet these characters: “Olive” is a strange, shape-shifting alien creature that befriends BMO as the charming cowboy-robot rockets through space from parts unknown, only to ultimately be the factor that throws the mission off-course.

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Image via HBO Max, Cartoon Network Studios

In short order, BMO and Olive crash-land in a very different and distant land, and it’s here that we get our first sense of separation from the original series. Except that it also feels like an Adventure Time story. The setting may be different, the characters are mostly new, sure, but the at-times chaotic flow to the storytelling and bevy of non-sequiturs remain. That’s what made the original series and this spin-off so charming and unique. And yet Adventure Time: Distant Lands – BMO also feels a little more simplified, a bit more pared down, since it doesn’t have the advantage of exploring its mythology over scores of episodes; the 45-minute runtime is all its got.

AT:DL-BMO packs a fair amount of lore and characters into that runtime. We soon meet the young teen scientist rabbit Y4 (Glory Curda) cataloging observations on a failing space station called The Drift. BMO’s arrival throws Y4’s worldview into disarray since the action-oriented robot with the can-do attitude quickly pulls the distant and aloof teen into the action and along for the ride. This incident sets up a whole world of conflicts to come as Y4 soon disobeys her cold and calculating science-first parents, crosses paths with the mysterious Mr. M (Stephen Root), and learns some devastating truths about the reason behind the Drift’s gravity failures, the life-giving pods that are winking out of existence one by one, and the history of the station’s supposed savior, Hugo. And BMO is heavily involved in each and every one of these revelations, sometimes at the robot’s own peril…

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Image via HBO Max, Cartoon Network Studios

AT:DL-BMO feels a bit rushed when it comes to story beats and character development. There’s simply no time for fans to develop a deep emotional attachment to these new characters so that, when their lives are upended, we feel something strongly one way or another. Luckily, BMO acts as an emotional anchor here. If this standalone had simply started with following these new characters, it would have felt derivative, a pale imitation of what made the original Adventure Time so great. So luckily for both the characters in this special and the viewers at home, BMO is here to save the day.

But you’re probably wondering how this fits into the whole franchise timeline, yeah? Highlight the next section if you want some more spoiler content tying into Adventure Time:

AT:DL-BMO is certainly a standalone story centering on the title robot, but it’s not without its connections back to the original series. We learn of an old, knock-off model of robot — CGO — who was created by the penny-pinching human Hugo as a “cousin” to Moe’s own line of robots. CGO accompanied Hugo on a faulty rocket that escaped Earth during the Mushroom War, only to be set adrift in space. All of those who were aboard the rocket, including Hugo, CGO, and a maintenance droid we now know as “Olive,” were rescued by The Grays, who warned Hugo not to meddle with mixing human and alien DNA. Obviously, Hugo didn’t listen, and his experiments led to the creation of the “elves” we meet in the story. They all eventually land in the Drift where the Pods are already starting to fail, but Hugo’s machinations make it worse. Luckily, BMO and pals manage to save the day. Afterwards, BMO catches a ride with “Ricky” back to Earth, landing in the Land of Ooo … and encounters Finn and Jake for the very first time. That’s a nice tie-in for fans out there and one that doesn’t get in the way of telling BMO’s standalone story.

Rating: B-

Adventure Time: Distant Lands – BMO, produced by Cartoon Network Studios, is now available only on HBO Max.

Television