Finn and Jake come across James Baxter the Horse, a talking, dancing horse that manages to elicit laughter out of anyone, no matter how glum. Envious of James Baxter, Finn and Jake become determined to become his equal. Unfortunately, their first attempts to copy James Baxter’s routine only end up frightening and irritating people. After a long, painstakingly detailed process to create the funniest comedic routine ever, Finn and Jake end up biting off more than they can chew when their new routine is better received than the last one.
Adventure Time can sometimes be a bit confusing and difficult to understand at times, with many jokes only becoming apparent after several viewings. In the case of this episode, it took a full viewing for me to understand what was going on. With its small stakes, simple plot and a light, carefree feel, “James Baxter the Horse” feels like a odd and nonsensical episode reminiscent of season one. While I thought it was enjoyable enough, it felt a bit too basic for the show at this point. However, upon discovering what the episode was actually a metaphor for, a seemingly simple episode became a really touching, inspiring tribute that shows why Adventure Time isn’t quite like any other cartoon on television.
“James Baxter the Horse” is dedicated to the titular animator James Baxter, a character animator who has done work for major feature films such as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and continues to animate today at Dreamworks Studios. Continuing the trend of guest animators like Ke Jiang and David O’Reilly, James Baxter provided the fluid animation for his namesake horse, and the entire episode plays out as a metaphor for the Adventure Time crew meeting an idol and trying to figure out how to fill the footsteps of a legend. While this show’s target audience (and maybe a good chunk of the show’s adult fans) might not understand the deeper meaning behind this episode, “James Baxter the Horse” has a charming, universal message on how people in general don’t (and shouldn’t) have to emulate their idols to show their love for their work.