Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Reverse-Engineering James Baxter the Horse

Imagine you have a coworker who did this weird thing this one time: you were out to lunch with a group from work, and this one particular guy started doing a horse voice.  It made everybody laugh.  A week or two later, you all go out to lunch again.  He ends up doing the horse voice again.  Everybody laughs again.

Now everybody demands it.  Every time you're out to lunch, you goad this guy into doing the horse voice.  He's reluctant, but he always caves in eventually.

Now it's not enough to wait for lunches. You make him do the horse voice when you pass his cubicle, when you see him in the break room, when everybody's in the parking lot at the end of the day.  It never gets old.

Now imagine you work on a cartoon show.

Weirdness is "Adventure Time"'s stock-in-trade.  The driving force of that show is to present bizarre, trippy concepts as just an ordinary day in the Land of Ooo.  Take, for example, an evil old king who can fly by making his beard hairs spin like rotors; or a dog that can expand in size and reshape himself any way he wants; or the fact that the dog's brother is a human.

So, to say "James Baxter the Horse is weird" is not to say he's weirder than anything else in the show.  It's to say that, in the bizarre universe the show has established, James Baxter the Horse is somehow different.

For those of you who didn't see the episode, James Baxter the Horse is nothing more (and nothing less) than a horse that travels around by rearing up on his hind legs and rolling himself along on a multi-colored beach ball, all while repeating his own name in the stutter-neigh style that most English-speaking people use to imply horse-speak.

Got all that?

In the story of the episode, James Baxter is sort of an enigmatic traveling entertainer.  He shows up unexpectedly, does his little routine, and, no matter what, brings absolute joy and delight to all who witness his schtick.

And that's it.  That's the entire character.  That's all he does in the episode.  And if he ever shows up in a future episode, that will most likely be all he does again.

So why was James Baxter "weird" in a show where it rains knives from the sky?

The first clue was probably the name James Baxter. In a show full of Lady Rainicorns and Marcelines, James Baxter sounded a little too real-world.

Second, in a way that's a little harder to explain, the actions of James Baxter felt like reality. It didn't feel like the writers were working from a place of: "What would happen if a horse on a beach ball rolled past Finn and Jake?" It felt like: "You know that guy who does that horse voice? We gotta put that in an episode."

Sure enough, watching the credits, James Baxter the Horse was voiced by someone named James Baxter. Watching the credits further, James Baxter the Horse was animated by... James Baxter!

A quick look at IMDb reveals that James Baxter is a top-tier animator, having worked on the highest profile animated features from Disney and DreamWorks, going all the way back to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?!

In other words, the real James Baxter is most likely friends with several of the people over at "Adventure Time." And at some point, he probably did a horse voice that they couldn't stop laughing at. And probably not long after that, the "Adventure Time" folks decided, "We're definitely putting that in an episode. James Baxter the Horse rolls through the scene and makes everybody happy. THAT'S the episode!"

Just to be clear, I'm not saying this scenario is true. I don't have any special knowledge or backstory on how the "Adventure Time" crew became affiliated with James Baxter, and how he came to be the voice and animator of a horse character named after himself. I'm just presenting a hypothetical scenario on how something like "James Baxter the Horse" comes to be.

The important thing is, that was an excellent piece of entertainment!

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