In “Bonnibel Bubblegum”, the titular character tells the story of how she gained a family, lost it, and got the title of princess in exchange.
When Adventure Time first began, no one had any idea of the epic it would eventually become, not even the creators. While they had essential character personalities down, as well as the background mythology of the mushroom war, much of it developed as they went. Part of the talent of the show’s crew was that they were still able to make details like Marceline’s tragic backstory with Ice King, or what left baby Finn orphaned, still touching and meaningful, retroactively applied or not. One of the greatest mysteries remaining was the full backstory of “Bonnibel Bubblegum” herself.
Great Uncle Gumbald was first mentioned by PB in the season 2 episode “Susan Strong”, as having cut down an entire an entire patch of taffy trees in a single night. With Princess Bubblegum’s backstory eventually developing into her having spawned from a hive mind, I always assumed Gumbald was just a holdover from when the writers expected her to have a more normal background, somebody they’d just quietly let drop. But no, the writers set out to explain how it’s even possible for Peebs to have a great-uncle, and the tragic events surrounding those taffy trees.
About 800 years ago, a child-like Bonnie was wandering the nuclear wasteland, scavenging for supplies, and fighting off those who would kill her. After stumbling upon an old human family photo, and a mug proclaiming ‘World’s Greatest Uncle’, she returns to the little home she’s built up around her brother Neddy, and sets to work with her first experiments into candy-tech. “I know you don’t care,” she says to Neddy, “but I need to be around people like me.”
She makes a grandma, a cousin, and a great uncle, with the expectation that they will be her best friends, advisors, and protectors. But there’s a problem with the whole ‘free will’ thing: no way to guarantee that. Uncle Gumbald in particular is ambitious, wanting to build a fine city that will make him rich and famous. Bonnibel resists his efforts, wanting joy from the simpler pleasures of life. So Gumbald decides she must be dealt with, and the other two are clearly easily lead or greedy enough to go along with it.
… Of course, that doesn’t stop Gumbald from spiking their cupcakes drinks with a potion which will make them happy and compliant.
Bonnie, horrified by what he’s done, confronts Gumbald. When he attempts to do the same to her, she breaks the flask of the potion which pours all over him, turning him into a goofy, silly punchbowl.
As the remnants of her relatives dance around her, amnesiac and blissfully happy, you can see so much of Bonnie’s personality shifting into the ruler she’d become. She rejects them as family, telling them to call her ‘Princess’, putting them into a role subservient to her. Since then, Peebs has gone out of her way to create all new subjects as being silly, goodnatured, and completely content with the roles she assigns them. We know she’s made attempts to try otherwise, but it’s backfired every time. Bubblegum felt forced to kill all the Rattleballs when they threatened her position, and her attempts to create a successor in Goliad created a cruel, body-controlling creature with little empathy for others.
Bonnie has never been able to find the close relationships she craves in the people she created. Instead, those come from the outside — from the people who have become her friends by choice. Marceline, Finn, and BMO all understand the complex issues of family. Jake does not, but that doesn’t stop him from lending a sympathetic ear. It’s deeply touching to see how close this group has become since “What Was Missing?”
But of course, the episode ends on an ominous note: Princess Bubblegum realizing that her not-so-great Uncle Gumbald is back. How did he return from his punch-bowl-ified state? And what exact revenge does he have planned for his niece?
Author: Airam, KK, and Laura
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