Strong Female Characters: Princess Bubblegum

For those of you that don’t know, Princess Bubblegum is one of the main characters on the hit children’s TV show, Adventure Time. Set in the magical Kingdom of Oo, the plot follows the adventures of Finn, a young boy, and Jake, a talking dog with magical stretching powers, as they try and defend Princess Bubblegum’s kingdom – where everyone is made of sweets. It sounds daft, but the show has received rave reviews on almost every count, draws in millions of viewers and has been nominated for – and won – dozens of awards, including eight Emmys. Princess Bubblegum herself has been widely praised too, with critics and fans alike lauding the character’s originality, ingenuity and departure from many traditional ‘princess’ storylines.

But does she measure up to the hype? Let’s find out – but watch out for spoilers!

 

  1. Does the character shape her own destiny? Does she actively try to change her situation and if not, why not?

Throughout most of the series, Princess Bubblegum has a patchy control of her own destiny. A substantial amount of the plot in the first few series revolves around her being kidnapped by various entities, so in that respect she’s not the one in control. Most of the overarching series plots are about fighting various monsters, which you would think would make her vulnerable to my Universal Monster Law. However, while the various monsters – some of which are truly terrifying –

OH GOD THIS IS WORSE THAN CORALINE (image: adventuretime.wikia.com)
OH GOD THIS IS WORSE THAN CORALINE (image: adventuretime.wikia.com)

– do influence the plot at times, it doesn’t necessarily detract from the control she has over her own life. As the series progresses, the episodes where Bubblegum needs to be rescued become gradually less frequent, and we see her exercising a lot more control over her destiny as a larger whole. She sends Finn and Jake out on missions, she plots to undermine Flame Princess when she considers her a threat, and it’s revealed later on in the series that she has literally made every single person in the Candy Kingdom out of leftover sweets. She’s not always in control, particularly in the earlier episodes, but she certainly has her moments.

SCORE SO FAR: 0.5

 

  1. Does she have her own goals, beliefs and hobbies? Did she come up with them on her own?

In this respect, Princess Bubblegum is a very well-developed character. She’s very interested in science, using it for her own personal projects and to improve the lives of her confectionary-based subjects. In terms of her beliefs, she values organisation and order, and often takes this too far when she spies on her own citizens. Her goals very between each series – mostly because they revolve around trying to defeat the monster of the week. That’s well-established interests on every side, so she passes this round.

SCORE SO FAR: 1.5

 

  1. Is her character consistent? Do her personality or skills change as the plot demands?

Princess Bubblegum is a remarkably consistent character. She’s intelligent, kind, well-organised, believes in doing questionable things for ‘the greater good’, and can be a little overbearing and uptight. She’s also consistently shown to be a skilled scientist and a good ruler.

Look at that science face. (image: picslist.com)
Look at that science face. (image: picslist.com)

SCORE SO FAR: 2.5

 

  1. Can you describe her in one short sentence without mentioning her love life, her physical appearance, or the words ‘strong female character’?

A brilliant scientist and a wise ruler – who also has the power to create life and happens to be entirely made of bubblegum.

SCORE SO FAR: 3.5

 

  1. Does she make decisions that aren’t influenced by her love life?

Princess Bubblegum’s love life isn’t really a feature of the show – which is a real departure from the traditional ‘princess’ storyline, where the ultimate goal is always marriage. Plenty of other characters have crushes on Princess Bubblegum – including Finn, the Ice King, and some complete randomer called Braco. But for the most part, these are unrequited, and only really affect her when she has to turn them down. The one time her love life does affect her decisions is when she’s dealing with Marceline the Vampire Queen.

IT'S CANON YOU GUYS (image: adventuretime.wikia.com)
IT’S CANON YOU GUYS (image: adventuretime.wikia.com)

It’s revealed – mainly through hints, subtexts and interviews with the show’s creators – that Princess Bubblegum and Marceline were once romantically involved, and this seriously affects Bubblegum’s judgement when it comes to Marceline. She either lashes out at her or bends over backwards to help her, depending on her mood. However, these instances are few and far between, and don’t tend to completely eclipse Bubblegum’s other aims, so I’ll be generous and give her the point.

SCORE SO FAR: 4.5

 

  1. Does she develop over the course of the story?

Princess Bubblegum doesn’t really develop much over the course of the story. Over the series as a whole, it’s implied that Bubblegum is letting her power go to her head: she starts spying on her citizens, undermining other princesses, and getting gradually more despotic. However, this is never really explored – it’s often shown in very short scenes thrown in at the end to make the ending a little unsettling. It’s also implied that she has actually always been like that – the audience is watching more information being revealed about her character, rather than watching her character develop. I’ll give her half a point because the lines are often blurred in this respect, but she’s not off the hook.

SCORE SO FAR: 5

 

  1. Does she have a weakness?

Princess Bubblegum has several weaknesses. She completely bulldozes over other people’s opinions and feelings, she lets her power go to her head, she can be completely convinced that she’s right even when it’s very clear that she’s not, and she’s such a stickler for order and procedure that it drives everyone nuts.

Best reaction gif ever. (image: giphy.com)
Best reaction gif ever. (image: giphy.com)

All of these weaknesses hold her back at some point during the plot in various different ways. In one episode, her insistence that everyone follow a carefully laid-out plan to compose a song provides both comedy and drama. In the series as a wider whole, her insistence on doing things her own way often means that she pushes her friends away from her and harms people they care about because she’s so convinced of her own righteousness. That’s some realistic weaknesses that don’t always manifest in the same way – so she passes with flying colours.

SCORE SO FAR: 6

 

  1. Does she influence the plot without getting captured or killed?

Bubblegum’s influence on the plot is a little patchy at times. If you look at the episodes individually (particularly the earlier ones), it can often seem like Princess Bubblegum’s role is that of a permanent kidnappee – she gets kidnapped by the Ice King so often that it almost becomes a running joke. However, this isn’t her only area of influence; there are plenty of other episodes where she sends characters out on quests, goes out looking for adventure herself, or puts in place measures that can save the Candy Kingdom. This becomes especially apparent when you look at her role in the series as a whole – it’s abundantly clear that she’s driving the story foreword in a more long-term sense. I’ll be harsh (as always) and give her half a point.

SCORE SO FAR: 6.5

 

  1. How does she relate to stereotypes about gender?

Princess Bubblegum is actually a pretty ground-breaking character in terms of gender stereotypes. At first glance, it’s easy to suppose that this isn’t the case. She’s kind, polite, always looks feminine, is a princess who needs to get saved a lot and is literally completely pink. But this isn’t the only aspect to her character. She’s also a devoted scientist and a slightly despotic ruler who’s unafraid of getting her hands dirty, as shown here when she literally rips this guy to pieces:

The message this sends out about Bubblegum’s character is that being feminine isn’t necessarily a barrier to being strong, or clever, or a capable ruler – and that women aren’t immune from the temptations of power, or somehow exempt from flaws. You might think that Princess Bubblegum would be the stereotypically good, kind princess we’re all familiar with, but the extra layers of character development prove that she’s far more than that.

SCORE SO FAR: 7.5

 

  1. How does she relate to other female characters?

Princess Bubblegum has a wide range of relationships with a wide range of characters. Uniquely for a fantasy world, Ooo is mostly ruled by other princesses, so we see her interacting with other female rulers a substantial amount of times. She always treats them with courtesy, although this is often coloured by her real opinion of them. She’s friends with Lumpy Space Princess – even though she often seems exasperated by her. As I already discussed, she used to date Marceline the Vampire Queen. As a result of this their relationship is a little strained, but sometimes we can see glimpses of the residual feelings they have for each other. When she comes up against a female villain, the way she reacts to them depends on how powerful they are and how much of a threat she thinks they present. That’s believable relationships on every count, so she passes this round.

FINAL SCORE: 8.5/10

 

Princess Bubblegum may not always be in control of the plot, but she displays consistent intelligence, has flaws that hold her back, has a range of different hobbies, goals and beliefs and has some really interesting relationships with other female characters. What’s more, she does it all while remaining an extremely feminine character, effectively showing that women don’t need to reject any girly tendencies in order to be strong. She’s certainly passed my test!

Next week, I’ll be looking at one of my latest favourites. Agent Carter, I’m coming for you.

 

 

And if you’re looking for all my posts on Strong Female Characters, you can find them here.

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6 thoughts on “Strong Female Characters: Princess Bubblegum”

  1. I’ve always been kind of fascinated with the Princesses of Adventure Time, especially in how they relate to the Princesses from other forms of media (Disney, etc.). Have you heard of the cartoon Steven Universe? Because it probably contains some of the most well-developed and unique female characters I’ve ever seen in a TV Show.

    1. I know what you mean – it’s really interesting to see how they subvert all the traditional princess narratives!

      I have heard of Steven Universe, but haven’t watched it – does it stand up to the hype?

      1. It’s definitely worth watching if you haven’t seen it before, since it does push the boundaries on what ‘kids’ shows can be. Some of the first few episodes are a bit slow but as it goes on you discover it really is something special.

  2. Another major weakness PB has is her obsessiveness, especially in regards to science. In the recent short “Have You Seen the Muffin Mess” she attempts to make muffins by inserting a muffin recipe into a nanite, saying “I hope muffins aren’t easy to make or I’m being an idiot.” She’s aware that she’s an overachiever who does simple tasks the difficult way. This was also shown in “Five Short Graybles,” where she uses various devices such as laser beams, teleportation and witchcraft to create the perfect sandwich. In that case, as in “Goliad,” she is slavishly devoted to her science, ending up weary and looking unpresentable. Also her tendency to disregard others’ feelings manifests in “The Cooler,” where she has the Fire Kingdom attacked in order to gain access to their weapons and thus deactivate them. Flame Princess is not too happy about this (it was the first episode that involved her in a story that did not involve her love life) and calls out PB, prompting her to shut down her spy network. In the next episode, at another Candy Kingdom sleepover, PB tries to be more laid back and she spends time along with Finn, letting her subjects govern subjects until she is forced to restore order. Bearing the responsibility of a ruler has taken its toll on PB, and she’s torn between her duties and her own interests.

    1. Those are all good points, but I’m not going to go back and add them in. I write these posts alongside a full-time job, and I just don’t have time to go back and add to things I’ve already posted. You certainly raised some interesting ideas, though.

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