Best Cartoon Voice in History: TreeTrunks on Adventure Time

I hope you know by now I’m rather infatuated with voice characterizations (Jim Meskimen as new Mel Blanc). Meet the best new voice impressionist ever: Polly Lou Livinston, tapped by animator Pen Ward, 27.

Ward, who created the recently launched CartoonNetwork show, “Adventure Time With Finn and Jake” (a bland name for a quirky, unique and delightful cartoon series, fueled by the proven success of Producer Fred Seibert). Wait! (4/23 update): Correction: Polly Lou is not Pen Ward’s mom, but an artist from his San Antonio origin: “Pen, no doubt, has fond memories of hearing Polly Lou’s definitive drawl while growing up in San Antonio. And who can blame him? Somewhere between a hinge in quest of lubricant and Blanche Dubois as channeled by Olive Oyl, there’s no other tonality quite like it.”

"Adventure Time" creator Pen Ward with his Polly Lou Livingston (not his mother, Bettie). Livingston, an artist, does the voice of TreeTrunks the yellow elephant.

“Adventure Time” creator, Ward, also does the voice of “Lumpy Princess,” a manly valleygirl princess who looks like Chowder’s pet fart. But his mom steals the show with her characterization of TreeTrunks, and you can read more about her in this San Antonio article. The tender voice, gentle whispers and Southern draw were just the beginning. The tiny unexpected speech pragmatics (for instance, oddly timed pauses) is what brings her characters new dimension. Check out this wonderful clip (depicting “old and bonkers” TreeTrunks loving a wall-of-flesh creature). Seriously- a unicorn sticker with a unicorn that doesn’t have a horn? Ward and his Southern Mama bring out the 14 year old in me. Thanks, Seibert. I read you weren’t first impressed with Ward, but thank GOD you had faith.

Tree trunk adventure time elephant yellow
Tree Trunks for The Win

By way of background, my 7-year-old son Grant has always had a keen eye for quirky funny… and this goes back to his watching Baby Mozart as an infant (I think it was the frog that created a euphoric giggle). Grant can watch 20 minutes of television, and detect and replicate the single, isolated moment that is at the DNA core of hysterical. I don’t know how he does it, but he’s now our family’s comedy compass. When he cracks up and replays a moment of a cartoon or television show, the six of us are laughing simultaneously. Here’s Grant giggling from years ago that will help you understand that he’s is to comedy what a metal detector is for quarters on a beach. Who says “boring” about Goodnight Moon at that age? Seriously.

Grant’s favorite shows have one thing in common. They’re all born by Seibert (with the exception of Spongebob, a show I hated until Grant hooked me). Well this week Grant literally grabbed me and said “Dad you’re going to LOVE Adventure Time with Finn and Jake!” Then he started rolling with some quotes that I now get… “yogurt chip, yeah man (in soft, cool voice).”

He was soooo right. Yeah man. I’ve become rather obsessed with “Adventure Time” in the past week (check out a great backgrounder here, which details how BigTime Cartoon Producer Fred Seibert’s discovery of Ward is the best thing to happen to parent/kid television viewing in years). And Seibert, I’ll be sending you Grant’s resume in about 10 or 15 years, and volunteer him to act as a “litmus test” of any prospective shows.

It’s a rare show that amuses dad & kids this well (Modern Family is a recent new one but a bit blue for the kiddies). My fascination with this distinct Masterpiece called “Adventure Time” prompted me to dig and dig through YouTube, stumbling into this wonderful episode called Bravest Warriors. Wowzer is this a cross between the 60s and 10s!? Read a nice POV on this one-episode series. Sounds to me like Livingston is the alien voice, no?

Five words for Seibert, CartoonNetwork and Pen Ward:

Tree Trunks is voiced by Polly Lou Livingston, the Mother of Animator Pen Ward (the inspiration behind Adventure Time With Finn and Jake)

We need more TreeTrunk, baby.

Author: Nalts

Hi. I'm Nalts.

7 thoughts on “Best Cartoon Voice in History: TreeTrunks on Adventure Time”

  1. This post confuses the heck out of me. You talk about this TreeTrunk thing, but out of all the random links, none of them seem to go to a clip of it.

    Excuse me while I go bang my head on the wall for a while. Maybe that’ll help me figure out how everything in this post is connected.

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrgggghh!

  2. Alexis- I cleaned this up. I was telling the story chronologically, and then updated it based on Livingston being the point. Now it’s flowing better methinks.

  3. It’s a little better now.

    Regarding the voice, I think you meant “Southern drawl” and “speech prosody” instead of “draw” and “pragmatics”.

  4. Polly Lou Livingston is not his mama. His mother is Bettie Ward. I think they’re both artsy types, so that’s why you may be confused. I’m glad you included the part with the stickers in you new video. “Smells just like a pickle!” That part gets me every time.

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