|Posted by Madhog thy Master on April 25, 2012 at 4:20 PM|
More often than none, when a show, a franchise or an on-going series of any sort, starts to be fully aware of its audience, it would usually mark the first signs of its own downfall. A downfall brought upon partly because the people in charge of said product thought it was a good idea to woe their fans in any way possible, and partly because of the fandom itself making more and more buzzes and going hay-ware thanks to the received enablement - thus creating “Fan-Service”, possibly the most evil entity in the industry of entertainment. It’s a well-known vicious cycle that, if completely unchecked, can bring down the international credibility of entire nations - insert offensive Japanese stereotype here.
Amusingly enough, such was not the case with the second season of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”, a show originally intended for little girls that became a paragon of its own kind. Having to deal with both a young, impressionable audience and a much, much older rabid fan-base that anyone could ever predict, season two underwent some few noticeable changes; to be specific, we now have more adult-oriented pop-cultural references than before thrown into the colourful mix - such as that hilarious “The Big Lewbosky” parody and an entire episode built around the very nerdy premise of a crossover between “Escape from New York” and “Terminator.”
This actually happened
We also have previously unnamed background characters (particularly the much beloved Derpy Hooves) getting more screen time and actual comedic development. Finally, the admittedly rich lore of the realm of Equestria gets further expanded in various episodes, providing some interesting backstory to enrich the show’s mythology. On that note, I was personally shocked to learn that earth ponies, unicorns and pegasi used to hate and discriminate each other in the past - apparently, things aren’t all that immaculate and nice in the land of magical equines.
One of the cartoon’s greatest assets resides in its sound writing provided by a team of professionals with years of experience in the field of TV animation (such as Amy Keating Rogers and Chris Savino, to name a couple), which is clearly shown in the majority of the series. Not only did they manage to keep the various more adult quirks in check while still essentially working on a pretty solid children’s animation, but they were also capable to make said elements relevant to the multiple plots and messages they wanted to convey. For example, the memorable “The Return of Harmony” story-arc that piloted this latest season was a pretty spectacular and engaging extravaganza featuring a hilarious villain voiced by a certain “Star Trek” character, that ended up on a refreshingly tamed “Star Wars” reference. Despite all the obvious geeky elements of immediate adult appeal that are featured here, the story is a healthy reprisal of the “friendship and teamwork win the day” lesson that was firstly introduced at the beginning of the first series, when the main six protagonists defeated Nightmare Moon.
In essence, grand part of the show displays an equilibrated level of endearment for both sides of the audience... such is not the case, however, for the season’s finale, “A Canterlot Wedding”, where every ounce of balance and subtlety gets thrown out of the window for the sake of an all-out, over-the-top, bombastic fanfare of nerdgasmic proportions. As an adult fan of the show, I wouldn’t have it any other way, but as a critic, there are a few things that got in the way of my personal amusement.
The plot revolves on the titular marriage between Twilight Sparkle’s older brother, Shining Armor, and princess Mi Amore Cadenza - since I’m Italian, this name makes me roll my eyes at twice the average speed.
Already we are presented with a problem, specifically the ret-con establishing the two main characters as part of this narrative universe. It is revealed, via appealing musical performance/flashback, that Twilight and her sibling have always been pretty close to each other, which doesn’t feel right in the least since said sibling was never introduced, mentioned or even distractedly shown in any of the now 50-plus episodes of the show.
Same argument goes for the now third princess of Canterlot (after the ruler,Celestia, and her sister Luna), since she also played a fundamental role in the purple pony’s childhood as her baby-sitter. It might seem like a pointless nit-pick to call out a blatant ret-con attempt in what’s basically a kids show but, truthfully, this one feels like a huge slip-out from the authors’ part. It is never told who princess Cadenza really is, how is she related with the other two royalties or why she worked as a baby-sitter (or a “foal-sitter”, if you will) at a younger age. Plus, the love relationship between her and Shining Armor is never properly expanded upon (probably due to time constrictions), which is too bad since the “true love triumphs” card was going to be this arc’s main ace. We are basically told that those two are in love, about to get married and nothing more. We don’t know why it happened or when. As a result of both a weak introduction and a weaker established relationship, the theme gets slightly undermined in the overall execution.
That minor complaint aside (which in the end didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the story in the least), the rest of the first episode (out of two) played out nicely in classic “My Little Pony” fashion: Twilight gets suspicious about Cadenza since she seems to act a little ruder than she remembered and stalks her around - possibly out of jealousy. The bride-to-be acts particularly demandingly (hence the “Princess Demandi-Pants” nickname that every brony in existence likes) and snobby towards the pony’s other five friends - which were all invited to help out in the ceremony’s preparations.
Now, this would be a good moment to point out all the little elements of foreshadowing this episode was cleverly presented with.
The city of Canterlot, upon receiving a non-specific threat from a non-specific source, commissioned Shining Armor (who just happened to be the captain of the royal guard, speaking of weakly-dealt introductions) to keep in check a powerful magic barrier in order to prevent any viable outside threat from coming inside. While that's going on, we get to have a pretty close look at princess Cadenza’s not-so subtly evil stares and glowing green unicorn powers - which is a colour that’s usually associated with evilness in this particular universe.
After Twilight makes a certain discovery involving the brainwash of the groom who just happened to be the key-element to Canterlot’s defence system, she becomes dead-set on stopping the unholy matrimony. Things go as well as you might expect as she makes a complete fool out of herself by yelling out loud how Cadenza was evil and everything in the middle.
She gets severely scolded (and possibly even disowned) by her brother and left alone in the ceremonial hall after she disrupted the wedding’s rehearsal.
It is pretty much at this point, after an appropriately sad, short reprisal of the first song (the one about brotherly love), that our entire perception of the story-arc changes suddenly and dramatically. Out of nowhere, Cadenza returns in the hall, summons her green flames of damnation and symbolically drags Twilight Sparkle to hell while grinning evilly at her victim’s misfortune.
I think she really might be evil...
Thanks to the earlier foreshadowing, such a twist was not difficult to predict, yet thescene itself comes off as genuinely unsettling and well-rendered to an extent that’s far above the show’s already positive standards. Not to mention the quality animation that was spent in order to make Cadenza look as much evil and inhumanly possible - thus making for the best villain this series has everseen. All in all, this was one memorable cliffhanger to end part one with.
The second half of the story begins with Twilight being imprisoned and cruelly played with by the villainous princess, whose apparently a fan of twisted mind-games involving magical mirrors and traumatizing little children with scary maniacal laughters. It turns out that the Cadenza our pony knew and love was trappedt here as well, making the other one an obvious imposter. What follows is an unexpectedly good musical number alternatively performed by both Evil Cadenza and Good Cadenza, as they both either celebrate or mourn about their mutual goals and dreams.
As the two heroines managed to fend off a group of zombie bridesmaids with a distracting bouquet launch (I kid you not), they escape and expose the fake princess for what she really was.
That’s when things get really weird - if you can believe that. The imposter was none other than Queen Chrysalis, ruler of the Changelings, a unique breed of demonic fairy-like creatures inspired from actual Western European folklore and Pagan religion. Chrysalis used her race’s innate shapeshifting abilities to take Cadenza’s place and suck upon Shining Armor’s love for her in order to gain enough power to defeat Celestia herself, thus allowing her subjects to invade Canterlot once the magic shield would be dispelled. Surprisingly enough, she managed to best the ruler of all Equestria and the city gets flooded with the aforementioned Changelings.
That's theclosest thing to an actual zombie outbreak this show is ever going to get
In the following minutes, the six main heroines find themselves fighting against a huge horde of undead doppelgangers, the animation finally gives up on its sanity and everything goes completely out of control. Hooves are thrown, evil behinds are kicked, bodies are sent to fly and Pinkie Pie uses Twilight Sparkle as a machine gun, shooting down the opposition with magic bullets.
Because, why not?
Then they get re-captured, the villain dumbly distracts herself with perpetual gloat, Cadenza re-unites with Shining Armor, they use the true power of love to instantly banish all the evil ones to a distant land, they finally get married and every-pony gets to party hard.
To wrap things up: there are several “elements of disharmony” (so to speak) that seem to haunt the completion of this latest opus. The aforementioned ret-cons devised to give a quick background to blatantly shoehorned characters (no pun intended), was a minor inconvenience compared to the last-minute introduction of an entire race of devilish pixie-pony-troll-ish antagonists and the sheer madness that ensued right after, which was spectacular but also the least-likely plot-direction one would expect from a little girl’s show. In many ways (both positive and negative), “A Canterlot Wedding” represents a point of no return for this series: the defining moment where the show was almost completely stripped away from its originally intended audience and offered to all bronies everywhere on a silver platter. Again, this season finale was absolutely mesmerizing and joyous to watch from start to finish. Nit-picks aside, thanks mainly to a very cool villain and well-implemented songs, it felt close to an actual classic Disney animated feature - the plot itself does remind me a bit of “The Little Mermaid”, in retrospect. On the other hand, the inclusion of wild elements such as the zombie bridesmaids and improvised equine machine guns, do testify the fact that this show might even go to greater (and more inappropriate) lengths in order to impress its multi-layered fan-base in the near future.
Let’s just hope that season three won’t begin with the ponies battling against a certain race of alien vehicle-shifting robots.
My score for “A Canterlot Wedding” is:
Shut Up andTake My Apples: Good enough to be worth all your hard-earned harvest.
Seriously though, I know a crossover with “Transformers” would sound cool and everything, but let us not forget that your little sisters and daughters are supposed to be watching this as well.