|Posted by Madhog thy Master on May 24, 2012 at 12:00 AM|
When Rarity, the fashion enthusiast unicorn of the pony-bunch, went to the big city of Canterlot in order to procure herself the finest materials for Twilight Sparkle’s birthday dress gift, she found herself swapped into a rather poignant satirical overview on the vain superficiality and alienating lack of self-awareness consuming every anachronistic facet of high society.
As if taking its cues from a Robert Altman or a Luis Bunùel’s cinematic opus, the aristocratic unicorns in this particular episode were represented as a bunch of thoughtless sheep hanging from the lips of the most popular figurehead (Sir Fancy Pants), whom was earlier introduced sporting his possible trophy girlfriend around town.
During the (not)Christmas special of season two, the main six protagonists and other ponies were called to re-enact the story revolving on the origins of Equestria for a theatrical play. Thus, it became an established knowledge that the so-called “Power of Love/Friendship” isn’t just a convenient deus ex machina to provide easy resolutions, but an effective, unexplainable McGuffin force discovered as a means to prevent the world from literally being consumed by an eternal ice age of hatred, racism and distrust. The rules by which this particular universe seems to work with are now further expanded upon and better contextualized in the ever engrossing, general continuity of the show.
In the winter/spring transition episode of season one, the song “Winter Wrap Up” was well choreographed and executed, providing both the exposition and the main conflict for that particular chapter in a very addicting, “sing-a-long” kind of way.
The point I am trying to make is that I really appreciate this refreshingly crafted and increasingly ambitious fantasy world born from a mouth-watering blend of quality animation and good writing. It features a strong attention to many little details concerning both the shape of the overall background and the occasional game-changing events, the characters’ development, their personal growth and how they intertwine with their daily life. “Friendship is Magic” is a solid and funny children’s cartoon, to say the least. Aside from the various little chapters I have already mentioned in the previous paragraph, the following list summarizes to a certain degree my personal top ten reasons to like this children’s cartoon for dreamy adults.
10) “A Friend In Deed”
What I seem to appreciate the most during the course of this animated pony-vaganza is an episode that focuses on a specific character’s growth towards several of life’s problems. It’s even better if said epiphany comes along with zany hi-jinks and comedic stunts. Thus, we begin this list with a Pinkie Pie story. After performing one of the best, and longest, songs in the series (which I find it to be a perfect introduction to her fun-loving, smile-inducing nutty personality), she gets herself the perfect sidekick in the form of a grumpy old donkey (by the hilarious name of Cranky Doodle Donkey), whom just happened to be her complete opposite. Hysterical shenanigans occur as she tries and forces her way to become his friend, mainly out of her unhealthy obsession to be everyone’s best pal for life - a behaviour that hides much darker psychological implications, by the way. She manages to befriend him in the end with a rather mature, (although still boldly in-character) approach to Cranky’s troubled past. That, however, only happens after she drives the poor donkey to insanity with her constant nagging and gifts him with a Johnny Bravo-styled toupee.
"Oh mama! Who's that attractive donkey?"
9) “Read It and Weep It”
In the olden days when cartoons’ young audiences were spoon-fed with cheap moral lessons about this or that subject matter, having kids learning about the joys of reading books would have probably fallen onto the insubstantial shoulders of your Captain Planet of the hour. Nowadays, having Rainbow Dash, the fastest Pegasus alive, discovering herself the cathartic enthralment of a suspended disbelief via clever “The Neverending Story” allegoric formula, makes “learning” at least 20% cooler. After breaking her wing during a flight accident, she gets hospitalized for a few days and her only way to kill time would be to actually read a very “uncool” novel Twilight Sparkle lent to her.
Fascinatingly, the plot of this episode isn’t entirely about the “books aren’t just for eggheads” moral or the aforementioned subtly self-aware allegory about the experience of story-telling and its life-enriching values (which already make for an excellently written episode), it’s also about exposing Rainbow Dash’s more psychologically contrived insecurities. Specifically, the fact that her obsession in appearing “radical” and “awesome” in the eyes of everyone else is probably born from her innate self-confidence issues, leading her to the point of being actually horrified to be seen reading. Her catharsis in the meta-fictional character of Daring Do (the Indiana Jones-inspired Pegasus adventurer from the book in question) both serves as a device to deliver the episode’s lesson and to ignite a further development in our protagonist, thus regaining her usually impregnable attitude towards life. Incidentally, we (the audience) already know about Rainbow’s issues thanks to “The Sonic Rainboom” episode, for which this one is a perfect follow-up.
8 ) “The Last Roundup”
There is great fun to be had throughout this little adventure starring all our favourite Technicolor equines. Applejack goes missing after a sportive competition in Canterlot and the remaining five begin a wacky rescue mission filled with victorious missteps, outlandish humour and one action-packed chasing sequence towards the end. The “mystery” revolving on the cow-gal’s disappearance is quite predictable, but the overall experience is a laugh riot to say the least. We were supposed to learn a lesson about trusting your friends and family a little more than you give them credit for, but I believe what everyone really learnt today was something else…
Never, ever break a Pinkie Promise
On a side note, this episode also featured the official debut of former background fodder Derpy Hooves as a canon character in the series. I would personally love to see her more developed and utilized in future seasons.
7) “Hearts and Hooves Day”
As the second most popular episode in the franchise (according to ratings), this (not)Valentine’s Day special is indubitably the best one featuring the infamously adorable Cutie Mark Crusaders, the resident “Huey, Louie and Dewey” troublemakers. Interestingly enough, this time their potentially devastating efforts aren’t focused on getting their “cutie marks” (the coming of age symbol of one’s own talent and path in life), but rather having their teacher finding a “special somepony” to fall in love with. They end up hooking her up with Big Macintosh (Applejack and Apple Bloom’s older brother) with a little help of an Apocalypse-igniting love poison that caused the downfall of several past civilizations - I always knew this would happen. So, in order to avoid the tragic demise of Ponyville, the three fillies struggle to keep the two poisoned mushy lovers away from each other for at least an hour. I can honestly understand this episode’s popularity as it is one impeccable example of humorously consistent writing. The terrific chemistry between the various players of this would-be cheesy catastrophe just adds to the fun.
6) “Feeling Pinkie Keen”
In the universally approved TV cartoons’ tradition, most chapters in the series tend to have a predictable conflict with an equally predictable ending, with their efforts focused in making those age-old stories as entertaining as possible. “Feeling Pinkie Keen”, however, represents probably the most recognizable exception to this show’s formula: it’s pure, uncontained, unpredictable zaniness at its best. The theme revolves on the confrontation with the Unknown and the necessity to accept the idea that not everything can be properly explained with rationality, science or any other means. The conflict is born from Twilight Sparkle’s inability to accept her wacky friend Pinkie Pie’s random ability to predict unfortunate events. Perfectly in tone with the outlandish befuddlement of the so-called “Pinkie Sense”, this plot device becomes a tremendous excuse to have Twilight fall victim to all sorts of classic, old-school cartoon slapstick gags: from getting squashed behind a door to form a silly silhouette, to anvils and pianos falling right onto her head and so forth. Inexplicably, the episode manages to escalate to the point where everyone gets attacked by a giant hydra that looks suspiciously close to a Chuck Jones’ character (a perfectly-timed reference) and our purple mage literally bursts into flames out of frustrated anger.
Ladies and gentleconlts: the Equine Torch!
“Feeling Pinkie Keen” is a stroke of genius to say the very least. It takes one controversial and complex argument about the chaotic nature of the universe itself and makes it simple to understand through exuberant cartoon comedy of the finest wine. A very heartfelt homage to old-school classics (whereas logic and rationality wouldn’t stand a chance) and an undeniable joyride from the start until its consistently random ending.
5) “Baby Cakes”
If I had to choose one episode as the ideal pitch to exemplify the show’s formula, it would have to be the one in which Pinkie Pie gets to work as a babysitter for the newly born twins of her landlords, the Cakes. It’s a well-crafted example of the multi-layered nature of this particular reboot, a balanced mixture of character’s growth, smoothly implemented life lessons and over-the-top humour. For the first time, Pinkie learns the burden of responsibility by taking on a major task, all the while falling victim to a number of increasingly wacky in-doors slapstick accidents that would make Tom and Jerry proud. By the end of the day, her experience with the mischievous Cake twins teaches her the value of adulthood, thus becoming their permanent sitter. Aside from the unquestionable display of old-school cartoon zaniness (and Pinkie’s hilariously awkward attempt at a stand-up comedy routine), this one serves as a tremendous device for the personal maturation of the otherwise silliest character in the main cast, which comes off as endearing and relatable as (in)humanly possible. I would personally recommend “Baby Cakes” as a genuine starting point for anyone who could be interested in watching this show for the first time.
4) “Sisterhooves Social”
As one of the most solid, well-written and emotionally engulfing narrations to be found in the entirety of this fifty-plus episodes animated bonanza, “Sisterhooves Social” deals with fairly ambitious themes about family bonds and sisterly love. Rarity has to take care of her little sister, Sweetie Bell, while her parents are on a weeklong vacation. As the little filly tries her best to help out her adored sibling with house chores, she accidentally causes one disaster after another. Her own missteps aren’t helped by the fact that Rarity wouldn’t care much about spending quality time with her aside from scolding her incessantly. At some point the two of them break apart rather unceremoniously, with Sweetie Bell running away from home to go camping with the Apple family. By witnessing the very good relationship that Applejack has with her sister Apple Bloom, she becomes envious and actually attempts to be adopted into her family - with chuckling results. In the end, both she and Rarity manage to solve their problems thanks to the titular sportive event that was taking place in Ponyville at the time. This is a classy example of family-oriented drama in which all the characters perfectly fit into their role (Rarity as the flawed, self-centred relative, Applejack as the ideal older sister everyone would want, etcetera) and the extremely relatable conflicts are solved together as a group. The troubled relationship between Rarity and Sweetie Bell is perfectly fleshed out and expanded upon with the carefulness and great capability only writers who actually had siblings would be able to conjure up. In addition to that, our two main characters aren’t flustered at all for not winning the social event in the end, since the only thing that mattered was that they both had fun with each other. I have many sisters, therefore this story is particularly dear to me.
3) “It’s About Time”
In an unprecedented level of nostalgic geeky movie throwback, the entire premise of this heavily science fiction-oriented masterpiece is a ludicrously convoluted mash up between John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York”, James Cameron’s “Terminator” and possibly all kinds of nerdy TV shows revolving on time travelling shenanigans. Twilight Sparkle receives a completely uncalled for visit from her future self (whom actually looks like the pony version of Snake Plissken, much to my amusement), warning her about some unspecific imminent disaster. On that note, I found myself gasping for air as the first thing Present Twilight deduces from this situation is that there might be some sort of “epic pony war in the distant future”, only for Twilight Plissken to say that she’s just from next Tuesday. The rest of the episode features our psychologically unstable purple mage trying to prevent whatever breed of untimely catastrophe might happen a week from her timeline, thus ironically igniting all the little events that would cause her to look like a Kurt Russel’s cosplayer. During this period of time, Ponyville gets randomly attacked by Cerberus, the three-headed hound from Greek mythology guarding the gates of Tartaros (where, apparently, ancient demos are being imprisoned, much to my jaw-dropping surprise), Spike the dragon gets addicted to ice-cream, Pinkie Pie poses as a fortune teller, Twilight becomes consumed with paranoia and all three of them dress up as ninja in time for the final act. By the end of the story, the now John Carpenter-approved equine finds out that the actual “catastrophe” was nothing more than a series of self-inflicted misfortunes born from her excessive worrying. That’s precisely when she decides to use a rare time travelling spell in order to go back one week into the past and try to unsuccessfully warn her past self not to worry about the future, thus setting in motion an unravelling loop that not even Doctor Who would be able to un-unravel. “It’s About Time” is such a delightful out-there derailment from the show’s roots that almost poses as its own parody - with voluptuous sci-fi references, no less. For pulling this bafflingly juicy extravaganza out of their hat, the writers really deserve some praise. Now, if only we could have that “epic pony war" happening.
2) “A Canterlot Wedding”
As I already went in full depth in my recent analytical breakdown of this memorable two-chaptered season two’s finale, the sheer scale and magnitude of the overall narrative and subsequent twists and turns are simply too majestic to be bothered by some of its undeniable flaws - shoehorned ret-cons and villains, to be exact. The dramatic development, the action, the mind-bumbling display of the third act and the general Disney-esque feel derived from the implemented musical numbers make this opus one must-see joyride. Should there ever be a “Friendship is Magic” movie (more than one, hopefully), this is the kind of story that could be taken as a legitimate example for a related screenplay.
1) “Party of One”
By general knowledge, “Party of One” is considered one of the early defining moments that set this show apart from its multiple present day counterparts. It might not be as ambitious or thematically sound as some of the other picks from this list, but it’s still the finest product of its own kind: the psychological breakdown of a main character. It occasionally happens that one of the writers (usually, Megan McCarthy) would feel the need to exploit the flaws of one of the show’s main protagonists in order to further expand the sheer depth of their own three-dimensional personalities from the archetype they were originally based off. Thus, acknowledging their own faults and issues becomes the first step towards their self-improvement. Judging from episodes such as “Lesson Zero” and “Put Your Hoof Down”, most of the ponies seem to have ridiculously large complexes that could go easily out of hand in a moment’s notice: Twilight Sparkle’s obsession with control and order often leads her to flip out whenever she’s faced with things she cannot understand or that are simply out of her schedule, while the timid Fluttershy is an unmanageable bundle of childhood traumas and self-esteem issues - Gainax is taking notes. None of that, however, can be compared with that one time where Pinkie Pie almost went on a killing spree. This story is a rather simple and formulaic one, being all about Pinkie wanting to throw a party after the other and her friends coming up with funny excuses not to partake in her latest. The resolution is quite predictable since they were really all just preparing a surprise birthday festivity for their lovable friend. None the less, the damage has been done and we get to witness Pinkie’s slow and heavily foreshadowed descent towards madness, culminating with one legitimately creepy “Tea Party” sequence.
Along with “Baby Cakes”, I consider this episode the most important in the personal (and psychological) maturation of this particular character. It goes out of its way in order to show the full, terrifying depths of her surprisingly fragile mind, bringing into the table the possibility that her laughter and over-friendly attitude towards everyone else might be born from her own subconscious fear of being left alone. In the end, she gets over her trauma after realizing just how much her friends care for her - thus avoiding a catastrophe. This episode, along with the aforementioned “Baby Cakes” and even the subsequent “A friend in Deed”, represent the ideal path towards the character’s growth without sacrificing her more endearingly zany side. That, my friends, is how you write a good children’s show.
This concludes my survey. Now, for some more pony-related memes!