Friday, January 4, 2013

Part 2 of...wait, are they still just in season 3?!

When I left my last post about My Little Pony, reclusive nerd Twilight Sparkle was forced to endure every socially anxious person's worst fear (insane parties with no chance for escape and forced interaction), Princess Celestia was missing, and Nightmare Moon had managed to keep the sun from rising, dooming all in Equestria to death since crops won't grow and fireplaces are nice, but you still need solar heat to keep from freezing to death.

Pretty grim stuff.

I have to admit, though, that if I suddenly found myself the center of attention of a group of people I just met, I might make like Twilight Sparkle there and pour myself a large glass of something.  Just saying.

First of all, an amendment:  that whole "lightning bolts to the face" deal?  That's how this episode starts, not how the last one ended.  My bad, I own that.

The episode begins with- you know what?  Wait.  I have to do one more prelude.

My Little Pony had a lot of ground to cover to become what it is before it even started.  The previous iteration was...well, it was terrible.  It was awful.  It was shameless shilling to stereotypical "girly" stuff featuring the "Newborn Cuties" with an animation budget somewhere between "jack" and "squat," voices by undoubtedly talented people given nothing to say, and the cheapest (read: early flash animation on computers) designs I've seen.  There were no lessons, no real character development, and I'm pretty sure even the cast knew it was going to suck before they did it, and it shows.

I tried watching some for this article.  This next sentence is not an exaggeration, it is not embellished, and it is not at all a lie:

I felt real, physical pain watching it.  It hurt more than the time I had the wind knocked out of me from a wayward dodge ball back in high school.

Now, to be fair, I caught a clip of the first generation MLP specials....and it wasn't bad.  It had some pretty awesome villains and had some powerful conflicts.  More villains died than I ever saw on Care Bears or Jem and the Holograms.  Everything after that, from the looks of it, just went steadily further downhill.  I even remember watching some of the early specials when I was young because, well, it was something to watch.

Enter Lauren Faust.  Her highlights, in my eyes, were working as an animator for The Iron Giant, Her two Emmy nominations for her work on Powerpuff Girls, and her two Emmy nominations (and one win!) for Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends.

Convinced by Hasbro (seriously, she was pitching her own series at the time), she assembled a team and an animation studio that had everything going for it.  A history of beloved and imaginative animation worlds?  Check.  Some of the most endearing female characters to grace TV screens in ages?  Check.  An animation studio that could take a method that had once produced this:

...and use better tools to make this:

(I kid you not, this gif is better than -any- of the animation in that other series.  Look it up on Youtube and cry.)


And yet, people were still blown away when this show appeared on the air.  Go figure.

So back to the story.  Nightmare Moon makes a grand exit, and Twilight Sparkle makes a mad dash back to the library she's living out of to try to find more on the "Elements of Harmony" (but she first puts Spike to bed, so we don't have to worry about him for the rest of the episode).  However, she's confronted by her new friends since it appears she's the only pony who knows what's going on.

One small quibble:  In the first episode, even Spike has heard of the Mare in the Moon legend, and states it's an "old pony's tale."  How is it this group of ponies has never heard of it?  Granted, Spike does live with the biggest bookworm who ever lived, but still.

After consulting a reference guide detailing the history of the Elements, the ponies head out to find them, looking for the original castle the two ruling sister ponies lived in over a thousand years ago.  This involves heading out to the Everfree Forest, and I'll freely admit it, I love the Everfree Woods.  These woods are the polar opposite of the rest of Equestria.  Plants grow wild, monsters lurk in caves and bushes, and clouds move without ponies to guide them!  It's madness, I tell you, madness!

And this is also where the insanity gets cranked up as the ponies are assaulted multiple times by Nightmare Moon, in the guise of an evil cloud that sets up challenges for the ponies to overcome.  The first challenge?  She rips the ground out from under them so they'll fall into a ravine and die.  As I said before, ponies don't shiv.

This plan fails (mostly because two of the ponies can fly, and Applejack is able to hold on to Twilight long enough for the other non-fliers to be saved), but one thing that I loved is how three of the ponies had to be saved by fliers, but Applejack?  She jumps down the side of the cliff like it's nothing.  Applejack is awesome.

So, having failed to kill them once, Nightmare Moon tries her next plan...sic a manticore on them, which will not only kill them, but probably eat the remains.  

Despite the best efforts of the other ponies (including a respectable rodeo act by Applejack trying to ride the beast into submission and Rainbow Dash creating a tornado around the beast), Fluttershy manages to tame the beast because, seriously, who could harm this?

D'awww.  ...I mean, um, right.  To adventure! be honest, I think Nightmare Moon ran out of ideas at this point, because her next plan to make some scary trees glow in the dark to try to scare the ponies away (defeated by Pinkie Pie laughing in the face of fear with a musical number, but I'll discuss the music in this show another time), and after that is...well...after that is this guy.  

And I'm not going to lie, they make no attempt to not make this the most flamboyant character you'll ever see.  See, he's making it impossible to cross the river because a dark cloud ripped out half of his mustache, thus ruining his entire ensemble.  This isn't an exaggeration either, as the dragon and Rarity spend time discussing how he set up an entire look, but this one missing ingredient is a "crime against fabulosity."  Rarity's term, not mine.

So, Rarity chops off her own tail to make the dragon a new mustache, and the ponies move on to the final challenge...Rainbow Dash gets offered her heart's desire, and all she has to do is give up and leave her new friends behind.  But because you can't get multiple episodes out of the team failing to save the world in the second episode, the ponies get to the castle and find the Elements of Harmony!

...well, five out of the six.  And the silly things don't even work.  So, here's where the meaning of the title comes into play.  Turns out each pony, as demonstrated in how they got the team past each challenge, embodies one of the elements themselves, and that friendship allows the last element (here's a hint: My Little Pony: Friendship is _______) to appear.  And then the ponies unleash a huge rainbow that simply makes a Care Bare Stare look like shooting a BB gun next to a rocket launcher.  I'm not kidding either.  Check this out:

The only way this could get any more epic would be if this was the last element of "harmony":

...but I digress.

When everybody gets up after the magical Pony Bomb goes off (P-Bomb?), Princess Celestia shows up and reveals that Nightmare Moon is actually...her SISTER!  ...yeah, Ms. Celestia's also 1000 years old.  The two sisters make up after a tear-felt apology from the pony who almost doomed all of ponykind twice, a-

...y'know, if the elements of harmony could blast all of the evil out of Nightmare Moon and return her to her former self, why didn't Celestia do that in the first place?  Maybe she didn't have as much control over the elements as six ponies who don't, on their own, have control over the sun?  I mean, surely you don't imprison your little sister in the moon for a thousand years on purpose, right?

...what's that?  Celestia knew Nightmare Moon was going to break free, and the real reason she sent Twilight Sparkle out to make friends was because she knew the "magic" necessary was in the little pony the whole time, it just had to be unlocked?  There's a dark turn.  Someone suggest something to get this back to being happy.  Pinkie Pie, what do you suggest?

Right!  So, everybody in Ponyville celebrates not dying a horrible death, and Celestia tells Twilight Sparkle that it's time to head on home.  ...and I'd be lying if I said this last bit wasn't done really well, when Twilight points out how sad it is that she's finally, for the first time in her life, learned to appreciate having friends, but now has to leave Celestia gives her prize student a new assignment:  Live in Ponyville with her friends, and report back every week with a lesson learned about being a friend.  And yeah, I know, "oh look, a reason for a moral at the end of every episode.  Yup, this sure is a show for girls."

Hush, you.  I'll tell you now, the morals stem naturally out of the episodes in such a way that I haven't seen since...well, ever, really, and sometimes a story will twist around enough times that you almost forget what the moral "set-up" was until everything wraps up at the end.  It's extremely well crafted and laid out, but really, what do you expect from Lauren Faust?

So, I guess I gotta sum this up.

The Good:
The story holds up, even under the weight of setting up something that the title spells out before the series even begins. The character interactions are very well done, managing to show a respect for the characters, laying out some simple things for the children watching, but it never talks down to its audience.  Also, Pinkie Pie's song was really catchy, but that's not going to be unusual, as I'll point out later.

The Bad:

Princess Celestia's design when she first shows up.  This is, for all intents and purposes, one of the mightiest beings in the world, a thousand year-old princess (seriously, you rule the ponies, you're a queen.  Queen it up) who controls how celestial objects work.  It's common for the noses of the ponies to be extremely downplayed when they're facing towards the camera, but since the first time we really see Princess Celestia is this:

It's...not flattering.  

Another thing was the hinting towards the elements of harmony being in the ponies themselves.  The slow draw across each one of the girls as Twilight lists the elements is necessary, I suppose, but could have been done more smoothly.  

Also, while Nightmare Moon's plots to stop the ponies starts strong, it descends into silliness towards the end, especially with the sea serpent and Rarity.  Then again, I'm not a young girl, so, what do I know.


The first episode intrigued me, but this episode locked my interest in this series.  In the space of 22 minutes I was presented a monumental quest, two types of "monsters" to be overcome, an affirmation of who the characters are, and a satisfying ending.  There are very few hour long dramas that manage that so well, and I look forward to doing more of these.

Next episode we'll see one of the two (that I've seen so far) Benny Hill references in the show!  Because that's what girls like, right?  Benny Hill's chase scenes?

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