Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Reviewing Is Magic: Episode 11


"Well, gosh, Erik, that's great.  Could you expand on that at all?"

Music is important.

"Well, awesome.  I wonder if the Nerdist has anything new up on their websi-"

Music is fascinating.  This is an excerpt of an interview Neil Degrasse Tyson had with Moby on his podcast Startalk:

  • Moby: "Music is so ubiquitous you know. It is such a normal part of our lives but it can do so much. They play is at funerals, they play it at weddings. People play music to have sex, they play music to cry. People play when you're trying to get armies to march into war. And what's amazing about music to me, it doesn't exist. All it is, is air moving a little bit differently. But somehow air moving a little bit differently can make someone weep, it can make someone jump up and down, can make someone move across the country and cut their hair."
  • Neil Degrasse Tyson: "So what you mean here of course is that there is not a "thing" that you look at and say "that's music". It's a construct of our brain responding to moving air."
  • Moby: "Most art forms, you can put your hand on them. You can touch a sculpture. Music by definition doesn't exist and it never can exist. Like the moment that air hits your eardrum, it's done. It's gone. For that microsecond it affects you emotionally and the music is gone. We think music exists because you're like "what about CDs and vinyls?". Those are just delivery vehicles. Convenient ways of recording and storing electronic impulses that will move air a little differently.
  • Neil Degrasse Tyson: "So you're saying that music doesn't exist physically yet has the greatest power over our emotions than anything anyone has ever devised. That's scary. That's scary beautiful. "
Now, music is intrinsic to the package when we experience any kind of media.  Obviously it's present if you're watching a concert or listening to the radio.  Anybody who produces television and movies knows how key music is to the point that, when a modern comedy doesn't have music playing during a heavily emotional scene, it feels off.  It's like somehow something is missing, and it leaves you feeling unsettled.

In movies, of course, the soundtrack is a huge production.  The Academy Awards have multiple categories involved with the music to films, but they aren't always great.  Sure, when you have Hans Zimmer making your movie score it's going to have a huge impact, but for every time Elton John does something like The Lion King or a whole orchestra puts together Lord of the Rings, you get something like Cool As Ice or Space Jam.

Now, the last cartoon I really remember focusing on having music as an integral part of making an episode was Animaniacs.  Not only was the soundtrack itself brilliant for the minor things, but you had episodes that were parodies to huge musical productions, such as Les Miseranimals.

And, of course, everybody rightfully remembers such brilliant musical moments as this:

Now, I do remember Freakazoid doing a lengthy musical number that parodied Hello, Dolly, but since the show didn't last as long, it didn't have quite enough time to build up its musical library.  The Huntsman theme was great, though.

So what does all this have to do with ponies and friendship?

Just this: Animaniacs is my number one show for great music in a cartoon, be it silly or serious.  My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a close second and getting closer every time I hear a new song.

Now, I've glossed over a lot of the music so far, but it was for noble intentions.  Pinkie Pie, for instance, has several fun songs she sings across episodes up until now; I've mentioned both her Laughter Song from the opening two episodes as well as her song about Zecora.  She also has two songs in episode 3.

Mostly, I wanted to focus on one of the key songs of today's episode.  When I first heard this, it knocked my socks off because typically you really don't hear this kind of dedication to a cartoon series' songs anymore. But I don't want to spoil things early, so let's get started looking at the episode.

Not actually related to the storyline, but I thought it was cool.

The episode opens with an explanation of how seasons change in Equestria.  I know I keep saying this, but I would write a senior thesis paper in college on weather and seasons on this television program because it's absolutely fascinating.  See, in other parts of the country, ponies simply use magic to change the weather patterns over from winter to spring.  Keep in mind this is a world where a princess uses magic to make sure the sun rises every morning so, yes, it makes sense in this context.

Ponyville, on the other hand, having been founded by "earth ponies" (any pony without wings or a horn), has a several hundred year old tradition that involves no magic whatsoever.  This means they have to manually change the seasons themselves.  Now, there are few plot holes I noticed through the episode, but I'll get to those when they come up.

Now Twilight, being new to Ponyville, is experiencing this whole thing for the first time, so she's acting as our eyes and ears to witness the biggest manual labor celebration I think we'll see on television.  Ever.  We have three teams (weather, plant, and animal) which make up the entire population of Ponyville, and after a brief speech by the Mayor everybody breaks up to get to work.  But, as Twilight points out, she a) doesn't have a team vest, and b) has no idea what's involved.

So then we get our big musical number.  I'm not even going to try to describe it, I'm just going to link to it:

I've said before that there were certain moments where I knew I had to continue watching this series.  The first was Applejack's never-discussed brush with permanent brain damage.  Another was (you know what's coming) the appearance of a bear (say it with me) made of outer space.  However, it was this song where my brain promptly informed me "Damn it, you're a brony."

I hear the first step to solving the problem is admitting you have it, so there it is.

So, Twilight needs to find her job, but obviously there's a few things you're rather limited to when you can't use magic.  A quick discussion with Rainbow Dash rules out fetching birds or clearing clouds (no wings) ... which leads to my first plot hole.

If the whole thing is being done by "earth pony" tradition, then how do pegasus ponies fit into that?  I mean, obviously you need them to handle clouds and bird fetching duties, but is it just that the technology doesn't exist to let earth ponies do this?  We know hot air balloons exist, but I'm pretty sure physics wouldn't allow you to attach giant fans to them to blow clouds away.

To be fair, almost any job that could be done with magic could also be done with physical labor, so perhaps it really is magic that's just forbidden in Ponyville during this event.  I guess this is both good and bad, since it's great to have traditions, but it's important to not cling to the ones that are outdated or simply ridiculous to begin with.

But back to the show.  Twilght meets up with Rarity to try her hand at building bird nests...and this seems like a perfect point that someone could go "you know what?  It's great that we're making bird nests and all, but considering some magical ponies have the final motor control to pick every apple off of a grove of trees at once without snapping any branches, maybe we should let them whip through the nests quickly."

Instead, each nest is assembled by hand- er, hoof, and when you don't have thumbs or fingers I can only imagine the frustration.  It's no wonder Twilight's first attempt is horrendous.

I don't know why, but when Spike suggests the birds could use it as an outhouse, I choked on my drink at the time.  Considering that the subject of bathrooms is almost never discussed on this show, to suddenly be reminded that ponies don't just do it in the woods was startling.

So next we find Pinkie Pie whose job is probably the neatest.  She ice skates grid lines into the ice so it'll break up and melt faster.  That is simply glorious, and I credit the writers for thinking of it.  Twilight....also doesn't do very good at this job, either.

Pinkie, not wanting to be around flailing ice skate blades, suggests that Twilight helps out Fluttershy instead.  Her job is to wake up all the hibernating animals before spring arrives, which, the more I think about it, is kind of scary.  See, the last I checked, animals had a "natural" clock to wake them up based on the seasons, such as temperature changes, length of daylight, and other "unknown" factors.  Now, if the weather is planned and manufactured, like it is in this world, animals probably wouldn't be able to evolve that hibernation system, so all of the small creatures are completely dependent on ponies to make sure they wake up and don't starve to death.

I'm telling you, Equestria Climate And It's Effects 101 would be the best college course ever, and probably more useful than "The Strategy of Starcraft."

This also doesn't end well, having sudden encounters with snakes, bats, bees, then finally a family of skunks.

 Our last attempt to find what Twilight's knack for modifying environments comes with Applejack.  After watching this scene, I don't think I'm ever going to complain about snow shoveling or blowing snow from a driveway again, since at least I don't have to haul snow from a multi-acre farm so seeds can get planted.

Of course, it's mostly the rarely-seen stallions who seem to be doing most of the plowing and...I don't know the term here.  Horse-dozing?  Anyway, Twilight's attempts to help out with a bit of magic "on the sly" also doesn't end very well.

So, what's a pony to do when it seems you can't help out and your efforts get you in trouble?  Well, if Twilight's anything like me when I was younger, the solution would be to run and hide somewhere and feel sorry for yourself.

Well, I wouldn't have picked a snow-covered bush, but an "A" for effort, Twilight.

It turns out there's a massive lack of organization amongst the other ponies, and nobody's able to settle on when, where, or how projects are to get done.  For instance, all those bird nests that were supposed to be built?  Twilight's was so bad that Rarity's still trying to fix it.

(Dear Twilight, we call that "epic fail.")

So it turns out that Twilight discovers the one thing she's good at.  Namely, being bossy and nitpicky being organized and paying attention to details.  With her in charge, they're able to get everything together and whip the landscape into shape so that spring is able to arrive on time.

(Sadly, there is no animated gif that accurately shows the method all the clouds are cleared from the sky, but trust me when I say that the physics and meteorological implications of it are mind-breaking)

So finally, I've been able to address music on this program, and I'm able to check that off of my own, personal checklist of topics related to this program.  What's next?

Oh, right.  The "Scrappy-Doo Effect."

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