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"Best. Episode. Ever!" Toonzone Talks "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic"

Perhaps the greatest success of the still-young TV network The Hub is its hit children’s show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. If nothing else there is little question it has been one of its standout hits. Wholesome as it is fun, since its inception the program has been winning over not only young girls but also the approval of parents and older folks pleasantly taken aback by the charm and winning sense of humor not found or recalled its ancestors or in so many similar toy-centric shows for kids that defined so much of animation in the 80s. Now with the third season set to premiere Saturday morning, Toonzone’s “Best. Episode. Ever!” feature returns as members of Toonzone’s staff and blog team come together to discuss the virtues of their favorite episodes!  No lists or ranks, just animation fans casually celebrating animation. Kick back and enjoy, pony fans!

 


HellCat’s Choice: “The Best Night Ever”

It should be noted I haven’t really seen much of the second season. I came into the show in the initial weeks of ‘The Hub have a new My Little Pony show! And it’s actually a GOOD girls cartoon!” By the time the second season premiered the show had been fully absorbed by a meme heavy fanbase that were often unwilling to hear any criticism against it. Regardless  of that the show itself was still a strong production and maybe that’s why my favorite episode is the season one finale, “The Best Night Ever”.

This saw the six main characters attend the Grand Galloping Gala, a key Canterlot social event referenced early on in the season. Each of the six goes with a dream; Twilight Sparkle hopes to talk in person to her mentor Princess Celestia, Applejack hopes to sell her home made apple treats, Rarity hopes to meet a dashing prince, Rainbow Dash hopes to spend time with her heroes the Wonderbolts, Fluttershy hopes to see the various exotic animals in the palace gardens and Pinkie Pie just wants to attend the greatest of all parties.

The dreams of all six are very quickly shattered, leaving them crestfallen in various ways. One of the great things the season had done was build up the personalities of the six main characters, and in a way that often beat the trend of vapid characters in shows aimed at young girls. With all six starring in a single episode together these personalities are in full force, as each of them tries to make the best of a bad situation before realizing they have more integrity then that. As the Gala begins to fall apart, much to the horror of the stuffy and self-serving Canterlot elite, one of the most brilliant moments of character development occurs as the usually sweet-natured Fluttershy snaps at her fruitless attempts to bond with the animals:


This was the moment where it became blatantly clear that the show didn’t just want to create girl stereotypes but have actual fun with its characters. How many other shows primarily aimed at kids would allow a shy, quiet character to flip like this?

Escaping the carnage, the six retreat to a local donut shop where Celestia explains she intentionally invited them because she too loathed the pompous attitude of the event and hoped the group would inject some much needed life into it. Most other girls shows would likely never have gone this route because OMG, PARTIES AND CASTLES AND DRESSES! Friendship is Magic, however, takes the stance that although it’s great to get out and try new things, not everything will be what you expect. And when that happens, you shouldn’t change yourself in ways that make you uncomfortable. Likewise, sometimes it’s okay to kick up a fuss and call the arrogant out.

It’s a very apt finale for the show’s first season and one that perfectly sums up the themes that had been explored thus far.

 


The Huntsman’s Choice: “A Canterlot Wedding”

I have watched Friendship is Magic since day one, before the fandom and all of the hype that it brought. It was a very impressive show, but one that I doubt I, or many other people would have watched if it weren’t for the involvement of Lauren Faust. I respected her, but that sentiment could not have prepared anyone for how great a job she would do in making this show. It is for that reason, however, that I started to lose faith in it during its second season: Lauren Faust had left the show due to what appeared to be creative differences, and I feared (incorrectly) that executive meddling was to blame. My fears were cemented when it was revealed that they were introducing a new princess at the end of the season – an alicorn, to boot – in a royal wedding episode, with all sorts of toys going to be sold because of it. Prior to the episode premiere my faith was depleted, I’d skipped several episodes and planned to do the same for this, but something in me decided to give it a chance.  Was it for old time’s sake? Was I hoping to see a train wreck? I do not know, but I am glad that I did.

The plot is simple enough. Twilight learns that her brother, Shining Armor, is getting married to her old babysitter, Princess Cadance. It is news that she would normally have been delighted by, if it weren’t for the fact that Princess Cadance has been acting rather strangely. Unfortunately for Twilight, nobody believes her until it’s too late; Princess Cadance is revealed to be Chrysalis, queen of the changelings – a swarm of locust like creatures who feed on pure love – and that she imprisoned the real Princess Cadance and took her place in order to weaken Shining Armor and allow her loyal followers to invade the kingdom. Suffice to say, the ponies do what they do best and fight back, although the ending may have been better if they succeeded. But I’ll get to that in a little bit.

At first, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about this. Toonzone’s very own Maxie Zeus reviewed the episode and was so taken aback by how uninspired it was that he considered it one of the worst episodes to date. But I think its beauty comes not from perceived originality, but instead from its execution. It did things that would usually be overlooked, like actually giving Twilight’s friends reasons not to believe the she was telling the truth. After she interrupted the wedding rehearsal in order to accuse Princess Cadance, only to cry and storm off, a part of me didn’t even believed her when I knew from the get-go that something was up. That was brilliantly done, as I have seen so many episodes of so many shows over the years where characters would refuse to believe the obvious, without reason. and this show professinally danced around that.

But what I liked most about this episode was its villain, Queen Chrysalis. As with the episode itself, she did not appear to have any degree of depth or substance. Her motive was simple gluttony, wanting to consume as much love as she and her followers could. However, I really like the way in which she presented herself. She was a great villain, accomplishing what few others would have been able to do, and I liked her demeanor and mannerisms. She came across as more fascinating than she had any right to be, and while her appearance was meant to be villainous I actually thought she was more adorable than any of the ponies in the show. Those little fangs! But regrettably, she was defeated not by the ponies and their elements of harmony, but instead by the power of love. In some ways, I respect that decision – Twilight Sparkle and her friends can’t always save the day single-hoofedly – but it really felt heavy-handed and a touch anticlimactic.

But with all of that said, even with so much going against it – in my mere perceptions or in reality – this episode blew me away. It wasn’t perfect, as few things in life are, but this episode made me a fan again and I am grateful to it for that. It would have been nice if there were more foreshadowing throughout the season, like they did with the Grand Galloping Gala in season one. It would have been nice if they had revealed that Twilight Sparkle had a brother instead of just dumping him on us out of nowhere. But these things don’t hold the episode back and it succeeded where many others, including myself, believed that it was destined to fail.

 


Neo Yi’s Choice: “Sisterhooves Social”

In the wrong hands, Rarity could have suffered as a character. Half of her qualities fall into the Mean, Rich Girl archetype, which is one of my least favorite character types simply because such characters are vain and fashion-conscious divas that can imply that being beautiful and wealthy is a bad thing. In most cases, they’re deliberately shown to be arrogant and shallow to serve as bland obstacles for the protagonists for the sake of adding conflict. Rarity thankfully transcends such qualities because she’s not a dumb, superficial primadonna; such a remark would be an insult to the character. The series goes out of its way to show her interest in fashion isn’t a shallow thing and a flaw; she’s an artist who loves beautiful things and it’s a passion that inspires her to create. Her vanity and dramatic bouts are balanced by her kind and giving nature—she wants to spread her elegance to the rest of world regardless,of who or what you are. She does not judge. Generosity is her Element of Harmony and “Sisterhooves Social” strives to deconstruct and analyze her truest quality. Many fans loved Rarity when she proved resourceful in Season One’s “A Dog and Pony Show”, but it’s “Sisterhooves Social” that made me a Rarity fan.

Rarity is at her wit’s end when she is forced to take care of her little sister Sweetie Belle for a whole week. Sweetie Belle is excited for some quality sibling bonding, but her dreams are shattered when it’s anything but. The two couldn’t be more unalike if they tried to be. The workaholic Rarity is a fervent perfectionist who obsessively details, plans, and structures her daily routines. To Rarity her strewn about workload is not a mess, but rather “organized chaos.” By contrast, Sweetie Belle is far more relaxed and naïve. She easily caves into her impulses to tackle problems without thinking it through. Her actions only worsen the situation despite her  good intent, but Sweetie Belle’s method is Rarity’s antithesis and it drives her crazy. Instead of dealing with the issue and compromising a solution, Rarity sweeps her sister under a rug like dust. Fed up with Rarity’s ungrateful attitude, Sweetie Belle snaps and the two get into a bitter argument that ends with them denouncing their sisterhood.

Their time apart is enough for them to reflect upon their situation, though. Sweetie Belle longs for the kind of intimate connection with Rarity that she envies between her best friend, Apple Bloom, and Applejack. Meanwhile Rarity innovates solutions to make the best out of Sweetie Belle’s messes;  it is only when she spots a drawing her sister did of the two of them that Rarity Rarity realizes the dilemma is her doing. By discarding her sister so wantonly, Rarity communicated that Sweetie Belle was unimportant and not worth her time. It’s no wonder the kid ran off. She reunites with Sweetie Belle to apologize, but it’s too late; Sweetie Belle spurns her and declares Applejack her new elder sister. I’ve always liked this train of thought because it beautifully emulates what a child her age would likely do, to think purely on black and white terms. Of course she’ll get a new sister, it’s that simple.

The final solution was so brilliant that I didn’t see it coming the first time around. Applejack volunteers to be Sweetie Pie’s big sister for the annual Sisterhooves Social race. Partway through the competition, Applejack falls into a pile of mud, but gets her footing back in time to finish the race with Sweetie Belle. Only at the end is it revealed that the mud-covered Applejack is in fact Rarity, who had switched places. When I first saw this, I remember thinking, “What is the point of Applejack falling into the mud pit? What does it accomplish?” I did notice the blue eyes, but I figured it was an animation error. Nope! The reveal is spectacular because something that obvious still caught me off-guard. The Element of Harmony chose well; Rarity may be a Drama Queen who finds the bumpkin nature of the Sisterhoove Social “uncouth”, but she will readily get herself dirty out of love.

“Sisterhooves Social” is a perfect Rarity episode because it displays all of her traits, good and bad, including her vivid, focused personality and eventually, her altruistic nature. She’s a complex, multi-layered character and the episode captures it marvelously. It’s also the first episode where central protagonist Twilight Sparkle doesn’t make an appearance, proving that Friendship is Magic has the chops to play to its strengths even when the main star is away.

 


Shawn Hopkins’ Choice: “Sonic Rainboom”

“Sonic Rainboom” is episode that, as it says on the tin, features a sonic rainboom, a sonic boom combined with a rainbow. In the immortal words of Pinkie Pie, how not cool could it possibly not be?

I didn’t get into My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic at the start, so seeing online discussion around the sonic rainboom was the first thing about it that made me sit up and take notice. I realized that this was not the tame and subdued cartoon the earlier incarnations of MLP had been. This was, well, this was kinda cool.

One thing I love about FIM is that the characters are allowed to feel passionate about things. To want things. That’s not always something you get to see with female characters in kid’s cartoon. And Rainbow Dash really, really wants to win the Best Young Flyers competition. Her best bet is the sonic rainboom, but she’s only done it once as a filly and hasn’t been able to repeat it again for years.

Because the only other Pegasus Pony in the group, Fluttershy, can only manage a squeak for Rainbow Dash’s cheering section the ponies use magic to travel to the clouds and watch the competition. Twilight Sparkle casts a spell that gives most of the ponies the ability to walk on clouds and they go by balloon, but her first attempt is a spell that gives Rarity a set of beautiful butterfly wings. And that’s when we find out that Rarity wants something, too. Attention. All of it, all of the time.

Rarity’s showboating draws her into the competition and Rainbow Dash into a cocoon of self-doubt. But Rarity pulls an Icarus shining light through her beautiful wings and Rainbow Dash has to save her with a death-defying Sonic Rainboom causing dive. In the end Rainbow Dash’s best talent is put to use not for showing off, but for helping a friend, even one that’s being kind of a jerk.

So everybody learns a wholesome moral lesson, Princess Celestia says Rainbow Dash wins the contest, and there’s an uncomplicated happy ending just short of a group hug. What of it? Go elsewhere for your cynicism and complicated, ambiguous endings. The kids and Bronies who watch FIM will take our happy endings because we know that they’re arrived at honestly with great writing, real emotion, and funny and adventurous stories. That’s almost as cool as a sonic rainboom.

 


Todd “GWOtaku” DuBois’ Choice: “Sweet and Elite”

For this show it’d be tempting to pick out an ideal episode based one of its few adventures involving the “mane six”, or for the spotlight being shone on a favored character, or for being a decent story elevated by some catchy number like “Winter Wrap Up”. But first and foremost I view My Little Pony is a cartoon for children, carrying on that long-time tradition of preaching wholesome lessons to our kids and younger siblings, nephews and nieces, absent most of the shallowness in so much of what pop culture had to offer a kid my age in the 80s (and even much of the 90s). So indulge me a tip of the hat to “Sweet and Elite” for blending in particularly healthy aesops into a single story.

Our lead here is the cultured Rarity, though this is a story that a diversity of personalities could find themselves living in. She finds herself climbing the social ladder and entering into an entirely new aristocratic social circle, but finds herself conflicted between them when her Ponyville friends come to visit. She’s scared her association with them will hurt her image with the upper class but she also doesn’t want to alienate her friends, so she awkwardly tries to keep them at bay and keep these two parts of her life divorced from each other. But lies and deception don’t last very long here, and so Rarity has to come to terms with how much she does value her friendships. And with where her real friendships were also, as with a notable exception her fears about the snobbery of the upper class were justified – at least until her one good, well-respected aristocratic ally made a gesture of acceptance for Rarity and company. So in the end we have a subtle message about honesty being the best policy, and a loud and clear one against the tyranny of cliques. A strong point about individuality is wrapped up in the latter also; in that it endorses being yourself and tells its young viewers to value those who will return the favor on those grounds.

Ultimately, all this symbolizes the happy truth that we’re far beyond the era of go-along-to-get-along moralizing that was so ruthlessly parodied and maligned by the Buddy Bears in Garfield and Friends. As they say, good riddance to bad rubbish. Parents have a hard enough task raising their kids without needing to make sure they unlearn terrible lessons.

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