In my review of the first season DVD set of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I compared the show to playing the blues, noting that blues is simple music and simple music is the hardest music to play. The five episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on the latest “soccer mom” DVD release, Adventures in the Crystal Empire further illustrate this point, sometimes positively and sometimes not so much so. The five episodes on the disc are still plenty of fun and worth watching for audiences of all ages and genders, but it’s worth comparing the more successful episodes with the ones that aren’t quite as spot-on.
The two-part title episode was the premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic‘s third season, only just premiered on TV. While most episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic are “done in one” standalone episodes that happen form a loose continuity with each other, “The Crystal Empire” relies much more heavily on big events in prior episodes. It also aims much higher than the average episode of the show, with an epic fantasy storyline that sends Twilight Sparkle and her five Pony friends to the frigid north of Equestria to save the titular Crystal Kingdom from the dark forces that led to its downfall ages ago. It’s a pretty good episode, arguably even better at epic fantasy than the series premiere, but it also feels a little out of place next to the other episodes of the show. I’m also not fond of the musical numbers, which are fine but definitely feel more bolted on, especially when compared to the repeated showstoppers from season one. It’s not bad as a change of pace from the norm, but I feel like the grander scope means some of the simplicity that makes the show successful was a little lost in the process.
The same could be said of season two’s “Luna Eclipsed,” which centers on the Ponies’ equivalent to Halloween and on the legend of Nightmare Moon that drove the series premiere. Of course, in that series premiere, the malevolent Nightmare Moon became the more benign Princess Luna, but the new Princess is more than a little bewildered and unable to connect with the populace after such a long time away from them. Again, there is plenty to like in it, but it seems to have the same loss of simplicity as “The Crystal Kingdom,” and suffers ever so slightly for it. It’s trying to do a bit too much in one episode and the ending is a bit more muddled than I expected.
However, the remaining two episodes represent the show in fine form. Season one’s “Sonic Rainboom” is one of my favorites for its remarkable drive and inspirational climax (though it’s a bit disappointing to see it repeated, since it’s already on the season 1 DVD set). It’s also worth noting that the story looks like it has two driving plots–Rainbow Dash’s feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure at the Young Fliers Competition in Cloudsdale, and Rarity’s stealing of the spotlight with her new wings–but the second exists only to reinforce the first. It may look complicated, but at its core it’s only about one thing. The fact that the episode is so successful is another indication of how hard it is to do something simple well. Similarly, season two’s “It’s About Time” is a familiar time travel story that begins with a Twilight Sparkle traveling into the past to herself, delivering only half a warning before blipping back to the future. As with most episodes from season 1, it’s a story that one can probably guess the ending to just from the setup, but the episode’s simplicity is the key to its success. In some ways, the anticipation of the expected ending (and the perfect execution of that ending) is even more fun than the bafflement that results from more novel, less conventional stories.
Shout! Factory’s DVD is up to their usual high standards, with an excellent anamorphic widescreen image, perfect 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack, and a nice selection of chapter stops within episodes. The only bonus features are printable coloring sheets and a karaoke sing-along for the title episode’s big musical number.
Disney’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse aims for an even younger audience than My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, so it’s even more of a pleasant surprise to see how successful it is at holding an adult’s attention. The CGI series drops Mickey and his friends in Mickey’s magical clubhouse, where they get into gentle misadventures that they solve through cleverness, kindness, and the help of their “Mousekatools,” delivered by a little flying Mickey logo named Toodles. The latest DVD release, Mickey and Donald Have a Farm turns in five half-hour episodes, all of which are pretty typical fare for the show. The show is formulaic in the extreme and utilizes “the pause” made (in)famous by Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer, but somehow this show doesn’t ever seem quite as juvenile or as unwatchable to someone over the age of 4. It might just be that Mickey and his friends are genuine characters, as opposed to the largely interchangeable casts of most comparable Nickelodeon shows. There also seems to be a bit more of a sense of humor in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse which always helps the medicine go down. For example, “Goofy the Homemaker” is a remix on “The Three Little Pigs,” with Goofy trying to build a sturdy birdhouse. The show wrings a fair bit of humor as the designated spoiler Pete constantly engages in oddly specific activities that always inadvertently blow down the birdhouse (“Can’t sleep! Oh, well…might as well practice my tuba!”).
Maybe you just have to be there. It’s worth it, though. Trust me. Besides, a preschooler show with intro and outro theme songs by They Might Be Giants has a whole lot going for it right out of the gate.
For the record, the episodes on the disc are “Mickey and Donald Have a Farm,” “Goofy’s Petting Zoo,” “Clarabell’s Clubhouse Mooo-Sical” (which is another one that adults may find more amusing than the kids), “Goofy the Homemaker,” and “Donald Hatches an Egg.” The disc is in anamorphic widescreen with a 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack and no extras, although DVDs released now come with a planting and activity kit courtesy of Seeds of Change. Even though the show doesn’t air with any commercials, there is still a chapter stop in the middle and just before the end credits of each episode, which is a nice touch that is often missing on pre-school DVDs.