Review: "My Little Pony: Pinkie Pie Party" and "Chuck & Friends: When Trucks Fly" Are More Fun from the Hub
The latest My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic DVD, Pinkie Pie Party, collects 5 more episodes of the Hub’s breakout hit show, centering on the perpetually cheerful, slightly off-kilter Pinkie Pie. Taken from across the show’s three seasons to date, all five episodes are quite good and manage to maintain the theme (not always true in kidvid circles). It’s true that Pinkie Pie can be one of the more overbearing Ponies on the show, but there’s enough variation on this disc to keep her from wearing out her welcome.
“Feeling Pinkie Keen” and “A Friend in Deed” remind me that Pinkie Pie most often reminds me of Pepe Le Pew, from her trademark bouncing gait to her singlemindedness and how that will unintentionally drive other characters crazy. The first episode exists mostly to torment series regular Twilight Sparkle in entertaining ways, as Pinkie Pie’s semi-clarvoyant powers constantly predict the many mishaps that befall Twilight Sparkle. The second introduces a new character named Cranky Doodle Donkey, who is moving to Ponyville and is exceptionally resistant to Pinkie Pie’s slightly hyperactive overtures of friendship. “A Friend in Deed” turns out to be one of my favorite episodes to date, partially because it manages to play out such a heart-warming lesson without succumbing to saccharine and partially for the exuberantly energetic, over-the-top musical number at the start, which is among the best the show’s ever done.
Pinkie herself ends up tormented in “Party of One” and “Baby Cakes,” in the first by her own paranoid delusions that her friends don’t want to hang around with her any more, and in the second by the twin newborns of the owners of Ponyville’s sweetshop, the Cakes. I’m impressed at how “Party of One” can slowly turn Pinkie Pie’s sweetness into something deeply unhinged without being really upsetting. Her conversation with her new friends is both hilarious and deeply, fundamentally wrong (I’m reminded most of the animated Tick’s conversations with Little Wooden Boy about loyalty). Like many of the first season’s episodes, the resolution is visible from a mile off, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch. “Baby Cakes” makes me suspect someone on staff had just had newborns and was channeling the experience into a script, since Pinkie’s torment at the hooves of the Cake twins (Pound Cake and Pumpkin Cake) will ring true to any new parent or anyone else trying to care for a newborn for the first time. Finally, “Too Many Pinkie Pies” comes from the show’s most recent season, as Pinkie’s fears that she might be missing out on something fun leads to creating magical clones of herself. Much mayhem ensues. The episode is fun, but feels slightly off; I almost think it doesn’t quite go far enough with the Pinkie Pie overload as dozens of clones overrun Ponyville, and the resolution to the story doesn’t quite work out as well as I think it should have. Still, there’s quite a bit of funny nonsense to be mined from this episode.
My only real complaint about this DVD is the omission of “Swarm of the Century,” which (until seeing “A Friend in Deed”) was my personal favorite Pinkie Pie-centric episode. As I’ve come to expect from Hasbro and Shout!, Pinkie Pie Party (a Wal-Mart exclusive) has excellent video and 2.0 Dolby Digital audio, with the usual array of chapter stops breaking up each episode. The bonus features include a karaoke sing-along for “A Friend in Deed”‘s show-stopping musical number “Smile, Smile, Smile,” and PDF printouts for a Pinkie Pie party pack (consisting of a “Pin the Cutie Mark” game and 3 coloring sheets).
I would find the Hub’s The Adventures of Chuck and Friends appalling for the way its talking cars blatantly slam the Little Boys/Big Vehicles Hot Button, except that it’s a really good show. When Trucks Fly collects 10 more episodes of this preschool show, giving the titular little red dump truck more opportunties to learn social lessons and occasional educational material with his array of truck and car friends.
Like all shows on the Hub, The Adventures of Chuck and Friends is quite enjoyable, even for people outside its target demographic. The show skews much younger than My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and even Transformers: Rescue Bots, scaling down complexity and halving the running time. Like many shows for pre-schoolers, Chuck and Friends is formulaic in the extreme, so its first advantage over its competition on other networks is that it avoids feeling as formulaic as those other shows often do. This is certainly true when the show comes in smaller doses, since I have to admit that the show began wearing a little thin after sitting through the 110 minutes of this DVD. Even so, that’s double to triple the length I can tolerate of an average Nickelodeon preschooler show that isn’t Yo Gabba Gabba!. Attempting to detail the 10 episodes is somewhat futile: a new idea gets introduced, launching the imaginative Chuck into a daydream, followed by mishaps, misunderstandings, and occasional misbehavior before lessons are learned, and everybody’s friends again by the end.
I am definitely not holding the formulaic nature of Chuck and Friends against it, any more than I hold the formulaic nature of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic against it. Chuck and Friends is winning largely because of the believable appeal of Chuck himself and the credible way he and his friends think and act like kids. There’s also a certain gentleness and good humor that infuses every episode pretty consistently; even when Chuck well and truly misbehaves in an episode like “Super Sweeper Chuck,” it’s hard to find very much fault with him, especially since he acts so obviously remorseful afterwards. Of the episodes on this disc, favorites include “On a Role” (for the creative ways Chuck and his friends re-create superhero gadgets from their favorite TV show), “Anchors Awheel” (where increasing creativity marks playtime with a life-sized boat), and “Senses of Direction” (which features a blind motorcycle guided by his seeing-eye sidecar, and leads to Chuck and friends using all their senses during their playtime).
After covering 3 DVDs worth of Chuck and Friends, now is as good a time as any to note how much I like Günther, the assistant at the truck stop and garage that Chuck’s parents own. Günther is perpetually off-screen and communicates only in car horn honks, and I have no idea why I find him as entertaining as I do. He doesn’t show up often, but I’ve failed to mention him so far.
As with earlier Chuck and Friends DVDs, you can expect great video and audio from When Trucks Fly, with chapter stops in each episode to skip the opening credits and jump to the closing credits. A karaoke sing-along is the only bonus feature.