Review: "Littlest Pet Shop: Lights, Camera, Fashion!" - Incremental Improvement
I was disappointed with the premiere episodes of Hasbro Studios’ Littlest Pet Shop, and managed only limited praise for the first DVD release of the show’s initial five episodes. The latest DVD, Lights, Camera, Fashion!, presents the last unreleased episodes of the show’s first season, and while I can say that the show has improved from its first episodes, I must also admit that it still doesn’t quite achieve the casually effervescent appeal of shows like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic or Pound Puppies.
The show centers on would-be fashion designer Blythe Baxter and her assorted misadventures with the menagerie of pets at the Littlest Pet Shop’s day care: Zoe the diva spaniel, Pepper the skunk comedian, Sunil the mongoose with low self-esteem, Russell the bossy over-organized hedgehog, Penny the shy panda, Vinnie the dancing gecko, and Minka the artistic monkey. In “Mean Isn’t Your Color,” Blythe has to arrange new outfits for the pets and update her father’s suit for a gala event, though her task is made harder her own freaking out over her father’s casual mention of a date. Her stress also leads to an inadvertent misunderstanding where Penny hates what she thinks her outfit looks like but is too shy to tell Blythe about her feelings. It’s a intricate setup that the show pulls off surprisingly well, but the assorted misunderstandings and rationalizations feel like stalling the inevitable. “Russell Up Some Fun” delves into identity issues, as Russell decides he’s too serious and changes to “Fun Russell” and ignores his self-appointed duties at imposing order in the pet shop. Meanwhile, Blythe’s friend Sue starts mimicking Blythe to a disturbing degree, despite Blythe’s attempts to convince her to be her own person. The first plot works much better than the second, which ends up being both slightly Single White Female creepy while also being a little unconvincing.
“Eve of Destruction” showcases a rivalry between Zoe and Madame Pom, another dog model who’s spending the day at the pet shop. Meanwhile, Littlest Pet Shop owner Mrs. Twombly goes on a clean-freak tear that is threatened by the pets’ efforts to help. It’s reasonably entertaining, although the resolutions to both plots end up being far too predictable. “Frenemies” is arguably the most entertaining episode on this disc, as Zoe and Pepper compete in setting up a party for Penny, while Vinnie freaks out over losing his tail and then discovers that he can dance better without it. It’s the episode that manages to be the most unpredictable and the most credible, building on what we know about the characters to create believable motivations and tensions to be resolved by the end. “Summertime Blues” is the final episode of the season, as Blythe is accepted to a fashion camp for the summer and all the people in her life have to learn to let her go for a while to pursue her dreams. The best part of the episode is the moment when her Dad is allowed to stop being the show’s designated idiot right near the end, followed by the big song and dance number the pets do as a farewell to Blythe. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode ends up feeling a bit too rushed for many of the same reasons that the first episode did: too many characters with too many plot points means nobody gets quite enough development to make something satisfactory.
It’s still a bit of a headscratcher to me why I can criticize Littlest Pet Shop for being formulaic and predictable while I can also describe My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in exactly those terms but find it much more refreshing and enjoyable. Part of it might be that even if I can guess exactly where an episode of My Little Pony is going to end, the show consistently finds oddball ways to get there. I don’t find that Littlest Pet Shop can pull off the same trick as consistently; in addition to guessing where they were going, I was also able to guess exactly how they were going to get there. If you’re doing a “how are we getting there?” kind of show, you need to at least make it a little surprising on the way and I don’t think Littlest Pet Shop clears that hurdle consistently. I also find the stabs at humor a bit too predictable. While I found myself laughing more frequently than I did in watching Little Pets, Big Adventures, those laughs were still intermittent at best.
As usual, I have few complaints about Shout! Factory’s DVD on a technical level. As with all their DVDs, picture and sound are excellent and each episode has a nice selection of chapter stops. I am a bit confused at the episode selection, though, since the first three episodes come from very early in the season (right after the five on the first DVD, in fact), while the last two come near the end. This might explain why I reacted differently to “Frenemies,” and I must admit missing the two DVDs released in between. There’s no continuity in the show worth mentioning, but releasing the episodes out of order is still a bit of a mystery to me. The only bonus feature included is a singalong for “Fun Being Fun” from “Russell Up Some Fun,” although the disc I received also included a Zoe toy and trading card in an oversized outer box.
I’m still a little mystified why I don’t like Littlest Pet Shop more than I do, but it is worth pointing out that the basis of comparison include two of the top animated shows on TV today in my opinion. Littlest Pet Shop: Lights, Camera, Fashion! isn’t a bad DVD by any stretch, but it also doesn’t leave an incredibly positive impression, either.