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25 December 2012

My Little Apple: Frienship is Magic "Apple Family Reunion" Review



Sometimes you have to take a break to see if you are going where you want to. If you take on the responsibility of doing too much stuff you end up losing perspective, and therefore the goal that you are trying to reach. It’s something that also happens when you are trying to juggle too many things at the same time. I, for example, was going through that this past weekend. I was finishing a commission for a client which is why the review of this week’s episode of ponies was delayed, something that I had to sacrifice in order to finish the job. That’s because I got myself caught into too many things to do, including my work, the Christmas shopping, and sleeping. And the worst thing is that all these are details. If I write these reviews it’s for pure enjoyment. I don’t get money for them, I don’t get anything but your feedback, and I am more than thankful for that. I value people’s opinions and happiness more so than money. So all I wanted to say with this intro is, I’m sorry it took me so goshdarn long to write and release this review, so let’s get to it.

Now, for a more extended TL; DR for those who want to skip the whole article, I have to say the following. This episode was pretty good, but I don’t think it was the best Applejack episode we have had. If you want to find out why, keep reading.

So the episode starts with Applejack cleaning up the top of the barn and finding a box full of mementos from the Apple Family. As it turns out, the Apples are having a reunion, which only happens every one hundred moons, and before you ask, I too am a bit confused by how long that means in time. I am pretty sure it means full moons, which would explain the time jumps we see in the photographs later on. However, this year seems to be more special than usual, because all of the Apple Family seems to be attending. Granny Smith herself seems surprised when Applebloom tells her that there will be relatives coming from every corner of Equestria, even Manehattan, as she proceeds to cheerfully announce the return of Babs Seed which is something that made me cheer. I was very happy to learn that one of my new favourite characters was going to make a return within the same season that introduced her, and in such short notice. I won’t get tired of saying this, but how good is this show that I can start saying things I like about the episode when it hasn’t even started? 

Best Cousins Friends Forever.
Once the plot is settled we move on to see Applejack and the rest of her family talking about how they are going to organize this year’s reunion, who will do what and what events will they have. After a little convincing, Granny Smith agrees that Applejack should be taking care of this year’s reunion, since there are so many ponies coming and Granny Smith doesn’t seem to know how to tackle such a big number of attendants. Applejack then asks her to explain how the reunion goes, what are the inner workings and all the logistics, which for us viewers means we get a flashback montage! Thanks to the ever helpful photo album we are treated to a series of black and white and sepia memories that range from the cute to the fairly alright. We see Granny Smith as a young mare trying to sew a quilt and failing at it; we are presented with the heart-attack inducing cuteness of Baby Applejack; and, my personal favourite, we see Granny Smith competing along her favourite cousin Apple Rose, and if there is one thing that warms me up are memories about friendships between relatives. It’s a very nice set up that then has an even more heart-warming echo when the family reunites again. In a couple of minutes we set up the relationships that we will see happening when the reunion starts. This is basic storytelling, showing the characters that we will follow and making us feel engaged to them. However, during this whole segment, Applejack is not paying attention to the story as she is trying to figure out the logistics of the events in each of the memories. She is thinking on what materials to buy, what activities to organize, what ingredients they will need, and so she starts to over worry and going all Twilight Sparkle in “Lesson Zero”, which I think it’s not a good thing for her health.

This isn't good for our health either!
As the night drifts away, Applejack is walking on circles in her bedroom, with messy hair and bags under her eyes, when her sister Applebloom shows up wondering why she is still awake. After they exchange similar questions, they lay on the bed as they muster about the things they will be doing tomorrow, since the excitement of the day before has not allowed them to sleep. Anyone who has gone to a convention knows this feeling, and I can imagine enough bronies looking at this thinking: “Oh yeah, I’ve been there and done that alright”. I loved this little scene though; allow me to speak about it. It feels very real and hits very close to home. Who hasn’t done this with their siblings, their parents, or their loved ones at least once? Just lay down on bed, looking at the ceiling, as they speak their minds. I’m pretty sure there are people who do this pretty much in a daily basis, and seeing it happening here ads to the fantastic slice of life feel this whole show feasts on. It doesn’t last for long though, as Applebloom falls asleep leaving her big sister to take care of the organization. After a quick transition we are brought to the next day where we see, to the surprise of everyone in the fandom, Applejack asking her friends for help! I think I threw my hands up in the air in disbelief until I realized that what I was seeing was real. We see Rarity providing the fabrics, Rainbow Dash providing the water, Pinkie Pie giving the sweets and the honey, and Spike revealing that his real purpose in life is being a Zippo lighter. It’s all very short, and if you blink or look away you might miss it, but I am glad they bring up what in season one was the issue of an entire episode. Applejack asks her friends for help. Have this happened sixty episodes ago, the whole plot of “Apple Family Reunion” would have been AJ trying to get the honey from a bee colony. Thanks for showing the character has grown since the start of the series.

"Please AJ, can you help me put my legs down? I've been like this for days"
Right after this scene ends we jump to the arrival of the entire Apple family as we see relatives coming in all sorts of vehicles. We see lots of carriages, an airship, and some just come walking by. Granny Smith gets to greet her cousin Apple Rose, and Applebloom and Babs get together after a heartfelt hug, which ties really well with the ending of “One Bad Apple”. As I write about this scene I realize what a beautiful set up we have here. In this family there are ponies from all different walks of life, different social classes and economical status. There are rich Apples, humble Apples, country Apples, city Apples, and they are all together in this one place ready to hang out with each other because they are all family. They all have that one thing in common that makes classes and social status irrelevant. That’s one of the beautiful things of being a family. That is pretty great and quite touching, wouldn’t you agree? But, as we see Applebloom and Babs about to start talking and hanging out together, Applejack stops them from chatting and drags them to the obstacle course, to have their fun times going in what seems to be one dull obstacle race. After she has set the fillies Applejack moves to the old ponies, amongst which is Granny Smith, and puts them to work on the quilt that has never been finished for generations? Ignoring Granny’s complains Applejack presents them with some sewing machines, so they can get their seam stressing going. We then move to the apple fritters, where once again we see Applejack pushing her family around to have them make a lot of fritters, and as you might realize we just keep running into the same problem over and over again here. Applejack doesn’t grasp what the whole meet up is all about. She focuses so much on having her family do activities that the ponies who are doing these activities don’t have time at all to hang out with each other and have fun, which turns the entire celebration into one massive bore fest. It doesn’t take long before Applejack realizes this, so she puts them aboard a cart and sends them on a hay ride that crosses right through an area of the orchard that ponies don’t go to, mostly because it’s chockfull of fruit bats. And yes, these fruit bats are literally bats that are made out of fruit, with colourful tones and bright colours. Once again, this show blows my mind when it comes to creative creature design. Cindy Morrow, who brought us the timber wolves and Ahuizotl, must have one of the wildest imaginations in the world, because her episodes don’t disappoint in the critter design department. As one would expect, the ride doesn’t go anywhere as planned, and the cart ends up going off the path and straight into the barn, collapsing it into a pile of boards.

"You maniacs! You blew it up! Barn you! Barn you all to hell!"
Heartbroken, Applejack realizes she has done terrible at organizing this year’s reunion, to which several relatives must roll their eyes and make the very popular “You don’t say” Nicolas Cage face off camera. But to be fair, it is a very heartbreaking scene. I don’t usually mind seeing ponies cry, but whenever Applejack swells up it just brings me down big time. Just look at her face right before the commercial break. She is so down and so broken she has no other than covering her face with her hat. She’s ashamed and frustrated. She has tried really hard, and she has put all her effort on making the celebration the best there is, the problem being that she has put her effort on the wrong place. With a hearty smile, Granny Smith reminds her that there is still one more thing to do, which is to take the photo in front of the barn...until they realize the barn is still down. But Applejack doesn’t give up, and proposes one last activity. Ready the violins and your dancing skills, because the one pony who still needed a song in this show is about to get a song for herself and her whole family! From the looks of it, it seems that Cindy Morrow is going to be our musical writing talent this season, along with Meghan McCarthy. She has written the two songs we have had so far that don’t belong to a two parter, which makes a lot of sense since catchy songs that will never leave your brain seem to be her expertise. I have only listened to the song twice, and I haven’t been able to sing anything else ever since. According to Morrow the song is thought out like one of those ho-down dances that you see in the Wild West, thus the repeated words and the very heavy use of cord instruments. This being said by the one who infected everybody’s minds with “Winter Wrap Up” is a dangerous thing. I have the feeling this song is going to be remixed this season until it becomes a new Christmas Carol, you know it. As the musical number goes, we see the whole family working together as a team to raise a new barn, and by the end of it they take one massive family picture with Applejack up front. After that the family departs as they hug and wish the best to each other, their happy faces serve as an indicator that the reunion has been a success. We even have a small moment with Babs and Applebloom as they hope to meet up again soon. Late at night Big Mac, Applebloom and Granny Smith will be putting the photos they have taken into the album, as Applejack writes a letter to Princess Celestia, hopefully this time with a real lesson. She then jumps onto the couch with her family, as the camera pulls back and away from the farm, while two shooting stars cross the night sky.

In my headcanon, one of them is Carl Sagan, and the other is the Blue Fairy.
So that was “Apple Family Reunion”, and even right now I’m still trying to figure out what to think of it. I am judging each episode on its own, so don’t expect me to compare it to the last episode, or any other episode we have seen so far. If I was to compare it to one or another, I would say at which level I’d put it, and for me this is in the same category as “A Bird in the Hoof” or “The Show Stoppers”. It’s a good episode, not spectacular or mind blowing, but it’s engaging and fun to watch.

I don’t think it was the best episode Applejack could have had, and I blame that on the fact that she wasn’t the focus of it, and I find it ironic because she more than any other pony was trying very hard to be. The Apple Family reunion is all about the interactions the different members of the Apple family have, their conversations, their little quirks and stories, and we can’t have any of those because Applejack keeps getting in the middle to make them race forever or fry apple fritters. However, I don’t think this is a bad thing. This puts us right in the position of the Apple family because, like us, all they want is to hang out with each other! Applebloom wants to know how Babs is doing in her school, and so do we, so when Applejack interrupts them to make them run a seven-legged race, then their groan becomes our own. When Granny Smith can’t keep sharing stories with Apple Rose and Apple Sauce because Applejack is forcing them to sew the quilt, we too shake our heads in disbelief. This is definitely a narrative tool used right, however it doesn’t make Applejack look any good in my eyes. As sympathetic and interesting as the Apple Family is presented, Applejack here looks quite selfish and rather, well, dominant. She takes control of the situation to such an extent that I have had the feeling, more than once, that she was going to pull out a whip and start cracking it like she is the owner of a sweat shop full of Appleoosian immigrants. It is true that by the start of the third act she shows remorse and manages to better herself to the point of saving the day from her own mistake, but that doesn’t make me forget that she was this close to screw everything up only because she turned into a control freak. 

"Twilight Sparkle ain't got nothing on me!"
That’s why I don’t think this is the best episode to show how she really is. Her best episodes so far have been, to me at least, “The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000” and “Sleepless in Ponyville”. The first one showed her open to be helped and a very vulnerable side when she was stripped of what she cherished the most, while the second showed her as a level headed, resourceful and straight up likable individual. “Apple Family Reunion” wasn’t exactly an episode about Applejack anyways, it is an episode about, what else, the Apple Family; and they are perfect. This is the family that we all know, and it’s very fitting to see it around this time of the year when we are all meeting our respective relatives. We have the old folks gathering up and telling stories, and the young ones hanging out and playing games or being silly, and the grown ups cooking and sneaking a bite or two when nobody is watching. What little we saw of their interactions was very rich, and I am taking that from this episode. The song is very, very catchy. It’s probably Morrow’s best work since Winter Wrap Up. I personally like it as much as “Babs Seed, Bad Seed”, so I will put them on the same level. You know that, come the next Bronycon, there is going to be people singing and dancing to this, and I will be very jealous because I won’t be able to join them.

It seems like I am not making any clear distinction between what I liked and what I didn’t like, because there is a bit of both mixed in each other. I really liked Applejack towards the end of the episode, when she finally understands the meaning of the celebration, but I didn’t like when she was acting like a control freak. I liked the Apple Family when they were being themselves, but I didn’t like them when they were forced to get work done. I think the character interactions were brilliant, but it’s hard to appreciate them when you have rainbow coloured bats flying around or when said characters are spinning dishes on their heads. I think the song was good, that has no negative points attached. I think the moral was simply brilliant, and one that I am personally taking into consideration. Many times when I hang out with my best friend I have this list of activities that I want to do with him, and they can go from watching a movie to play a board game, and I think that I won’t do that again after watching this episode. Like they say at the end, sometimes doing things with those you love, even if they are small things, will carry a meaning because you are with them. It doesn’t matter what it is you do, it’s who you do it with, and that is very special. However, what I think is my favourite thing is the overall tone and the overwhelming subtlety. There is no post-modern narrative, no cynicism, no sarcasm, and no subtext to be taken from this episode. What you are given is what it is. It’s all about a family reunion and the interactions between family members, mixed with bad management that then ends up getting fixed. There is no forced dramatic situation to feed the lesson, there is no dramatic plot twist, there is none of that. It’s just life. It’s what this show is best at, giving us a window into this world of magical ponies that is so close to ours it’s scary. I loved the little details, like the background events when the Apples are meeting each other, seeing Braeburn again, finding out that Turnip Truck is part of the family too, Granny Smith chatting with her cousin Apple Rose, or those two shooting stars at the beginning and the start of the episode. When I saw that for the first time, I caught it, and when Sibsy confirmed it, my heart just melted. It is something that the kids watching this episode will notice when they grow up, they will cover their mouths and say: “Mother of God, those are AJ’s parents!”

You can see it in her face. She knows who those shooting stars are.
In conclusion, this was a very nice, very calm, very honest, very well told, amazingly engaging, and emotionally simple episode. Did it make me like Applejack more? No, but I like her a lot already, so my opinion doesn’t count. Did it gave us an insight in the Apple family? A little bit, but it left me wanting more, which I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Will I watch it again? Definitely. I just need to calmly sit down and watch all these episodes while I get to work on more drawings. However, if you are looking for a good AJ episode, check the ones I mentioned before. But, like I said, don’t make comparisons. With a show this good, each episode can stand very well on its own.

- Defining moment: The third act of the episode, where there is nothing but singing, character interaction and subtlety of the highest calibre.

- Moral: If you are hanging out with someone very dear to you, don’t try and force activities with them, because whatever it is you do together, even if it’s the smallest thing, will be very meaningful since you are doing it with one of your loved ones.

8 comments:

  1. That was a good review, and the lesson of this episode holds especially true for me as I'm visiting with family this Christmas!

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  2. Once again, good review, even if I don't agree with all your points. Below is my opinion on the episode.

    It's great to see an episode centering on Applejack, and let me just say that this was a pretty great episode for her. She was well-characterized in this episode. It does show just how determined she was to make the reunion the best reunion ever. However, I was hoping that she would have gotten more character development. Also, Applejack finally got her own song! Woohoo! However, it wasn't one of the best songs in the series. It was just above average. It wasn't too bad, it wasn't too good.

    I liked that they expanded a bit more on the history of the Apple Family at the beginning of the episode. Also, seeing several Apples, especially Babs Seed and Braeburn, from the first episode returning along with some new ones was a treat. Speaking of Babs Seed, I loved the interactions between Babs and Apple Bloom. It does show how much her relationship with Apple Bloom has improved since One Bad Apple.

    Also, I really liked the subtle nod to Applejack's parents by representing them as the shooting stars. The subject of Applejack's parents having passed away is, a dark and serious subject to touch on in a kid's show, and the fact that they are pretty much confirmed to be dead is quite depressing.

    I do have a few issues with this episode. This episode felt pretty slow paced during the middle of the episode. That part of the episode felt like they were just showing how bad Applejack was handling the reunion. They could have used some of those times delving a bit deeper into Applejack's character like what the previous episode did with Rainbow Dash. If they did that, the episode would've been much better.

    Overall, I would give this episode an 8.5/10. Although it may not be on par with some of the other Season 3 episodes, it was still a great episode.

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  3. Oh gosh what is with me.

    Again, I have cried at a pony episode - and this time with only with one episode in between. Maybe I'm just feeling overly emotional lately; because reading this review (especially about the shooting stars being Applejack's parents - I would NEVER have understood that) is making me tear up too.

    But really, that part where the barn is destroyed and Applejack is absolutely heartbroken it just... ugh. Her voice actor was FABULOUS in that moment and I have to wonder if she was tearing up for real in the studio during the recording. And it's not hard to know how Applejack feels - I mean, we all have those moments when we try to plan something amazing and it all just comes crashing down around us by well... life's circumstances. And it kind of draws back to the Applejack of Season 2 in that episode The Last Roundup with the whole issue of failing those around her.

    Gosh, I am some emotional little nut over here I guess xD I need more sleep.

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  4. Not even a mention of Octavia's cousin playing the fiddle? I am disappoint :P

    I didn't get the thing with the shooting stars at first. I thought it was just a nice visual effect. Then after the episode I realized we didn't see AJ's parents anywhere. Then Sibsy confirmed the nod, and Lauren again affirmed her belief that they were dead, and I was just in shock.

    You know, for kids!

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  5. Well, I... I just can't find any point where I disagree with you here.

    So let me just congratulate you with my usual formula: as always, great review.

    Simontheb

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  6. When I first watched the episode, I enjoyed it for what it was and my first impression was much like your opinion, that it was just an above average episode. The more I thought about what I saw and the more I revisited moments in the episode, the more it grew on me, including the song (not a huge fan of country style music). Now I'm considering it one of my favorite episodes of the season, maybe even the series, which shouldn't surprise me as these type of episodes always connect more with me than the more situational/action type episodes.

    The most common complaint I hear about this episode is that it's slow or even "boring." I think that may be true for some people due to tastes, but the episode's like that for the right reasons: to really tie into the moral and situation of the episode. If it had tried to interject more scenarios or more talking, it would have lost its balance and focus on what the episode and the show is about. It kept its focus on what really mattered, the family, which made the lesson hit even harder.

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  7. One particular reason I liked this episode was because of how re-watchable it is even after Christmas. It's clever how they made an episode which feels very Christmassy, with the themes of family togetherness and a big reunion at one time of the year, without the Xmas tropes of the snow, the Xmas decor and the Xmas visuals. Maybe it was when they released the episode that this struck me as clever scheduling for the holiday season. At least you don't have to watch it at that one particular time of the year for it to 'feel right for the holidays' you know.

    Overall, it was a solid Apple Family episode. No thrills, no bullshit, honest and straight-forward, just like the Apples themselves.

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