I have always considered that fan service is a bad idea. Don’t get me wrong, I love fan service, and I squee and giggle like a schoolgirl when I see fan service on screen, whether it’s a videogame or a cartoon about pastel coloured horses. The thing that concerns me about fan service is how much it can backfire on the creators, and how much it can damage the relationship between fans and makers. It’s sad, but it happens. The bronies had suffered the backlash of this already, and don’t get me started on other fandoms. My point, if I’m trying to get a point across here, is that fan service is a double edge sword. It can make a lot of people happy, but it can make a lot of people angry, because not everybody is a fan of the same thing, even within the same fandom. But then again, who is supposed to be pleased here? The grown ups who spend hours upon hours overanalyzing a children’s cartoon, or the little kids who sit down and miss the references to R-Rated movies? The answer is none of those. We are pleasing the majority which, in the case of entertainment, is something that can still be won with numbers and not with money or celebrities. It’s all about pastel coloured horses being adorable, and nowadays a lot of people love that. Let’s let them love that, regardless of who they think is best pony. Onto the review!
It was a dark and stormy word doc, just like this one. And one internet denizen was trying to type a review, just like this one. He had spent the last five hours tumbling in his bed, because tumbling on his couch only brought him to Homestuck threads and animated cat gifs. He had only slept for a few minutes, so his perception of reality was squeezed like a marshmallow squashed by a shoe. He thought he was safe, in the reclusiveness of his cabin, when all of a sudden, just inches behind him, the dreadful TL; DR showed up! Through its rotten teeth, the TL; DR told him that this episode was not only the best episode of the season so far, but also one of the best episodes of the entire series. But, if he wanted to find out why, then he had to keep on writing, to let the world know of this.
|As there is nopony else left to tell us.|
So our tale about scary campfire stories, and nightmares, and forests in the darkness of the night begins in a sunny Ponyville street with Rainbow dash tossing coins up in the air while everypony around looks so happy to be alive and colourful. Well, somebody call Stephen King to put a subtitle that says “Ponyville, Maine” because that’s all that’s missing. Soon enough the scene gets assaulted by Scootaloo, her scooter and some awesome guitar riffs as she drives down the street causing quite less havoc than in previous episodes. We even get a continuity nod to Granny Smith dodging the scooter like a boss, something she didn’t manage to do in “The Show Stoppers”. After launching into the air thanks to a tumbled cart, Scootaloo comes across Rainbow Dash, who tells her she has some great moves. As cartoony as it was, it was very touching. There is going to be a lot of these during the episode, so brace yourselves for them. That’s a feeling I can totally share. As an artist I always react the exact same way as Scootaloo did whenever a more popular artist praises my work. It’s that feeling of validation that lifts my spirits. Does it really make you better? No, but it makes you want to be better, which is a big deal. Motivation is a priced mean nowadays, and Scoots has lots of it, as she returns to her friends to tell them how much she’d love to hang out with Rainbow Dash to learn more from her. This is when Applebloom suggests her to join her sister Applejack and her for some camping in the woods outside of Ponyville, setting it up like some sort of sisterly event for them. Sweetie Belle voices her wanting to go too, as she declares that Rarity loves camping, which is followed by a precision strike cut to Rarity saying how much she hates camping because of all the nature. This show’s timing doesn’t disappoint. The exchange between Sweetie Belle and Rarity is hilarious and ends with heart-attack-inducing adorable results.
|You are all grabbing your chests right now, even if you don't know the meme.|
We then move to the start of the camping trip, as we see Applejack, Scootaloo and Applebloom meeting up with Rarity, Sweetie Belle and a cart full with Rarity’s luggage. I think Sweetie Belle is learning the hard way not to convince Rarity to take part on every one of her activities. What else do you expect Rarity to bring to a camping but every single thing in her boutique? I have to admit though, I can relate to both. I don’t travel light at all. Everywhere I go I carry a lot of stuff, and in the end I am the one who has to deal with its weight, pretty much like how Sweetie has to bare with Rarity’s luggage because she convinced her to join. But it doesn’t matter because they love each other, and this is present throughout the entire episode, and never in a sort of “in your face” way, but a lot more subtle than that. Scootaloo however, seems disappointed as Rainbow Dash is nowhere to be seen. She cheers up though when AJ tells her that she will meet them at their first campsite. As they travel through the forest they finally make it to the first stop, where Rainbow Dash awaits them being nothing but awesome. There are few characters out there that can make setting up a campfire look as cool as she does. She karate-chops four logs outof trees, and creates a rainbow tornado to put on the rocks that make the fire. Scootaloo is positively impressed, but when she tries to make her move and say hi to Dash all she ends up is making a fool of herself, while breaking a couple of bones in the process. As they move from that to set up the tents, we are told that Scoots will be sharing one with Dash, who seems to don’t like snoring in the slightest, all this while Rarity and Sweetie Belle empty the cart andset up a tent that looks more like a palace. I am pretty sure this is a reference to “National Lampoon’s” something, but I never watched those movies so I can’t really tell. It’s hilarious though! Rarity does know how to keep it in style and being funny at the same time.
|She keeps it adorable as well, how does she do that?|
As night time falls close, Rainbow Dash prepares herself for one of her favourite past times: Telling ghost stories. We have never seen her tell a ghost story before (unless we count her scaring the ponies in the series’ pilot), but she is the type who would tell scary stories to little kids, when in the middle of the forest, at night. We even have another continuity nod when Scootaloo mentions the story of when Rarity hadfake wings, and then she lost them, and then Rainbow Dash had to save her from plummetingto the ground. The show runners might say this show has no continuity, but I see a lot more than they give it credit for. Disregarding Scootaloo’s suggestion (and probably telling her to go check out iTunes if she wants to hear that story) Dash moves on to tell the story of “The Olden Pony and her Rusty Horseshoe”. We know little of how the story goes, except that it ends with the olden pony screaming at the listener that he or she has her horseshoe, and it seemed to be scary enough to terrify all the three fillies. Once the story is over Sweetie Belle moves to sleep with Rarity and Applebloom goes to sleep with her sister Applejack, which brings us to the main conflict of the episode: Scootaloo’s fear. During this whole episode we see how Sweetie Belle and Applebloom both have a big sister to look up to, one who will defend them when they are scared or worried. Scootaloo however doesn’t have one. She looks up to Rainbow Dash like a role model, and seeing that Dash is so brave and bold she wants to be exactly the same. However, she is scared to death of everything after listening to that horror story, so for the rest of the episode up until the end she will remain terrified of everything, as she pretends she is not because she doesn’t dare sharing her fears with anypony else.
This leads Scootaloo into a nightmare where everything is in shades of red and black, the trees have sharp teeth and long arms, and the screechy moans of an old pony without a horseshoe are heard in the distance, altered by the distortions of the dream. This first nightmare is, very easily, one unsettling and very fun piece of animation. There is basically no dialogue besides the mumbles of the olden pony, just Scootaloo running away as the camera goes into crazy angles, gives us foreshadowing of regal night princesses and 360 degrees panning shots. I felt a very powerful “Evil Dead” vibe through the whole thing, which makes me very happy. Also, that olden pony reminded me a lot of the old gipsy lady from “Drag me to Hell”, so I like to entertain the idea that somebody in the staff is a Sam Raimi fanboy. My money is on James “Wootie” Wootton. After waking up with a jump scare that will make John Landis proud, Scootaloo proceeds to spend the rest of the night awake, rocking herself back and forth as she moans in terror. I felt so bad for her. You have to have been in that situation to know how it feels like, and I have been way too many times, even recently. It’s not something you will enjoy, so it’s good to have this to laugh at it.
|If I fall asleep the bronies will ship me with her.|
After the commercial break (Gak free this time, maybe because they considered the episode to be scary enough) we return to the campsite as they are moving away to their next location. As Dash wakes up she hears the moaning whimpers of Scootaloo and when she turns around shehas such bloodshot eyes that I had to look away. If you follow my blog since last year you will know that eyes terrify me, so seeing those reddened, bloated eyes just makes me squirm in disgust. Good job DHX for terrifying me once again, you and your obsession with making eyes scary, yikes. As the group of ponies is moving to their next campsite Scootaloo decides to do something really foolish and grabs her scooter to get there first, as she doesn’t want to be walking around the forest in the middle of the night. This gives us a fairly funny but quite pointless sequence of Scootaloo riding her scooter while falling asleep the whole time. I say it’s funny because all I could think of during thissegment was AMV: Hell 3, and if you have watched that too then you remember thepart I am talking about. So after she crashes her scooter and flies into a bush she manages to catch up with the rest, only to learn that they will spend the night inside a cavern and not a tent. Scootaloo’s levels of terror rise to the max when Dash tells her to go get some branches for the campfire. If this was “Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem” Scootaloo would be having a blue screen of death followed by the volume on the TV to be turned off. This is, however, one of the best moments of the entire episode. Scootaloo sees some branches near the forest line, which is full of scary eyes, and she spends a good minute trying to gather the courage to go in there and grab them, and when she finally does it it’s the most heartbreaking thing ever. She screams, cries, prances in circles, grabs the branches, cries some more, runs away, mumbles and finally brings them to the campfire. That I can so totally relate to. Right now I am living in a country house in the middle of a forest, and many nights I have to get outside, with a flash light, because there are no lights in the outside of the house. So yeah, I basically live in the “Slender” videogame, so I can perfectly understand Scootaloo running and crying and screaming and being head to hoof scared to death of whatever it is out there.
|This is the most adorable heartbreaking thing ever.|
Once the campfire is set, it’s time for another horror story, as Applebloom and Sweetie Belle can’t wait for it and Scootaloo dreads it, so much so that she steps forward to tell a story instead. She tells a different type of horror story with rainbows and sunshine, and a land where everypony was happy and ate lollypops. So she is basically narratinga repressed memory from the times when she was in Generation 3.5 and used towear a teapot for a hat. This is my head canon, you can’t change it. Rainbow Dash promptly stops her, and tells the story of the headless horse. It does sound different from the one we heard in “Look Before You Sleep”, but the beauty of horror stories, and stories that you tell around a campfire, is how they are altered by each person who has told them, which can either enrich the story or make it worse. Surprisingly, I think Dash makes the story even better, adding the always stone cold sentence “and they were never heard from again” at the end of the tale. So you can imagine how terrified is Scootaloo once the story is over, which leads us again to Applebloom and Sweetie Belle hugging their respective big sisters, and our poor pegasus filly lonelier than the number one, desperate to stay awake and have everypony else around her stay awake too. Thanks to this we can enjoy Sweetie Belle’s musical talents as she sings “Ninety Nine bottles of oats on the wall”. I have yet to see a remix of this song guys, come on! “Babs Seed, Bad Seed” gets a thousand remixes before the weekend ends, and this one hasn’t any at the time of writing this review? Get to it! But seriously though, when the song ends Sweetie Belle collapses adorably on the rock, as Rarity takes her to the tent (because regardless of the cave, Rarity will have her tent set up) while the other ponies go to sleep, ignoring Scootaloo’s begs for staying up. Even she can’t hold herself up any longer, as she drifts into another nightmare, this one with shades of blue and green, as she starts hearing something, the sound of hasty hooves coming towards her. She runs away, as fast as her little legs allow her, but it’s pointless. She trips and falls down a slope, and when she turns around there stands a horse, its head missing. The way they reveal this is both suspenseful and clever, with camera angles that never show the head of the horse, always below the neck, and the first time we notice the head is missing is in the shadow that casts over our terrified protagonist. Taken by the fear, she cowers under the shadow of the monster, but soon she is greeted with a warmer and more welcoming presence. The headless horse vanishes, as another shadow appears behind it, landing in front of her.
|"We have totally fragged that amateur player! Wouldn't thou agree!?"|
Yes, Princess Luna is in this episode, and she has a speaking role, and she is quite important for the development of the story. I couldn’t hold myself, actually I can’t hold myself at all every time I watch this episode. I watched it four times already and every time Luna appears I squeak, literally, I’m not joking. I am so happy to see her in this kind of scenario it can get ridiculous. Here Luna explains to Scootaloo that when her dream is over, that of which she is scared will still be haunting her. Scootaloo is not so much scared of monsters like the Headless Horse or the Olden Pony, but she’s scared of admitting her fears to her hero Rainbow Dash. Luna recommends her that the only way she can avoid having nightmares over and over again is to face her own fears in the real world. She then proceeded to explain something about the dream space, the subconscious part of the mind, and something about totems, but I wasn’t paying attention during that part. It was so complicated and it had so many levels.
|I've got nothing.|
Scootaloo wakes up, happy to realize that it was just a dream. But like every stupid horror movie character, she hears a scary sound and runs away from the cave and into the forest. The scary sound being Rainbow Dash’s snoring, that sounds exactly like a horse neighing. So much for hating other ponies’ snoring, eh? I like to see she is still a bit of a hypocrite; I like that flaw of hers. I don’t think this helps the plot nor the development of her character, but it’s a good way to play the classic trope of “Something is chasing me! I will run towards it and into the dark creepy forest”. It reminded me of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, and that’s another horror movie comparison I didn’t expect to do with ponies. Running away from Dash’s snores doesn’t seem to work, as Scootaloo crashes, falls down a slope, and is left hanging from a tree branch above a river. I have to admit, this part of the episode was genuinely tense. When the branch snaps, she falls into the river and then down the waterfall, I really didn’t know where they were going with it, and it makes it all the more satisfying when Rainbow Dash comes out of nowhere and saves Scootaloo’s life. However, Dash is all shades of upset with Scoots, as she shouts at her for running away into the dark forest. Scootaloo then swallows her pride and confesses all her fears. Her fear of the monsters, her fear of being scared and most important, her fear being an easily scared pony and Rainbow Dash finding out about it. She is scared of this because she doesn’t want to disappoint her hero, she wants her hero to see her as brave as she is, because she wants Dash to be some sort of big sister for her. Rainbow Dash then smiles, and confesses that when she was a filly she too was scared of those stories. Cue Rainbow Dash pulling Scootaloo close to her, and giving her a hug.
|So much hugging.|
With the main storyline concluding, we finally reach the end of the camping trip, a place of waterfalls made out of rainbows located at the top of a mountain, where fillies, big sisters and heroes join together for some fun. Later on that night Scootaloo would have another nightmare, but knowing that Rainbow Dash would be there for her makes all of her fears vanish. As Scootaloo hugs Rainbow Dash in her dream, Princess Luna sneaks in to give her a reassuring wink, just so she knows that everything will be alright from now on.
|Congratulations, you have unlocked the "Good Ending"|
So that was “Sleepless in Ponyville”, and to be honest with you, it’s as close as I imagined the episode would be! I really liked it. No, scratch that, I really loved it. It was a great episode from start to finish, full of surprises, great moments, and fantastic exchanges. There were some aspects where I liked it even more than previous episodes of this season, though they have all been completely different so I am not going to go out of my way to make comparisons. That would be unfair, so let’s judge this episode by its own merits, of which is has many.
|I'm in the mood for some "Nightmare Before Christmas", how about you?|
So, what did I like about this episode? Well, first of all, the character interactions were brilliant. It helps when you have a small cast of characters to work with so you can develop their relationships and their interactions a lot better. The interactions between the Cutie Mark Crusaders are great. The interactions between Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Applejack are great. The relationship between Applejack and Applebloom is great. The exchanges between Rarity and Sweetie Belle are perfect! I think more than once I laughed out loud at their dialogue, and then had a heart warming moment when Rarity was being nice to her sister; these two have definitely come a long way since “Sister Hooves Social”. The hero/fan girl dynamic between Rainbow Dash and Scootaloo has a lot of chemistry. Even the short segment between Princess Luna and Scootaloo is beautifully executed, and it goes beyond the mere fact that Scootaloo is not scared at all of Luna, in fact she is really happy to see her. There is not a single line of dialogue that feels out of place and it all flows really well and seamlessly. I have to give credit to the new writer Corey Ann Powell for such a good work on this episode. It does feel like she was given a lot of material to work with because, for a new writer, she did put a lot of references to previous episodes in the script, as well as giving Princess Luna one new characteristic that I love. Not only is she the Princess of the Night, but she is also a dream walker, and she can present herself in the dreams of ponies. That is brilliant. I don’t know what the majority of the fandom thinks of this, but I love this idea. It makes perfect sense too. Wouldn’t Luna want to give the ponies a good night sleep and keep them safe? After all, sleeping is another way of enjoying the night. She would hate for her subjects to have a restless sleep. That’s what you call making a character move forward, and I loved it. It also gives me endless amounts of material to work out “Inception” jokes.
|You will know you are dreaming if her horn keeps spinning.|
What else did I like? I really liked Scootaloo in this episode of course. Scootaloo has always had the burden of being the only Cutie Mark Crusader who hasn’t been fully developed. We have had episodes about Sweetie Belle, and Applebloom, but we never had the chance to see a more insightful view into Scootaloo’s personality. For us she was the tomboy, the brass girl who likes to be a badass, the type who wears a leather jacket and pretends she is smoking a cigarette. There wasn’t much else to her except that, but then you didn’t really need more to get her personality. However, she was in dire need of an episode, and this one is as good as it gets. She was scared and panicky, but she was also stubborn and proud. She didn’t want to admit her fear of disappointing her hero, which only made her other fears stronger in exchange. That is another thing that I love of this episode, the message. It was very simple but very strong, and more grounded in reality than I expected. Scootaloo wasn’t really scared of those monsters from the horror stories; she was scared of admitting she was scared. That is a very realistic fear, being scared of letting someone down, of disappointing somebody because we are not as strong as we think we are, and like all realistic fears this comes to haunt us in our dreams in the shape of scary monsters from which we are trying to escape. This is very clever, and it says a lot about how the makers approach this show. It combines its elements to a perfect degree. It’s this kind of episodes that I enjoy the most, the ones that don’t end with the typical “Dear Princess Celestia...” In this case we don’t need someone telling us the moral; it’s already there for us to pick up. This is the correct way to treat your target audience and your periphery demographic; like intelligent people.
|Like level headed people. Get it? See what I did there? I'm so going to the dungeon.|
I also loved the setting. I would go as far as considering this a type of bottle episode. It has a small cast of seven characters (six in the real world, and our ethereal Princess of the Night in the dream world) all together in the same setting as they interact with each other. This type of episode is my favourite. It’s a slice of life mixed with fantasy elements that make it stand out above the rest. I love bottle episodes and slice of life episodes in every TV show that I watch, but the ones in Friendship is Magic are my favourites, especially for how the makers approach them. It feels like looking into someone else’s life, but they are colourful ponies so that’s what makes it so unique. It’s like watching the end of a Twilight Zone episode from the very beginning. I also loved Applejack in this one. There is no need to say that I loved Rainbow Dash and that she was awesome in every scene, and that Rarity is the best happy camper in the whole world as well as being Best Pony, but Applejack was very, very cool in this episode. Step by step she is moving away from being that background pony everyone teases her with, and she’s gaining as much spotlight as everypony else. I think we have to thank Meghan McCarthy for this. The last two seasons did have some Applejack here and there, but we have had a lot more AJ in these past five episodes than in the last second season as a whole. I’d be lying if I say she isn’t growing on me. I always thought she was an alright endearing character, but these past few episodes have made me really like her. I doubt she will knock Rarity off of her number one place in my heart, but everypony else is in danger of becoming third to Applejack’s second place.
As you may have noticed, I haven’t said anything about the stuff that I didn’t like because, well, I can’t really think of anything. Honestly, I am trying to think of things I didn’t like from this episode as I am writing this and I can’t honestly think of anything. Trying to come up with bad things in order to balance for the good would be nitpicking at this point, and to tell you the truth I am not in the mood to turn into a Mister Nitpick. So this would be one of those rare types of episodes where I have to draw a blank on the whole negative section of the review. I didn’t find anything I’d hate, but for me this isn’t something new with this show, so don’t expect me to spend an entire paragraph trying to find flaws where there are none. But again, this is my opinion. If there are flaws in this episode they are not big enough for me to point them out. That’s why I keep the comment section open, so you can tell me what you think was flawed, and I will very likely agree with you as long as you can word it properly.
|Be cool, like Dash and Scoots.|
Overall, it was a fantastic episode. I don’t give numeric grades, but you can imagine what I’d give to it based on my review. It was a classic Friendship is Magic quality pony episode. It was fun, it was funny, it was entertaining, it was creative and very imaginative, it has great character interactions, very well written dialogue, spot on animation, continuity nods left and right, and a satisfying resolution. I have to say, Corey Ann Powell really picked a great episode to make her debut in this show. I am seeing a few people complaining about one thing or two, but the overwhelming overall feel is of complete and utter positivity. This one will make my top ten easy. We could say that this was an episode I thought I’d only see in my dreams.
|Yes, I see what I did there, and I don't regret it.|
- Defining Moment: After the Headless horse corners Scootaloo at the end of a pit, Princess Luna summons herself into the nightmare, vanquishing the monster and reassuring the little filly. I think three of my ten inner fan boys were screaming in pleasure.