Going into this episode I felt like this should be the type of episode that I either go crazy for or get really emotional with, like “Hearts and Hooves Day” or “Family Appreciation Day”. It’s weird that I say this but watching the episode a second time made me feel somewhat exactly the same as I felt the first time I watched it, and that is incredibly divided. Sometimes it’s really heartfelt and emotional, and other times it’s flat and pointless. Other times it’s gorgeous and breath-taking, and other times it looks as generic as one of the toys it promotes. Sometimes the characters are really engaging and relatable, and other times they are boring and uninteresting as you can get. And sometimes the writing is snappy and clever, and others it feels like it could have been written in your sleep.
As you can see I do have a lot of things to like and dislike of this episode, and I guess that’s what changes my format for this review respect the others, my TL; DR is pretty much the same as my intro. I feel pretty divided about it, and I am not sure if I like it or hate, and I guess you will only figure out if you keep on reading.
In Season three we established that the world of My Little Pony is preparing for the Equestria Games, and this episode picks up more or less where we were left it. Ms Harswhinny pays a visit to Ponyville’s School to announce a contest where all the fillies and colts can participate. The contest consists in creating and performing a routine that represents everything that’s good about their town, and the winning prize is to carry Ponyville’s flag at the games. Helping the little ponies train will be Rainbow Dash, whose overenthusiastic personality clashes with the more austere and cold hearted approach Ms. Harswhinny (apparently) gives to it. Joining this competition are all the ponies at the school including, of course, The Cutie Mark Crusaders who put up an act so impressive and mind-blowing that even their sworn enemies, Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, are afraid of losing. Seeing as how the technique of insulting them for not having their cutie marks doesn’t have an effect on them anymore, the two bullies resort to insulting Scootaloo’s inability to fly.
|They then set an orphanage on fire and ate ice-cream made of puppy tears.|
Hurt and with her insecurities floating all over the place, Scootaloo figures that the only way to win the competition is learning to fly no matter what the cost, or else the routine will be a complete failure. She trains, and by default makes Sweetie Belle and Applebloom train, so hard that when they get to repeat the routine in front of Rainbow Dash they are so tired and burnt out of repeating it over and over again that they utterly fail at it, and Dash recommends them to stick to the original choreography. Scootaloo ignores this piece of advice and keeps trying to fly, but no matter how hard she tries she just keeps failing. The situation gets to a boiling point when Scootaloo decides that she is a dead weight and that she’ll just ruin their chances of winning the competition, so she stays back in Ponyville.
|"My worst fear is to crash into an orphan chicken banner"|
But when Dash hears of this she heftily returns to town to get Scootaloo back into shape. Dash tells her that she doesn’t need to fly to prove what she’s capable of. The routine works perfect as it is because it shows what Ponyville is all about. Just because Scootaloo can’t fly that doesn’t mean it’s better or worse. Flying might not be her talent, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have any! With a renewed dose of confidence and support in her motivation, all of the CMC grab their helmets, jump onto Scootaloo’s scooter, and rush back to the Crystal Empire where they wow everypony with their performance and win the competition to carry the flag at the Equestria Games. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon walk away in outrage, Ms. Harswhinny finally loses control over her emotions and cheers for the winners, and Rainbow Dash flaps away as she rolls her eyes when the CMCs announce that their special talent will be flag carrying.
|Charlie Brown impersonators is a close second.|
So, what problems do I have with an episode that seems quite solid and straight forward? Well, for starters, the fact that it’s really hard for me to make a clear cut distinction between the best parts of this episode and the worst parts of this episode. It’s really hard for me to start thinking about something that I really liked without my thoughts getting trampled by something that I didn’t particularly enjoyed. I guess going in order it’s mandatory as to give this review a semblance of order so let’s get to it.
|Grab your helmet!|
I think it was a joy to get Ms Harswhinny back in the saddle. I thought she was a great character in Season 3, and that she had a lot of potential that was wasted on her getting splashed and being rail rolled into an unsatisfying conclusion. However, she is downright perfect in this episode. She does keep a stoic and stiff attitude, and does her best to keep a professional persona which works great to transmit the importance of the even all the fillies and colts are taking part into. I also appreciate how she doesn’t treat the children like they are dumb, she talks to them like she’d talk to a grown up, which I bet only invested all the little ponies more into wowing her with their performance. She might seem like a stick in the mud, but then she also has a joyful and happy side that she lets loose when the CMC are proclaimed the winners, which shows how well balanced she is as a character. But then, and I’m not going to lie, I thought the animation on her wasn’t all that good. Don’t get me wrong, and don’t be mad, because I thought what DHX is doing with Flash is just unbelievable, but the way she talked and the way she moved was so distracting I don’t remember a word she said. All I remember was facial expression…
…after facial expression…
…after facial expression…
…after facial expression.
I don’t think this is necessarily bad, but it is distracting nonetheless.
Another thing that kept me divided was Rainbow Dash. This is the very first episode where Rainbow Dash is the only representation of the Mane Six, and it feels really in character and very proper for her to be fully involved in anything regarding the Equestria Games. Taking from her enthusiasm on “Games Ponies Play” one would expect to see her as involved, energetic and pumped about the event as possible, and that’s exactly what we see…for at least four minutes. Rainbow Dash is severely underused, and we could have had a couple more scenes with her interacting along with Scootaloo or even just by herself. Instead we are given too much time about the CMCs getting their act together and over-rehearsing to the point of exhaustion. It was great to see Rainbow Dash cheer up and get Scoots out of the dumps, but that only leaves me wanting for more.
|Whoops! Gotta go do something incredibly awesome off camera for ten minutes!|
I also have a few things to say about the song. It’s not that I hated it, or that I thought it was bad, far from that. I mean, my God, they throw in a reference to Rocky! The moment when Scootaloo walks up the steps and rises with Ponyville in the horizon is an exact recreation of one of the best shots in film history. Anything involving my favorite movie series of all time deserves a special place in my heart. But I would be lying if I say I had no issues with it. For starters, I think this is one of the most forgettable songs in the entire show. I wasn’t humming any of it by the time the episode was over, and when I re-watched it a second time I was surprised to see that there was a song in it. I had completely forgot about it! I would say it has gorgeous visuals, but that’s only for a few counted moments. I already mentioned the awesome reference to Rocky, and there is also that gorgeous shot of the CMCs running against the sunset, but everything else felt like a jumbled-messy training montage from the seventies. It did make me laugh a couple of times, but not enough to declare it memorable.
Speaking of humor, I think the tone of this episode wasn’t all that there. Sometimes it’s sad, other times it’s funny, other times it’s heartwarming, but then other times it’s tense, and other times it’s dramatic, and then it goes back to being sad again. I don’t mind getting my emotions thrown left to right, but this is ridiculous. Getting a tone consistent requires a lot of work, and it feels like this one wasn’t all that there. I don’t particularly remember laughing out loud with it, but I don’t particularly remember weeping with it either. It throws me in so many ways that I just end up not caring whatsoever, and that’s a pretty big flaw when you have your characters being so invested in the story. I thought that the CMCs and Rainbow Dash were very legit in their emotions and their performance. It’s a shame that all of this gets trampled by a very mediocre tone.
|I horned my lace, can you help me?|
It may seem like this review is all over the place, and yeah, you are right, it is. It’s all over the place because this episode is all over the place. It throws a lot of ideas and situations at the wall with the hopes of making one of them stick, and when it comes to results only two things stick to the wall, one good and one bad.
|There's two bad things in this picture, though.|
The absolute worst part are the villains. I know how that sounds, and I know it’s making me come across as the type of guy who doesn’t enjoy the duo of Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, but the truth is that I really like these two bitches. I love them, I absolutely do. These two are the type of villains that I personally adore, like Agent Smith from “The Matrix” or Captain Barbosa from “Pirates of the Caribbean”. They can get to be really despising and at the same time they can also get to be incredibly enjoyable. But this only happens when they are written very well. There are episodes like “Family Appreciation Day” and “Ponyville Confidential” where these two are really fun. That’s not the case of this episode though. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon are as entertaining as how well written they are, just like every other villain. Sadly Ed Valentine does a very piss poor job at making them interesting. There is no bigger sin than making a villain boring. They are just so dull, uninteresting, and just downright bland that I just can’t believe it. The only reason they are in the episode is so that they spark the conflict and get the delivery of the moral in motion. Their character arc is non-existent, they are there just as a narrative device. The moment they started calling the CMCs blank flanks and boasting about their cutie marks I was groaning hard enough to break concrete. It felt like re-watching a bad rehash of “Call of the Cutie” made with unpainted cardboard cutouts of the characters. They have no motivation, no pathos, no purpose. They are evil just because.
|Best Boring Villain Friends Forever!|
On the other hoof…
The absolute best part is the rhythm. It’s almost traditional in Friendship is Magic to have a very well paced first and second act, but then in the third act either things get dragged way too long or they get resolved way too quick. It has happened in every single episode of the series. Every. Single. Episode. This one is not particularly absent of this, since things take so long to start up, but once the story gets going it keeps a steady pace, not fast, not slow, just right, and all the scenes are given enough time to let them breath and segue into each other naturally. It didn’t feel forced or rushed, it felt just right, which is something I can’t say about some of my favorite episodes of the show.
|Did I just smelled...positivity?|
You might think that, after such a divisive review, I could fall on either side of the balance with this episode, and you may be correct. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it meh? Does it just walk the middle ground and doesn’t fall on either? Well, it’s not a bad episode by all means, it’s definitely watchable and enjoyable, but it’s definitely not what I’d call to be one of the best episodes of the series. I don’t regret watching it, I don’t feel I wasted my time watching it, and if I come across it I won’t complain or demand something different. But I don’t see myself voluntarily going back to it to watch it several times. It lacks the engagement of “Princess Twilight Sparkle”, the eye-candy and atmosphere of “Castle Mane-Ia” and the thrilling feel of adventure of “Daring Don’t”, and instead it gives us an uneventful slice of life episode. A fairly okay uneventful slice of life episode, with a Rocky reference in it, so I guess that makes this episode to be above average, but just by the skin of its teeth.
|"Yo Rainbow, I did it!"|
It’s funny how this episode had the potential to give me all the feels and tug at my heartstrings and instead I felt pretty unmoved by it. I first thought it might have been because I hyped it up after we saw the cinematic of it at the San Diego Comic-Con, but I honestly haven’t thought much of it ever since. I was way more hyped for next week’s episode, “Power Ponies”. Am I driving myself to crash into a tree of disappointment? Only time will tell.
- Defining Moment: The aforementioned shout out to Rocky, with Scootaloo rising over the steps and lifting her hoof triumphant above Ponyville’s buildings.
- Moral: Just because you can’t do something as good as others can doesn’t mean what you are already good at isn't great.