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Movie Review: Equestria Girls – Legend of Everfree

When it was first launched in 2013, the My Little Pony: Equestria Girls concept was quickly poo-poohed by fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, who saw this direct-to-video spinoff as little more than a vehicle for selling toys (why does that sound hypocritical?). Surprisingly, the first Equestria Girls film wasn’t as bad as some had imagined!

After its sequel Rainbow Rocks managed to improve some story areas (along with having a very catchy soundtrack album!), many were now aboard the train ride, but felt the tracks got bumpy in the last go-round, with the 2015 release of Friendship Games.

Though Hasbro is still making toys around the Equestria Girls series, they seem to have settled into a pattern of one movie a year for this property. This year, Netflix obtained the rights to stream the latest film, Legend of Everfree, a month in advance of its home video release. After its streaming release on October 1st, I decided to take a peek.

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The students of Canterlot High find themselves at Camp Everfree for a week, under the supervision of Camp Director Gloriosa Daisy, and her brother, Timber Spruce.

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Our ‘mane’ girls have plenty of activities they want to do, but Twilight Sparkle secretly fears that the demoness Midnight Sparkle, is lurking inside her, waiting to resurface.

As camp gets underway, strange things begin to occur, leading some to believe the happenings to be the work of Gaea Everfree, a forest spirit who is rumored to exist in the surrounding wilderness.

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Unlike the previous Equestria Girls films, Legend brings in a new group of writers to the series. Johanna Lewis and Kristine Songco, who have co-written four episodes of the Friendship is Magic TV series together, take the reins from EqG veterans Meghan McCarthy, and Josh Haber.

The two actually have a semi-decent story at hand with Legend of Everfree, but it’s just a pity that it becomes overloaded with subplots. The writers even throw in a few too many camp cliches, with one that just feels totally unneeded to drive the overall story.

When it comes to music, Daniel Ingram returns to pen 6 new songs, but I found this to be the first Equestria Girls film where I couldn’t even think of one that I could easily put on repeat after the film was over.

Ingram’s music is often a treat to many fans, but sad to say, most of the songs sound like they don’t actually fit together properly. Some have lyrics that sound incomplete, and one song, sounds like it could be a major character lament…but it’s over before it feels like it even gets the chance to build into something memorable!

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Much like the last few Equestria Girls films, Sunset Shimmer takes the spotlight, as one of the more interesting characters in the story. Most of the doubts she was working through seem to have gone away, and she ends up acting as a mentor figure to Twilight Sparkle, who is still uneasy after the events from the end of Friendship Games.

One issue I had with Friendship Games, was that most of the girls quickly became little more than stereotypes of their basic personalities, and that seems to almost carry over here. A prime example is Rarity, who just won’t shut up about wanting to put on a fashion show for the camp.

I’m also growing tired of every single film in the series, adding more and more ‘accessories’ to the girls’ ‘Pony-up’ powers (yes, I am aware that this film is meant to sell toys!). Some of the powers here make a little sense, but one wonders how they could affect the girls’ everyday lives outside of camp.

For example, Rainbow Dash gains super-speed, but couldn’t this very well lead to an end to her sports career, given she is now even more super-human, and some could see that as a form of cheating? Most disturbing to me, is Pinkie Pie’s ability to make anything she flings around (when she’s ‘magically-charged’), turn into an explosive…making her a walking Weapon of Mass-Destruction! I kid you not…one wrong move, and she could very well blow up Canterlot High!

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When it comes to the addition of new characters for the series, Gloriosa Daisy and Timber Spruce are our main focus as supporting characters this time around.

Enid Raye-Adams voices Gloriosa with a perkiness that feels very similar to actress Edie McClurg, but overall, it never really feels like Gloriosa’s main role solidifies into a wholly memorable character. The writers even give Gloriosa her own catchphrase, and if you thought Principal Abacus Cinch got a bit carried away with the use of the word “reputation” in the last film, Gloriosa’s catchphrase quickly enters drinking game territory!

Gloriosa’s animation model also looks like she benefited from some advancements, as the DHX animation staff really seem to have fun with her numerous facial expressions.

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Timber Spruce becomes our “nice guy” for the picture, who seems to quickly set his sights on Twilight. Though they try to give him a personality, most will probably think of him as little more than “Flash Sentry II.”

Looking back over the Equestria Girls film line-up, Rainbow Rocks still feels like the high-point in the series. Taking the kids out into the wilderness in this film, felt like it could have led to a new direction to take the series, but the overall structure felt like they had to stick within a rather rigid frame-work.

Fourth films in a series can often get ‘flimsy,’ and that’s what Legend of Everfree feels like. In the end, I think I could go back and watch Friendship Games a few more times, and still get something out of it. Sadly, there just doesn’t feel like there’s enough memorable stuff here, to make one consider repeat viewings.

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Final Grade: C+ (Legend of Everfree moves our ‘mane’ cast of characters out into nature, but turns what should be an exciting adventure, into something that just seems to meander along, on its way to a ‘by the book’ ending. While the character interactions between Sunset Shimmer and Twilight Sparkle are entertaining, the shoehorning in of another encounter with “Equestrian Magic” and more powers for our girls, feels like a missed opportunity to try something new. )

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Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episode 13) – Stranger Than Fanfiction

 

At the start of the 21st century, the internet allowed fandoms from many different mediums and walks of life, to thrive in a way, that had never been seen before.

Suddenly, you weren’t just a smalltown boy with a few friends who knew what you were talking about, when you mentioned something obscure from a film…you could find like-minded persons on the world wide web…and feel like you were a part of something greater!

Of course, the internet has also reared up a dark side to fandoms. Messageboards would often have threads go on for many posts, while various fans argued over who was right or wrong, regarding some little detail. Something you considered okay, might then be thrown back in your face as being ‘the worst thing ever,’ and let’s not get started on persons who consider themselves, ‘True Fans.’

Even the series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has seen its fair share of different walks of (fandom) life. While some like myself watch the show and purchase a few things here or there, there are also some fans who go all-out, writing fanfiction, and even critiquing the show and its characterizations, down to the minutest detail.

Such fan machinations, seem to have been the basis behind this week’s episode, Stranger Than Fanfiction.

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Rainbow Dash eagerly attends a Daring Do Convention, where an appearance by author A.K. Yearling (also secretly Daring Do in real-life!), is scheduled to take place.

While walking around the convention floor, Dash meets up with another fan of the series, named Quibble Pants (voiced by Patton Oswalt). At first hitting it off with their deep knowledge of fandom details, the two soon come to an impasse, when Quibble claims that the first books were the best, and everything beyond is badly written. Of course, Dash can’t reveal that she knows how Yearling writes her books, so she finds it difficult to explain why she feels Quibble is incorrect.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Daring Do’s arch-nemesis Dr Caballeron, shows up at the convention looking for Daring, and a relic she has recently acquired. This then leads to Rainbow and Quibble getting caught up in the madness, with Quibble ‘quibbling’ along, every step of the way.

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So far, it seems we have been given a Daring Do-based episode, every other Season.

At the start, Daring Do was simply a character in a book (as seen in the Season 2 episode, Read it and Weep). It served as a great motivator to get Rainbow Dash to consider reading as something positive.

Then came Season 4’s episode, Daring Don’t, in which we found out that author A.K. Yearling, IS Daring Do, and all her stories are based on actual adventures she’s gone on!

While some were willing to accept this, I was with those who felt this was a bit too far of a stretch to accept.

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And that, brings us to this Season 6 episode.

Writers Josh Haber and Michael Vogel do tag-team duty on the episode’s writing chores, but it feels like this leads to a tug-of-war on where the story should go. They want it to combine storytelling in regards to fandoms, but also bring forth another Daring Do adventure. This is very similar to how Daring Don’t brought fiction and reality into a head-on collision, but it never comes to a point where I could fully accept the circumstances here.

They even throw in a few references to the past episodes (mention of the Ring of Destiny, which was the artifact Daring was looking for in her last show appearance), as well as some references related to other films or series (I had to chuckle at one related to a film about a certain, ‘Last Crusade’).

Overall, the episode almost feels like some crazed mish-mash of the episodes Look Before You Sleep, and Slice of Life. The theme is to find common-ground amidst what may seem to be irreconcilable differences, but even Look Before You Sleep still seemed a more entertaining episode to me, despite its own cliches.

For me, one of the highlights in anticipation for this episode, was hearing that Patton Oswalt was guest-voicing as Quibble Pants. Oswalt is like a ‘friend of geeks’ within many fandoms (he’s guest-voiced and appeared on a number of shows like Gravity Falls, and Doc McStuffins), and I’m always eager to see him when he comes to town to perform stand-up comedy.

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However, it feels like Quibble Pants might not get the same kind of fan-love as we’ve seen for other guest-voiced characters, like Cheese Sandwich, or Coloratura. Quibble’s constant need to verbally be right so much of the time, is a double-edged sword for much of the episode. While he may prattle on at times and be a bit too full of his fan-based knowledge, there are some times where that knowledge actually does come in handy. However, maybe scaling back a bit of his know-it-all personality, might have made him a bit more palatable.

The story also intends to combine fantasy with reality, when Quibble and Dash encounter the real Dr Caballeron, one of Daring’s old foes. However, Quibble’s encounter with him falls into that story plot of the doubting-thomas character, not realizing they’re in danger…until something comes along later that gives them a wake-up call.

One positive, was seeing A.K. Yearling having softened a bit from her rather non-plussed attitude in Daring Don’t (her ‘I work alone’ attitude in that episode was one of the factors that kept me from liking her). Here, she’s a bit more toned down, and seems more willing to accept other’s help in certain, dire situations.

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One thing I did find myself questioning, was just how big of a fandom there is, to have a Daring Do Convention. There appears to be a lot of effort put into different booths and attractions on the convention room floor, but it feels like the world of Daring Do is largely confined to the book series.

One can see that it surely is meant to be a parody of the likes of the many different fan conventions for Friendship is Magic, but FIM has the TV show, an upcoming movie, the Equestria Girls spinoff, comic books, toy lines, and a number of different items to justify such conventions.

If anything, given the range of what the Daring Do fandom is given in Equestria, one could more easily see local book nights, where fans can meet in small groups.

Another small nitpick, is that Rainbow Dash ended up being included in a Daring Do story (along with being on the cover of the book, Daring Do and the Ring of Destiny), and noone on the convention floor calls Rainbow out on this (like maybe thinking she’s a Rainbow Dash/Daring Do character mash-up with her costume). Then again, many also rarely go ga-ga when they see that Twilight Sparkle is an alicorn, or that the show’s ‘Mane 6’ have saved Equestria several times over.

Overall, Stranger Than Fanfiction feels like an episode that was intended to be built with the best of (fan) intentions, but in the end, just feels like a hodge-podge of action, with not enough material to guide it to a satisfying conclusion.

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Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “Stranger Than Fanfiction” wants to act as an ode to the rigors of being part of a major fandom, but it never end up feeling wholly satisfying. It relies a bit on meta humor in the form of Quibble Pants, while also trying to squeeze in a new adventure, and send Quibble off on a wild ride with Rainbow Dash, into the real world of Daring Do. In the end, it comes off as a tale, where style, trumps substance. )

Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episodes 6) – No Second Prances

When it comes to many characters in the series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, first impressions are usually what we go on right away.

Viewers immediately felt Gilda the Griffon was little more than a bully in her Season 1 episode, but in Season 5’s The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone, we got to learn a bit more about her.

And in the Equestria Girls series, we’ve seen how Sunset Shimmer has worked through some of her issues, and become a respected and encouraging friend to many of the students at Canterlot High School.

“Reformation” has become a word that many have grown a bit tired of in recent seasons of the show, though as some have seen, it has often become the one way to get some characters to return (since we rarely have recurring villains in the series).

And when it came to one fan-favorite (jerk) pony, many went wild when they saw the preview for this episode.

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As part of her continuing lessons in learning about friendship, Starlight Glimmer is encouraged by Twilight Sparkle, to make a new friend before Princess Celestia shows up for a special dinner.

Eventually, Starlight happily brings her new friend to the castle, but Twilight is shocked when that friend turns out to be (the great and powerful) Trixie!

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It’s been a few episodes since we last encountered Starlight Glimmer, and much like her “Equestria Girls counterpart,” Starlight continues to try and take a few steps at a time, in trying to learn about friendship.

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Usually when it comes to making friends, you seek out others who share the same interests as you. In a big way, Trixie ends up fitting that bill better than any other pony in Ponyville (both Starlight and her pretty much ended up enslaving dozens of ponies at one point, and have been trying to learn from that experience).

One of the strangest things in regards to this episode, is how Twilight reacts to Starlight making friends with Trixie.

When last we saw Trixie, she seemed to have come around, and was willing to swear off from her more abrasive and vengeful ways, as we saw in the Season 3 episode, Magic Duel…though that hasn’t kept her from being a bit snarky in Twilight’s presence here.

Twilight’s reaction to Starlight, could almost be on par with a parent being unsure of the new friend their child has brought home. Though the child finds this new friend to be great, certain traits about the child that the parents observe, may lead them to be apprehensive.

The apprehensiveness Twilight displays in the episode gets a little crazy, when Twilight suggests other ‘friends’ Starlight could bring to the dinner. However, the choices may put some in mind of those made when Ponyville was training for the Equestria Games in Rainbow Falls (aka, “fanservice”).

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Twilight is mainly front-and-center for the episode, though the other members of the “Mane 6” get a scant few minutes in the first act. However, the scenes reminded me of the bits in Season 1’s The Call of the Cutie, where almost all of the “Mane 6” tried to help Applebloom find her special talent…with each attempt ending poorly.

There also comes a rather unsettling moment, where Starlight is forced to choose between helping Trixie perform a magic act, and attending Twilight’s dinner party…and chooses the magic act!

Ok, I know she’s trying to be a good friend and all, but Twilight is having a dinner party with the Princess of Equestria, to check up on her progress in learning about friendship! That to me, is like the second leg of a job interview, where they bring you in to talk with other team members, to get a feel on if you’d be a good fit for the department: ergo, it’s not something you should just blow off!

Also of note, is the major part of Trixie’s big act in the third part of the show. It actually requires an added hoof (as Trixie is not powerful enough to properly pull it off), and yet she does the act anyway! The fact that she didn’t have a “safety net,” really felt like she either was at the end of her rope, or she held out a sliver of hope that she’d be saved from death…which is a bit odd (and to say the least…suicidal?).

When it comes to voice-work for the episode, both Kelly Sheridan (Starlight) and Kathleen Barr (Trixie), sound like they’re pushing their vocal chops into areas we haven’t really encountered with these characters. Barr’s vocals really feel like they are pushed furthest, as Trixie goes through a few more emotions here, than we’ve seen her have in the past.

Writer Nick Confalone made his debut to the series’ stable of writers, by writing Party Pooped and Hearthbreakers last season.  Prances so far feels like his ‘strongest’ episode, but it showed that in its more intimate moments, that is where he seems to excel as a writer. When his episodes attempt to open the story up, it feels like it rattles around, never really feeling like a solid piece of storytelling.

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Of course, we’re left to ponder if this new friendship between Starlight and Trixie, will mean that “the great and powerful one” will be seen around Ponyville in a greater capacity. Personally, I could see Trixie maybe coming back for 1-2 episodes before the series ends, but I can’t see the showrunners treating her with the same level of recurring appearances as someone like Discord.

This episode also feels like we’ve put to rest Trixie being conniving or scheming when it comes to one-upping Twilight, but I could be wrong there. If she comes back again, it would feel like a shot in the hoof if we didn’t have anyone trusting her.

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Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “No Second Prances” builds on Starlight Glimmer’s friendship lesson story arc for the season, while also bringing up a sticky point from the show’s past. The concept of Twilight being apprehensive about Starlight choosing Trixie as her friend is a good avenue to go down, but the execution as the show goes on gets a little flimsy in her distrust of her pupil’s choices. The little moments between Starlight and Trixie, are some of the best scenes in the episode, though the third act feels rushed. It seems to jam in a number of emotions, let alone a rather shocking conclusion that Trixie really should have considered…unless, she was willing to accept the possibly horrendous outcome…?)

Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episodes 5) – Gauntlet of Fire

Throughout the numerous seasons of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, we’ve been introduced to all sorts of different creatures, outside of the standard pony-type.

One of the most prominently seen has been griffons, but another has often caused many to wonder, and that is in regards to dragons.

We’ve seen a number of dragons in several episodes, but even though they are a part of this world, the pony-folk have little knowledge about them, as explained in the Season 2 episode, Dragon Quest.

Since the early seasons, Spike has been a window into the ways of “nature vs nurture” regarding dragons. Raised by Twilight Sparkle since he was little, his primary function has been to be her assistant, a trait that has slowed in recent seasons, as Twilight has gone from a student of Princess Celestia’s to an important figure in her own right. Though he has some dragon-like traits, he is rather unique in regards to his viewpoints.

When it came to archetypes, I often thought of Spike like an adopted little brother, but one whose big sister was fine with letting him hang out with her and her friends.

Online, there are some that find him quite annoying, and others that wondered if we’d see him move beyond being a comedic doormat, as most of the show’s writers seemed to have made him into in the last few seasons.

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After his whole body starts glowing, Spike is summoned to the Dragon Kingdom, where he and a number of other dragons are expected to compete to try and become the new Dragon Lord.

Spike runs into the teenage dragon Garble whom he encountered in the episode Dragon Quest, as well as the current Dragon Lord’s daughter, named Ember. Both seem to want to prove themselves for different reasons, but soon, circumstances push Spike to also enter the dangerous tournament.

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From the first few minutes of the episode, it becomes pretty obvious we’re in for one that bucks the standard.

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This is a world-building episode almost on par with The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone from Season 5. However, the map in Twilight’s castle doesn’t figure into this story, as it is largely a problem that has to be solved regarding Spike.

We get quite a few callbacks to the Season 2 episode Dragon Quest (including Twilight and Rarity in multiple disguises). In fact, this episode feels like a direct descendant of Quest.

Probably the most prominent dragon callback, is the teenage dragon named Garble, who hasn’t changed at all from the last time we saw him (and seems to harbor a deeper grudge towards our ponies). Garble once again, serves as the “Diamond Tiara” to Spike, belittling him for his compassion, and associating with ponies.

Character-wise, the episode’s introduction of Dragon Lord Torch and Princess Ember, are two of the big stand-outs so far this season.

The immense and grandiose Dragon Lord Torch, delivers his lines with the kind of bombastic tone one would find from the likes of Brian Blessed, or Gerard Butler. Though he doesn’t get a lot of screen-time, his overall design is still rather impressive, and he had a few lines that gave me a chuckle.

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Torch’s daughter Ember, becomes our head-strong Princess figure for the episode (though fortunately, she never reaches the stubborn levels of Merida in Brave). Probably one of her greatest strengths as a character here, is how she is willing to be open-minded, and at times, consider different opinions or ideas, even if she does try to lay on some attitude.

For all the world-building the episode attempts to do, it also feels like it gets too flimsy at times in trying to have its cake, and eat it too.

Torch’s test for the dragons gives us plenty of visual standouts (notably in regards to a few new creature designs and environments), but the structure of the episode oftentimes feels like we’re so quickly shuffled onto a new set piece, that we’re left wanting to know more about the last one.

In a way, this episode feels like it could have just been Spike off on his own, though it might have made some question why a show called My Little Pony, had an episode that was largely without ponies.

Speaking of ponies, Twilight Sparkle and Rarity return to their old ways of camouflaging themselves around other dragons, as Spike makes his way through the gauntlet.

Fortunately, Twilight and Rarity don’t pull any “cheats” and help Spike as he goes on his quest, but the plot thread revolving around them being in the Dragon Kingdom, feels as flimsy as the sub-story in The Gift of the Maud Pie. In that episode, Rarity’s journey to Manehattan to find a new boutique location, is pushed way to the back of the overall storyline, feeling like a time-filling afterthought.

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Twilight also grows excited in getting to study dragon culture, and while it mainly just holds to a few lines of dialogue in the overall story, one almost hopes that we may get even more information on the world of these creatures in the future.

Gauntlet of Fire also acts as the second episode this season, where Rarity seems to have picked up the comedic torch in both her actions, as well as what voice-actress Tabitha St Germain brings to the mic.

The writing duo of Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco return for their fourth go-round of episode writing, after handling three episodes in Season 5. One of their most entertaining was Season 5’s Rarity Investigates, and this episode seems to show they love having some fun with her character (though in one scene, Rarity seems rather unfazed to be caked in dirt and mud…but then again, maybe she’s matured from her more prissy Season 1 days?).

Overall, definitely one of the more entertaining Spike episodes, but just needed a little extra “oomph” to have propelled it to greatness.

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Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “Gauntlet of Fire” gives Spike the Dragon a starring role, that brings out his better qualities, without turning him into a joke like on some previous occasions. More information on the Dragon Kingdom, as well as its rulers and inhabitants, helps in opening the world of Equestria up to new story possibilities down the line. Bringing back the bullying Garble the dragon feels a little flimsy, and the subplot of Twilight Sparkle and Rarity tagging along with Spike to keep an eye on him, could have been excised to make a dragons-only episode of the show.)

Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episodes 4) – On Your Marks

“A lot of people said, ‘congratulations, you guys did what you said you were gonna do,  and you spent your whole careers doing it.’ So there was this great feeling of elation, and then, when it was done it was like: ‘…now what?'” – Ed Catmull, from The PIXAR Story

That quote by PIXAR co-founder Ed Catmull, has been one of my favorites since I first saw The PIXAR Story.

Ed’s dream and goal, would take him almost 2 decades to become reality, as computer technology got better, and he met other creative people, until finally, in 1995, PIXAR released Toy Story on the public, and changed how many thought about computers and animation.

Of course, once the goal had been accomplished, as Ed said, he and his cohorts at PIXAR needed to figure out, what would be their next step.

Goal-setting has often been that way, and as we’ve seen in six seasons of Friendship is Magic, a few goals have been achieved, with a few major ones that took place last season.

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Now that Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo have gotten their cutie marks, they are now faced with the big question of what to do next.

While the girls have accepted that their marks mean they are to help other ponies with cutie mark problems, there doesn’t seem to be a big demand for their services.

They also realize that while they are good friends, they don’t share a lot of the same interests, and decide to split up to pursue some of their own, individual interests.

This sits well with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo who are eager to try a few things on their own, but Applebloom finds herself uncertain about this decision.

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The aftermath of the Crusaders getting their marks, has been up for discussion for some time. Once that bridge was crossed in Season 5’s Crusaders of the Lost Mark episode, the three little fillies just melded into the background.

Going forward, it was a given that some things were bound to change for the girls, and this episode attempts to bring that to light…if a bit clumsily.

Parts of the episode feel like a callback to their earlier episodes, wherein they tried to find their talents, only here, it’s a roundabout way of finding cutie mark “problems,” and trying to figure out what they do, and do not need to do anymore as part of the Crusaders group.

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The episode’s writer Dave Polsky has averaged a few CMC-related episodes per season over the last few seasons, and he almost seems to be the go-to writer for them. However, he does have a hit-or-miss track record when it comes to their stories.

It feels like there is a stronger, more cohesive story within On Your Marks, but the episode, like the Crusaders, feels like it’s stuck in a bit of an identity crisis.

The first part of the story is almost like an ‘autopsy’ of what the CMC once stood for, as we see the girls going over charts and other bits of paperwork on the walls of the clubhouse, trying to decide what worked, and what doesn’t work now.

The second part of the story, quickly begins by having the girls go off and exploring their own individual interests. It does seem a little odd that this episode would bring to light that the girls might explore things on their own, as one would assume they would already be exploring individual interests outside of their inner circle (Sweetie Belle’s costume-designing and preference for showtunes in the episode For Whom The Sweetie Belle Toils seemed to hint at this).

Of the three, this decision to explore individual talents hits Applebloom a bit harder than the others, and the episode then turns our attention to following her for the majority of the second act.

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Applebloom’s unsure feelings about exploring things on her own, is almost a callback to her feelings of being isolated in Season 1’s Call of the Cutie, though as we’ve seen in some of her more glum moments, Applebloom can sometimes emotionally blow things out of proportion in a big way.

Michelle Creber gets to sing a song as Applebloom in this part of the episode too, and though it has the emotional twang of a heartfelt country song, it doesn’t feel like it works as well as Pinkie’s Lament from Pinkie Pride, or Diamond Tiara’s The Pony I Want To Be from Crusaders of the Lost Mark.

There’s a small addition of more fillies and colts in the episode, with a colt named Tender Taps (who looks like a gender-bent Scootaloo with his coloration), adding something we haven’t heard in a long time: a new, vocal young colt to the show in a small-yet-supporting role (and his appearance has most likely started to find its way into fanfiction and fanshipping regarding a few of the CMC’s as I write this). Of course, I’m not expecting that he’ll return down the line, but you never know.

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There are a few little gags that made me chuckle, such as Bulk Biceps having one of his more prominent cameos since the episode, Castle Sweet Castle. There are also a few other little cameos to be had, and much like last week’s episode, a few more pop-culture references are to be found.

Following the more entertaining Gift of the Maud Pie episode from last week, On Your Marks reminded me a bit of the rather befuddled story feel of the 2-part Crystalling Season 6 Premiere.

The focus and emotional heft of the episode feels a bit too scattershot, and much like The Crystalling, might have worked better if certain story elements had been given more room to breathe.

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Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “On Your Marks” attempts to push the Cutie Mark Crusaders into a new realm of exploration, though does so at the expense of a rather bumpy episode. Almost acting as a bridge between their past and future, the episode seems to suffer an identity crisis of its own, not quite able to figure out just what it is. Applebloom becomes the focal point of the episode halfway through, and her chance to help another young colt is one of the minor highlights that could have possibly led to a stronger episode of the CMC’s future plans and ideals. )

Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episodes 3) – The Gift of the Maud Pie

When it come to the Friendship is Magic series, their stories regarding sisters have often been some of the most memorable, and well-written episodes.

In Season 4, I was at an impasse regarding which sisters episode I would choose as my second-favorite episode for the season: For Whom The Sweetie Belle Toils, or Maud Pie.

In the end, both episodes tied for the 2nd place slot.

Pinkie Pie’s sister Maud became a highlight of Season 4, and her few appearances since then have all proven to be entertaining, with her dry vocal approach being an interesting contrast to Pinkie Pie’s boisterous tones.

So, after a season opener about newborn foals, I think it was a nice change of pace for the show to slow down a bit, with an episode featuring a few members of the Pie family.

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Rarity and Pinkie Pie are both off to Manehattan for a small visit. While Rarity intends to find a new location to open a Manehattan branch of her boutique, Pinkie is here to visit her sister, Maud.

Pinkie does this yearly with her siblings: meeting up with them in various cities, and also doing a gift exchange.

Pinkie is sure she’s found a great gift for her sister this year, but it may come with a hefty price tag…

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The tone of this episode took me back to Maud’s first appearance. It could have been so easy just to put her on auto-pilot, but this episode continues to expand on her character.

We get to see a little more of her personality, as well as some skills that may make one question if the Pie family has some extra talents/skills that may be hereditary (or repressed by other family members?).

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Boulder the pet rock returns as well, and also makes us question just how much we know about him (at one point, he gets lost!).

Much like Rainbow Dash, trying to make Pinkie entertaining without getting too annoying, can be a tightrope walk.

Here, the writers amp up Pinkie’s emotions to the point that her voice and actions cause many in Manehattan to stop and stare (whether they see her as a possible security threat, is left to our imaginations). Even so, there’s still plenty of little moments that manage to slow Pinkie down enough so that she doesn’t get too manic.

The episode may also be one of the most extensive uses of Pinkie’s party cannon in a long time, and its use as a plot device now has me wondering just where she got it from, as well as just how unique it really is.

With the episode juggling two storylines about being in the big city, it is Rarity’s storefront search that becomes the soft “B-story,” compared to the sisterly “A-story.”

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A memorable touch from Maud’s first appearance, was how Rarity was a bit uneasy in her presence, and that is also carried over here…though it seems Rarity is getting a little more accepting of Maud’s personality the more time she spends with her.

The boutique search thread seems to peter off into oblivion, and then is quickly remembered at the end, making it seem a little unneeded in the overall story. This makes me wonder if the story could just have had Pinkie invite Rarity to Manehattan for a little R&R instead, as a way to maybe slow down from the hustle and bustle of running her Canterlot and Ponyville stores.

After being in the rather cold and rather blase tones of The Crystal Empire last week, the colors and environment of Manehattan are a welcome respite.

Manehattan, in the span of a few seasons, has been able to succeed where I feel the Crystal Empire has failed. We have met several denizens of the city, and each episode feels like it helps to open up the sprawling metropolis even more.

Of course, the city still seems to love dabbling in the use of “background jerks” for some of its humor, and the streets still seem to be a bit empty for such a large city.

The main conflict of the episode may put some in mind of the rather blase 3rd season episode, Trade Ya. Though it doesn’t stretch the concept as far as that episode, there are some thoughts and consequences that manage to keep the story rolling.

Last season, many were rather surprised at some of the different facial expressions DHX’s artists added to the Flash animation library. Be prepared for some new ones, as this episode adds a few more to the mix, with most of them associated with Pinkie Pie in a few situations.

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The episode also introduces a new pair of writers to the show, with Michael P Fox, and Wil Fox.

Both of them do pretty good with the episode, putting me in mind a bit of G.M. Berrow’s Season 5 episode, The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows (are Pinkie episodes now becoming the norm for new-writer introductions?).

Even though it is enjoyable, the episode isn’t without some little nitpicks.

Notable is a search for a specific gift for Maud, that involves a small, fabricated accessory. Of note is that Rarity herself is good with the sewing machine and creating things…when push comes to shove, couldn’t she possibly provide assistance with this?…or, does her talent mainly extend to major wardrobe items, and not small accessories?

A small scene meant to resolve a gift-search does pretty well at first, but then just snowballs in the third portion of its little story point, almost feeling like the writers had to excise several more searching points down to a quick number of things (most of which will be recognizable to the fandom!).

Watching the episode, I was definitely reminded of last season’s The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows, in that the episode was not perfect, but there was plenty of energy and character work being done, that kept the episode afloat.

And, just like GM Berrow, I’m wondering what Michael and Wil Fox will have for us in store in the future.

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Final Grade: B (Final Thoughts: After a major two-part story, this episode is a welcome chance to go a little smaller, with fewer characters. Additional family information is given about Pinkie and Maud Pie, with Rarity acting as a unique middle-pony to the adventures in Manehattan. The circumstances surrounding the presents in this episode are a little flimsy, but there’s enough good will and characterization to keep us interested. Though Rarity does add a point-of-view outside of the Pie sisters, her subplot about finding a new boutique location feels like it could have just been excised in favor of a small vacation in the big city. )

Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episodes 1 & 2) – The Crystalling

Since it began in 2010, the fourth generation of the My Little Pony cartoon series, has become probably even more popular than in its early incarnation in the 1980’s.

Not only has the show succeeded in finding fans outside of its intended age group, but has spawned numerous fan conventions around the world, a wide-range of toys outside the standard brushable plastic horses, and most surprising: the animated series has just started its 6th season…something that is very rare in this world where most animated series have a shelf-life of around 3-4 seasons before the company pulls the plug.

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Following the events of Season 5’s closer, Starlight Glimmer has agreed to Twilight Sparkle’s offer, to be taught about friendship.

Soon, word comes that Shining Armor and Princess Cadance have had their foal, and Twilight and the group head off to the Crystal Empire, to take part in the little one’s “Crystalling” ceremony.

Twilight also decides to use the trip for Starlight to work through a friendship lesson. Her childhood friend Sunburst is also located in the Crystal Empire, and Twilight wishes Starlight to get reacquainted with him.

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Season openers for the series have often been about introducing us to new characters or places. Much like the last few seasons, the previous season’s ending, ties into the next season’s opener.

Starlight Glimmer is one of the first characters we see, and given where she has come from in Season 5, she seems to have given herself over wholly, to being schooled by Twilight and her friends.

Watching her nervous reactions to what others might think of her, I was quickly put in mind of another pony/human whose name meant light at the end of the day: Sunset Shimmer.

Those who have seen the Equestria Girls film trilogy, may definitely get some similar vibes of a character who thought she knew her path, but then finds another way…but also has the jitters regarding what she’s done with herself prior to the reformation.

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Another notable item is that from the start of the season premiere, it looked like Spike might once again be sidelined in the story (he was out-of-action for season 5’s opener), but he is worked in as a guide for Starlight at times.

This use of Spike put me in mind of some of his early series appearances, when he served as a helper to Twilight during her early studies. This does make me wonder, given how most stories with the ‘Mane 6’ are not quite sure what to do with him, maybe Spike will end up working more with Starlight in the coming episodes.

This 2-parter also delves a bit into the character of Sunburst, whom we saw was a young colt that shaped what Starlight did with her life. Sunburst’s appearance is probably one of the more interesting parts of the story, given that they don’t play all their cards regarding just what his capacities are in regards to magic, and it quickly shows that he isn’t one to spill all his secrets right away.

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Of course, the story is also about the “Crystalling” of Shining Armor and Princess Cadance’s baby.

Much like the norm for an an episode with Twilight’s brother and sister-in-law, the two are once again in a state of mental panic, but this time over some additional elements to their little baby.

The show attempts to have some cute fun with this little bundle of joy, but it may remind some of a more out-of-control version of the Cake twins, from Season 2’s episode, Baby Cakes.

Even some of the added accoutrements, may drive a wedge into  how far people are willing to believe certain lineages and birthrights, when it comes to babies in this world.

As well, the debate about babies born with big black dotted eyes, or eyes with big pupils, will continue to rage on.

Unlike some of the more familiar names attached to a Season opener, this two-parter is credited as being written by Josh Haber.

Since Season 4, Haber has written 6 episodes over the last few seasons, as well as been the main writer on the last Equestria Girls film, Friendship Games.

Much like Friendship Games, the 2-part Crystalling episode feels like it is telling a big story, but while it tries to be weighty and funny, it feels like it just isn’t able to balance itself in a wholly pleasing way. When it comes to season openers, it doesn’t pack quite the same balance or punch, as Season 2’s Return of Harmony, or Season 5’s The Cutie Map.

Also when it comes to crystal-based environments, Haber doesn’t do much to make the Crystal Empire anymore impressive, than what was done with Crystal Prep Academy and its students in the Friendship Games.

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Much like Friendship Games as well, several of the ‘Mane 6’ feel like they’re here just to give lip-service to their characters.

We also get a small appearance by Princesses Celestia and Luna, and for those fans of Luna, we do get to see her doing some stuff…well, for a little bit, anyway. If you are a Luna fan, you’ll most likely savor the moment, and wish it was more substantial.

And lastly, I have an issue with the locale of The Crystal Empire. This cityscape has been touted as a grand new environment in the land of Equestria ever since its introduction in Season 3. Several plotlines have taken place within its boundaries, but even with it appearing in several stories, it has never struck me as interesting a place as Ponyville, or Canterlot (or even Manehattan).

Even when it was utilized as the backdrop for The Equestria Games, it just never struck me as an exciting place, as we only focused on a little area with the sports events.

Maybe in the future, if they can utilize some stories that are on the scale of Rarity Takes Manehattan or Sweet and Elite, I might take the place more seriously. Both of the episodes I just mentioned, gave a little more of a slice-of-life feel to these non-Ponyville locations, and it just feels like it would work perfectly to elevate the Empire in my eyes.

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Final Grade: C+ (Final Thoughts: “The Crystalling” continues to add more characters to the show’s roster, while also attempting to expand on the lore of the show. Josh Haber attempts a juggling act that introduces new characters, while bringing familiar faces back into the mix, but produces a 2-part opener that just doesn’t feel balanced overall. The episode feels average in its execution. It doesn’t deliver when it wants us to laugh, and in coming up with some of the more dramatic moments, they never really feel like they have the kind of weight one would expect from them. The one shining spot might be the sub-story in regards to Starlight Glimmer meeting her childhood friend Starburst…but even here, it feels like that story could have been its own self-contained episode)