So Hasbro decided to update its popular little girl's toy line from the 80s, My Little Pony.
In the Pony collector community, the eras of My Little Pony are divided into four generations: the first generation that lasted ten years in the U.S., then multiple reboots. Absolutely none of these concern us here except the third, and of this writing most recent, reboot, called Generation 4.
For Generation 4, Hasbro went and did a weird thing. They handed the design of their toys over to an animator, Lauren Faust, who had previously worked at Cartoon Network making the extremely popular series Powerpuff Girls and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. She also happens to be the wife of popular animator Craig McCracken, who created those shows, and which may be a case of talent attracting talent.
Faust grew up with the original pony toys, and had assigned personalities to them that didn't match up with those from the old show. She drew from these personalities when designing the new toys, and she helmed a new My Little Pony cartoon show for Hasbro based on them.
Now, Faust doesn't believe in making cartoons for one age group or demographic alone. Maybe she considered it as a kind of challenge, to try to make My Little Pony somehow accessible outside its market. Anyway, she made her show. For the results of that, read on, but I hope you have a good half-hour or so ahead of you....
The animation site Cartoon Brew noted, when the show was announced, that Lauren Faust was working on an update for what had heretofore been regarded as a particularly blatant example of cartoons pandering to children in order to build a market for licensed toys. An article appeared there, "The End of the Creator-Driven Era in TV Animation," that made an item of Faust's new show. A quote:
What clearer death knell for creator-driven animation than the reemergence of Margaret Loesch. After running Hanna-Barbera and Marvel Productions in the 1980s, and Fox Kids through the mid-1990s, her influenced waned in animation during the height of the creator-driven movement, but now she is back in the driver’s seat as president and CEO of the Hub.
Watching names like Rob Renzetti and Lauren Faust pop up in the credits of a toy-based animated series like My Little Pony is an admission of defeat for the entire movement, a white flag-waving moment for the TV animation industry.
This fact may not be any less true now. It cannot be denied that Hasbro is primarily a toy company, and that it relentlessly milks its most popular properties to exhaustion (they have published literally hundreds of special editions of Monopoly, including NASCAR, Pokemon, Bratz, Family Guy, Garfield, I Love Lucy, and Lord of the Rings) while simultaneously sitting on vast stretches of toy and gaming intellectual property that likely will never be seen again until copyright expires, which for many things will not be within our lifetimes. Yet in a way, being forgotten for decades is a blessing, for one property in which they do maintain interest, Dungeons & Dragons, has been warped into unrecognizability in a series of efforts to save it that may in fact have harmed it greatly. (Disclaimer: I've ranted about this before. Do not worry, this is the last mention of it I make in this writeup.)
But that apocalyptic Cartoon Brew article failed to recognize one, admittedly unlikely, possibility regarding the new series: that instead of corporate Hasbro co-opting Lauren Faust, that instead Faust might somehow co-opt Hasbro. But that could never happen, could it?
Lauren Faust made her cartoon show. Some guys lurking on that wondrous hole, that stinking pile of awesomeness, that weirdly twisted concentration of all things internet into a steaming idol of mankind's id known as 4chan, inhale, read the article and decided to watch the show to judge for themselves.
Now, reader, you should know something about the nature of the marketplace. Every day a hundred wonderful things die unseen and unloved. Mere quality is no guarantee of success. Even some really good things that manage to get publicized fail to find their audience before they sink beneath the waves. These are not fluke occurrences; they are common, they are the awful background radiation of our popular culture. Many things you would adore wither and die miles away from your field of vision. To have the eyes to see it happening again and again can bring one to despair.
But if that Cartoon Brew article had never been written, then those guys on 4chan would probably never have found My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and the "bronies" would never have gotten established. If 4chan hadn't seen the show and discovered its greatness, it would not have then spread onto Something Awful and other sites. And if that hadn't have happened, the show probably wouldn't have become the nuclear meme engine it became around mid-2011. A feedback loop appeared, the show inspiring memes that drew people to watch the show, who made more memes.
At this writing we are less than two weeks from the beginning of a second season of the show, and expectations are incredibly high. This show "for" little girls has become the darling of legions of young adult males, and largely unironically. There is no sex about the show; the target age group is preteen, and they're pastel-colored horses for crying out loud. Even the furries don't seem to be particularly attracted to it (well they are a little, but it's not like Sonic has become). It's just a show about a toy line of pastel-colored horses having magical adventures that is ten times better than it has any right being, and that managed to find a huge outlier audience somehow sympathetic to its charms.
Now there are several pony-specific websites devoted to the show. Equestria Daily and Derpy Hooves are mostly news and fanfic, Ponychan and Ponygoons are community boards that sprung from 4chan and Something Awful respectively, and Ponybooru and Bronibooru are image sites. There is a popular podcast called Bronyville. There is even a page entirely devoted to the show on Cheezburger Network, My Little Brony. There is a word for this kind of devoted adoration: obsession. A lot of the internet has almost become the creepy stalker for an innocent girls' show about cartoon horses -- and yes, I'm obsessed with it too. It shouldn't be this good.
That's the essay recognizing the internet phenomenon, so what about the show itself? Well....
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is about a young unicorn named Twilight Sparkle, protege of the ruler of the land, the magical Princess Celestia. She, her baby dragon/assistant Spike, and her five friends Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy live in the village of Ponyville where they have various adventures. That's the basis of a show that has enthralled a large portion of the internet. Yes, it really is true.
The characters are strongly typed. Twilight is a bookworm and magical wunderkind, Applejack is a hard-working country girl, Rainbow Dash is the tomboy and athlete, Rarity is glamorous, Pinkie Pie is a bubbly party animal and Fluttershy is, well, shy, and good with animals.
This is just about the jumping off point to the awesomeness of the show. Here we go, leap!
Twilight Sparkle is a unicorn, and in addition to being a bookworm she has an almost scientific frame of mind. Magic is a real force in ponyland, and she is almost offended when she comes across some phenomenon she doesn't understand, and becomes obsessed with explaining it. Magic is more of a kind of personal technology, it seems, in Equestria. One of the most controversial (yes, really) episodes of the show, Feeling Pinkie Keen, shows Pinkie Pie having a kind of sixth sense about future events that Twilight Sparkle has trouble accepting because she can't explain it. It's one of the funnier episodes, but a lot of fans have turned against this episode because it appears to support magical thinking. Yes, this is really happening. She's admirable to young girls because she shows that one can still have a brain and be female, but because so much of our culture is focused on frankly stupid and meaningless entertainments, a lot of the fanbase gravitates to her for being an unapologetic nerd who isn't a mass of negative stereotypes.
Applejack is probably the least fussed-over pony by the fans, but that just means she's only very popular. She speaks with a Texan accent, is nearly always wearing a Stetson, and has her tail and mane tied so they won't get in the way while she works, which is most of the time. She runs the Sweetapple Acres farm, which is mostly an apple orchard but also keeps various other animals. (These animals are not kept for food; all the ponies are herbivorous.) She's probably had the least focus of the
mane main six, what we've seen of her personality points to her being stubborn and focused on her farm and family, which consists of brother Big Macintosh (one of the few prominent male characters), little sister Apple Bloom and grandmother Granny Smith. She presents a positive image to girls in that she's a hard worker, and sets out to do things proactively. Her extended family is quite large, and they have orchards all over Equestria. One episode takes the main cast to visit a town they have founded, Appleloosa.
Rainbow Dash is a brash tomboy pegasus. She has great aerobatic skill, and is only pony known to have performed an aerial maneuver called the "Sonic Rainboom," but she seems to sometimes neglect her duties as weatherpony of Ponyville in favor of practicing tricks. She hopes to one day join the Wonderbolts, a Blue Angels-style organization of performing trick flyers and daredevils. Rainbow Dash is one of the more popular ponies for sheer awesome factor; her flying skills push the show's Flash animators to depict them. The skill with which they do so is part of what makes the show so great; this is no cheap, Hanna-Barbera-style limited animation here. She's known to slip into fangirl mode when confronted with her idols, but, while generally self-confident, she's been seen to have a panic attack when faced with a serious prospect of failure, which helps keep her from being a so-called one trick pony.
Rarity is the owner of Carousel Boutique, and works there as a dressmaker. One could call her a clothes horse, but part of the greatness of the show is in its overturning stereotypes, so a character who would probably be a shopper, a mall-walker, or some other form of mindless consumer in a lesser show is here a strong businesspony who works hard to further her career. Fan opinion is split on Rarity. Newcomers to the show tend to be put off by her, since she has a glamorous, Greta Garbo kind of personality, and is by some measures the most girly of the ponies. People who stick with the show come to recognize the strength of character necessary to run a business, and the skill with which she approaches her craft. Two episodes in the first season directly focus on the success of her dressmaking career, and they are two of the best: Suited for Success and Green Isn't Your Color. She gets a third spotlight performance in the second season, in Sweet and Elite.
Fluttershy seems to have as her role the care of the animals living around Ponyville (for more on that, see the next section below). Most of the main ponies are fairly assertive, but Fluttershy tends to shrink from confrontation and danger, and to passively go along with whatever the other ponies decide. The show recognizes this however, and often shows the other ponies being annoyed by it. And yet... in addition with her connection with animals and nature, Fluttershy also has a strange power. It plays a role in two episodes in the first season, Dragonshy and Stare Master. It's called "the stare," and it's presented very well -- see The Stare Master yourself and see if you don't agree. Rarity at least seems to be unnerved by it. When Fluttershy does become more assertive, the withering force of her ire has been known to make even dangerous creatures cower away from her.
Then, there's Pinkie Pie. Oh GOD Pinkie Pie. A veritable fountain of memes. Breaker of the fourth wall. She who defies causation. A random number generator in the form of a pink horse.
She is the "party animal" of the cast, but her version of partying is the one with balloons and punch. She is the most cartoon-like of them all, to the extent of hopping everywhere just like Pepe le Pew! (There are homages to Pepe le Pew cartoons in three episodes: Griffon the Brush Off, Party of One, and A Friend in Deed.) She is the most hyperactive of the cast, and is a very popular character, but she is very random.
Other prominent characters:
Spike is a baby dragon that serves as Twilight Sparkle's assistant. Notably, the sole male among the main cast. Can send letters using magical fire. Has a crush on Rarity. Likes to eat gemstones. Fancies himself an announcer. Would like to have a mustache.
Princess Celestia is the ruler of Equestria, and raises the sun each day. She is Twilight's mentor, and Twilight sends her a letter at the end of each show. Shows signs of being a bit of a troublemaker, almost as if she chafes against her role as ruler, but this hasn't been made overt. Is noticeably larger than most of the other ponies on the show. Is an "alicorn," with both a unicorn's horn and a pegasus' wings. She is at least a thousand years old.
Princess Luna hasn't appeared too much so far. We know very little about her, but that hasn't stopped fans from filling in some of the blanks. She is also an alicorn, and is also a thousand years old.
Big Macintosh is Applejack's brother. A stallion of few words.
Apple Bloom (Applejack's little sister), Sweetie Belle (Rarity's little sister) and Scootaloo (relations unknown) are three fillies who have yet to earn their "cutie marks," the symbols on the flanks of adult ponies that symbolize their talent and inner nature. Collectively, they are the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
Snips and Snails are two young male ponies. They aren't represented as being particularly smart. They are notable for their unique body design compared to the rest of the ponies.
Granny Smith is Applejack's grandmother. (Parents, with a couple of exceptions, for the main cast are unknown.)
Zecora is a zebra from a distant land who lives in the Everfree Forest. She speaks in rhyme and meter.
The Wonderbolts appear to be like the Equestrian Air Force, but they also perform as stunt fliers and weather supervisors. Rainbow Dash idolizes them. Their two most prominent members are Spitfire (female, orange mane) and Soarin' (male, blue mane), but we don't really see them much.
Diamond Tiara is a similarly-aged antagonist to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. A spoiled little rich pony.
Various monsters live in the Everfree Forest, just outside of Ponyville. They seem a lot like someone has been reading a bit too much of the D&D Monster Manual.
Nightmare Moon, Princess Luna transformed by evil magic and sealed away in the moon for a thousand years, is the antagonist of the first two episodes.
From Season 2:
Discord is the Spirit of Chaos, and resembles a patchwork of several monsters. Sealed away long ago by Celestia and Luna, this trickster figure has powerful magic and is a major, if whimsical, threat. Voiced by John de Lancie, 'Q' from Star Trek: The Next Generation!
Queen Chrysalis is the ruler of the changelings, a force that seeks to take over Equestria. She shows up in the second season finale.
There are also some background characters who turn up a lot, that fans have assigned personalities to. I describe them at the end of this writeup.
And now, a word about the world in which the ponies live. It is strange.
Nature there, it seems, is not natural. Many "wild" animals rely on the ponies for survival. The cycles of day and night are overseen by a pair of powerful rulers, the princesses Celestia and Luna, who use magic to raise the sun and moon. Pegasus ponies take care of the weather, which is made in sky factories and cleared up by moving the clouds around manually (which pegasus ponies can do). The seasons, in particular, seem to require effort to progress; two episodes, Winter Wrap-Up and Fall Weather Friends, show that the ponies of Equestria have to cause the seasons to progress themselves; cleaning up snow, melting ice, and bringing birds back from the south in the first, and having a big marathon-style run to cause the brown leaves of trees to fall in the second.
From what I gather, an older version of the show had nature that worked this way, but its implications were never examined. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic seems a lot less standoffish about thinking hard about the nature of a world that has to be manually "adjusted" this way.
There is a place in the world that doesn't seem to rely on pony effort to advance natural cycles, a area near Ponyville of thick growth called the Everfree Forest. It is filled with dangerous creatures (some have referred to its inhabitants as "D&D monsters," which is a good description), but also animals there fend for themselves, and the weather cycles naturally. The ponies are unnerved by this. It is a mysterious place, and its true nature is unknown as of the end of the first season. Its existence implies that this may be more than a simple kid's show; real thought has gone into the setting, and in explaining why things are the way they are presented.
Here are the episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that have aired to date:
Season 1 - 26 episodes
1-1. Friendship is Magic, Part 1: The Mare in the Moon (***)
Synopsis: Twilight Sparkle is sent to Ponyville to oversee preparations for the Summer Sun Celebration and make friends, but she has something more important on her mind.
Mostly sets up the premise and introduces the main characters. I think the focus on setting things up harms this episode; it's a good setup for the series, but not terribly memorable. It needs to be said: Derpy Hooves (see next section) first appears in this episode. It's been said that this episode and its successor are not really good introductions for people trying to introduce others to the show.
1-2. Friendship is Magic, Part 2: The Elements of Harmony (***1/2)
Synopsis: Nightmare Moon has returned, and Equestria's only hope to see daylight again is that Twilight and her new friends can find the lost "Elements of Harmony."
More interesting than the first episode, but is still of the "everyone shows off their special trick" style. The ending, however, hints at a bit of the hidden weirdness of the show's premise.
1-3. The Ticket Master (****1/2)
Synopsis: Celestia gives Twilight two tickets to the "Grand Galloping Gala," but everyone wants the spare.
This has some of the "everyone demonstrates their trick" stuff from the first two episodes, but works better I think because it's funnier. It's also a pivotal episode; the "Grand Galloping Gala" mentioned in this episode actually takes place at the end of the season, and the dresses for it are made in Suited for Success.
1-4. Applebuck Season (****)
Synopsis: Applejack's brother Big Macintosh is laid up, so she pridefully tries to bring in the apple harvest by herself without help from friends.
There is a phenomenon with some MLP:FiM episodes where, if a character would just say some magic phrase to another character, the plot would unravel. That is to say, some episodes have a bit of an idiot plot. This is one of them; why the heck does Applejack consider that she has to "prove" to the ponies she can bring in the harvest without asking for help? The magic phrase here is "Applejack, what is more important, proving something only you care about, or getting your damn apples in on time?" (I don't count this against the show -- the characters are supposed to be fairly young and learning how to get around in life. Still though, most of them could stand to develop some communication skills.) There are some funny moments caused by Applejack's tiredness. "Baked goods? No, baked bads! (ralph)"
1-5. Griffon the Brush-Off (****)
Synopsis: Pinkie's bonding with Rainbow Dash is interrupted by a surly friend.
I think this is overall an average episode, but it's worth watching for the excellent extended homage to Pepe Le Pew in the first act. Once you start watching it with it in mind, you start to catch classic animation references throughout the series. (There's another in Applebuck Season.)
1-6. Boast Busters (****)
Synopsis: The "Great and Powerful Trixie," another highly magical unicorn, comes to town and annoys everyone with her boastful show, but Twilight refuses to show her up, believing the others would think her just as obnoxious.
Trixie (who always refers to herself in the third person, and usually with her self-bestowed title) is popular with the fandom. Not a bad episode; the bits with Spike's mustache are very funny.
1-7. Dragonshy (****)
Synopsis: The girls are asked to evict a nearby sleeping dragon who's covering Equestria with its smoke.
Fluttershy is hard for some to like at first; she seems rather passive in the first few episodes. The end of this episode shows she can be pretty hardcore if she needs to be. Also contains a parody of Charlie's Angels. The dragon is a full-on Smaug clone! I love its voice at the end.
1-8. Look Before You Sleep (***)
Synopsis: Applejack and Rarity are having a bit of a tiff, but the two try to put aside their differences for the sake of Twilight, who is excited about having a slumber party.
One of the more girlish episodes, but still energetically written. Arguably the character who gets most developed here is Twilight, who's excitement over a sleepover is charming.
1-9. Bridle Gossip (***1/2)
Synopsis: A mysterious visitor to Ponyville inspires the ponies' fear and curosity.
I think this one is only somewhat above average, but has two great bits: Pinkie's "Evil Enchantress" song and Fluttershy's "curse." This episode also introduces the minor characters Zecora and Apple Bloom.
Idiot Plot Moment: "Ponies! That plant you wandered through will cause you lots of problems. You aren't getting my warning because I talk in rhyme. Uh, all the time."
1-10. Swarm of the Century (****)
Synopsis: Before a visit from Princess Celestia Ponyville is infested with ravenous creatures called Parasprites that cause havoc.
Another Pinkie episode. She's probably the the most popular character in fandom -- she's bizarre. Zecora is in this one too but only for a couple of minutes. (She only in these two episodes of the first season, although she's mentioned in Stare Master.)
Idiot Plot Moment: Pinkie could have just told them why she wanted the instruments, although it's excusable in this case because we are talking about Pinkie Pie.
1-11. Winter Wrap Up (****)
Synopsis: The ponies must work together to "clean up" winter in preparation for Spring in the way of the Earth Ponies who founded Ponyville: without magic, leaving Twilight without much to do.
A strong setting episode, the oddness of nature in ponyworld was hinted at before, but it's the focus of this episode. A catchy Sondheim-ish parody song is a major part of this episode.
Idiot Plot Moment: "So Twilight, you look like you're obsessing pretty badly there. How about you, uh, paint that fence there, and we'll call it a job well-done?"
1-12. Call of the Cutie (***)
Synopsis: Applejack's little sister Apple Bloom is dismayed that her "cutie mark," the symbol on her flank all ponies eventually receive, has not yet appeared. She endures the teasing of classmates while she tries to discover her special talent.
Introduces the Cutie Mark Crusaders, a trio of young ponies without cutie marks: Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. Fan reaction to the Crusaders is mixed; this is not one of the better episodes (I think) and the kid ponies tend to turn up the syrup a little too thick, but two excellent later episodes strongly feature them. There's a good laugh to be had in the girls' teacher's photograph of her youth. Evidently, Ponyville had an 80s, too.
1-13. Fall Weather Friends (***1/2)
Synopsis: A rivalry has developed between Applejack and Rainbow Dash concerning which is the better athlete. The matter will be determined at the Running of the Leaves, Ponyville's annual marathon run to defoliate the local woods.
Another episode that makes use of the strangeness of nature in the setting to provide atmosphere. As with most episodes, even when the main story is so-so there is a funny subplot to go along with it, here centering on Spike and Pinkie's roles as race announcers.
1-14. Suited for Success (*****)
Synopsis: Rarity makes dresses for the other ponies, but they aren't satisfied with them.
An excellent character episode, with one of the show's best songs, a full-on parody of something by Stephen Sondheim. This builds on the events of Ticket Master, but this is a better episode so I suggest seeing it first.
1-15. Feeling Pinkie Keen (****1/2)
Synopsis: Twilight Sparkle tries to figure out Pinkie's ability to predict the future.
A much-meme'd Pinkie Pie episode. This sets up the idea that Pinkie is a creature that defies the rules of logic and causation. Sets up Party of One a bit. Some people dislike this one because it seems to encourage belief in superstition at the end, but these people should repeat to themselves, "it's just a show," and maybe they should just relax.
1-16. Sonic Rainboom (****1/2)
Synopsis: Rainbow Dash is entered in the "Best Young Fliers" meet in Cloudsdale, but faces competition from an unexpected source.
Another character episode. Rainbow Dash is a fan favorite because she's the most badass of the ponies. Really, Dash is awesome. But this is also the episode with Dash's Moment Of Insanity.
1-17. Stare Master (*****)
Synopsis: Fluttershy agrees to babysit the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but they prove to be harder to handle than her animal friends.
Fluttershy's shining moment, and also probably the Cutie Mark Crusaders' best episode. Has a great song sequence. This episode shows us that Fluttershy can actually be terrifying at times, which is paid off on in The Best Night Ever. Also, anyone who's played Nethack will get a kick out of the monster in this episode.
1-18. The Show Stoppers (***)
Synopsis: The Cutie Mark Crusaders, still trying to discover their talents, put on a show for their class.
This episode seems a bit heavy-handed; it makes it obvious what the three's talents are, but they persist in overlooking them. A fairly empty episode really, although the show they put on at the end is somewhat amusing.
Idiot Plot Moment: For Celestia's sake kids, your talents are obvious!
1-19. A Dog and Pony Show (***1/2)
Synopsis: Rarity is kidnapped by the "Diamond Dogs," who live underground and try to make her find gems for them.
Not as good a Rarity episode as Suited for Success or Green Isn't Your Color, but it is good that, at the end, it's implied that Rarity's behavior with the Dogs was a ploy to escape, not just being obnoxious. Spike's rescue fantasy is also pretty funny.
1-20. Green Isn't Your Color (*****)
Synopsis: Fashion photographer Photo Finish wants to capture some of Rarity's designs, but her reluctant model Fluttershy steals the spotlight.
Another excellent character episode, featuring Rarity, Fluttershy and Twilight Sparkle, with hilarious random moments from Pinkie Pie. I think this is the best-written episode of the first season; there are episodes where the characters are presented as sort of "different-flavored" analogues of each other that lends to a generic style of storytelling, but this one relies on their personalities and their interactions. One couldn't substitute other characters for these and have the story work as well.
Idiot Plot Moment: The whole thing, although in this case that's the point.
1-21. Over a Barrel (**1/2)
Synopsis: Applejack and her friends visit Appleloosia, the location of whose new apple orchard is a matter of concern with a nearby buffalo tribe, who holds that land sacred.
I am not really fond of this episode; the resolution at the end feels forced. It does give us a good glimpse into another style of Equestria town however. The bits at the beginning, with "Bloomberg" and the ponies talking in the dark, are pretty funny though, and, is it my imagination, or is there a touch of Osamu Tesuka's influence in Little Strongheart's character design?
1-22. A Bird in the Hoof (****)
Synopsis: Princess Celestia visits Ponyville with her ailing pet bird Philomina, who Fluttershy secretly abducts in order to nurse to health. But nothing she does seems to work.
Concerning all the D&D-style monsters in the show it's not hard to guess what's up with Philomina. There is a great Celestia moment near the beginning with Mr. and Mrs. Cake, the owners of the shop Pinkie works at, that might explain why some fans have dubbed her Princess Trollestia.
Idiot Plot Moment: "Did I mention Philomena isn't an ordinary bird?"
1-23. The Cutie Mark Chronicles (*****)
Synopsis: The Cutie Mark Crusaders ask the main cast how they got their cutie marks, who tell their stories via flashbacks.
Among the least favorite characters are the "Cutie Mark Crusaders," three kid ponies who haven't yet received their magic butt tattoos. This episode uses them well to give us a bit of backstory for the main ponies. Fills us in on a bit of the backstory of Sonic Rainboom as well. Also, further cements Rainbow Dash's badassness. And besides having the funniest history of the six, we also learn Pinkie Pie's full name in this episode. (It's "Pinkamena Diane Pie," if you must know.)
1-24. Owl's Well That Ends Well (***1/2)
Synopsis: Twilight Sparkle gains another assistant. Spike is jealous and runs away to the Everfree Forest.
We encounter another dragon in this episode, who is very much a green version of the red one from Dragonshy. This one seems to be much meaner. Not a bad episode, but not terrific.
Idiot Plot Moment: "Spike, Owlowlicious isn't going to replace you. Anyway, I'm surprised you haven't destroyed more books, breathing fire and all."
1-25. Party of One (*****)
Synopsis: The ponies are avoiding Pinkie Pie for some reason, causing her to descend into madness.
Another much-meme'd episode, and hilarious start to finish. One of the fan jokes is that each of the ponies is insane in their own special way, but here Pinkie loses it spectacularly. Not your usual kid show fare! Should be watched after Feeling Pinkie Keen (which introduces Pinkie's pet alligator, Gummy).
1-26. The Best Night Ever (*****)
Synopsis: The season has led up to this moment, the night of the Grand Galloping Gala itself, and the ponies' hopes are high. Will their dreams actually come true?
This is probably the best episode of the first season overall, and is the source of a prominent meme (that I won't spoil), and it even has one of the show's best musical numbers. Suffice it to say, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic doesn't have a whole lot of use for "happily ever after"-style stories.
Season 2 - 26 episodes
2-1. The Return of Harmony, Part 1 (****)
Synopsis: The powerful spirit of chaos, Discord, escapes from imprisonment and causes havoc, and it falls to Twilight and friends to stop him. But Discord's riddles and tricks sow contention among the ponies.
These two episodes are packed to overflowing with jokes. He's not so much evil as chaotic, but is still generally a better villain than Nightmare Moon from the pilot, who wasn't really all that evil, just dark.
2-2. The Return of Harmony, Part 2 (****1/2)
Synopsis: Five of the six ponies are under Discord's strife-causing power, and Twilight must break the spell for them to use the Elements of Harmony against him.
Discord is hilarious and whimsical, and the havoc he wreaks on Ponyville requires some pausing to fully take in. The victory celebration at the end is a direct riff off of the end of Star Wars! If this episode and the prior one have a fault, it's that they seem overflowing with storytelling and jokes competing with each other; it's like two episodes weren't enough time to cover the idea.
2-3. Lesson Zero (****)
Synopsis: Twilight Sparkle's drive for organization causes her to obsess when she realizes she hasn't sent a friendship report back to Princess Celestia this week. Chaos ensues.
This episode makes it clear that Twilight has a touch of obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are some sly references to the fandom in this episode -- Derpy Hooves makes another appearance, Rainbow Dash's sunglasses resemble those from a meme, and it's not hard to see a similarity between Big Macintosh's running off with the Smartypants doll at the end and many male bronies' quest for show merchandise.
2-4. Luna Eclipsed (*****)
Synopsis: On Nightmare Night, Princess Luna returns to Ponyville looking to rehabilitate her public image.
The Halloween episode, and wonderful start to finish. This is Luna's first appearance since the second episode, and in one stroke the show's writers invalidated almost a year of fan speculation concerning the character, but Luna turns out to be even more awesome than fans had suspected. Pinkie Pie also plays a prominent role in the story. There is even a sequence with Fluttershy that reveals hilariously just how little that pony appreciates Nightmare Night. Zecora also returns in this episode.
2-5. Sisterhooves Social (****)
Synopsis: Sweetie Belle's week-long stay with her big sister Rarity soon drives a wedge between them.
A good character episode, not as strong as the two excellent Rarity episodes in the first season but still, not bad. We get to see Rarity's parents, who seem to be Midwestern sorts of pony. Note, Rarity's father is an earth pony and her mother is a unicorn. And this is the first episode that only features two of the six main ponies (Applejack is the second), doesn't feature Twilight Sparkle at all, and has the first non-Twilight letter to Celestia. (Spike is still present to write it, though.) There is some good animation in this one: note Rarity's swallowing of her rage when dealing with Sweetie Belle in the first act, and Belle's bored sliding along the ground propelled by her back legs. If you pay attention, there are clues to the surprise ending during the third act.
2-6. The Cutie Pox (*** 1/2)
Synopsis: Apple Bloom, impatient to get her cutie mark, resorts to using one of Zecora's potions, with unexpected results.
It's a Cutie Mark Crusaders episode and not one of the better ones at that I think, although there is fun to be had with Apple Blooms's plight in the second half. There are other good points too: a bowling alley is seen at the start, complete with cameos by Big Lebowski background ponies. Zecora's in this one too. One interesting about Zecora's rhyming couplets here -- there is a place where she asks a question with the first half of a couplet, and the answer turns out to be the rhyme she uses for the second half. If she didn't know the answer for the first line, how could she have used the answer for her rhyme for the second...? It makes one want to walk up to Zecora and demand that she describe oranges.
2-7: May The Best Pet Win (*** 1/2)
Synopsis: Rainbow Dash, realizing she's the only pony of the group without a pet, holds a competition to find one.
A pretty fluffy episode, but it has a song (MLP:FiM songs are usually great) and cleverer writing than you'd expect concerning it's about a competition between various animals to see which will become the pet of a winged, light-blue horse. The various animals, despite being wild species, seem to want to be Dash's pet, which is another weird thing about pony world. When Dash says she wants a pet Fluttershy nearly melts down. It's a good example of a story that nearly any other show would make insufferable, but Pony pulls it off.
2-8: The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well (****)
Synopsis: An unknown pony threatens to replace Rainbow Dash as Ponyville's protector.
On the one hand it's not difficult to guess who the "Mysterious Mare-Do-Well" really is, but on the other, it' is intended to be a kid's show. If you think about it, you could take the wrong lesson from this story: that it's okay to keep secrets from friends and manipulate them so long as you think you're teaching them a lesson for what you consider to be their own good. This episode fleshes out Ponyville a bit more. It has a hydroelectric dam, and modern construction methods using reinforcing girders, and a long steep path downhill out of town that ends at a cliff that baby carriages have a habit of careening down. It is evident that some serious thought went into providing just enough hints as to the Mare's identity. There are some surprising Batman references in this episode, and a poster in the opening scene clearly depicts a Rainbow Dash version of Nyan Cat. And: the return of Pinkie Sense!
2-9: Sweet and Elite (*****)
Synopsis: Rarity is torn between her new popularity among the upper crust of Canterlot and remaining loyal to her friends in Ponyville.
Another excellent Rarity episode. Although the final destination of the story is pretty much obvious, the way there is interesting and unexpected. Contains several cameos of Season One ponies, including Prince Blueblood and Octvia (the cellist at the Grand Galloping Gala). Fancy Pants, despite his name, is probably the most sympathetic of Canterlot's higher classes other than the princess sisters themselves, meaning he'll probably become a fan favorite. Note F.P's lady friend in his first scene; it's a dewinged, pink version of Luna! This is the first time they've used one of the princess character models for a different pony. She certainly looks stylish. Oh, there's a new song here too.
2-10: The Secret of My Excess (****1/2)
Synopsis: On Spike's birthday, the gifts he receives from friends triggers his acquisitive dragon instincts, causing him both to become greedy and experience sudden growth spurts.
This episode moves pretty quickly, and fits in with Tolkienian dragon lore concerning greed. A lot of imagination in this one, we meet no less than four new ponies, and Cherrilee gets more screen time too. We get to see Spike in a pimp hat. Note that when huge, Spike holes up in a cave on the same mountain from Dragonshy! Look for Lyra and Bon Bon in the background together for the first time in Season Two around a well -- and also look for Derpy Hooves popping up out of the well to their surprise.
2-11: Hearth's Warming Eve (***)
Synopsis: The ponies put on a play depicting the founding of Equestria.
This is a weird episode; practically the whole thing is actually their play. It does a lot to fill in the blanks of the world the ponies live in, so it's not bad for the Pony obsessive, but it's kind of light for casual bronies. As far as story goes it's pretty much a Christmas episode, which is to say, not much to speak of. What good moments there are are mostly Pinkie stealing the show.
2-12: Family Appreciation Day (****)
Synopsis: When Applejack and Big Macintosh harvest the magical "zap apples" at the farm, Apple Bloom is left with Granny Smith to present to her class for Family Appreciation Day.
A good episode for demonstrating that Granny Smith is not as senile as she seemed in the early episodes, without either retconing them. Two excellent extended sequences of world building are in this episode: the strange "zap apples" that Applejack's family grows, and the founding of Ponyville as explained by Granny Smith, who it seems was on-hand at the time! Her family receives the land grant from Princess Celestia, who is shown in Granny Smith's childhood flashback identical to her current-day appearance, serving to accentuate her strangeness.
2-13: Baby Cakes (****1/2)
Synopsis: The Cakes' new twins are looked after by possibly the least responsible adult in Ponyville: Pinkie Pie.
A wonderful episode, one of the best in the season so far, from the opening scene throughout. In the opening we're on-hand while the rest of the ponies coo over Mr and Mrs Cake's new twins. In one scene an important aspect of pony biology is successfully addressed: although both earth ponies, their new colt is a pegasus and their daughter is a unicorn! The ponies ask Mr. Cake about this, who explains that there is some pegasus and unicorn blood in the family! Very interesting....
But just as good is, a month later, Pinkie's attempts to keep the two under control. Her character is handled exceptionally well here, and it serves as a counterpoint to Party of One in the first season. There are hints of reality warping here (how does she get into the room in the opening sequence?) and she also doesn't seem quite all "there" in the early sequences, both nods to earlier appearances. She manages to hold up pretty well... at least until the baby pegasus starts flying, and the unicorn does too, and also phases through objects! This poses an interesting question -- up until this point, we had assumed that Scootaloo couldn't fly and Sweetie Belle couldn't use magic because they were immature, so how do one-month-olds fly and use magic like it was nothing? We are left to assume that these might be fluke occurrences -- or maybe the products of a certain pink pony's imagination.
2-14: The Last Roundup (*****)
Synopsis: After competing in the all-Equestria rodeo, Applejack is avoiding her friends and family. The others try to figure out why.
This one's easily a star of the whole run. Right after the title sequence we get the first canonical acknowledgement of Derpy Hooves, going by that name, voiced, and even a substantive part of the story! And apparently she's friends with Rainbow Dash! It's also a strong Applejack episode, a pony who hasn't gotten a lot of focus overall. AND there are multiple highly-memeable Pinkie Pie scenes, in which we learn that she takes "Pinkie swears" quite seriously.
Idiot Plot Moment: Applejack's letter. If she had worded it that she wasn't coming back for a while it probably wouldn't have caused so much commotion.
2-15: The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000 (****1/2)
Synopsis: Applejack's cider business is threatened by travelling salesponies and their cider-making machine.
A very nice episode, basically a parody of The Music Man complete with one of the show's best songs. It's Bon-Bon's turn to get a speaking role, although it's only one line. The antagonists, the Flim Flam Brothers, are well-presented and difficult to hate -- it's possible we've got another Trixie on our hands here. Applejack actually seems to show some memory of a past lesson here; unlike back in Applebuck Season, here she shows no resistance to asking her friends for help. Even so, it's nice that (spoiler) the Apples actually lose their bet in the end, although they end up keeping the farm anyway. Finally, this episode probably has the best letter to Celestia of the series so far.
2-16: Read It And Weep (****1/2)
Synopsis: Rainbow Dash, laid up in the hospital after a stunt gone bad, discovers a love for reading.
Another excellent episode, and the source of a new meme involving the adventure book Rainbow Dash is introduced to by Twilight, "Daring-Do and the Sapphire Statue," involving an Indiana Jones-style adventuress. Shortly after the show aired, someone at TVTropes created a mostly-invented trope page for the mentioned Daring-Do series. Other highlights of this episode: a look at Equestrian medical care, and a mad-pony who barks like a dog (who is the punchline of an easy-to-miss joke during the chase scene).
2-17: Hearts And Hooves Day (****)
Synopsis: The Cutie Mark Crusaders get it in their heads to find a "very special somepony" for their single teacher Cherilee. Unforunately their plans come to involve Big Macintosh and a love potion.
Hold on a minute -- what is Twilight doing handing out books with love potion recipes to little kids? Anyway, a fairly charming episode, although being a kids show the effects of the love potions are necessarily limited to goofy shmoopy-talk between Cherilee and Big Mac. Mac's tremendous strength is displayed amply here. There is a song in the first act involving the kids' search for a mate for Cherilee that among others involves A. a new pony presiding over a funeral who we will see again, and B. a pony who is entirely too fond of jam. I do have to say though that it's a little annoying how the show bends over backwards to avoid saying "boyfriend" or "girlfriend," to use the gender-neutral, but unwieldly, term "very special somepony."
2-18: A Friend In Deed (*****)
Synopsis: Pinkie Pie discovers a creature immune to her charms and she goes all-out to win him over as a friend.
This is an absolutely stellar episode, simultaneously celebrating and criticizing Pinkie Pie's "over-the-top super hyper antics." (In the words of Rainbow Dash.) There are no less than four songs in this one, including one played over the end credits. Pinkie's incredible energy and fourth-wall-breaking powers are put on amazing display throughout. We even get a peek inside her fluffy mind to discover her imagination is made out of felt, painstakingly animated for the occaision! And we get another Pepe le Pew homage sequence here too. But even with the abundance of Pinkie on display, the standout here is Cranky Doodle Donkey, the subject of her efforts. C.D.D. is an atypical creation for this show: an elderly, cynical figure who has seen a lot of life and now just wants peace and quiet. He is cranky and sarcastic but he's not really mean, he's a truly sympathetic character who unfortunately, until the end, mostly comes out the worse for Pinkie's efforts to befriend him. The ending for him here is actually heart-warming. This episode also gives us a bit of a look at the egalitarian nature of Ponyville society: in addition to the obvious ponies, we see donkies, a cow and Zecora the zebra in this episode, all getting along well (well, fairly well) with each other. In other episodes we find out that some "monsters" are also Ponyville citizens, such as griffons and minotaurs.
2-19: Putting Your Hoof Down (****)
Synopsis: Fluttershy attends a presentation given by a motivational speaker (yes, really) on being more assertive, but takes it too far.
Iron Will, the minotaur who is the motivational speaker, is a fun character, another of those villains who isn't really evil that the show does well. If "Macho Man" Randy Savage hadn't died recently I could see them hiring him to do the voice. He also seems to have a good working arrangement with goats. At the end he turns out to be something of a paper tiger, but that just makes him more interesting! Also, there's a lot of Pinkie hanging out with Rarity in this episode, which is a combination we haven't seen much of before. And during the letter at the end pay attention to Fluttershy's reaction to Angel's petulance: it's the return of THE STARE!
2-20: It's About Time (*****)
Synopsis: Twilight is given a warning by herself from the future, and proceeds to freak out about it in a typically Twilightesque manner.
This episode is practically one long gift to bronies: it's hilarious from start to finish, gives us some wonderful Pinkie moments ("I've hidden balls all over Ponyville. In case of ball emergencies!"), adds in a bit of Equestria world-building (Cerberus, the gates of Tartarus), and even finds a pretty good excuse to dress Twilight up as, I'm not kidding, Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3! The best moment is when Twilight realizes that she can't figure out what's going to happen, and doing nothing won't prevent it, so the only solution is to WATCH EVERYTHING. Which she then tries to do.
2-21: Dragon Quest (**** 1/2)
Synopsis: Spike leaves on a quest of self-discovery, to join the Great Dragon Migration that happens once every thousand years, while Twilight, Rainbow Dash and Rarity secret follow to keep tabs on him.
The world building in Season 2 has taken a different direction from that in Season 1, focusing more on Equestria's history, so it's nice to get a look at the nature of dragons in this one. In the background in the scenes with the teenagers you can see a large red dragon who appears to be the one from Dragonshy. We also see more phoenixes in this one, who appear to be rather awesome creatures, and at the end Spike picks up one from an egg.
2-22: Hurricane Fluttershy (****)
Synopsis: Ponyville's pegasuses are given the task of transporting water up to Cloudsdale to provide weather for all of Equestria, but Fluttershy doesn't feel capable of lending a wing.
A bit more world-building in this one, making it apparent that pegasuses aren't just responsible for maintaining weather, but they have to plan it out and actually engineer it. The primary interaction is between Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy, who as we saw earlier in The Cutie Mark Chronicles, have a bit of history together. A nice touch in this episode is that it's acknowledged that Fluttershy isn't the best flyer, but even in the end when she overcomes her reservations, she doesn't magically become as good a flier as the other pegasuses. One weak point in this episode, though, is all the references to "wingpower"; the central drama of the episode is basically the pegasuses trying to get an arbitrary number high enough to match another arbitrary number. Still though, we get a laughably overbuffed pegasus with tiny wings, and we get a pegasus training film at the beginning, so all is forgiven.
2-23: Ponyville Confidential (*****)
Synopsis: The Cutie Mark Crusaders write a gossip column for the school paper, but it causes them to be ostracized from their friends.
Can you believe this episode makes subtle references to the empire of Rupert Murdoch? Diamond Tiara goes the full J. Jonah Jameson in this one. (While I think they could have thrown in some references to Citizen Kane to boot, I recognize that the episode isn't really about her.) Some light world-building is done in the subjects of Gabby Gums' gossip columns, which reveal some entertaining facts about some notable Equestrian citizens, including Princess Celestia and -- mentioned for the first time since episode 1-6, Boast Busters -- The Great And Powerful Trixie!
2-24: MMMystery on the Friendship Express (*** 1/2)
Synopsis: Pinkie and Twilight play Sherlock Holmes and Watson to figure out who defaced the Cakes' entry in a Canterlot baking competition.
I'm conflicted on this one. There's some entertaining banter between Twilight and Pinkie as they compete with each other for the role of Sherlock (with matching hat), but the mystery, while genuinely mysterious, seems a bit unkind when it's revealed who the culprit(s) actually is(are). He/She/They saw Pinkie taking her role of the cake's guardian extra seriously. How about a bit of consideration?
2-25: A Canterlot Wedding, Part 1: (*** 1/2)
Synopsis: Twilight discovers her brother is getting married to Celestia's niece, Princess Cadance, and she and her friends are brought in to plan the wedding. But something about Cadance doesn't seem right.
The first part of a season-ending hour, the fanbase went nuts over these episodes when they first aired, but I'm actually ambivalent towards it. After two seasons of lessons, Twilight's mentor is unexpectedly harsh towards her faithful student's concerns near the end of this episode, which seems rather jarring. Not to mention that neither Twilight's brother Shining Armor nor his fiance Cadance have been even hinted at before this episode, it's rather a lot to ask us to accept at once. But we do get the return, almost in cameo form, of Luna, and an actual spoken line for Lyra. (Or is it?) We also get some nice bits showing the ponies preparing for the wedding, including an awesome reaction from Rarity when she is told that she gets to design the clothes for the couple. Someone hit Ctrl-Alt-Del on that pony, she's locked up.
2-26: A Canterlot Wedding, Part 2: (****)
Synopsis: The conclusion of the wedding story, the action picks up when the villain -- an actual villain this time -- is revealed.
The villain's name is never given on-screen, but it's been mentioned that the script calls her Queen Chrysalis. Fan drawings of Chrysalis, who has an interesting character design, proliferated for weeks after the episode aired. There are some pretty good action sequences in this one, befitting a show that shares common roots with Powerpuff Girls. My personal angle, however, is that the episode is harmed by the same thing that has caused so many other fans to like it: it is very much a Disney movie story, but Disney movie stories have been kind of done to death, to the point that even Disney doesn't make many of them anymore. (Note: Celestia is obviously the ruler of Equestria, but Hasbro mandated that she be called a princess, instead of a queen, because a horde of Disney movies have caused the popular culture to conflate queens with evil. This episode does nothing to help the royal cause.)
Season 3 3/13 episodes
3-1: The Crystal Empire, Part 1: (***)
Synopsis: Celestia gives Twilight an important test: to see to the protection of the "Crystal Empire" of Northern Equestria, returned after having been missing for 1,000 years due to a curse, from its ruler, the evil unicorn King Sombre.
In my opinion, of all the two-part episodes aired to this point, only The Return of Harmony has been very good, and that's mostly because of the hilarious antics of Discord. I can't say that this one does much to change my opinion of two-parters. Featuring the return of Princess Cadance and Shining Armor from the previous two episodes, and an entire new region of Equestria, never-before mentioned, that practically shouts out playset. There are some clever fan shoutouts: the ponies are met by Shining Armor wearing a get-up last seen on Hoth, and Celestia and Luna have private discussions that hint that the two of them are taking great interest in Twilight's progress. But overall I have to say the episode's a bit of a dud. Even Pinkie's antics upon being introduced to flugelhorns (which she blows while shouting FLUGELHORN) don't quite make up for it.
3-2: The Crystal Empire, Part 2: (***)
Synopsis: Twilight continues her search for the Crystal Heart, a magic artifact with the ability to shield the Crystal Empire from the wicked King Sombra, while her friends revive the ancient Crystal Faire to keep up the spirits of its citizens.
It seems to be the general opinion of fans that King Sombre is a missed opportunity; although he shows off a lot of ominous abilities, he does little more than loom and growl throughout. I don't think this episode is much better than part one, but part of that could be because it appears to be laying groundwork for later episodes. Not since the first season's (wonderful) Grand Galloping Gala subplot has there been this much foreshadowing. Observe: Celestia is obviously testing Twilight on a deeper level than just her studies, and at the end, although it's hard to catch, Celestia and Luna produce a book that hasn't seen before. But there is more than that at work here: notice Evil King Sombre's eyes, how they glow green and have a blue vapor escaping from them? We've seen that green eyes often go together with evil magic; Chrysalis' eyes glow that color in the prior two-parter. Celestia shows that she can call up that effect herself early in part one, and Twilight manages to duplicate the effect. Importantly, Spike asks how she learned to do it, and she mentions she picked it up from Celestia, indicating that we're supposed to notice it. It seems likely that this development will be important later.
3-3: Too Many Pinkie Pies: (*** 1/2)
Synopsis: Feeling the time pressure of keeping up with all her friends, Pinkie uses a magical pool to make duplicates of herself so she can hang out with all of them at once. Antics ensue.
This episode seems like something of another wasted opportunity. The premise screams chaos on a level that even Discord couldn't hope to match, but really most of Pinkie's clones do little more than bounce around shouting FUN. Pinkie is deceptively difficult to write for. Her hyper-cutesy speech needs to be handled with care; her "Okey-dokie-lokie" catchphrase, for instance, is played off on well in Party Of One because she doesn't say it in her usual joyful hyperactive manner. Well, her speech kind of grates in this episode, especially since she spends a lot of it talking to herself (both in the ordinary sense and to her clones). There are a couple of funny moments with the clones towards the end (during the contest), but you'd have expected there to be a lot more.
3-4: One Bad Apple: (****)
Synopsis: The Cutie Mark Crusaders meet Apple Bloom's cousin Babs Seed from Manehattan, but instead of befriending them she joins up with Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon and antagonizes them.
The CMCs started out making some fans groan (the name of their club certainly help them in this regard), but have evolved into interesting characters easily able to hold up a whole episode. There are some charming bits of animation in this episode: the scene where Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo demonstrate their idea-finding corner, and the shot in the (disturbingly catchy) music video section where they're drinking milkshakes. There's an A-Team-style montage when they're working on their parade float Mk. 2, with appropriate music. The CMC's plan to get back at Babs for bullying them is clever, funny, and admirably evil, although of course it'll backfire by the end. There are a couple of Pinkie moments (involving puns) towards the end. This episode shows us that motor vehicle technology exists in Equestria (and is in the CMC's ability to utilize to boot) -- presumably the ponies don't often use it because, well, because they're horses, they're built for long-distance travel naturally, and for really long trips they have rail. The ending is a little glurgy, but it's nice that the episode takes efforts to look at the root causes of bullying, and finds some sympathy with Babs at the end, although Applejack not telling the girls why Babs is visiting Ponyville is kind of an Idiot Plot Moment.
3-5: Magic Duel: (****)
Synopsis: Trixie is back, and much more powerful than before. She bests Twilight in a magic duel and throws her out of town, leaving it to Twilight and Zecora to come up with a way to defeat her.
Lots to talk about here....
Trixie has been a fan favorite since her first appearance back in season one, and they set up a redemption for her at the end of that episode, so it was inevitable that she'd return. The source of her power is a magic artifact called the Alicorn Amulet, which grants magical power at the cost of "corrupting" the user. Yeah, I'd like to go on record as saying that magical corruption plots are past their sell-by date. Still, "corrupt" Trixie is mostly just a petty tyrant. Oh, and we find out that she doesn't trust wheels for some reason. The resolution ends up relying on Fluttershy for some reason, but it produces some funny moments. It has been mentioned by fans that Zecora's tutoring of Twilight is Yoda-esque, down to the cryptic pronouncements. There's some world-building there; Zecora isn't a unicorn or even a pony, but it's stated here that she has some unexplained magical ability here, although it doesn't take the form of glowy-horn magic. Also of interest, at the end we get a glimpse of representatives from "Saddle Arabia" (groan), who are actually full horses in Arabian costume -- and they don't have cutie marks. Interesting.
At the end Twilight and her friends end up showing Trixie up without real magic at all, entirely through tricks. Figuring out how they pulled the tricks off is part of the fun; it results in a "clone" of Rainbow Dash, "child" versions of Applejack and Rarity, an "old" version of A.J., and also a male version of her too, who of course are her sister and brother painted. (Big Mac's embarrassed "eyup" when dolled up like Applejack is pretty funny.) Pinkie has to suffer mouthless throughout the episode, but that doesn't stop her from having an awesome moment in the reveal at the end.
This is the first time the word alicorn, both the production staff's and the fandom's name for a unicorn/pegasus combo pony, has been used on the show, although the significance of that name is lost in this episode.
3-6: Sleepless in Ponyville: (**** 1/2)
Synopsis: As a ploy to bring Scootaloo closer to worship-figure Rainbow Dash the CMCs arrange a camping trip with her, Applejack and Rarity, but R.D.'s scary campfire stories give Scootaloo nightmares. She receives aid from an unexpected source.
A very well-done episode overall. We don't get much of the backstory on Scootaloo that fans have been clamoring for since Season One, but at least we see that Rainbow Dash returns some of Scoot's affection.
Yes, about Scootaloo. The most tomboyish of the CMCs, she's the only one for which we've seen no family, making her the subject of endless fan speculation, which has only become louder with Lauren Faust's revelation that from the beginning, she was always intended as a pegasus who can't fly. It has been shown before, and again at the beginning of the episode here, that she can come up with pretty impressive ground speed on a scooter (hence the name), and there's a Season Two episode where she sort of hovers for a couple of seconds, but we're pretty sure it has nothing to do with her young age; Pound Cake can fly and he's an infant. She can buzz her wings like a hummingbird, an ability she shows off several times here.
The highlight of this episode, the Special Guest Star, of course is Princess Luna, who it's revealed has the ability to enter ponies' dreams. (The Inception jokes in the fandom following this episode were somewhat insufferable, but it produced some funny fan comics involving her sister Celestia.) It's planned out very well; in the first nightmare sequence there's a very brief glimpse of Luna through the trees, setting up her full appearance in the second. It serves to heighten the mystery of the character, who we still don't know an awful lot about.
3-7: Wonderbolts Academy: (**** 1/2)
Synopsis: Rainbow Dash's dream of being a Wonderbolt takes a big step forward when she goes to the Wonderbolt Academy for tryouts, where she befriends Lightning Dust, a pegasus with nearly equal ability.
Rainbow Dash has been called a "douche" by some in the fan community. One of the most popular characters and the focus of a couple of prominent memes, her brash self-assuredness sometimes reads as insufferable to the viewer. So how great is it when R.D. actually plays as straightpony against a character who's even more brash and self-assured than she is? There are moments back in Ponyville with the rest of the girls which converge with the Wonderbolt plot at the end, which give us more examples of Pinkie being Pinkie.
The major world-building in this episode co