My Little Devotional #124: “Tunnel Vision”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Cart Before the Ponies”

The Cutie Mark Crusaders don’t have a very good day in this episode. When it’s time for the annual Applewood Derby in Ponyville, each of them has their own idea for how to design their carts and what awards to go for. Yet when they recruit their “big sisters” to help them with their respective projects, they find out that the older ponies already have their own pre-conceived ideas for them and, in spite of their best efforts, ignore any attempts to get them to build the carts the way the CMCs want them. In the end, the big sisters they looked to for inspiration monopolized the entire thing and made it all about them racing and what they wanted, and, as a result, not only took over the event from the girls but ruined it for everyone else.

Anyone who’s looked into Christianity, whether they be Christians themselves or not, knows that it comes in a lot of “flavors”. There are, of course, the major denominations with their own belief systems, but I find that what differs even more than that is the amount of different ways Christianity is expressed.

I myself grew up Roman Catholic with occasionally attending Lutheran mass, whereas later in college I joined up with a nondenominational Christian group called Chi Alpha Campus Ministries…so I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. I’ve seen a lot of different Church events, outreaches, methods of worship (including song, chant, prayer, and even dance), and a lot of different ways of preaching. I’ve been in places that are pretty much just a gathering of people around a couple guys with instruments, in places where everyone dresses up nice and rises and sits in unison to the tunes of pipe organs, and in places where everyone just surrounds a preacher in a speaker’s circle shouting out about how we’re all sinners going to Hell. While I definitely have ones I prefer to others, I won’t be so bold as to say one is “better” than the other. What ultimately measures the value of preaching and ministry, to me, is how effective it ends up being. (And even if I criticize, I’ll say that with few exceptions the worst preaching I’ve seen beats the best “non-preaching” I regularly practice… :/ )

What gets me is when Churches start to act like the big sisters (Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity) in this episode: when they become so fixed on seeing their own way and methods as perfect that they completely ignore not only other opinions but who they’re doing this for to begin with.

I have a feeling most Christians are acquainted with one (or more) Churches that are spiritually dead. If this was a problem back in the times of the New Testament when there were those still alive who could remember Jesus walking in the flesh, how much more 2,000 years later? You know the kind: Churches that never challenge anyone, never outreach to anyone, never seem to grow, and just seem to say and do the same pat things day in and day out. People may go in and get temporarily enthused or even a brief sense of spiritual empowerment, but it never leads to anything lasting in the community, whether that community be of the Church itself or the greater community around it. They basically do the same things all the time and, to coin a modern proverb, as they keep doing what they’ve always done, they keep getting what they’ve always gotten and stayed where they’ve always been.

I experienced this early on in the same place most Christians I have discovered experienced it first: the Roman Catholic Church. Services are always highly ordered, highly controlled, highly regimented, and so predictable that I’ve been in some masses where the congregation mechanically began to say: “And also with you” when one of the readings read: “The Lord be with you”.

I’ve read arguments in favor of these practices and, to be fair, they have some weight. The idea is that experiences with God are not meant to be ordinary but “holy” in the sense of the root of the word: “set apart”. There is a reverence to certain actions and a way to do things that is not just random or each person doing whatever they feel is best. That you only do these things to begin with because it’s a special time and place. It’s treating the very experience of being with God as something deserving special significance, and therefore they don’t like to endorse any kind of uncontrolled behavior or expression. It’s drawing attention to the Word, because of the belief that the Word itself is living and sacred and is an experience with God.

This is well and good and it would be fine…if it actually had that desired effect. The fact of the matter, however, is that most Roman Catholics I know personally find these services to be repetitive, humdrum, and boring. Far from appreciating the sacredness of the situation, because it’s the “same sacredness” every single week in the exact same way it takes something that should be holy and special and makes it as routine as brushing one’s teeth. The Bible does indeed place special emphasis on the Holy Eucharist, and yet by treating it the exact same way week in and week out the congregation is encouraged to think less and less about how special it is and more like it’s the same empty gesture as saying “peace be with you” during the communal handshake. But this is unlikely to change, because everything in the Roman Catholic Church is handed down from the hierarchy of the Vatican, and that, in turn, while it had made major concessions in the past fifty years (at least masses are no longer in Latin…) wants to stay with tradition.

That’s probably the most extreme example, but the fact is it can happen anywhere and in any Church. Everyone likes to do certain things over others. Everyone is more comfortable trying one thing over trying something else. That’s just human nature and the “comfort zone” that we all possess. Where it becomes a problem is when someone in power decides to use this position to influence others and, as a result, one person’s comfort zone becomes an entire Church’s detriment. In the case of Church leadership, it’s when the congregation either alienates themselves and/or discourages other people from coming in and joining; whether it be in the form of not responding to the needs of the community, engaging in ministries that are continuously ineffective, or even endorsing beliefs that are more about giving the leadership and Church recognition and power rather than the Kingdom of God or are even non-Biblical (Again, Roman Catholicism is a big sinner there). In effect, they are sabotaging the very Mission of the Church to begin with.

Naturally, in the Bible, when one thinks of leaders who preferred to cling to their own way rather than what mattered to God, one looks at the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time. Yet a good portion of the New Testament is also devoted to being on guard against those who masquerade as Christian leaders. The Apostle Paul reserved strong condemnation for those who went about frustrating Christian principles about the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-34), boasting that they had better “credentials” than him based on his own way of preaching (2 Corinthians 11: 1-15), and especially those who tried to impose the Mosaic Law on new Christians [“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12)]. Whereas Paul seemed to feel sorrow or pity for his persecutors of the Jewish background [“For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race,” (Romans 9:3)], he had nothing but contempt and condemnation for those who tried to warp the Gospel to suit their own tastes. Even the last book in the Bible, Revelation, starts off with a strong warning about Churches being on guard for false leaders (Revelation 2:8-29).

All of this serves as a warning to us. While I do trust in the Word of God in regards to “submitting to authority” and that some people are gifted to be in authority over others, we also are to be on guard for trees that bear “bad fruit” and against false and ineffective leadership. To me, the best Churches are ones that see the situation they are in and respond to it as best and appropriate as they can, and look for opportunities to be more effective. Ones that simply seek to serve the status quo, and usually their own status quo, while refusing to listen to anything that may make them better or pay attention to the times are ultimately serving their own glory…and the Bible makes it clear the end of all mortal things that serve their own glory. Let that be a cautionary message that we need to seek a different Church.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for the Church, for which you sent your Son, Lord Jesus Christ, as ransom, and thank you also for your Word, which is the cornerstone of our faith. Grant that I may always challenge myself to grow in Christ, and that as I do I pay attention to your Word, learn from it, and see if what is in my life…including my choice in Church and who I choose to listen to as my religious leader…is in accord with it. Help me to know you better so I can discern your will better, and thereby be on guard on all attempts to get me to obey a different will while submitting to ones that reflect yours. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #123: “Holier Than Thou”

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Before I begin, I’d like to start by saying my thoughts and prayers go out to my brothers and sisters in Christ in Egypt following this Palm Sunday bombing.

Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Stranger Than Fanfiction”

“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is one show not afraid to target its own fandom, whether its for massive fanservice or to hold a mirror in the face of the darker aspects. That’s certainly true in this episode when we’re introduced to Quibble Pants. Although he says he’s a fan of Daring Do, in truth he only cares for the earliest entries in the series. The rest he constantly criticizes, scoffs at, rambles on and on against, and even goes so far as to dislike people who enjoy those parts of the series. He takes it to such an extreme that even when the impossible happens and he is confronted with the very fictional character brought to life, he still clings to his disdain and criticism. He seems to think he pretty much knows the best way to do everything in the series…even better than the creator, who happens to be Daring Do herself actually living out her books. In the ultimate show of hubris, Quibble Pants not only sets himself as a greater authority than the source, but actually feels justified in criticizing reality. 

Whereas the last episode dealt with someone who was knowledgeable in their own estimation and set that as the standard for others, this one deals with someone who is genuinely knowledgeable, but believes that justifies them in all of their opinions and gives them a status above others. I called the former example a “snob” in my last devotional. This one is too, to be honest, but for this case I call it being prideful, arrogant, or “haughty”.

As you have probably noticed, as I myself blog reviews about MLP:FIM, this is going to sound a lot like the pot calling the kettle black, but here it goes. (After all, if I really think this devotional is good advice, I should heed it myself. :P)

I mentioned last time about how the Internet has led people to believe their opinion is worth more than it really is. Extending that a bit further, it therefore also logically makes many people think everyone is entitled to their opinion. Unfortunately, that’s not limited to the Internet. I’m sure we have all met someone who suffers “the curse of giving advice”.

Most of us probably know someone who always has to give their two cents on everything. Who always seems to know better than everyone else. Who always seems to be an authority on this or that life event. In some cases, this is mild. The individual in question is just a bit of a bore or annoying in conversations and gatherings. But in other cases, when the person in question is in a position of authority (or at least thinks they should be…), it can become unbearable. These sorts of individuals can be overbearing, bossy, domineering, and, in the worst situation, become like Quibble Pants in this episode and grow toxic. At this point, these people don’t simply have a bad habit but likely a psychological need to be right about everything and condemn or rage against those who disagree with them to get a sense of personal superiority and pride.

Unfortunately, there’s very little that one can do to change these individuals, or anyone for that matter. You can try distancing yourself from them and sending cues that this sort of behavior isn’t really appreciated by you personally, or perhaps even confront them about it in a tactful and polite way. Yet ultimately, the only person who can change anyone is the person themselves, and if they fail to see a problem with their own behavior it’s likely nothing will change. And, equally unfortunately, if the problem is a matter of pride then they might have a hard time seeing the issue to begin with.

What we can do, however, is make sure it doesn’t happen to us; that we don’t become inflated with our own pride.

Unfortunately, as I alluded to in my last devotional, there seem to be more temptations than ever for that. I’ve seen otherwise great and good Christians get utterly warped by the Internet. Rather than use it as a vessel to spread love or the Gospel, they use it to insult, to shout, to condemn, and, more often than not, to try and be smug and superior to others. It would be one thing if they simply slipped up and did that once in a while…but no, sometimes they seem to make a point to do it at every opportunity; always looking for places they can throw their unsolicited opinion and rarely to encourage or build up. They seem to be taking the Great Commission as an excuse to throw their two cents in on everything, and then they use those two cents to incite other people. If I’m an atheist or agnostic, and the biggest Christian I know uses their time to be as smarmy and insolent as the secular crowd, only with a sense of more self-importance because of their status as a Christian, am I going to be attracted to that? Most of these people know full well they would never talk that way to others face-to-face in real life. Why does the Internet give them the excuse?

The most shocking thing to me about the non-Christian’s view of the Christian is that they tend to think all of us go around “thinking we’re better than everyone else”. To me, Christians, far from being proud and arrogant, should likely be the most humble people of all. Sure, we can’t be “ashamed of the Gospel” (Romans 1:16) and we need to call out injustice when we see it (Exodus 23:1-3), but as Christians we should be self-aware that we have less reason to boast or brag than anyone. Far from thinking we’re better than everyone else, the Bible calls us to remember just how low we really are and hopelessly bound to sin (Romans 3:23). The only thing we can claim as Christians that other people cannot is that we recognized our need for a Savior and accepted Him in the person and sacrifice of Jesus. “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)

Nothing else that we have was earned by our own efforts. We can’t claim to know all the mysteries of God and life. Whatever power we have that does conquer the impossible comes from God, and we are aware of that. In the end, it’s about the glory of God, not about us.

Even our Lord Jesus Christ exemplified the utmost humility: first emptying Himself of all power and glory to become a tiny, mortal baby, then in living a human life of service to others (even going so far as to wash the feet of His own disciples like a common servant [John 13:1-11]), and finally in the death on Calvary. If we take Christ’s life as a model for us and He made Himself more humble than anyone in history, what right does that give us to be arrogant or domineering?

Similar to my last message, my suggestion for this devotional is simple: think a bit more before we act and speak. Especially now, on this Holy Week. As Good Friday and Easter Sunday near, let’s all take time to ponder the magnitude of just how far our Lord’s humility took Him to pay the price for our own sin and arrogance, and let that lead us to being a bit more humble and thoughtful in our own responses to others.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, on this Holy Week, I remember and am eternally grateful for the greatest gift I have ever received: the gift of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ and the sacrifice that He made to grant the world salvation. As we enter Easter and the days beyond, help me to remember that from day to day and live in the humility and gratitude of the marvelous gift I have been given at the price of His Blood. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #122: “Everybody’s Got One…No One Wants to See It”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Spice Up Your Life”

Today’s episode was what I personally felt was one of the more timely episodes of the series, especially in our modern culture and with our modern fandoms. In this episode, we meet Zesty Gourmand, a Canterlot eatery critic. While she’s infamous throughout the entire city and almost everyone hangs on her every word to approve or disapprove of local eating establishments, refusing to give any place a try that doesn’t meet with her approval, it is eventually revealed that her personal tastes, which she grades everything by, are rather unique and not shared by the majority. Yet rather than recognize those tastes as unique, she not only sets them as a universal standard but gets so outraged when they are violated that she can’t understand why others would even try a place she didn’t approve of, and refuses to even try a place that doesn’t meet her preconceived standards.

Why was this so timely? Because there seems to be more people like this in the world all the time, and most of them are a lot worse than Zesty Gourmand.

In recent years, I’m astonished at how polarized and hostile most people have become in regards to their opinions. The old maxim “everyone’s a critic” seems to be coming to life, and not in a good way. Certainly this is most pronounced in the political arena, but really it’s happening everywhere. Movies, TV, sports, local news, (especially) fandoms…people seem to not only be growing more opinionated but more fiercely defensive and antagonistic regarding their opinion. More people nowadays can take their opinion on something, anything, and not declare it so much their opinion but an objective moral truth of being either right or wrong, and anyone who disagrees with them gets met with such hostility that it’s borderline madness.

I don’t claim to know why this is the case exactly, but what I point my finger at the most is the rise of Internet culture. In high school the Internet was almost exclusively the domain of younger people, but now it’s become so ubiquitous, accessible, and prolific that everyone is into it in one capacity or another; especially in regards to blogging, twittering, and other forms of social networking. When I was a child you had to look to editorials, journals, and the occasional opinion column to get anyone to dissertate or something. We clung to certain columnists and pundits for opinions and discourses. Now anyone in the world can, at any time, make their voice and opinion known all around the world. Everyone can, in theory, make their thoughts and feelings have the same exposure as anyone who is nationally syndicated.

What seems to have happened as a result, at least to me, is that people have started to put more value in their opinions than what they’re worth. After all, everyone likes it when their comments get “likes”. Everyone likes it when their blogs get “hits” (myself included). And my guess is most people who tweet hope that they’ll make the one comment that will go viral. Since the Internet is so vast and international and yet so vague and ephemeral, people now value their status on the Internet by how much their comments (and, hence, their opinions and feelings) are liked, admired, and approved. In other words, how much attention they gain from those opinions. The thought that hundreds or even thousands of people around the world are paying attention to what you are saying.

Because of that, we have a great deal of Internet “trolls” nowadays–people who make comments specifically to incite responses, usually negative. Those are still “wins” to Internet trolls because they still command the attention of thousands of people, even if it’s only to vent anger or hatred of them. Yet in truth everyone really subscribes to the same idea. Everyone wants the same attention and the same quantity of responses if not quality. Hence, when anything comes out that we have a strong, or even reasonable, opinion on, we rant, rave, snark, and/or go off on it in long-winded litanies to hope to create something that resembles being profound or poignant so that people will flock to it. And if we can shoot down the opinions of others, proving them to be invalid at the same time, that only enhances our prestige and guarantees more reaction.

And that, to me, is what has given rise to our modern polarized culture. Obviously, we’ll garner more attention and sound better if we orate on how something is the “best thing ever” or the “worst thing ever”, because no one really cares so much about someone who says something is “alright” or “has its good and bad parts”; and certainly no one will be convinced to take our side or another in that case. We’ll also gain more attention and audience members if we tear down people of the opposite opinion, especially in a clever, biting, or humorous way. However, it’s likely those people are trying to do the same thing, only to us, and both sides are likely failing and succeeding at points and keep trying to come out on top. A feedback loop begins, and as it continues, more often than not, tempers flare and the comments stop being cordial and start being angry, hostile, and finally vicious. It begins to degenerate into insults and hate-mongering, and playing off of anger and hate to try and win arguments by demonizing the other side while “sanctifying” our own; making everything look like a black and white issue and, as a result, the world is split into smart saints(me) and stupid fools(you). Soon everyone gets so emotional and into it that the opinion no longer really matters so much as making the more “clever” or “biting” comment that silences the other person. That, of course, is equally futile as responding to a comment on the Internet takes almost zero effort on anyone’s part, so things keep escalating. Especially since this is rarely a one-to-one argument but usually is groups of people raging against other groups of people. And that’s really bad because then hate and anger becomes collective rather than to one individual in particular.

We’re left with a world of people taking stronger and stronger opinions about simple things, creating stronger animosity and polarization, and all due to sinful pride: the desire to be more watched and admired, ironically, in a forum designed to give all people the same weight to their voice.

There are many things the average American Christian does that is exactly the same as the secular citizen, but I think this one is the saddest. Like everyone else, we’ve been lured into the trap of wanting our opinions to have the greatest value–even in regards to sharing the Gospel. We’re so concerned about looking smarter and more knowledgeable than other people and pointing out fallacies in their thinking that it all becomes about enhancing our own wit, sophistication, and “glory” rather than God’s. Especially when we do the same laughing and mocking of our opponents that everyone else does about everything else.

And I’m sure all of us have encountered a Christian who will go off on a chain of insults, make a comment like “LOL” about how the other person can be so foolish…and then have the audacity to end their comment with something like: “Have a nice day! God bless!”…as if that somehow nullifies all of the above.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did His share of public speaking where He condemned others and their practices (Matthew 23:13-36, Luke 11: 39-52). Yet He never did anything, great or small, for His own glory. It was all about giving glory to the Father (John 5:30; 8:50, 54; 14:10; 17:1-5). In the same way, Christians are called to speak forth boldly (Acts 28:30-31), but we are also told to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). To me, those seemingly contradictory statements are made clear when we get our priorities in order. When we speak out and challenge others, the ultimate motivation has to be to give glory to God and the Kingdom; to do his will first and not our own. When we start doing so out of a desire to win an argument or prove someone else to be a fool, then our priorities are toward enhancing ourselves. Then it not only stops being about God, it might actually be sinful.

My challenge for this devotional isn’t anything new or sophisticated: just think before you speak or comment. Ask yourself if you are trying to upset or unnerve someone whenever you speak, whether in person or not. If you are, ask yourself if what you are trying to upset or unnerve them about is something that truly merits getting someone angry or incensed over. Finally, if that is also true, then ask yourself if ultimately it’s because you believe that it’s important to God, or if it’s just to “justify yourself”.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for all the times in which you have granted me the bravery to make a stand for the Gospel or any other worthwhile issue and to speak boldly in your Name. Please grant that whenever I do so it is always for your glory and kingdom and not for my own. And whenever I am about to give my own opinion on something, especially to persuade others, or in anything I say, I ask in the words of the Psalmist to “set a guard over my mouth, Lord” and “keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3), so that I can always use my words for building the kingdom up and not in breeding wickedness or evil. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #121: “Lover’s Leap”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Flutter Brutter”

Ever hear of the expression “tough love”? I’m sure you have. For most of us, we never have to see it put into practice. But a lot of us do, and, with the current situation in American society, I imagine more of us will have to do it as time goes on.

The core idea behind “tough love” is doing or (usually more appropriately) not doing something for an individual that may seem to be an act of cruelty or heartlessness, but is really designed for their benefit. It’s not to be confused with codependence, controlling, or manipulative behaviors; although such things may be misconstrued as love when they’re really a form of abuse or even addiction. On the contrary, it’s usually quite the opposite–designed to break one of the aforementioned behaviors.

This episode illustrates a good example. Zephyr Breeze obviously suffered from a lack of self-confidence and sense of self-efficacy–having a fear of failure when trying to do anything independently. As a result, he had grown to the point where he naturally depended on other people to not only do everything for him but had altered his own behavior to be manipulative and intentionally slacking, so that others would grow frustrated with him and do the tasks themselves; thereby absolving him of any need to do things for himself or assert his independence…and consequently allow him to continue his dependent behavior.

Yet this was also an example of codependence. The only way this sort of individual can really get away with this behavior is if they have enablers, and he did in the form of his parents. Unwilling to be faced with the thought of their son being unemployed and homeless with no means to support himself, and not wanting to be “cruel” in that regard, they instead kept bailing him out whenever he quit something. As a result, Zephyr never felt any pressure to make any changes in his life or try to do anything for himself. Furthermore, he could always go back to his parents with the threat of being left alone and homeless and count on them to bail him out. Both parties were involved in a vicious cycle of sustaining each other’s bad choices, which is codependence.

The solution was as Fluttershy pointed out: break the cycle. She had to get her parents to essentially kick Zephyr out, and later she had to kick him out herself. Only then was he forced to try to get by on his own and, as a result, be willing to finish his education to try and become independent without making excuses or worming his way out of responsibility. At that point, Zephyr finally started to learn some personal initiative and independence, and his parents were free to get on with their retirement. But it didn’t come without cost. Zephyr had to be allowed to struggle and fail at eeking out a pathetic living in Everfree Forest first, which, considering the number of dangerous creatures that have been shown to dwell in it in the past, might have represented a threat to life and limb, but also made him miserable enough to want to change.

In my experience, “tough love” is a rather hard subject for a lot of Christians. There’s the fact that many people who became Christians as adults were in bad spots where there was toxic love or even an absence of it. Many of them probably needed someone with compassion and understanding to come into their lives rather than someone who was more strict and took harder lines. Yet even if that’s not the case, one of the big maxims of Christianity is to give people another chance who most would feel do not deserve one, and to forgive our brothers “seventy times seven times” (Matthew 18:22). If we’re dealing with someone who is addicted or has a codependent personality, and who has consequently drawn us into it, all of these represent barriers to wanting to break the cycle as we may feel we aren’t being a true “loving” and “forgiving” Christian if we do that.

Those factors may make tough love difficult, yet what makes it nearly impossible is when the addict or codependent in question is our own loved ones. Then, on top of everything we’ve learned from Christianity, we have the thought of abandoning someone very important to us. The thought that they will suffer discomfort or harm if we cut them off. In the most extreme cases, such as when the individual in question is engaged in drug abuse or sexual misconduct, we might even reasonably fear that the individual could suffer death. Now…when we are faced with the choice of either continuing codependent behavior or having the codependent actually die, we naturally think there’s only one choice to make…and it’s definitely not breaking the cycle.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, when you, or anyone, is a child, they are not responsible for what happens to them. But when you, or anyone, becomes an adult, now they are fully responsible not only for what happens to them but how they respond and the choices they make. If a person is caught in an addictive, unhealthy lifestyle and they know it, and they have reached a point where their life is in danger, as scary and hard as this may be to accept…that individual is there by their choices and no one is responsible for the outcome, no matter how brutal, except for them. I wish I could say that what we fear the most will happen to those people will never happen. I can’t. Yet those same people will never have any reason to stop subjecting themselves to that danger if someone keeps “rescuing” them. No one will ever want to get themselves out of a situation, no matter how self-destructive, that feels perfectly comfortable and has no lasting negative consequences. Only when it becomes too painful to feel “good” anymore is there a personal motivation to get out. Like with Fluttershy, someone has to break off the toxic relationship. While I can attest personally that it is occasionally the addict/codependent themselves, it’s far more likely it will have to be the enabler. After all, they’re the source of the “comfort”.

Second, the Bible encourages reliance and dependence on God, but it never advocates the same reliance and dependence as an excuse for personal inaction and personal irresponsibility. All humans have free will. We have the choice to do good or bad, but also choices in regards to how we live our lives, what we learn, what we hear or refuse to listen to, how we respond to difficulties, how we work, how we raise our families, and all the individual choices we make during the day. That will and capability entitles responsibility on our part. And it did in the Bible. God told Abraham to get up and leave the land of his fathers to become a great nation (Genesis 12:1-4), but he didn’t pick him up and relocate him there. God gave the ancient Israelites the Passover (Exodus 12:1-13) but they had to follow the guidelines to ensure the Angel of Death passed over them. God also didn’t just teleport all the Israelites to Canaan, and say: “There you go. Enjoy.” They had to journey there themselves and then decide for themselves to take it, to either believe in God’s promise or be too scared of their own shortcomings (Joshua 1:1-9, Joshua 24:15).

And when they did possess it, it was their responsibility to keep the commandments of the Law that God gave them. He promised them blessings if they kept it and curses if they did not (Deuteronomy 28). And when the Israelites started to disobey God by following the idols of the surrounding countries, he progressively stopped protecting them from their surrounding nations–ones that they were only able to stand against to begin with because of God. And when they still refused to keep the Law, he let it get worse until they decided to turn around. This wasn’t God so much purposely sending destruction upon Israel as simply standing aside and letting them get what he warned them about if they chose to follow the gods of other nations and all of their following practices. It didn’t make sense to keep having them be the “blessed nation of God” when they weren’t even trying not to sin, let alone keep his commandments. And it was only after the fall of Israel and the Babylonian Exile that they did begin to return to him, after they faced the consequences of their actions (Nehemiah 9).

Likewise, Jesus was certainly loving and forgiving, but He also showed tough love. When others made excuses not to follow Him, He was quite blunt about the choices they had to make (Luke 9:57-62). He freely warned His disciples of the penalties for not heeding His words as well (Matthew 22:1-14, 25:31-46). And when it came to His miracles in the Bible, it was often a result of the person coming to Him first, of wanting “to be made well” (Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 1:40-42, 7:24-30, Luke 19:1-10, Luke 7:36-50). He was indeed approachable by and a friend to the outcasts of His society, but it was the outcasts that flocked to Him first. They were looking for repentance and redemption, or wanted to do so after listening to Him preaching. Even in Jesus’ miracles, and especially in our own choice whether or not to accept Jesus Christ’s offer of Salvation, there is an element of conscious action on our part. A responsibility that Jesus doesn’t allow us to shy away from.

It’s also fairly obvious that if God was to immediately provide us with food, clothing, and shelter just from us sitting around and praying, it wouldn’t be long before we’d stop being human and start being idle sheep. Not only would we see no need to go out in the world to reach other people, we’d see no reason to do anything for or with anyone period. And if we are in a habitual sin and suffering sever consequences for it and praying to God for deliverance, it would also not be responsible of God to spare us the consequence so that we could go on sinning and destroying ourselves and potentially others.

As someone who has had experiences with needing to exercise “tough love” before, my encouragement to anyone who finds themselves in a situation like this episode (or worse) is to try and see the situation as God does. God loves us all unconditionally more than we’ll ever know…and it’s because he loves us so much that he won’t let us stay in a cycle of abuse or dependence by making it “easy on us”. May we have the prudence, bravery, and faith to do the same.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, in all the times of my life I needed a change or to leave my situation, I thank you for making it ‘uncomfortable’ and unpleasant to the point of driving me out, even if I didn’t appreciate it at the time. If I find myself trapped in a cycle of dependence, please give me the wisdom, prudence, bravery, and, above all, the faith to do what needs to be done and to depend on you to take care of the rest. Let my trust in you be strong enough to make that bold step of faith. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Devotional #120: “Do a Little Dance…Around the Issue”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Applejack’s ‘Day’ Off”

Coming up with a good message for this episode was a bit difficult as I recently did one about being stuck in a rut, and that was the main problem of this one. I tried to look a little bit deeper for a different message, and one finally leapt out to me.

In this episode, a lot of time is wasted on the wrong things. The ponies at the Ponyville Day Spa are constantly running around doing laundry to keep their hot towel service going to try and keep guests happy while waiting for the sauna, when what they really needed to do was fix a small leak to the sauna so that it would fill up faster, keep guests from waiting too long, keep them from wanting hot towels, and, as a result, keep the staff from needing to do so much laundry taking away steam from the sauna. Likewise, Applejack wastes a lot of time doing the wrong things herself on her various chores. To pick out the most prominent one, instead of just feeding her pigs, she’s wasting time opening and closing gates, making faces, acting like a chicken, and doing a complicated routine to get the pigs to accidentally knock their own feed bucket into their trough. In both cases, the end result is the same: individuals wasting a lot of time, energy, sweat, and tears doing a lot of tasks that don’t really help their problem when they need to really do something else.

Sin, as others have told me and I have discovered, is a lot like that. As we all know, we are to come to Christ for repentance and forgiveness of sins. Yet over the years I’ve heard a few adages in response to that. One is that God is merciful…when we are caught in sin, he sends us symptoms. The other is that when we are trapped by one large sin, we’ll confess a lesser one all the more. There’s many people (myself included) who get into the trap of committing a habitual sin. We don’t like it. We don’t want to do it. We ask for repentance of it and (possibly only occasionally) truly try to break free of it and change. And yet we always go back to it in the end and have to keep praying for forgiveness.At some point, we need to stop and ask ourselves if we’re focusing on the wrong problem; either intentionally or unintentionally.

I’ll use myself as an example. What I have a horrible time with is anger. I get frustrated and verbally angry at a lot of things…specifically things that are task-related to what I am doing. I’ll mutter at them, then get louder and shout at them, and I might even start cursing at them. And all of them are usually inanimate objects or things that can’t understand me or respond to begin with. For years I prayed for control, for God’s peace, for the power of Christ over me to make me calm, and resolved continuously that I wouldn’t blow up again. The result? Sometimes I would blow up within the next ten minutes.

While I’m still dealing with it, I eventually started praying to God not to stop me from blowing up but to tell me what the real reason behind this was. During one of my emerging blow-ups after that, I finally realized something. I stopped and considered how I felt…and I realized I was scared. My ingrained perfectionism from when I was a child had created a subconscious thought inside of me that the only reason anything ever “went wrong” for me was due to my fault, and that it would be preventable if I would do better. Hence, whenever I was failing at something, I thought it was my fault and I started to feel scared that everyone would blame me for it and somehow condemn me, such as through disciplinary action, loss of job, or seeing me as less of a person. Well, also when I was younger, I was taught the solution to feeling scared and sad was to “get angry” so that I couldn’t feel sad anymore. The real sin wasn’t ultimately my angry outbursts but me being a perfectionist (which is indeed a sin as humans aren’t perfect and part of the purpose of the Bible is to get us to confront and admit our own everlasting imperfection apart from God’s Grace), and what I needed to do (and still do…it’s going to be a long process) is admit to myself that I did all I could and some things aren’t my fault.

Likewise, a person who constantly insults other people and stomps on their feelings may be doing it because they hate themselves, and making other people “lesser” than them is the only way they feel good. Or a person who can’t get along with their spouse might be projecting feelings they had toward their parents or other relatives onto them. People don’t usually end up chained to addiction, in my experience, simply because they like the high from their substance of abuse. It’s that the “high” itself is substituting for something they need in their lives and aren’t getting that’s more important and wholesome. In this case, people might be aware of their “symptom” sins, and might confess and repent from those continuously for years, but what they need to do is face up to the cause.

My suggestion for this week is that if you are struggling with a habitual sin and can’t seem to get out of it no matter how much you pray or repent, perhaps the issue is you’re looking at the wrong sin. In that case, what you may need to do instead is stop wasting time on repenting on the wrong thing and pray to God for revelation of what is the root cause and worry about resolving that. Be warned, however. There’s a good chance that whatever it is could be something you don’t want to think about or admit, and revealing it might be a very painful experience at the time. However, ultimately if we want to be released from a habitual sin, the choice is ours on whether or not to face up to it. Lord Jesus not only got directly to the heart of sin without dancing around it, but he never forced healing onto anyone. Rather, He asked: “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your patience with me, especially in times when I am avoiding issues I need to confront, making excuses, and covering up for greater sins. If I am bound to a habitual sin that I have confessed many times before to you, I pray now that you will reveal to me the cause of this sin, no matter what it may be. Likewise, I pray for the strength and courage to face up to whatever you reveal to me and, if necessary, seek the help I need to overcome it. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

 

Live-Action “Beauty and the Beast” – Still a tale as old as time?

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(SPOILERS FOLLOW. If you haven’t seen the film yet and want to be surprised, read no further.)

Back from live-action “Beauty and the Beast”. What did I think?

First of all, I’m not even going to dignify the “LaFou Controversy” with a response unless someone really wants to hear my thoughts save to say it’s a bit more pronounced than just a few jokes, but not much.

All in all…I personally feel that in some ways it was superior to the original. While it’s undeniable in this film that they were definitely constantly thinking of the original animated film, right down to the judicious use of not only the original songs, but the original score and having new songs written by the same people who wrote the original ones, and the use of scenes and effects that were straight from the source material, I don’t feel that this film was trying to “coast by on nostalgic feelings”. Rather, the filmmakers realized that if they took too many liberties or did too many new things, the trolls would ooze out of the woodwork and start raging about how the film cut out their favorite things from the source material. You can argue the same people behind “The Force Awakens” did the same thing.

The performances were great. Disney clearly spared no expense trying to get a talented (and even famous) person in every role. Paige O’Hara’s career was on Broadway so obviously her voice is the superior one between her and Emma Watson, but Emma Watson is definitely no slouch herself in the musical department. She performed well in all the musical numbers. The voice I truly liked, however, was Dan Stevens’ one for the Beast. I’m not sure if it was doctored some to make him sound more “monstrous”, but his was fantastic. It was almost like a young Tim Curry. While he got to do a lot of physical acting in whatever CGI, motion-capture technology they used (and I was very impressed at how many facial expressions they managed to get out of the Beast), it was his voice that definitely sold the role. It’s a good thing they gave him an original song to make full use of it. By comparison, although Luke Evans did Gaston well enough, his voice was far too light. He wasn’t able to sing the “Gaston” song in the original key with as much bravado. (He did pretty good with “Kill the Beast”, though…at least in my opinion.) I kind of miss Angela Lansburry doing the signature “Beauty and the Beast” song as Emma Thompson is good but just not quite as good as her, but she still did a great job on her end too. And, luckily, “Be Our Guest” was originally talk-sung in the first movie so Ewan McGregor could nail that as well.

They definitely went all out with the art design. They seemed to realize they couldn’t mimic the vivacity and color of an animation, so instead they made the castle dripping with Rococo style. Really sets the time and place. To be honest, it wasn’t until I thought about the film after the first time seeing it that I realized: “Oh…this movie is supposed to be in France, isn’t it?” Here it comes out a lot stronger.

Plotwise it’s fairly identical to the animated film, but the changes they made I think made it a bit better. Maurice is rather more subdued in this movie (not even being an inventor but rather a toymaker), but I kind of like that. If they had gone for how he was in the original film, he might have come off as a charicature or joke. Here he seems more “human” and real. I like that the reason he is imprisoned in this film isn’t for trespassing. In fact, Maurice and Phillipe’s brief stint in the castle is more similar to the original story. Similar to that one, he earns the Beast’s ire for “stealing” a rose. Belle actually calls out the fact that it’s ridiculous to imprison someone for life for a single flower, to which the Beast responds that he received “eternal damnation” because of a single flower. So…it’s still the Beast being mean, but it works in better. They went with the Broadway version on how the servants transformed into objects are only gradually turning into inanimate objects rather than all at once, and by the time Belle gets there they’re pretty much almost “stuff”. There’s no more bookstore in the village. Rather the books that Belle borrows is from a local parson who has a grand total of a dozen for her to choose from. :/

One small little touch I liked is that normally when there’s a time limit on things like magic curses in films, it always goes down “to the wire”. It’s always at the very last moment that things get broken, when the proverbial ticking clock is at 00:01 seconds. In this one…time runs out. The last petal falls. The curse is complete. However, a few seconds later is when Belle confesses she loves the Beast, and the Enchantress decides: “Eh, close enough.” and undoes the curse anyway. That’s a small detail, but…I liked it.

They also tried to patch the more infamous plot holes from the original film. First of all, they got rid of the 10 year time period since the Beast was cursed and instead made it an indeterminate length of time. They also showed how as the flower wilted the castle gradually turned into the way it looked; that the castle itself was cursed along with the servants inside it. In doing so, they also plugged the plot hole about the weather continuously changing by saying the grounds around the castle were cursed to always be dead and in the middle of winter. (The movie itself takes place in June.) Lastly, they made part of the curse was that everyone in the prince’s fiefdom would forget he and the castle even existed when he got cursed. One might think they’d just use that to cover up the one plot hole of no one knowing about the Beast until Maurice and Belle stumbled on him, but they took it a bit further. As it turns out, some of the relatives of the servants are living in the village where Belle lives…they just weren’t in the castle when it got cursed. As a result, some of the people in the village forgot they had been married or even had relatives in the castle (such as Mr. Potts).

And why did the Enchantress curse everyone in the castle and not just the Beast? Because…uh…they didn’t raise him to be nicer.

…Ok, they didn’t patch all the plot holes.

One of the things that I didn’t realize about Gaston in the original film until much later in life was the parallelism between him and the Beast. As the Beast gradually “turns into a human” throughout the course of the film, Gaston gradually “turns into a monster”. Part of the reason I didn’t get that in the original film was because Gaston wasn’t very likable even early on. He wasn’t just an egomaniac; he was also an obvious jerk. In this movie, I like that Gaston is tuned down a little at the beginning and looks to be more comic relief. Egomaniac? Sure. Bit of a jerk? Sure. A threat or the villain? Nah. I think the change is more pronounced in this one.

But the biggest thing I like about this film is that it devoted more time to trying to build a relationship between Belle and the Beast. Even as a child, when I saw the original movie I had a sense that we had suddenly made a jump in their relationship without really explaining how they had got there. By comparison, this movie actually takes a bit of time. It took an opportunity to dig a bit more into both characters.

Belle is an individual basically ahead of her time stuck in a place where she’s not only unappreciated but her positive qualities are essentially wasted. Yet the original film didn’t really sell me on that. Sure, in the musical number “Belle” it makes it clear that the people of the village think she’s odd, but she doesn’t seem to be suffering too much for it…outside of Gaston only seeing her as a pretty face playing hard-to-get rather than for who she was. In this version, it’s played up more. I can actually see in this one not only Gaston but the community at large prefering if she would just “be like everyone else” even if it means denying her own true nature and intelligence.

The Beast, on the other hand, had his mean side overdone a bit in the original; to the point where more extreme feminists would say the movie is terrible for being a case of Stockholm Syndrome. In this one, he’s a bit better. There’s attention drawn to the fact that he’s not coarse and mean at times because he’s a brute but because he sees being sensitive and pleasant as weakness or childishness. The line in the original, where he responds to being told to help Belle see beyond his monstrous side with “I don’t know how.”, seems to be the focal point for his character.

And by working through both of these, I actually believe the chemistry between the two. I can actually see a relationship forming.

There are a couple things I disliked about the film, although they’re mostly small details. Emma Watson is a far better actor than I’ll ever be, but I can’t help but wish she would have rehearsed her facial expressions a bit better in a few scenes. Throughout the whole “Be Our Guest” number, which tries its hardest to be as big and bold and flashy as the animated version, she just has an oddly bemused expression on her face the whole sequence. Part of acting is “re-acting”. You can have the biggest line, the most shocking moment, or the coolest gesture on screen, but if the actor you’re playing it to only gives a mild reaction, it won’t seem as big. I blame that one on the director for not better relating to her what was going to be happening in that scene (her eyes aren’t even on Lumiere most of it–a hallmark of badly-done CGI sequences). Yet later in the film, during the big moment where the Beast lets her free so she can go to her father and gives her the mirror so that she’ll always be able to look back on him, I don’t know what’s up with her face. She almost looks…disgusted, which is just weird.

The other thing is there’s a line or two that’s clearly pop culture. I never really care for those. And a dog urination joke just to arbitrarily bump the rating up to PG from G because “Oh no! We can’t let people think this movie is just for babies! Even though the original was a G and we’re counting on the same adults who loved that movie to come see this one…”? Shame on you, Disney.

So all in all I enjoyed it quite a bit. In terms of the grab-bag that is the live-action versions of Disney classics, I think it rates high.

The problem is people aren’t going to evaluate this movie on its own merits or as a stand-alone film (by its own nature if nothing else). They’re going to compare it to its source material. And, unfortunately, it’s not going to measure up. And since in modern culture everything has to be trash or treasure, the fact that it’s not as good as the original is going to make people declare it to be garbage automatically (well…that or the “LaFou Controversy”…).

That’s really not that fair to this movie. It deserves an A+ for effort if nothing else, because they clearly went all-out to try and make this film capture the magic of the original. There is nothing more they could have done and, to me, they managed to do better in several regards.

Yet as an aside, I almost take that sort of criticism as a compliment.

To me, that proves something that I’ve known for years. Animated films are not just “eye candy for kids”, even in the modern day with CGI everywhere. They’re an art form to themselves. They’re a method of storytelling that can’t be reproduced by live action no matter how hard it tries. This movie honestly tried in every possible way to measure up to the original animated film…and it failed. It failed because it’s not an animated film. The style, the characterization, the motions, the facial expressions, the imagination…every little bit and piece of an animated film that goes a bit above and beyond what is possible from the turn of a lip to the light on a sconce to the growth of the trees…all of that is only possible in the medium of the animated film. These are things that the giants like Walt Disney and Hayao Miyazaki have known for decades. They’re the reason why animated films are still made, and why they are classics. To try and say the animated medium only has an audience in the realm of children is both insulting to animation as a whole as well as an act of prejudice toward one’s own tastes.

The United States is only now really starting to see that animated film is something that should be for everyone and not just “the kiddies”. This movie not only was able to tell a good movie on its own, but drew attention to that. My only hope is that people are wise enough to realize that the reason this movie didn’t measure up wasn’t because of a lack of effort and passion on the part of the filmmakers, but because the original is an immortal animated classic. That just like the characters in the film, there’s a lot more to that then what’s on the outside.

 

My Little Devotional #119: “I See Nothing! I Know Nothing!”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “The Saddle Row Review”

The main part of this episode is devoted to going through a review story on Rarity’s newest boutique from the different accounts of everypony who contributed to it. However, the setup for the episode is a bit different. Realizing that they didn’t exactly do the “stellar” job that Rarity expected of them and that the review exposes all of their mistakes and, consequently, how they nearly ruined the opening of her new store, the rest of the Mane Six make an ultimately futile attempt to keep Rarity from even reading the review or at least mitigating the impact. Obviously, they hope that Rarity will only be focused on her boutique’s opening and not get caught up in the details; fearing how she will react to their mistakes in spite of the event going well in the end.

Thinking this over got me to think about Christianity–in particular a Christian’s confession and remission of sins. Seems like a big leap, I know…but there’s something here that I caught on to. As any Christian knows, we confess our sins to God as part of receiving forgiveness. Yet for me personally, and in my experience many other Christians, we sometimes get caught up on what confession to God really is.

I will admit that, even as a Christian, I have had thoughts and inclinations before that were rather un-Christian. And some of the sins that I have committed have been through motives that were anything but Christ-like. I’m not talking about momentary slips or blow-ups, or anything that as soon as I do it I feel bad about. I’m talking about harboring things, thoughts, and feelings inside me for long periods…things that I would never confess to anyone else. And why? Because I, like many of us, know human nature. We know full well that most people, including many so-called Christians, will only “tolerate” a certain level of confession and still see us in the same way. I know that because I confess that I myself can only handle so much before I stop seeing the sin as something external to the person and start thinking that only a certain type of person would commit that transgression in the first place. Most people are likely the same. Rare and few-and-far-between is the individual we can truly trust with everything. In these situations, to even admit these thoughts and feelings about ourselves hurts our own self-image because these are things that we believe reflects on us as individuals rather than just our conduct. That only a certain type of individual would even think or feel such things. It makes us start to think we are especially and particularly bad and wicked…perhaps even irredeemably so.

So what happens in these situations? These are the sort of sinful thoughts and motives we “omit” to God. After all, there’s a good chance we neither directly act on these or, if we do, that we do so regularly, so there’s no “external” sin. So why confess? Not all thoughts that come in our heads are necessarily sin, after all. Some are just temptations. And even if we nursed one in particular, or even expressed it in ways that no one was hurt by or knew about, can’t we excuse that one? At these times, we are all the less eager to confess these things to God…possibly because we feel they aren’t “real” unless we act on them or do something more overt and physical with them…such as confess them. The reason is usually shame and feelings of self-loathing and hatred that would be associated with accepting these things. Perhaps acknowledging that we have a sinful habit and that we still have a desire to do it again even if we did confess. To confess means to acknowledge and admit it, and that, in turn, will give us not only a lower view of ourselves but possibly seeing ourselves as truly evil, depraved, and unlovable. If we hate to admit those things to ourselves, how much less so could we admit it to God?

I think this might be more of a problem with people who are perfectionists or have a God-concept that is more akin to one of fiery wrath and judgment, but even if it isn’t, the problem with this thinking is still the same.

The fact is God already knows our thoughts and feelings. He already saw what we were thinking when we thought of it, and what we did when we acted on it. By confessing or not confessing, we are neither telling God more than he already knows nor keeping things hidden from him. It’s as pointless as Adam and Eve’s fig leaves. (Genesis 3:7) God knows our motives and knows the true wickedness that was behind them, and any secret evil thoughts that we harbored and nursed as well as what we did when no one is looking.

Yet that, in turn, is not supposed to repel us from God but have us cling more fiercely to Jesus. Feelings like godly shame (as opposed to false shame) and godly sorrow are supposed to make us more aware of our own sinfulness, wickedness, and broken condition not so that we can go around feeling terrible and waiting for God to smite us for “being the worms we are”, but to highlight why we need the gift of Lord Jesus’ salvation. As I said, God already knows all of these things. He also loves us all unconditionally, enough to send his only Son to die in our place and absolve us all, in spite of all of these things which he knew in advance before the foundation of the world. “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

Confession is more for our own benefit than that of God. We see what’s wrong with our lives, we admit what’s wrong with our lives, we also admit that we alone can’t do anything about it (whether it be to absolve ourselves or even to be able to fully repent on our own), and then we trust fully in Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to fully cover that sin.

In other words, confession and repentance of sin isn’t about approaching God for a harsh punishment for our evil or even about feeling low down and dirty about ourselves. It’s about being set free from our evil that we are powerless to break from ourselves, and thereby be free internally and externally to fully live and fully love.

The next time you feel shame or fear about confession of sin, my advice is to take a moment to be a bit more humble about yourself than you are being. Humble enough to realize you aren’t fooling God by keeping silent. Humble enough to realize you can’t fix this on your own, “get perfect”, and then hope to one day come before God as if it didn’t even happen (like the characters in this episode did with Rarity). And humble enough to accept that Jesus Christ has already covered this and infinitely more.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for your Word and all that is contained within: including the passages that display your holiness and demands from the Law, as well as your reassurance and salvation presented by the Gospel. Help me to know that everything is in your hands, including my past, present, and future, and that I can trust you in all things with everything. Especially help me to remember this in times of confession, knowing that through the power of your Son, Jesus Christ, I will not be condemned but set free. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Six, Episode Twenty-Five and Twenty-Six: “To Where and Back Again”

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Synopsis:

Starlight Glimmer unsuspectingly gets an invitation from the residents of her old commune to come back to the village for the Sunset Festival. At first, her shame at her past misdeeds makes her fearful of going back, but after Princess Luna appears to her in a dream telling her to trust the Mane Six, and they in turn encourage her to go, she eventually decides to attend with Trixie Lulamoon. On arrival, rather than being rejected, she’s shocked to see that the town wants her back in a position of leadership for the festivities, and, as her former “leadership” experience drags up even more bad memories and feelings, she ends up fleeing town with Trixie and returning to Ponyville. Once back, she immediately notices that Twilight Sparkle and the rest of the Mane Six are acting extremely odd and uncharacteristic. When she lies down that night, Luna again briefly enters her dreams but is struggling with an unseen force. Before being overpowered by it, she manages to tell Starlight that in the waking world the Changelings have returned and already captured her and Celestia, and tells her to get help. After waking up, Starlight quickly gets Trixie and eavesdrops on the Mane Six and Spike, who reveal themselves to be Changeling imposters who have already captured the ones they’ve replaced. The two manage to evade them and think of going to the Crystal Empire to get help from Princess Cadance, only to get a surprise visitor, Thorax, who reveals that Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, and Princess Flurry Heart have also already been captured…leaving Equestria without any princesses. When Starlight laments that they have no one else with powerful magic, Discord, taking umbridge at that, suddenly appears. On hearing that Fluttershy is in danger, however, he immediately teleports himself and the three others to what he believes is her location. Instead of arriving there, however, they land right at the boundaries of the Changeling hive.

Thorax soon explains that Chrysalis’ throne absorbs all magic save Changeling magic, so the only way to save the others is to somehow break in and destroy it without the aid of magic. As he leads them through the metamorphic hive, he explains how Changelings are always starving and always need to feed on love, yet since he made friends in the Crystal Empire his own hunger has not only subsided, but his wings have taken on an odd appearance. While Starlight is nervous herself, she finds that, with no one else around, she is forced to take a position of leadership, and by directing Trixie to use her own illusionist tricks and Discord’s own annoying tendencies, as well as Thorax’s ability to turn into any of them to confuse the Changelings, she manages to finally reach the throne room but at the price of the others in her group getting captured. Queen Chrysalis herself confronts her and mocks her attempts to save the others, proclaiming how by replacing the most beloved figures in Equestria the hive will steal enough love to sustain them for generations. When Starlight tries to explain how Thorax has been able to live without being hungry all the time by sharing love instead of stealing it and that the other Changelings could do the same, Chrysalis grows angry at both her and him for daring to counteract her authority; causing Starlight to further edify that a true leader doesn’t just order around her minions but listens to them when they find better ways. Ignoring this, Chrysalis moves on Thorax to devour the love he’s obtained for himself, but Starlight shouts at him to share it with Chrysalis instead. He does so and, by doing so, he undergoes a metamorphosis and emerges as a mature “King Changeling”. The other Changelings, eager to be free of their own endless hunger, do the same thing; not only maturing into far more pleasant and good-natured forms but destroying the Changeling hive and Chrysalis’ throne in the process. Soon everyone is freed and only one Changeling is still a monster: Chrysalis herself. Starlight offers her the chance to be a better leader and not make the same mistake she did in seeking revenge, but Chrysalis literally slaps it away and vows revenge on her before escaping. With Discord’s own power restored, he teleports them all to Starlight’s old commune to participate in the Sunset Festival, with Starlight having learned that you can’t let your personal fears stop you from stepping up when you need to. As for the Mane Six, they settle into the party and wonder what happened.

Review:

A little story before I begin…

Way back in 2009, I went to see “Dragonball: Evolution” in theaters. I was a fan of Dragonball at the time, having seen a lot of episodes and bought every manga, so even though I knew it wasn’t going to be like the series I knew and loved, I thought I’d give it a whirl. That movie, of course, is now infamous for all the wrong reasons. It’s considered one of the worst live-action adaptations of all time; handling the source material poorly and flimsily…or simply not handling it at all. It not only destroyed everything likable about the franchise but it failed to replace it with anything marketable or good of its own accord. It’s hated by people who aren’t fans of Dragonball as a terrible movie and despised insanely by people who are fans of Dragonball for being such a grotesque tragedy.

Yet the funny part? I honestly didn’t think it was that bad when I first saw it. Oh, there were plenty of reasons to hate it. Plenty of reasons to feel it was an insult to my own fandom. Plenty of failures it made left and right. Yet, somehow, I didn’t think it was as terrible as I would years later. Why was that? Well…to be honest, I had lowered my expectations to be practically nothing when I saw it. The previews looked so discouraging that I expected something worse than a still shot of a rock with the word “Goku” written on it for 90 minutes. The fact that there were a fistful of moments that had the barest shred of semblance toward the source material at all was so unexpected to me that I essentially gave the movie more credit than it deserved. I basically thought it was passable simply because it wasn’t “The Room”-level garbage–that, bad as it was, it wasn’t as bad as it could have possibly been if it had tried harder toward being terrible.

What does that have to do with my opinion on this episode? Let’s begin and we’ll see…

To start off with, my personal verdict? Worst episode of Season Six hands down. That’s my personal opinion, and in my experience it’s shared by a number of other fans. As divisive as “The Cutie Re-Mark” was, those who did love it, and Starlight Glimmer, loved it a lot. By comparison, even the individuals who are Starlight Glimmer fans seemed rather ambivalent to this episode.

I pointed out how “A Canterlot Wedding” had flaws. I pointed out how “The Cutie Re-Mark” had even more flaws. But this? This combines the flaws of both. There’s no way to sugarcoat it…no way to dance around it…no way to excuse it…this episode was an utterly shameless attempt to make Starlight Glimmer look better and more positive by having her save Equestria more-or-less alone. And how did they do it? By relying on the Paradox of Starlight Glimmer. In order to make Starlight Glimmer look like this great and wonderful character, they made not one, not two, not six, but TWELVE different characters look bad compared to her.

It is never explained in the slightest how Chrysalis somehow managed to capture every other main protagonist in the series. Just like in “A Canterlot Wedding”, she’s a powerful and cunning villain by virtue of the fact that she does all of her main villainy “off screen”. Changelings may be powerful in a swarm but we saw in “A Canterlot Wedding” that it would take several of them to a character to be able to subdue them, and that was with the normal Mane Six. Somehow they did the same to the alicorns, and seemed to be able to waltz right past the magic of the Crystal Heart which supposedly protects the Crystal Empire from evil. To make it even more convenient, the Mane Six don’t even remember being captured in the first place…just waking up in the remains of Chrysalis’ hive.

Even if you like Starlight Glimmer, no one wanted the rest of the cast artificially placed by the plot fairy in a situation where she would have to rescue them. Because just because a fan likes Starlight Glimmer, that doesn’t mean they dislike every other character. Most season finales and season premieres do a bad job of taking the bulk of the cast and making them glorified background characters while Twilight Sparkle does all the work. Yet this episode not only did worse than that by making all the other characters we know and love get taken out so easily that no one noticed and they weren’t able to do the slightest thing about it, but they went ahead and lumped Twilight Sparkle into the mix.

And just like in “The Cutie Re-Mark”, Starlight Glimmer is a broken character, only she’s now regarded as a Mary Sue rather than Villain Sue. Whereas “Every Little Thing She Does” had some care to place some reference to her original character and build off of that in a logical way, this episode, similar to “The Crystalling”, simply makes her “Twilight Sparkle 2”. While she may not perform as many acts trumping other characters, right from the get-go everything goes her way. All of the Mane Six compliment her and seem to practically love her in this episode. Her old commune members have gone up from forgiving her instantly as they did in “The Cutie Re-Mark” to actually wanting her back in a position of leadership. Even when she saves the day, the other characters don’t regard it as something too monumental for her personally as more of her “overcoming her own self doubt”, as if they knew their good ol’ Mary Sue could do it all along and never doubted her for a second.

In doing this, they’ve made Starlight Glimmer a more problematic character than ever, and it’s sad because Josh Haber wrote for both this episode and “The Crystalling” as well as “The Cutie Re-Mark”. If anyone should have a consistent view on Starlight Glimmer, it should be him. Yet now her character is effectively that of a Changeling itself: reshaping itself to fit whatever situation is needed. Is she the greatest villain ever? Done. Does she need to become a student of friendship now? Done. Does she need to be dutiful and attentive yet insecure like Twilight was? Done. Now does she need to be more antisocial and clinging to her old magic proficiency for a sense of worth? Done. Oh wait, does she need to become dutiful and attentive yet insecure like Twilight was once again? Done.

I’ve seen this before. It’s the main reason I gave up on “Sword Art Online” even earlier than most people. The main leads simply became whatever anime trope they needed to be for a situation and changed accordingly when they needed to be appealing in a different situation. In many ways, that is the true mark of a Mary Sue more than the natural ability to get out of any difficulty. If they had stuck with just one character shift and then left Starlight Glimmer’s character alone at that point it would have eventually been overlooked. The fact that they keep changing it because some writers have a better understanding of her character than others is keeping her locked in the “tolerable” state for me personally rather than advancing her to a point where she can become “likable”.

I always knew an episode like this was coming. There was no way they were going to make someone like Starlight Glimmer a member of the cast at the end of Season Five and not have it coming: a situation where she saves everyone. But it was too soon and handled poorly. This is an episode that would have made more sense at the end of Season Seven for me. Coming so soon on the heels of “The Cutie Re-Mark” just makes it look like whoever is in charge at DHX Media has a strange obsession with making Starlight Glimmer the best character in what I can only assume is an attempt to give Tara Strong an excuse to leave the show and take Twilight Sparkle with her.

Even Chrysalis’ vileness as a villain seems somewhat subdued in this episode. Perhaps it’s the IDW Comic or just too much time, but…she’s not as impressive in this one as she was in “A Canterlot Wedding”. Possibly because she didn’t keep outdoing attempts to stop her like she did in that episode…instead automatically “starting on top” in this one.

Last but not least, there’s an awkward two-to-three minutes where this episode suddenly stops being one of the drama-based episodes and becomes a lesson about becoming a good leader. The Changelings, who were previously more giant bugs and subsentient monsters, including through the bulk of this episode, suddenly pause when Starlight starts giving her speech to Chrysalis and looked more hesitant about following her. While it’s not as abruptly as Starlight Glimmer’s own turnaround for a reason that boiled down to “try out making new friends”, the Changelings do take to listening to her and revolting against their queen rather easily. On top of that, their new design was about as well-received by the fandom as the Rainbow Power forms…which ironically only appeared one more time and that was in a nightmare.

With all this in mind, I should probably rate this as the worst episode in the series overall. Oddly enough…I don’t. Why?

Well, I’m not really sure if there was “good” in this episode to offset all of this, but the fact is, for something that you knew exactly what it was when it came on screen and exactly where it was going, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Starlight Glimmer is treated as a Mary Sue in this episode, but she doesn’t act so much like one. The plot device of Chrysalis’ throne kept her from using any magic for a lot of this episode, thereby removing most of her potency. She no longer had the power to save everyone single-hoofedly but had to rely on others. In fact, technically she doesn’t do a whole lot to save the day. Although the emphasis is that “her leadership” saved all of Equestria, her own contributions outside of that were small. It would have been easy/lazy to have Starlight Glimmer just apply her own talent at everything to get through this, but she didn’t have that option.

The denizens of Starlight’s commune so easily embracing her is…disturbingly understandable. Obviously all of the individuals living there were either weak-willed or codependent to begin with, which is why they so easily become Starlight’s minions in the first place even when she abused them physically as well as mentally and emotionally. That’s not something that can be undone in a person in one day or by one apology. It’s a bit creepy, but it’s more than likely that many of them still long for her to be “in charge” over them from the result of psychological scarring.

While Chrysalis doesn’t quite have the punch she had in her first appearance, the ultimate saccharine sweet ending would have been if she had accepted Starlight’s offer. It would have been even more unbelievable than Starlight’s own heel-turn-face. Luckily, the writers decided not to do that…although if it was simply because they wanted a villain for later is up for debate. The fact that she angrily slapped Starlight’s offer away and vowed revenge maintained not only her character but was believable. More than that, we learned that Changelings are always starving. They’re always “in pain”, which means Chrysalis has to be the same way. It was apparently bad enough that the Changelings were willing to revolt against her and “become nice” if they could finally be rid of their hunger. Yet Chrysalis refused. She would rather live a life of pain and misery than give up her position and power and have relief from her own hunger. That officially makes her the most “sinfully prideful” villain of the series to me, and is actually another mark in her villainy belt.

The Mane Six might be about as useful as Princess Celestia after a hangover in this episode, but the “secondary characters”, as Discord calls them, are all spot on and share quite a lot of the spotlight with Starlight Glimmer rather than making it all about her. Thorax is still good-natured and meek, agreeing with most of Trixie and Starlight’s complaints but used to just humbling going along quietly with things. Discord is still in character and written to not be too obnoxious even with complaining. And, just as in “No Second Prances”, Trixie and Starlight play off one another very well. A cynical person might say that the only reason Trixie got brought back was to take an older “fun” character like her and make her friends with Starlight to have an excuse to put her in episodes, but the truth is there’s an odd connection/chemistry between her and Starlight on screen. They’re the only characters who ironically seem to embrace each other with all the faults and failings; thereby really “understanding” each other. Even Twilight doesn’t seem to have as good of a connection with Starlight…which may or may not be perfectly understandable depending on who you are.

Last but not least, the friendship lesson that was shoehorned in is a valid one that hasn’t been touched on before: there comes a point where you have to face your personal fears to do something that needs to be done…where you have to decide whether you’ll be so selfish to only think of yourself or to do what has to be done. It’s so good, in fact, that if you watch this episode…and somehow you can train your brain to ignore the weight of the situation and the drama and what’s at stake…boil it down just to Trixie’s interactions with Starlight, her general situation and predicament from a personal level, and focus not on the Changelings and Equestria but simply on the lesson…then this episode might fail as a drama but works amazingly well as an “after-school special” episode.

Does that mean I find this episode good? Definitely not. Does it mean that this episode is better than it could have been? Definitely yes.

The question is…is the fact that an episode is not as bad as it could have been to me personally make it “good”?

That’s a hard question to answer. I keep thinking back to “Dragonball: Evolution”…

At any rate, with this episode over, we have a setup for the next season. Starlight Glimmer now has a new mortal enemy and future interactions with Trixie and Discord could be on the horizon, although its debatable if we’ll ever see the new and improved Changelings again. After being absent for three seasons, there’s a good chance we won’t see Chrysalis again for a very long time. And this coming season has an interesting dilemma on its hands, as it will no doubt be setting up the upcoming feature film in October, yet since it began production back prior to Season Five it likely omitted anything from the past two seasons such as Starlight Glimmer. Whatever comes next should be interesting.

…Provided it isn’t more episodes like this one.

Fun Facts:

The title of this episode is a knockoff of “There and Back Again”, which is an alternate title for “The Hobbit”. While this episode is a far cry from being a parody of “The Hobbit”, there are several things in common with it. It features a main character suffering from self-doubt needing to rely on wits and luck to deal with a powerful antagonist. The idea of the rest of the main characters imprisoned in chrysalises could be a knockoff of the incident in the book with the Mirkwood spiders, while Starlight Glimmer’s dialogue with Queen Chrysalis could be a knockoff of Bilbo Baggins and Smaug.

It’s been fancanon for years (and incorporated into the IDW Comic) that Derpy is a mailpony…albeit not a very good one. When she crashes into the Castle of Friendship, rather than having her eyes going googly, they’re “knocked normal” for a moment. She shakes her head to get them walleyed again.

Trixie Lulamoon is infamous from an artistic standpoint of being drawn with only one watermark in her eyes, whereas almost all other adult ponies have two. However, in this episode, the artists switched to depicting her with two. It might have gotten too confusing to keep track of when animating.

Trixie is clearly still getting joy out of “beating Twilight”. :/ Not very fair as Twilight apparently lets her set up her wagon right outside her castle.

This was probably more appropriate back in Season Five, but kudos to Rebecca Shoichet for managing to make Sugar Belle and Night Glider sound different and neither of them sound like Sunset Shimmer. Too bad she didn’t get more voices this season…

In all fairness, the Changelings replacing the Mane Six do a much better job than Chrysalis did replacing Cadance all the way back in Season Two’s “A Canterlot Wedding”. It’s actually a bit interesting. When “pretending to be ponies”, the Changelings seem to be intelligent and normal. Yet in their native forms, they’re usually subsentient monsters.

On a personal note, it seems a bit odd to me that the Changelings didn’t just capture and replace Starlight Glimmer as soon as she showed up but instead elected to try and pretend to be the true article for her. The only explanation for this plot hole turn of events is Queen Chrysalis saying she didn’t think she was worth replacing.

Changelings can apparently invade dreams now. :/

Apparently, Twilight Sparkle at one point talked about the first Changeling invasion to Starlight Glimmer, because her obliviousness to the current state of Equestria way back in “The Cutie Map” indicated she had little idea of what had been going on in most of the nation while she was in her commune.

I mentioned back in the alternate universe in “The Cutie Re-Mark” that the show makers took away Chrysalis’ “voice modulation” that she had in her original appearance. Here it’s a rather bad change, because now Chrysalis sounds rather similar to Trixie (both are voiced by Kathleen Barr).

This is more of a “Lord of the Rings” nod than a “Hobbit” one, but when Trixie and Starlight are hiding using an invisibility spell, one of the Changelings tries to smell them out; similar to when the Nazgul were trying to smell out Frodo with the Ring.

Discord practically opens with breaking the fourth wall. “Well isn’t this quite the combination of secondary characters.”

On another personal note, Discord only cares that Fluttershy was captured…not, you know, Spike after supposedly befriending him or Twilight Sparkle after, you know, the whole sacrificing herself for him after he had backstabbed her thing at the end of Season Four. :/

These two episodes probably set a record for most voice actors in any episode of the series.

Credit Typo: At the end of the first half, Double Diamond is listed in the credits as “Diouble Diamond”.

I’ll admit, Discord pulling Trixie’s head out of her hat and both that head plus her own head looking at him with annoyed glares is pretty funny. 🙂

The outside guards of the Changeling hive really stink at their job. 😛

As another scene that’s more of a knockoff of “Lord of the Rings” than “Hobbit”, Discord lets out a loud shout that brings the Changeling swarm down on them, somewhat like how Pippin’s stone down the well brought the goblins on the Fellowship.

Plot hole…how did the Changelings know Fluttershy was the only individual Discord cared about?

Princess Celestia has become such a useless character at this point that next time Chrysalis shows up she should just “pre-cocoon” herself to save time. 😦

The only character who was not cocooned was Princess Flurry Heart. If they had done that, it would have depicted a baby in distress, which would have been an automatic Y7 rating. But now I kind of wonder if somewhere in the hive a bit like “Dance Magic Dance” from Labyrinth went off at one point. …That would have actually been awesome.

While normally the way to get a Changeling to “give itself away” is to test it with a question only the real individual would know, this episode pointed out another way is to watch the eyes. In “A Canterlot Wedding”, fake Cadance’s eyes periodically turned green and serpentine like Chrysalis’. Similarly, Thorax accidentally gives himself away when his eyes shimmer and reveal the normal Changeling “orbs” instead.

As with “A Canterlot Wedding”, Chrysalis only loses purely due to overconfidence.

The Changelings “sharing love” looks suspiciously like the old 1980s “Care Bear Stare”. On a side note, another amusing part from this episode is the rather dumbfounded look on Chrysalis’ face when all the Changelings share their love.

Biggest plot hole this episode…every princess plus Discord plus Starlight Glimmer, who is more powerful than any of them save Discord is present…and no one does anything as Chrysalis escapes. “Don’t just do something! STAND THERE!”

Rating:

1.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Six, Episode Twenty-Four: “Top Bolt”

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Synopsis:

Rainbow Dash is fresh off of Wonderbolt Spring Training and eager to relax in Ponyville, only to soon find herself and Twilight Sparkle called back to Wonderbolt Academy by the Cutie Map during tryouts of new recruits. On arrival, they soon focus on a pair of entries: Sky Stinger, a cocky and confident record-breaking flier, and Vapor Trail, his shy and weaker-flying friend who appears to not even really want to be there. On observing both in flight, Twilight and Rainbow soon realize that the two only ever fly together and Vapor is assisting Sky with all his record-breaking stunts. On confronting Vapor about it, she admits that she’s been assisting him for years without his knowledge, and now she’s followed him all the way to Wonderbolt Academy; but soon both will be required to perform in solo trials and neither will likely make the cut. Insisting that the truth will only ruin Sky’s confidence, Rainbow convinces Twilight to keep it a secret and to have her run Sky on basic drills to build strength while she teaches Vapor more advanced tricks; but while Vapor takes to the lessons and shows herself to have potential to be an excellent flier herself, Sky dismisses his own exercises as unnecessary, prompting Vapor to blurt out the truth and the two to get in a fight that threatens to ruin both of their performances. Twilight and Rainbow end up talking to either one respectively, convincing them that both could be Wonderbolt material, and encouraging them to help one another as friends rather than one take a “back seat” to the other. Now assisting each other, both manage to pass the trials and make it into Wonderbolt Academy, with Spitfire even admitting they might surpass Rainbow Dash one day. The mission accomplished, Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash head back to the Castle of Friendship…only for Rainbow to get called on Wonderbolt duty again soon after arrival.

Review:

This episode is one of the more “mixed bags” of this season. The various Cutie Map episodes are never really anything terribly monumental, in my opinion. The lessons they teach always seem to be executed fairly mildly. This one seems to go above average in several categories and below average in others.

On the above average side are the characters of Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail. For your standard one-shot characters in a 22 minute episode, both are remarkably well developed. Both come from different backgrounds, suffering from the effects of being a “middle child” struggling to stand out for one and an only child being coddled by the other, and both are individuals who have stuck to a routine they thought was friendship for so long that it’s become an unhealthy codependency. On one hand, Vapor has spent so long supporting Sky that she’s reaching the point of her life where she doesn’t have any desires or ambitions of her own. On the other hand, Sky has gotten so used to thinking of himself as a great success and let his ego get so big that it’s become “too big to fail”; being the core now of his own self worth and causing him to blame everyone but himself if it fails. It’s quite a bit more then the standard run-of-the-mill charicature one-shot characters or those with simpler backstories. It draws the focus away from the “friendship problem” of this episode and makes you focus more on them. This is one of the rare episodes where the one-shots steal the show.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot on the below average side. This episode seems almost like it could have been a stand-alone one for Rainbow Dash but was doctored to be a Cutie Map including Twilight Sparkle; who we all know is far from a good flier, let alone Wonderbolt material. While Sky’s behavior is somewhat understandable given his backstory, he’s pretty repulsive for the bulk of this episode; first being an egomaniac and then irrationally accusing Vapor of trying to sabotage him. The characters ignore the fact that lying wouldn’t have helped anyone once the solo trials got there and instead blame each other, and while Vapor should have given Sky an apology for not ‘fessing up to her assistance earlier, Sky owes her an apology for how he treated her. Rather than “both friends being at fault” in this episode, Sky was wrong for how he treated Vapor, and Vapor was wrong for how she treated herself. That makes Sky really the one in the wrong this episode, which sort of unbalances things. Lastly, part of the appeal of the Cutie Map episodes, at least to me, is creating situations where two members of the Mane Six are forced to deal with each other rather than in their more collective dynamic. Aside from the classroom bit, there wasn’t much time for Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle to do that, and really they were more accessory to the conflict and its characters than anything else. So all those little details drag things down a tad.

Because it’s so mixed, it’s a hard episode to assign a rating to. I was definitely invested and engaged in Sky and Vapor, but I felt underwhelmed by the resolution even if it was something of what I expected. Considering this was the last “regular” episode before the season finale, it left me hoping for a little more, so that’s how I based my final rating.

Fun Facts:

“Top Bolt” is likely a knockoff of “Top Gun”. Although the Wonderbolts have only seen offensive action twice in the show’s history (and once was simply in an alternate universe), and seem to be mostly stunt show performers, they still share a lot in common with more military outfits.

An episode where Starlight Glimmer appears but doesn’t have anything to do with the plot…and only one episode before the season finale too. :/

Frankly, Angel Wings is my favorite character in this episode. 😀

Sky Stinger is voiced by Emmett Hall. He’s served as animator, animation director, and storyboard artist for a number of animated programs, including MLP:FIM, but this was his first voice acting role.

The new candidates for Wonderbolt Academy sputter along like old propeller aircraft, as opposed to the jet sounds the Wonderbolts make.

Sky and Vapor’s “relationship” isn’t actually all that far from nature. Waterfowl are infamous for flying in formation because the wing movements of the bird in front makes things easier on the one in the back from a slipstream.

Vapor Trail got her Cutie Mark before Sky Stinger.

Similar to Rainbow Dash and Lightning Dust, Sky Stinger leaves a unique streak behind him as he flies.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Six, Episode Twenty-Three: “Where the Apple Lies”

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Synopsis:

Apple Bloom accidentally messes up a crate shipment to Filthy Rich of Zap Apple Jam, and when she lies to try and cover it up, it prompts the Apple Family to tell a story about how Applejack wasn’t always so honest…

Before Apple Bloom was born, around the time Filthy Rich first assumed control of his family’s store, Applejack and Big Macintosh argued about who would take over the farm, with Applejack saying she had better ideas and Big Mac saying he was the better worker. To try and show her brother up, Applejack made a deal with Rich to let him sell Sweet Apple Acres Cider at his store without consulting Granny Smith first, and only after the deal was made found out she refused to allow it. When forced to admit she couldn’t deliver on the deal, Rich got angry and threatened to cut off ties to Sweet Apple Acres and, as a result, Applejack quickly made up a lie that Granny was sick and the deal was made out of distress. Unfortunately, this prompted Rich and his fiance (future Spoiled Rich) to pay a goodwill visit to the farm, forcing Applejack to lie again that Granny was in the hospital. Yet when the Riches headed out to see her there, Applejack ended up lying further, first claiming the apple blight was infecting ponies to get Granny out to the hospital, then tried to get Big Mac to masquerade as a sick Granny Smith to fool the two. Unfortunately, this only led to more confusion until Granny Smith was nearly ready to amputate Big Mac’s limb, thinking it was infected with apple blight, which finally prompted Applejack to confess everything to everpony. While she realized her own mistake in lying to try to cover up her fault, Big Mac admitted if he had listened to her more rather than dictated his opinion on everything she wouldn’t have wanted to prove herself to begin with. Granny scolded them both for talking about replacing her when she’s nowhere near death, then scolded Rich for threatening to break off business with Sweet Apple Acres, before she went into a lecture on apple blight.

Back at the farm, Apple Bloom learns that ponies don’t “start out” as the individuals they are but have to grow into them as they mature, and the whole Apple family enjoys a glass of cider before heading back to work.

Review:

This episode is not only a step above the standard Applejack fare, but…heh…to me personally, it, well…

Let’s start with the main plot. Aside from a handful of flashbacks and “The Cutie Mark Chronicles”, the backgrounds of the Mane Six are largely virgin territory for the show. I hope this episode is a sign of devoting more time to episodes focusing on that. While I think it was made a bit convenient for the show, it’s an interesting change to see that not only was Applejack formally not as honest as she is today, but Big Macintosh used to be a chatterbox who, in the words of his sister, spent all his time talking so he never had to listen to anyone else. (Of course, Big Mac takes it to the opposite extreme today…)

The “teenage” Applejack is an interesting design, but it works well. And it’s a nice little change of pace to see the relations she has with her other family members and business associates back in the day. The episode itself may not be laugh-out-loud entertaining, but it is engaging and interesting to watch unfold. I do feel a bit “cheated”, though. Applejack’s lies were more attempts to cover up for her own mistakes rather than anything heavy, and the line about how “the whole Apple family ended up in the hospital” was something of a bait-and-switch, as it was in the same sense of “the whole family ended up at Burger King” or something.

All of that said…the part that really stood out to me in this episode was, well, possibly “reading too much into it” as opposed to reading in-between the lines, but there are fan theories out there…

Until now I had assumed that Apple Bloom and Applejack were much closer in age. That she might have been a foal during the events of “The Cutie Mark Chronicles” flashback. However, now I see Applejack was approaching physical maturity prior to Apple Bloom even being born. Furthermore, although Apple Bloom isn’t “around” in the flashback, neither are the parents of Applejack and Big Macintosh. And the way they talk, it’s clear that one of them will take over the farm when Granny Smith passed on or retired…not their parents. Granny Smith also says “the whole Apple family ended up in the hospital”, although there were only three ponies there: herself, Applejack, and Big Macintosh.

All of this, combined with Applejack’s more “motherly” nature around Apple Bloom, I take as evidence for one possibility: Apple Bloom and Applejack aren’t sisters; Apple Bloom is Applejack’s daughter from a teenage, unmarried pregnancy. She’s pretending to be her older sister to spare her and herself the shame. Yes, I know even if this was true they’d never come out with it on a Y-rated show, but things like this have happened in history before, and so I’m sticking with it.

With that in mind, I personally rate this episode a little higher.

Fun Facts:

A rare episode to only feature a single member of the Mane Six (Applejack). However, as Granny Smith is voiced by Tabitha St. Germain (Rarity), she was in the episode too.

When Apple Bloom says that Applejack has never told a lie in her whole life, she gets her infamous “lying face” from the Season Two premiere.

Granny Smith apparently keeps rocking chairs on standby for stories. 😛

There’s been occasional hints here and there throughout the series of the relative ages of the Mane Six to one another, and it’s widely accepted that Fluttershy is the oldest based on her appearance in “The Cutie Mark Chronicles”, where, while the other members of the Mane Six looked to be the same shape as the CMCs themselves, Fluttershy was taller and “lankier” as if she had just hit a teenage growth spurt. Similarly, in this episode, Applejack looks much the same way, and Granny Smith explicitly says she was older than Apple Bloom at the time.

Spoiled Rich appears in Granny Smith’s story as a younger version of herself, although her surname is “Milk” at the time. This confirms ponies do indeed have surnames. Her nose isn’t quite as upturned in this episode, indicating that was something that developed over time.

One of the trends that MLP:FIM has balked for years is not necessarily having the more upper-class and rich ponies lord their status over others. This episode confirms Filthy Rich is more of a friend of the Apples…he either just didn’t bring up Diamond Tiara to show them respect or he let Spoiled negate it.

One unicorn is in Ponyville General with a severed horn. :O Something tells me that this might end up being a bit more intriguing considering the upcoming feature film has one of its main characters as a unicorn with a broken horn.

As another random “The Shining” allusion, after Applejack says: “…for the big presentation!” and leads the scrubs-wearing Granny Smith on, in the scene are a pair of twin ponies standing at the end of the hall and staring outward. This is a parody of the ghosts of the twins from “The Shining”. Obviously, they don’t intersperse frames of them chopped up here.

In the next scene, teenage Derpy has apparently undergone eye surgery. Before you gasp in horror, remember that Derpy’s eyes were already wall-eyed back in the flashback in “The Cart Before the Ponies”. It’s likely that the attempt to correct her eyesight simply failed. 😛

How was a pony supposed to handle a bone saw made for a human’s grip?

I’m sorry…but when Apple Bloom goes: “I can’t believe you told all those lies!”…her country accent completely evaporates. She starts to sound like a different character.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5