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

My Little Devotional #118: “Never Enough Time”

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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “A Hearth’s Warming Tail”

The story of “A Christmas Carol” is an immortal classic, so it’s small wonder it’s been redone so many times in so many different ways. The version that MLP:FIM did for “A Hearth’s Warming Tail” tends to emphasize one aspect better than the others do. In most versions, the main fault of Ebeneezer Scrooge that is pointed out is that he’s miserly, and his miserly ways are causing harm to others around him; in particular his clerk. However, the part that this particular version of the story played up was the other half–Scrooge (and Snowfall Frost) was hurting himself as well. He had gotten to the point of worrying so much about losing money that he had nothing but his hoarded money. No friends…no family contact…even though he was wealthy, it did him no good because he was cheap as he could be. Similarly, in the case of Snowfall Frost, as talented as she was at magic, all she used it for was to learn more magic and devoted her time to practicing it harder. She claimed to be wanting to create a better Equestria, but she neglected anything that would make Equestria worth living in to begin with. All the time she thought she was making the world better she was missing out on the real opportunities available to her. Her life was being totally wasted on a pointless pursuit that she thought was worthwhile while ignoring the things that were truly worthwhile.

Now that I’m an adult, I devote a lot of time to trying to get things done that need to be done. I work hard at my job, and I devote a lot of extra time to deadlines that are constantly coming up. When I get home, there’s plenty to do. Since I live alone housework is my responsibility as well as paying the bills, keeping the fridge stocked, staying up to date on laundry, and all the other chores. I try to go for a run every other day to get some exercise in, and that takes planning and time too, especially if I need to make up a missed day. There’s lots of life’s little hassles as well, such as a need for car repair or license renewal or anything else that comes along. Most of what I do requires me to spend a lot of time driving, not the least of which is my 60 mile round-trip commute every day. Then of course there’s things like this blog that I try to keep up on. Some days I’m lucky to get any time to myself. Some weeks it’s hard to find any, especially since I often have to do some work on the weekend.

All of these things need to get done sometime, and it’s usually better sooner than later. I work pretty hard at times and there are a lot of days I get burned out. When that happens, the last thing I feel like doing is attending a play for my niece or a wrestling match for my nephews. I’ve outright made excuses for family dinner invitations just so I could have a little time to myself. And when I was younger, I constantly made other excuses. And why not? I work hard all day, and a lot of things need to get done when I can find the time. So when I’ve had other things to do, or even when I’ve had free time in the past, I still made excuses to exclude myself. Sometimes it’s to do more housework or sometimes it’s just to relax personally, but basically I want a break from everything. And unfortunately some days the toil and drudgery has gotten so bad that I start to think of requests as a nuisance. Something else demanding my time when I’m busy as it is. Some days I wish I could just break off from it all so I could have some peace. And I’m not even married or have any children. I’m sure those that do feel this even worse.

But I will say one thing. In spite of constantly getting this feeling, out of all of the regrets that I have over the course of my life, the biggest one that I rue is not spending more time with my family. I regret any time we were doing something and I made an excuse I was too tired to run around with them, or any time I was so frustrated with something that I wasn’t wanting to hang out with them, or, especially, any time they actually requested to do something with me and I just plain told them no. You can bet nowadays I really wish they would ask me to do something once in a while.

Lord Jesus Christ spent a lot of time moving around and preaching to large crowds during His earthly ministry, but the Gospels also draw a lot of attention to times He spent just hanging out with His friends and loved ones. (Mark 1:29-31, Mark 6:31-32, Luke 19:1-10, Luke 10:38-42) Was Jesus simply “taking a break” during those times so He wouldn’t fall into a rut with His constant work? Or were these moments just as important to His preaching of the Kingdom of God as the more overt sermons and parables?

Jesus was seen as someone with power and authority, but He was also seen as someone very intimate and personal with those who followed Him. He was a contrast both to the Roman rulers as well as the religious leaders of the day who dictated things from on high and held themselves apart from other people. He may have spoke with authority, and He was indeed higher than all He spoke to, but He never acted that way. That’s probably why His disciples not only approached Him but accepted His teaching, even when it was challenging. His words were not simply commands on high but from someone who was loved and trusted; someone who had built up a relationship with them and who let them know how they were important to Him; someone who you could see coming over to your house and “hanging out” for a while. Jesus was as much “God” in those situations as He was in the bigger ones. He was available then as He was in the public eye. And in fact, one of the great emphasis points of Christianity is to view Jesus in this way: someone intimate and personal as a father rather than a great powerful being on high proclaiming law and judgement.

In the same way, many of us have friends and loved ones in which the most valuable thing we wish from them is not a roof over our heads, food on the table, or chores done, but they themselves.Likewise, there are many who probably want the same thing of us. When you truly care about someone, then simply having them around for a time is a joy and a gift. You connect with them in those moments far more readily than you do in any major event or occasion, because it’s there that you get to know them and interact with them on a more personal level. What more, it’s something that no amount of time, energy, or money can buy or substitute…no matter how much, at times, we try.

Our friends and loved ones are a gift from God. So is the little time we have to connect with them. To take either for granted is a dangerous practice.

My request for this week is that everyone keep that in mind as they go about their daily lives, and not neglect to make time and memories with those you love. And most of all, never neglect or put off an opportunity to let others know you care about them and to show it, even if it is stressful at the time. You’ll thank yourself for those moments later.

I close with a quote by Robert H. Smith:

“The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.

The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will,
Place no faith in “Tomorrow,”
For the Clock may then be still.”

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, you have given me so much to be thankful for, but today I choose to thank you for the time I have been granted on this Earth. I pray that, as part of a good steward of what you have given me, I don’t neglect all the people you have brought into my life who are close to me and beloved by me. Please help me to share my love for them and let them know it, and thereby enrich both their lives and my own in the time you have given me; reminding myself that the most valuable things I possess to share with others can’t be earned through material means. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Six, Episode Twenty-Two: “P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View)”

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Synopsis:

On seeing Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie return from a Seaward Shoals boat trip, Twillight Sparkle and Spike are stunned to find them angry at each other and refusing to talk to one another. As getting them together to talk it out proves impossible, Twilight visits each one individually and gets a different account of how the boat trip was a disaster: each one claiming their attempts to make the boat trip something new and exciting was frustrated by the others before they sank the boat and ruined the trip all together. After reviewing notes she had Spike take about the experience, Twilight is able to find common elements in spite of how different the accounts were. She invites the girls (still angry at one another) out on a second boat trip and demonstrates how the boat capsizing was none of their faults, but rather was the result of an accidental capsizing by a Tri-Horned Bunyip attracted to food that accidentally went overboard. Furthermore, she points out the reason everyone frustrated their attempts to make the boat trip something new and exciting was because each one tried to make the boat trip something different for the others: a luxury cruise (Rarity), a boat party (Pinkie Pie), and an adventure for buried treasure (Applejack). Realizing how wrong they were, the girls make up and get to have a boating trip combining all three ideas, including Twilight, Spike, and even the Bunyip. Twilight reminds the girls that even long-time friends sometimes have problems communicating to one another.

Review:

There are a number of episodes that get considerably better on the second viewing, and, thus far, this is the biggest one of Season Six to me. The first time I thought it was another “thoroughly average” episode, but on the second go around I’ve seen a lot more.

The biggest thing I noticed was that this episode is essentially a Season One episode transposed. Take away Twilight Sparkle’s wings and relocate her to the Golden Oak Library, and this would easily fit in with Season One or Two. Since I know there’s been some pushback from older fans that the newer episodes have a different feel from the older ones, I would think that would be pleasing to them. It had Twilight using her “nerdiness” to solve a friendship problem and even giving a lesson at the end of it.

Aside from that, while the various antics of the girls aren’t the most outrageous they’ve ever been, they are entertaining in this episode; especially when the girls makes charicatures of one another. There’s a lot of body language sight gags with Spike in this episode as Twilight keeps subtly making him take notes. And, on top of all that, this was an interesting narrative: telling the same incident from three different perspectives. (Which couldn’t have been easy with four different writers…)

So…on the second viewing, I actually think this episode was pretty good for this season. Not the best by any means, but nice.

Fun Facts:

The title is a knockoff of F.P.O.V., or “First Person Point of View”, which can refer to a style of video game play but also is considered one of the four main ways in which a story can be told, of which the others are “Third Person Limited”, “Third Person Narrative”, and “Third Person Omniscient”.

This episode is tied with Season Five’s “Rarity Investigates!” for the most writers for a single episode (four).

No wonder Opalescence warms up to Twilight. After everything Rarity has put her through… :X

The return of Rarity’s drama queen bit of throwing herself on a fainting couch. Looks like she’s gone for a new style since Season Two’s “Lesson Zero”. She’s also gone back to scarfing ice cream.

When Twilight interrupts Pinkie Pie’s story, Spike has somehow gotten popcorn.

In Applejack’s version, Rarity is dressed like Rose from “Titanic”.

Applejack, in an “honest” moment, admits in her version of events she’s the reason the food went overboard.

One of the details that’s never resolved is exactly how much luggage Rarity brought and what she was wearing. None of them seem to agree, but it’s pretty clear Rarity is understating her own baggage and attire. (And based on “majority rule”, she appears to have been stretching the truth the most out of the three for the story overall, as both Pinkie Pie and Applejack agree she had more luggage and wasn’t willing to hit the pinata.)

It’s interesting to me that only Applejack is really angry at both of her friends. Rarity mostly blamed Applejack for the whole thing while Pinkie Pie blamed Rarity.

There are indeed bubbles in every version of the story when the food goes overboard, but I’m surprised that wasn’t just blamed on the food releasing air.

Pinkie Pie, in another show of cartoon physics, doesn’t run up to Twilight on the docks but simply pops up between Rarity and Applejack.

Applejack didn’t believe the story about the Bunyip at first…which is surprising as her map had a picture of one on it. 😛

A bunyip is a monster from Australian Aboriginal mythology. In the 1800s it seemed to share some characteristics of the Loch Ness Monster in people claimed sightings of it, although skeletal remains found were usually those of ancient marsupials. Its description varies, but this particular one is made from a number of shared traits among accounts, including a dog face, walrus tusks, and flippers.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Six, Episode Twenty-One: “Every Little Thing She Does”

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Synopsis:

Starlight Glimmer has been excelling in her magic lessons with Princess Twilight Sparkle, but now is nerve-wracked again when Twilight leaves for a lecture in Canterlot for the day and leaves her behind to have a friendship lesson of her own. In spite of intentionally avoiding these lessons, she decides to show herself off as a pro by handling five of them, one with each of the other members of the Mane Six, at once. However, shortly into trying to organize it, she becomes frustrated with the differences in personalities and requirements, and ends up resorting to using a spell to turn the five into mindless drones obedient to her will. Unfortunately, she ends up not thinking carefully about the directions she’s giving them, which they now mindlessly execute, and soon the entire Castle of Friendship is a disaster area…right as Twilight comes home. After undoing the spell and sending everyone else home, Twilight confronts Starlight and explains how the lesson wasn’t supposed to be about how skillfully she could handle doing tasks with the five of them but about building a relationship with them by doing things they liked to do, and says her next friendship lesson is an “advanced” one: apologizing. Starlight meets with the sore and upset Mane Five and gives a sincere apology; enough to where they agree to lend a hand with the cleanup around the Castle of Friendship. Once done, Twilight congratulates her on accomplishing her friendship lessons, and she realizes that by participating individually with each girl in cleaning up parts of the castle, she’s actually built relationships with them. The episode ends with Starlight, Twilight, and the others “chillax”ing on the roof.

Review:

This is just my opinion…but I think this episode is the ultimate “litmus test” for Starlight Glimmer. If you can get through this episode and still, oddly enough, see some interest and, dare I say it, positive qualities to her character…then you’ll be able to handle her for however long she’s in the series. I never thought I’d say that about an episode like this, but hopefully this will show you why.

If you dislike Starlight Glimmer and you go into this episode intending to continue to dislike her, that’s a shame because you’ll never get past the surface of this episode. Externally, it merely looks like an episode where Starlight Glimmer does something rather (admittedly) bad to almost all of the Mane Six and is able to get away with it at the end. But there’s really a lot more to it than that.

First of all, if you’re able to look past the action itself and toward the humor in it, this episode is one of the funniest this season. The reactions of the brainwashed Mane Five are genuinely amusing, especially with the eyeballs drifting and the mechanical way of responding to everything. On the second viewing, I first realized that Applejack’s scrapbook memories are all knockoffs of movies, and the one with “Predator” was hilarious.

Second of all, and, again, I can’t believe I’m saying this…but…I actually sympathize with Starlight Glimmer in this episode. I’m an Aspie myself. When it comes to social situations, I shy away from them as best I can. When I do go to them, I tend to focus only on the things I know because I don’t know how to react or what to do with things I don’t know about. I rattle on about science, programming, old video games, and even my MLP:FIM fandom because that’s all I know, and if no one else knows about those things it quickly gets awkward. There are times I’ve wished, deep down inside, that I could somehow get everyone to talk about the things I wanted to talk about. And yes, I often “miss the point” in things like this myself.

Third, and even more surprising than my last point, but…this episode is the first in Season Six to finally “nail” Starlight Glimmer. You’ve heard my complaints about other episodes this season; about how Starlight has been turned into Twilight to make her more appealing rather than trying to make a connection between her villainous self in Season Five and the character we see now. This episode treats her character as something I could never see done with her at the end of Season Five: believably.

In the beginning of this episode, Starlight has that residual “smugness” about her when she’s showing off her magic in front of Twilight. It carries over into when she’s doing her lessons; masking her own fears and inadequacies with an air of superiority and false confidence. When she meets with the five girls, she makes her same old mistakes: refuses to listen to them or their individual personality needs and instead tries to handle everything the way she thinks is best, ultimately culminating in the spell. And when all is said and done, where does she think she screwed up? With the spell…not with what she actually did. It’s not until Twilight spells it out to her that she realizes her problem. And even when she does and does “the right thing”, she still doesn’t realize she still fulfilled the friendship goals at the end.

This isn’t perfect and there’s still some gaps, but an episode like this actually serves to make up for some of the deficits of the Season Five finale. No, Starlight isn’t the best character. She isn’t that great of a person. She’s still more flawed than the other characters. But…she’s believably trying. She has a long way to go, but you can now see her walking down the path believably rather than simply already halfway down the road automatically.

People who despise Starlight Glimmer despise this episode, and, admittedly, for good reason. But as for me personally? I dare say, from a certain point of view, it might actually be the best episode of Season Six.

Fun Facts:

The animators had a LOT of fun animating pony pupils moving around in their eye sockets this episode. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them do it this much.

Starlight Glimmer’s room has a framed picture of an equal sign…crossed out. 😛

Similar to the situation in “The Crystalling” (and, actually, in “The Cutie Re-Mark”), this episode solidifies the idea of “spell-combining”, which Starlight uses to create new spells with new effects.

Applejack’s description of family events correspond to lines and scenes in movies, including “Jaws”, “Predator”, “Braveheart”, and “Spider-Man”.

Ah, the one thing Starlight Glimmer can’t do: bake cake. (Remembers “No Second Prances”) …At least, without using magic. On that note, Pinkie Pie might be the only character in the series who ever held a grudge against Starlight Glimmer…even if only for a few minutes of “show time”.

First appearance of the rooftop pavilion of the Castle of Friendship.

Rating:

4 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Six, Episode Twenty: “Viva Las Pegasus”

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Synopsis:

The Cutie Map has activated again and (much to their mutual displeasure) Applejack and Fluttershy are being called to Las Pegasus, which has an Equestria-wide reputation of being one colossal, loud, “fun zone” for shows, games, and parties. On arrival at one of the bigger resorts, run by a flashy pony named Gladmane, they have a hard time finding any friendship problems as the owner prides himself on being every guest and employee’s friend and keeping them happy. When they do finally find two ponies at each other’s throats, Applejack is infuriated to find that it’s Flim and Flam. While Fluttershy is willing to talk with them, Applejack is determined to find a different friendship problem, and finds ones in between Gladmane’s performers. After hearing all arguments, the two discover all of Gladmane’s performers would be more successful if they worked with each other to strike out solo, but because they’re at each other’s throats they can’t do it; and they realize Gladmane himself is poisoning everyone against each other to keep them working for him. With that in mind, the two manage to get Flim and Flam to reconcile so they can assist them with “hustling the hustler” and get Gladmane to confess to what he’s been doing. However, Gladmane sees right through their deception and ends up not falling for it. When Applejack and Fluttershy go to his office later to confront him personally about his behavior, he takes the opportunity to gloat over his success at manipulating others in the wake of their apparent failure…only to realize too late that was the real hustle: Flim and Flam expected him to boast after seeing through the scam, and when the girls went into his office they held his intercom button down while he bragged about his racket. The performers reconcile and leave Gladmane’s resort, leaving him ruined and getting him replaced by the Flim-Flam Brothers themselves. Applejack and Fluttershy’s flanks glow to show their success, but they soon regret it when they see the Flim-Flam Brothers successfully scamming patrons to see an empty stage for half-price tickets.

Review:

This is another solidly average episode to me this season, with nothing good and nothing bad about it. Not so odd that both of those episodes this season featured Applejack in a prominent role…as you know my opinion on her character from earlier reviews.

It tried to do things that were more interesting. Las Pegasus itself features a lot of background ponies who have never been seen before, but…they weren’t anything too monumental. The very idea of Las Pegasus appearing on the show was an opportunity at a new locale, but…almost the entire episode takes place inside Gladmane’s resort, so aside from the first look at it there’s nothing too big there. Plus, since a Y-rated show really can’t do a pony version of “Sin City”, the place looks like a big arcade or theme park almost rather than a casino. Basically, the citizens of Equestria are left with a rather lame reason to dislike it: it’s loud. :/ There’s a lot of parodies of characters in the ponies in this episode, but…none of them are too incredible.

Last but not least, while the Flim-Flam Brothers had an amazing song in their first appearance back in Season Two, they haven’t had too much appeal to me personally since then. I actually think they’re a bit more interesting in this episode when they’re not running another scam, but as far as the “minor antagonists” go, they’re disliked by a lot of fans.

The dilemma, while alright, is more of a rehash of times it has been done better. Sunset Shimmer did the same thing in “Equestria Girls”, and, as much as people hated her, she did have more personality than being an Elvis impersonator. And there is a rather pointless scene at one point in which Gladmane brings Flam into his office to show off his plan to run every hotel on the strip that never really goes anywhere or ties into the plot. It seems the episode was running short so they had to do something, unless that’s supposed to be where Flam learned about Gladmane’s intercom to tell Fluttershy and Applejack about it later. It’s minor, but…it’s still there.

Once again, there’s nothing “bad” about this episode. It’s just there’s nothing really to write home about either. The curse of Applejack lives. 😦

Fun Facts:

After first being mentioned in “It’s About Time” way back in Season Two, Las Pegasus finally makes an appearance. Although its position on the Equestria Maps indicates that it’s similar to Los Angeles, this episode revealed it has more in common with Las Vegas. Like Cloudsdale, it’s a city in the clouds. Unlike Cloudsdale, it seems to have ponies of all three kinds living there.

“Pone Fantastique” is likely supposed to be a knockoff of “Cirque de Soleil”.

Gladmane is voiced by Jim Byrnes, an individual with not only extensive voice acting experience but also an actor and Blues musician. Between his ducktail mane style, flashy suit, cape, and way of laughing, Gladmane is supposed to be in part a parody of Elvis Presley.

The same tourists from the first Cutie Map episode this season (“Spice Up Your Life”) cameo, walking behind Applejack and Fluttershy when they meet Gladmane.

Is Bernard (the rabbit pulled out of the trapeze artists’s hat) the first talking rabbit the show has ever seen? (Voiced by Andrea Libman, same as Fluttershy.) Anyway, soon after Applejack talks to a pony version of Scooter from “The Muppet Show”.

The prairie dog trainers are parodies of Siegfried and Roy, magicians who were infamous for their shows in Vegas featuring white tigers.

Gordon Ramsey Pony makes another appearance at the buffet.

The pulling-down of Gladmane’s statue is reminiscent of the pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue.

Rating:

2.5 Stars out of 5

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Reviews ~ Season Six, Episode Nineteen: “The Fault in Our Cutie Marks”

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Synopsis:

Following the events of “On Your Marks”, the Cutie Mark Crusaders have gained a widespread reputation for their ability to help other ponies get their Cutie Marks and find their purpose in life. However, they get their biggest challenge yet when they are confronted with Gabrielle “Gabby” Griffon. Pretty much the only innately friendly griffon in Griffonstone, she oversaw the Cutie Mark magic that Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie displayed in their own visit when helping out Gilda, and since then has become obsessed with the idea of having a Cutie Mark of her own so that she can share the “magic of friendship” as well among the other griffons. The CMCs are at a loss as Cutie Marks are exclusive to ponies, but as Gabby is so excited and determined to get one they attempt to at least help her find her true purpose…with the extremely remote and highly unlikely chance that she’ll obtain a Cutie Mark from it. Unfortunately, this fails as well when Gabby shows off that she’s talented at everything, and in the end the CMCs are reduced to tears at their first failure to help someone else. However, not long after, Gabby suddenly bursts in and surprises them with a Cutie Mark on her flank, surprising but also enthusing them that they apparently succeeded. Yet when Gabby is eager to run off after showing them, they suspect something is up. When they finally catch up to Gabby stalled by helping push a wagon out of the mud, they discover the Cutie Mark is in fact a painted-on fake, yet Gabby says it wasn’t to make herself feel better but rather to make them feel better after she saw how depressed they were at their inability to help her. At that point, the girls realize that what Gabby really excelled at the whole time was in assisting other ponies, and they realize her true purpose is helping others; just like them. Prompted by that, the CMCs carve out a matching CMC emblem with a trophy in the center for Gabby to clasp her mail bags with, giving her a “Cutie Mark”, declare her the first griffon member of the CMCs, and even make her the first griffon ever to receive a “cute-ceanera”.

Review:

This is yet another one of those episodes that is a bit better on looking at it a second time. Back in Season Five we got “Tanks for the Memories”, which was a metaphor for death. This one…well…it’s not so clear. It’s not necessarily terminal illness in spite of the name, but it can be anything that someone wants that they can’t have. And that, unfortunately, is life.

We all like telling children growing up that they can be whatever they want to be, and when they’re young that’s mostly true. It’s also true that determination, perserverence, and dedication will take you past what the world says is an impassible limit…sometimes. Yet as everyone gets older they start to see their own mortality in focus and realize that some doors that are before them are ones they can never open. And for some people, unfortunately, the doors are shut early on while they remain open for everyone else.

With that in mind, I don’t think the lesson of this episode was as “on the head” as it could have been, but it was still nice. The point is ultimately not to become so obsessed with things you can’t have and cling to a fool’s hope on them so much that you lose sight of everything that you can change and do have control over. It’s kind of a mature lesson and one that we all hope we can learn later rather than sooner, but it’s still something we’ll all be faced with one day. Nevertheless I think it’s one that people might not get much impact from unless they’ve had to deal with it personally.

Aside from that, it was a rather dialog-heavy episode in spite of the montage toward the middle, and focused more on character rather than events. And with the CMCs, who normally aren’t as “animated” as the Mane Six, it doesn’t provide too much to write home about. Gabby is alright as a one-shot character, but…I guess it kind of proves the old adage that “characters who are nice people are boring”. Nevertheless, the enthusiasm and personality of the characters got me wondering if the CMCs really would manage to succeed…and what they were going to do if they failed. So I was emotionally invested, and that’s always a good sign.

So, with that in mind, another fairly good episode. How odd the CMC episodes turn out the highest consistent quality…

Fun Facts:

This title is a confusing one. “The Fault in Our Cutie Marks” is a knockoff of “The Fault in Our Stars”, and made me wonder if this episode would take the bold step of having a terminally ill character. While that ended up being untrue, after some research it seems to refer to the fact that one’s destiny is still in one’s hands in spite of the unchangeable things in their lives.

The “dinosaur” Petunia digs up has a skull suspiciously like a horse…

Tender Taps cameos. In the very next shot, the Big Macintosh color-swap pony from the Season One opening passes by in the background.

Gabby Griffon is voiced by Erin Matthews. She’s done a lot of voice acting, with her most recent one being Cidney Auron in “Final Fantasy XV”.

The events Gabby witnesses in her flashback are from Season Five’s “The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone”.

This is the second time Zecora has appeared this season (the first being in another CMC episode, “On Your Marks”), but with no lines.

Ponies have baseball…right. Gabby has opposable thumbs for batting and catching, but how do other ponies do it?

Although this is really a CMC episode in general, Scootaloo gets called out.

Rating:

3.5 Stars out of 5