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Synopsis:

The Cutie Map has activated a third time, and this time is directing Rarity and Applejack to a district of Manehattan. On arrival, the two are clueless about what problem of friendship they are supposed to solve until they come across a flier for the Midsummer Theater Revival being hosted by Coco Pommel. On going to see her, she reveals it was a neighborhood-uniting event that was put on by an old costume designer named Charity Kindheart, but it was discontinued when she moved away due to lack of interest/volunteers. She’s trying to restart it but hasn’t managed a single other volunteer. Rarity and Applejack try to scare up more volunteers, but with no luck as everypony in the neighborhood makes excuses on it being too much of a bother. The three decide to do it all themselves, but realize it’s way too much work to fulfill their original plans with just the three of them. As a result, Applejack suggests they simplify, making a much smaller stage and costumes for the scheduled performers. The three end up putting on a smaller-scale yet effective show about Charity’s life, which nevertheless attracts the whole neighborhood and gets them to remember the old Revival. When the show is complete, the three are thanked for bringing the Revival back and the neighborhood is encouraged to start contributing to making their community and future Revivals better. Realizing the reason they were sent there was to get the community unified and interested in volunteering, Rarity and Applejack are successful and head home.

Review:

Coco Pommel became a fan favorite as soon as she debuted in Season Four (sort of a fusion between Rarity and Fluttershy), so it was only a matter of time before she made a return appearance. I’m somewhat ambivalent toward her myself, and truth be told she’s not much use in this episode other than to kick-start the plot in Manehattan (Babs Seed or Applejack’s relative to whom Babs is under could have easily accomplished the same purpose).

Applejack and Rarity episodes don’t have a history of going that well, as most of the interest is supposed to derive from how they’re polar opposites. “Look Before You Sleep” was essentially just them arguing, while “Simple Ways” is in my book as one of the more yawn-worthy episodes of the series. This one doesn’t really do much more for their interest either. Whereas the other Cutie Map episodes had interesting character traits to work with in the Mane Six, the focus on this one is the lesson, and, as such, the two most down-to-earth characters were in it.

That said, the lesson is a good one that the writers hadn’t tackled yet. In the USA at least, we’re rather advantaged and have more leisure time than many other societies and countries around the world, but we’re also notoriously apathetic. With all the opportunities we have to do good or volunteer in our community, our society is more and more focused on just taking care of individual interests and needs. Heck, the very fact I’m currently in my den writing this blog post testifies to just how isolated and self-interested we’ve become. There’s a lot of really nice community activities out there, but they require a lot of work. Having served in a community theater before, I can tell you that productions like this, even if they generate a profit, are a ton of work. Actors who aren’t professional have to take out time from both their families and their 40-hour-a-week jobs to stay late and rehearse for months. Stages have to be rented out and have to have large slots of time devoted to set erection and practice. Costumes have to be arranged and backgrounds have to be painted. Light cues have to be worked out and tech crews have to be brought in to handle everything. That’s to say nothing of the cleaning, the marketing, the makeup, the programs, and all of the time, energy, and commitment involved. It’s small wonder that most local productions hit Goodwill for costumes whenever they can, frequently recycle the same set piece for a decade, hit up other stage productions for whatever they can donate, and that “Strike” (the point where the set is torn down) is an affair for everyone and not just the set crew. This is just a for-profit local theater. There’s also events like “Arts in the Park”, music venues, showing old movies, fairs, conventions, charity projects, community activities, and everything else. Whether they make money or not, these things don’t just happen. They require a massive amount of time and energy from volunteers.

The thing is, if everyone volunteered, they wouldn’t be nearly as much work. They’d still need a lot but individual contributions from a lot of volunteers would end up amounting to very little investment from everyone. But like all situations in which there is a ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, the temptation is to think “someone else will take care of it, I’m too busy”. The end result is no one volunteers and nothing gets done, and only a fistful of volunteer-orientated people always end up doing absolutely everything. For these events to be any good, everyone has to have a mind of lending a hand where they can.

I like that this episode tried to drive that home. That’s something even little kids need to learn from an early age so they volunteer later in life. The problem is I think they went a bit soft on the message so they wouldn’t seem preachy; constantly trying to say that people were justified in calling themselves too busy and saying they only needed to do a tiny amount of commitment. While that’s at least partially true, it also risks watering down the message to where someone will again say: “Well, if I only need to do a tiny amount of commitment, I can do that any time.”, and ends up sabotaging the whole idea. Yet at the same time, if you “preach” too much to your audience, they’ll simply shut you out. (After all, not only are Americans apathetic, we hate to be called out on being apathetic and become even more apathetic in response. :P)

Yet with nothing else really going for it other than the message, and being set in once again a totally conventional and normal situation, we’re not left with much to go on other than visuals. I’ll mark the episode a bit higher for having a nice moral, but that’s pretty much all that keeps this episode from being thoroughly average.

Fun Facts:

Yet another entry in the Cutie Map arc.

Pop Quiz: Who was the most popular of the characters introduced in the Keys of Harmony episodes? Hint: It’s not Silver Shill. He’s nobody’s favorite. 😛

Similar to “Just for Sidekicks” and “Games Ponies Play” in Season Three, this episode and “Brotherhooves Social” occur concurrently, with events in one tying into the other.

The opening amuses me quite a bit. It finally happened. Twilight has read ALL the books.

Spike is reading a comic that’s a parody of Archie.

Looks like “Generosity” isn’t working too well for Rarity this time around in Manehattan. 😛

When Rarity erects a small stand peddling “Friendship Advice”, it’s a parody of “Peanuts” comics, specifically Lucy’s tendency to erect a stand and offer advice for a nickel. To help drive the parody home, the score shifts to a piano playing a few notes, just as a piano was the favored score instrument for the TV specials based off of “Peanuts”, but even more so when a Charlie Brown pony walks by (note the hair, shirt style, and the Cutie Mark of a football). Rarity even puts a cherry on top by exclaiming: “Good grief.”

“My Fair Filly” is obviously a takeoff of “My Fair Lady”.

The newstand pony is a pony version of Christian Bale’s character in “Newsies”.

As anyone who has ever weeded before knows, dandelions are the worst.

I’m by no means a professional stage performer but I’ve got some exposure to drama from high school and local theater, and I can’t stand the stereotype that stage actors always walk around wearing turtlenecks, sunglasses, and berets with their noses stuck in the air. Shame on you, DHX. 😛

The resolution is somewhat similar to the resolution in “Be Kind, Rewind”, in which a locally-produced movie made in a week brings the inner-city neighborhood together.

“Trotter on the Roof” is obviously a takeoff of “Fiddler on the Roof”.

To avoid again addressing the “dreaded topic” of death, Charity Kindheart “moved away to spend more time with her grandfillies”. Might as well said she moved to a farm where she’ll be much happier. 😛

Oddly enough, the ending credits song has been replaced with Applejack’s “Fixing the Park” song.

Rating:

3 Stars out of 5

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