The Annual Applewood Derby is upon Ponyville, a time of year in which the younger ponies all build applewood carts to race. Three separate prizes are up for grabs for whatever cart manages to cross the finish line: Fastest, Most Creative, and Most Traditional. However, the youngsters only get a block of applewood and one day in which to build their carts, so they each get to pick one older pony to help them out, but they have to also complete the race in the same cart as the young pony by riding along. Naturally, the CMCs all want their older sister types to help them out, and Apple Bloom would like to go for Fastest, Scootaloo would like to go for Most Creative, and Sweetie Belle would like to go for Most Traditional. Unfortunately, when the CMCs go to their respective “older ponies”, they all become nostalgic for their own Applewood Derbies and their desire to win the prizes they wanted when they were younger: Rainbow Dash wants the cart to be the Fastest, Rarity wants the cart to be the Most Creative, and Applejack wants the cart to be the Most Traditional. In spite of mild suggestions from the CMCs, the older ponies ignore them and build the cart to their own desires, to which the three reluctantly consent when they assume the older ponies know better. When the time of the race finally gets there, the CMCs are even more shocked to discover the older ponies are so intent on reliving their own experiences that they’re taking over driving the carts themselves, reducing the CMCs to roles of passengers. When the three’s over-elaborate carts end up causing a crash that piles up every cart in the race, the CMCs finally blow up and confront Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash with their selfish behavior. The CMCs realize they should have spoken up more loudly, and the older ponies realized they should have done a better job listening. After apologizing to everyone for ruining the race, Ms. Cheerilee agrees to a “do-over”…provided this time the rule be changed so that only the youngsters get to be in the cart. They end up helping the CMCs build the carts the way they all wanted, and then, far more humbly, elect to be spectators only for the race itself.
This ended up being one of the most hated episodes of Season Six and of the series as a whole. I’m not quite sure it deserves all of that, but…I can see where some people would get that impression.
Episodes that portray a member of the Mane Six in a negative light never seem to go over completely well. There are episodes that draw attention to a character flaw or a personal problem they need to overcome, and then there are episodes in which a character deliberately acts out that flaw for the bulk of the episode. Some would argue those episodes are borderline Flanderization. I personally don’t think the show has gone that far (although it’s come close more than once…), but the bottom line is when an episode comes along in which a character acts out a negative trait nearly to the exclusion of all positive traits, it doesn’t go over well. Hence why episodes like “The Mysterious Mare Do Well” where Rainbow Dash’s ego swells to the size of a hot air balloon and “Keep Calm and Flutter On” where Fluttershy skips over being rough and straight to being cruel are near the bottom of the list of fan favorites.
This episode did it to three characters at once, so that might seem like a recipe for disaster. But I personally didn’t think of it that much.
While I agree Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash teeter close to the edge of repulsive in this one, and might even cross the line a few times, it’s really not that out of character. Applejack is infamous for being stubborn and thinking her way is the best way, so that’s nothing new. In Season Five, Pinkie Pie directly called her pushy, aggressive, and mean after all. Rainbow Dash does tend to get full of herself at times. Keep in mind she’s still relatively new to the whole “big sister” role. Until Season Three’s “Sleepless in Ponyville”, Scootaloo was nothing more than a fangirl to her, after all. Rarity might be the most out of character as she normally cares about suiting things to the style of others, but even then it’s not as bad as it could be. When it comes to Sweetie Belle, she can be self-centered and assume she’ll just like doing the things she’ll like.
That said, the fact is the CMCs did keep telling and showing the three what they wanted, and they were blatantly ignored. And the song for this episode really drew attention to how out-of-control the behavior had become. So for the lesson at the end, it was really the older girls who should have concentrated more on listening rather than making the event all about them. And the fact is that is indeed a problem in many families where parents try to live out dreams through their children and end up pushing them to do things they really don’t want to do, sometimes with humiliating and embarrassing results. (Even worse is this was only the first of two episodes this season to touch on that theme…)
Still, my counter-argument is that just because three of the main characters are showing off their negative side doesn’t necessarily make the episode itself negative. If they were wildly out of character or a pat ending would have taken place, then I might be more upset. But it made logical sense for Ms. Cheerilee to want a redo of the race, especially since she had picked up on how the older girls had made it all about themselves. And the CMCs have such a good relationship with the older girls that it makes sense that they would make up at the end too.
So, while there’s a touch of OOCness, it’s really not enough for me to rate this episode lower, personally. And parts of the episode are still at least visually or conceptually entertaining. (I kept thinking Super Mario Kart during the episode.) So…yeah, I won’t rate this one bad. Maybe not too good, but not bad.
The title comes from the expression “putting the cart/wagon before the horse”, which means trying to do something before someone has done something necessary beforehand. In this case, there is a play on words; namely Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Applejack putting their ideas for their carts before the desires of the ponies they are supposed to be making them for.
One day to turn a block of wood into a cart. Yeah…again my theory earlier I made about how days in Equestria aren’t the same length as days on Earth.
I’m not sure if Michelle Creber was sick during this episode or really bogged down, but Apple Bloom REALLY loses both her accent and childish tone in this episode.
The Cloudsdale Derby is more like extreme bobsledding. It seems like that’s what you have to do if you’re racing on clouds rather than ground.
Rarity never verbally answers Sweetie Belle’s question of who she lost to as a filly, so, although listed as “Muffins” in the credits, Derpy’s name goes unsaid again. 😛 It’s a bit cruel that pegasi make it thunderstorm on the runner up.
There’s an interesting progression through the interactions of the CMCs with their sister figures. Scootaloo seems standoffish about Rainbow Dash but assumes she’ll still help her with her idea. Applejack flatly states she’s going to make Apple Bloom a traditional cart, contrary to her idea. And Rarity pretty much comes right out and makes it apparent she’s doing this entirely for herself and not for Sweetie Belle at all.
That is some magic paint Apple Bloom and Applejack are using. Must be made form the multi-color streaked Zap Apple. 😛
Diamond Tiara’s own cart looks like a real automobile, while Snips’ cart is a giant barber pole, just like the Cutie Mark of the pony helping him.
This episode is the only one other than Season Two’s “The Mysterious Mare Do Well” (also not a very well-received episode) that indicates that Ponyville is actually situated in rather uneven landscape.
Ponies walk faster than Applejack’s cart is moving. 😛
How in the world do Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash end up covered with oil stains building the carts? They’re WOOD. Also, oddly enough, Rarity is the only one who wears her cap backward.
I don’t think Applejack at first and later Sweetie Belle really had to worry about not winning “Most Traditional”. They seemed to be the only ones interested.
2.5 Stars out of 5