Review: 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic - Adventures in the Crystal Empire' DVD (with bonus Season 1 DVD review)
I don’t mean I don’t find the various ponies sexually attractive, though that’s also true. I know, it surprised me too. I’m not much of a butt guy, for one thing (you poop with those, that’s not sexy), and I have a strict “two legs good, four legs bad” policy about cartoon animals, Nala from The Lion King being the only exception, of course (though I guess kangaroos could be problematic).
Not only is the plot of the show not altogether very interesting, plots in general aren’t very interesting. To bring this review’s song quote into the mix, plot is what Bond villains do; the interesting thing is what happens when a character such as Bond stumbles into this plot and starts shooting the villain’s henchmen in the face.
That’s why I watch this show; characters and gratuitous violence. Allow me to explain in this DVD’s episode breakdown.
This DVD's marquee episodes comprise the Season 3 two-part opener, “The Crystal Empire.” Despite the title “Adventures in the Crystal Empire,” other episodes featuring this Empire came along too late in Season 3 to make this DVD, so we get three episodes with very little thematic link. They seemed to be picked based on the fact that they are strong episodes, which is a pretty good reason, and include two Season 2 episodes and one Season 1 episode.
"The Crystal Empire, Part 1"
While past two-parters have been some of the strongest episodes of the series, this one is a distinct letdown. It mostly has to do with an overabundance of plot; this first part is almost completely exposition, explaining what the Crystal Empire is, who the villain is, what the MacGuffin that will be important in the second episode is (a magical crystal heart, of course), and so on and so forth. They try every trick in the book; Princess Celestia blathers on, Twilight reads a book, and the cast sing a really stupid song that’s completely a) exposition and b) inane.
Previous two-parters were much more concise, with the pre-credits sequence quickly explaining who the villain is in interesting ways. In the series premiere, Twilight’s reading of a book is animated in a stylized manner; in the Season 2 premier, Cheerilee the teacher takes her students on a field trip. How does this episode open? A pony guard tells Princess Celestia something happened, vaguely. Whoops. Missed opportunity.
Okay, now we’ve gotten all that exposition out of the way (over the course of an entire episode), things are looking up, right? Nope. The second problem is King Sombra is a terrible villain. I can tell what they were going for; a nice, strong silent type after talky villains like Discord and Queen Chrysalis, but the strong, silent type of villain only works when they are physically intimidating and rack up a large body count, neither of which is feasible in a show called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. To bring back the Bond villains: this is why Jaws was so memorable in The Spy Who Loved Me, but a laughingstock in Moonraker; King Sombra does look a bit intimidating (you know, for a pony), but, like Jaws in James Bond Goes to Space, if he’s not allowed to kill anyone, he’s just ridiculous.
This is compounded by the fact that King Sombra’s dialogue consists entirely of grunts, groans and the word “crystal.” He sounds like a straight furry’s reaction to Star Fox Adventures. Yes, we make fun of monologuing villains all the time, but this also serves as interesting exposition – the lack of which was the problem with the first part. It’s no coincidence the biggest name to ever voice a character on this show played a villain prone to monologues; this takes talent. There’s a reason, between 2007 and 2009, the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor went to a monologuing villain three times in a row, and that back in the nineties, Hannibal Lecter won Anthony Hopkins a Best Actor Oscar for a role that consisted almost entirely of spouting exposition. And also skinning a guy’s face, because at some point, the fangs do have to come out. As I pointed out earlier, villains provide the plot; but if they are not interesting in and of themselves, their plot is meaningless. Character rules.
This episode is important, in that it introduced the concept of Rainbow Dash’s sonic rainboom. That element reoccurs throughout the show; it also features in many fan works. Still, other than the funny introduction (unfortunately also repeated ad nauseam by the show’s fans) involving Rainbow Dash trying to teach Fluttershy how to cheer loudly, nothing really stands out. An average episode, all in all. Definitely not bad, but not one of my favorites.
Now this is one of my favorites; in fact, it’s a lot of fan’s favorite. It’s all about character; there isn’t much going on plot-wise. Princess Luna has an extreme character arc, going from evil supervillain in the series opener to extroverted but socially awkward geek for this episode. It’s up to introverted but socially adept Twilight Sparkle to help her make some friends.
The best thing about this is that, extreme as it is, it makes sense; Luna’s transformation into Nightmare Moon was because she was always a socially awkward geek who just wanted to make friends, but took a bad turn when she wasn’t able to. Luckily for Luna, her foibles make her endearing, and it turns out being scary isn’t the end of the world. Well, if you’re over that whole supervillain phase, anyway.
"It’s About Time"
Remember earlier when I said that part of the appeal of MLP:FiM is gratuitous violence? You thought that was just a joke line I slipped in there, but this episode is great mostly due to the excessive amount of pain dealt to Twilight Sparkle. I have often heard it said that comedy is cruel; I hadn’t thought of it very often, mostly because the implications are dark and sometimes you just don’t want to think about things like that. But I’m coming to realize one of the great, unspoken pleasures of cartoons in general and funny animals in particular is watching harmless harm inflicted upon impervious characters. ['Who Framed Roger Rabbit' offers a reversal of this theme.]
It’s a cruel kind of thing to laugh at, downplayed by the fact that most of the damage inflicted upon Twilight is her own darn fault; if she wasn’t so much of an anal retentive obsessive compulsive, none of this would have happened. So, it’s okay(ish) to laugh when Pinkie Pie shoves her through a window (yes, this is similar to Derpy falling down, but she didn’t deserve to fall down and the timing is a bit off; timing’s important too).
The DVD contains the usual bare minimum bonuses of a coloring sheet, sing-along (to the boring exposition song about the Crystal Fair from the Season 3 opener) and that’s it. Hey, you’re not buying these for the extras; probably you’re not buying these, period, but getting your ponies online, anyway. But more on that later.
Bonus Review: Season 1 DVD
I suppose I should rank the seasons, in order to have something to say about this DVD’s episodes – it would be ridiculous to go episode by episode – but I’m not sure whether I like Season 1 or 2 better (Season 3 is a definite third, thanks mostly to its bland opening and bland finale, rather than bad episodes in-between). Season 1 is more consistently good, especially during the second half, while Season 2 features some of the best individual episodes in my opinion in the series. Either way, this is a pretty good season, so if you want it on DVD, head on over to Amazon, I guess.
The bonuses are a bit less “this is a DVD for little girls, after all” here; we actually get some commentaries, mostly by directors and voice actors. At first, as commentaries go, they’re not that helpful; no real insights, and they consist mostly of voice actors doing their characters’ voices when said characters appear on screen, something I could have gotten by watching the episode with the commentary off. But it eventually gets to the meat of what it’s like to make an animated cartoon, so there is that.
My Little Pony will return
Recently, despite the fact that a good portion of its fanbase was only willing to try a My Little Pony reboot because it was free on YouTube, Hasbro lawyers have gotten a bit more protective of their rights; for instance, nowadays, if you want to watch the show opening on your free YouTube viewing, that’s too bad, because some technology I don’t understand can flag those videos. So, the DVDs are becoming a bit more necessary.
Basically, Hasbro flooded the market with free horse until the number of horse addicts were sufficiently raised; now they’re cutting off supply, so that these new addicts have to buy from them in order to get their fix. Which, come to think of it, was the villain’s scheme in Live and Let Die.