Monday, August 28, 2017

MLEEP Reviews: Campfire Tales

Season 7, Episode 16: Campfire Tales
Written By Barry Safchik & Michael Platt

Sleepless In Ponyville…the first episode in the CMC Dream Trilogy and a fan favorite among the Bronies and Pegasisters in the My Little Pony fandom.  It’s just a shame because we haven’t seen the crusaders and their sisters go on another camping trip since then…until today, let’s venture into the great outdoors with ‘Campfire Tales’!

When their sister camping trip is ruined by fly-ders, Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash tell Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom, and Scootaloo the stories of their favorite legends; inspired by the tales, the girls make the most out of their new situation.  When this episode was announced, I was actually rather excited since ‘Sleepless In Ponyville’ was one of my favorite episodes of Season 3 and this had the potential to not only be a great follow-up as well as my first real exposure to anything from the My Little Pony comics…but how did it fare up?

When it comes to the story, let me be the first to say that I haven’t read any of the My Little Pony comics nor did I read the ‘Legends Of Magic’ series before going into this episode…so I wouldn’t really know for sure how much of the comic series that the show staff got right with this episode as I went into this episode not knowing anything about these new characters nor their backstories of how they became legends-nothing!  So for my first exposure to anything from the comics in the show, I actually have to admit that it certainly does add quite a bit of world building to the world of Equestria and it actually has me curious as to seeing just how much of these legends may be more fact than fiction…and who knows, we might have the potential for a greater amount of cooperation between the show and the comics someday.  But when the ‘Legends Of Magic’ are not being told, there are plenty of heartwarming and even humorous moments scattered throughout the episode and even quite a bit of continuity nods to Season 3’s ‘Sleepless In Ponyville’.

As for the animation…with an anthology-based episode like this giving us such distinctly stories and cultures and genres within the timespan of twenty two minutes, you can imagine that the animators at DHX really had a lot going for them when it came to this episode and what we got with this episode truly helps to make the team quite legendary as they knew to keep each tale being told different from the others in every way ranging from ancient Scandinavian with the legend of Rockhoof to the oriental with the legend of Mistmane to the ancient Greek with Flash Magnus and all of this combined actually adds more depth to the world of Equestria.

And when it comes to the characters, it seems all the more natural to have each of these three legends fit with whichever member of the Mane 6 was telling them like the legend of Rockhoof being told by Applejack to the legend of Mistmane being told by Rarity or the legend of Flash Magnus being told by Rainbow Dash…and judging by the cover of the ‘Legends Of Magic’ series, we still have three tales yet to be told including one about Starswirl The Bearded.  If it takes a collaboration between the show and the comics to finally make this happen, I’m all for it…and might I suggest getting Patrick Stewart to supply the voice of Starswirl as long as this is what the show writers have in mind.

Overall, I may not have read the My Little Pony comics…but ‘Campfire Tales’ managed to tell the ‘Legends Of Magic’ series in a really great follow-up to a classic episode and I give it a rating of a 9 out of 10.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

MLEEP Reviews: Triple Threat

Season 7, Episode 15: Triple Threat
Written By Josh Hamilton

Ah, Spike…you certainly have come a long way ever since you first arrived in Ponyville with Twilight Sparkle to learn about the magic of friendship and you’ve made so many great friends along the way.  But let’s see what happens when friends from two worlds collide with today’s episode…this is ‘Triple Threat’!

Spike accidentally invites Ember and Thorax to Ponyville on the same day. He's sure the two new leaders are not going to get along, so he does all he can to keep them apart and cover the fact that the other is there.  When this episode was announced, I had a feeling that Ember’s short appearance in the season premiere meant that she would come back to the series again and it’s always great to see more of Thorax again…but at the same time, I was fearing that Spike was gonna start regressing to his childlike ways and I really didn’t want that to happen considering the fantastic run he had last season and what we’ve seen of Season 7 so far.  But I did my best to go into this episode with an open mind and…this is actually a rather unique entry in the series.

When it comes to the story, it’s been no secret that the writers more often than not weren’t quite sure what to do with Spike over the years especially with how his short-sidedness is usually the source of the conflict in every episode where he has the starring role and this episode is sadly no different as what could’ve been a chance to delve into the history of the dragons and changelings as to why they may not want to meet face-to-face was ignored in favor of a story about making assumptions which is something that we’ve seen countless times in the series even as far back as Season 1 with Zecora in ‘Bridle Gossip’; thus making the story feel very clichéd and predictable to get through.  However, I will say that writer Josh Hamilton managed to achieve something that I didn’t think was possible for a Spike episode: showing us something that we’ve wanted to see in the series for years while giving us exactly what we’ve been complaining about for years at the same time…but I’ll get to that when I talk about the characters.

As for the animation, there really isn’t that much to talk about unlike what we got with the last episode where we got to go to different locations throughout Ponyville since all that we really got to see with this episode was Twilight’s Castle and the town of Ponyville where the welcoming ceremony for Ember and Thorax takes place.  We did get to see some interesting new concepts with Thorax and Ember and even the addition of Spike being called by the Cutie Map to solve the friendship problem, but that’s about it…so for what we got with this episode, I still think that the team at DHX did a really good job.

And when it comes to the characters, I know that there is gonna be several people complaining about how Spike felt out of character considering how his short-sidedness once again gets the better of him…but if I could be honest, Spike has been shown to have a history of panicking in unexpected circumstances and imagining the worst possible scenarios and that his heart was in the right place while all of this was happening-in fact, I’m actually okay with his short sidedness here.  As for Ember and Thorax, combining Ember’s role with trying to learn more about friendship while acting brash and arrogant along with Thorax’s role with trying to learn more about leadership while acting meek and unsure actually brought an interesting angle that I hadn’t thought about before until this episode came out; that being a far more defined role for Spike in the future of the series by introducing long running characters that better fit stories about Spike…and who knows, we might still end up getting a war between the dragons and the changelings sometime down the line.  Bravo to Cathy Weseluck, Kyle Rideout and Ali Milner for a truly delightful performance!

Overall…if ‘Triple Threat’ is meant to be the next step towards taking Spike’s character in a new direction, it proved to be a great start to this new journey and I give it a rating of an 8 out of 10.

Friday, August 18, 2017

MLEEP Reviews: Fame And Misfortune

Season 7, Episode 14: Fame And Misfortune
Written By M.A. Larson

Back in Season 4’s ‘Castle Mane-ia’, we were introduced to the Friendship Journal-a way that the Mane 6 could keep track of their friendship lessons in the same way that the Royal Sisters did with their diary leading to six key episodes in which they changed the lives of somepony else all leading to a very exciting finale…but will publishing the journal be enough to break the Mane 6’s friendship?  Let’s find out with ‘Fame And Misfortune’!

Twilight Sparkle's publishing of the friendship journal has unintended consequences when ponies start to argue over who wrote the best lessons.  Now, we’ve had a lot of debates over the years among the fans about what makes for the best lessons in MLP…so to have an episode where the show staff gives their perspective on the matter actually had me rather intrigued and what was the end result?  An episode that is so much fun and yet so hilarious at the same time!

When it comes to the story, what really surprised me was that former writer M.A. Larson who had left the show after Season 5’s ‘Amending Fences’ to work on his ‘Pennyroyal Academy’ book came back to write this episode and…while ‘Slice Of Life’-another Larson episode-was one that went all out in showing how much the fans praise My Little Pony for its stories and characters, ‘Fame And Misfortune’ goes all out in pointing out the numerous complaints from the fans such as ‘why Fluttershy keeps learning the same lesson over and over again’ or ‘why everyone laughs at every little thing Pinkie Pie says or does’-even going as far as saying one of the most famous complaints among the fans that Twilight Sparkle was better before she got her wings!  All of these moments are so unexpected that you’re either gonna end up gasping or laughing out loud at them, but it really becomes heartwarming towards the end when the Mane 6 sing the song ‘We’re Not Flawless’ in how they’re showing that they’re not perfect and that they have flaws along with a great moral supplied by two new characters that I’ll get to in a second.

As for the animation, this episode just goes to show how far DHX has come ever since their early days of My Little Pony and it really shows in various ways like showing the wear and tear of the Friendship Journal ever since we last saw it in Season 4 or the visuals during the song ‘We’re Not Flawless’ with backgrounds ranging from stages to undersea life and easily the scene of how stressed out Rarity was becoming after overhearing others complain about her development as a character to the point where she was turning psychotic-I swear, the facial animation and movement just keep getting better and better throughout the seasons and it shows how effective it can be when it can literally make someone jump out of their seat due to how fantastic the animation is.

And when it comes to the characters, it’s actually really interesting how they divided the Mane 6 throughout the episode to represent how the fans view the show for different reasons like for the awesome moments with Rainbow Dash or for the laughs with Pinkie Pie or those who are immersed in the show and want to be part of the family like with Applejack…even those who will complain about character development like with Rarity and Fluttershy, but what matters at the end of the day is that people are taking something of value from the show in order to make their lives better.  But the real stars of this episode were actually not the Mane 6 or even Starlight Glimmer, but rather two new characters by the names of Toola Roola and Coconut Cream and I love how they showed the Mane 6 that even though their “fans” are still arguing among themselves and still trying to focus on whatever they want, the fact that the lessons of the Mane 6 taught them a valuable lesson of how friends can get through the toughest of times and yet come out stronger than ever as well as help to become better ponies and the best of friends warmed my heart so much and managed to make me teary-eyed…so bravo to all of the voice cast for another heartwarming performance!

Overall, ‘Fame And Misfortune’ praised the negatives in one of the best love letters to the fans I’ve ever seen and the fact that this was the episode that premiered during this year’s BronyCon-the biggest and most well-known of conventions in the My Little Pony fandom made it all the more special to me and I am proud to give it a rating of a 10 out of 10.  Thank you, M.A. Larson…

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

THOMASCEMBER: Journey Beyond Sodor

Image result for thomas and friends journey beyond sodor
THOMASCEMBER: Journey Beyond Sodor

By popular demand, ‘Journey Beyond Sodor’!  When the trailer for this film was released, the entire Thomas fandom was engulfed in a huge flame war.  While some fans had high hopes and were saying that this special had the potential to be as good as 2015’s ‘Sodor’s Legend Of The Lost Treasure’, a majority hated it with a burning passion with how it seemed like Thomas was on its way to ‘becoming the new Chuggington’ and that Mattel’s political correctness had ‘killed the franchise forever’…even going as far creating a publicity stunt to try and damage Mattel’s credibility with Thomas simply because of boredom-yeah, it got that bad and it just seemed that no one in the fandom was gonna give this special a chance at all…but which side would ultimately win the battle?  Let’s take a look…

Determined to prove his importance on Sodor, Thomas takes James’ trucks and sets off on a big adventure to the Mainland. On the way, he makes friends with the cheerful and helpful “Experimental Engines”…but soon finds himself lost in the Steelworks with two mysterious engines that aren’t what they first seem.  After Thomas fails to return, James sets off to the Mainland but runs into trouble himself and it is up to Thomas and the Experimental Engines to save the day!

When it comes to the story, all that I kept saying throughout the movie was ‘holy smokes, this is the Misty Island Rescue that we should’ve gotten’-it’s much more action packed and intense, much more humorous and above all else…Andrew Brenner wrote a better written version of the story in general accompanied by a great moral of how no engine is ever useless and that we should all try to find the purpose in our lives as well as an awesome new score and set of songs by composer Chris Renshaw which I should probably mention that this is the Thomas & Friends franchise’s second movie musical in that they use the songs to help tell the story in a traditional musical way.

‘Who’s Thomas?’ was a very cute and catchy way of introducing us to Beresford The Crane (who I’ll be talking about soon) and the tone of it actually reminded me of the Oogie Boogie song from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ while ‘We Can’t Do Anything’ is pretty much the Thomas version of ‘The Island Of Misfit Toys’ from ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ with some wild and wacky visuals to go with it, but my two favorite songs from the movie are easily ‘The Most Important Thing Is Being Friends’ for it essentially being the ‘We Make A Team Together’ or ‘You Can Only Be Who You Are & Go Far’ of the movie and ‘The Hottest Place In Town’ for it is an extremely jazzy and catchy villain song which reminded me of the Heat Miser song from ‘The Year Without A Santa Claus’ with some truly menacing visuals of the Steelworks to accompany it.  However, much like 2014’s ‘Tale Of The Brave’, there is an extra song that they included in the movie that will sadly not be getting the sing-along treatment on the DVD and that song is ‘I Want To Go Home’ which I’m just gonna say right now that it is a beautifully composed and sung song that really pulls at your heartstrings with how sorry you feel for Thomas and how much you want to see him return to Sodor.

Next up is the animation…now, this is easily one of the biggest areas of controversy that a majority of the fandom before and after the movie for a couple reasons: first reason being that it doesn’t look finished in quite a few areas and you all seriously have to remember what all happened behind-the-scenes since the production team at Jam Filled lost a month of production due to Arc Productions going bankrupt during production of Season 20 and switching over operations-so to all of you fans who thought that the show staff were being lazy with their work, it wasn’t the animators’ faults and not to mention that Jam Filled has only just gotten started animating for Thomas…they will get better over time!

But let’s talk about the biggest point of controversy regarding the animation and that is the ‘Chuggington-esque movements’ of the engines and other vehicles from this special onward: let me be the first to say that this is nothing new as we’ve seen the engines wobble and shake and bounce around before in the series and at least they’re not jumping off the rails like the characters from Chuggington-if anything, they now move like the characters from the Cars franchise and I think that this is actually a pretty neat idea since it helps to make the characters feel more alive and give them more personality when they’re talking to each other…granted it did look a little jarring at first, but this is simply a change that we’re all gonna have to get used to.

And when it comes to the characters, you really do feel sorry for Thomas-all he wants to do is prove how important and really useful he is to everyone on Sodor including Sir Topham Hatt to the point where he would even seek attention from a couple of engines who maybe should not be trusted in the same way that he did with Sailor John from back in ‘Sodor’s Legend Of The Lost Treasure’ and it does manage to suit Thomas’ young and naïve nature very well…especially when he has to put up with the constant teasing and berating of an engine like James who while I’m glad has gotten another lead role in a special since ‘Tale Of The Brave’ has completely reverted back to not understanding the difference between teasing and borderline bullying-even going as far as humiliating Thomas for wanting to burst into song at Knapford…granted it’s not as borderline evil as he was to Percy in ‘Tale Of The Brave’ since I actually did get some laughs from him in this movie, but it’s still pretty obnoxious to the point where you’re glad that he gets what he deserves.

Now, onto our new characters that I actually give credit to the show staff for not only coming up with relatable personalities based on the real-life counterparts but putting a lot of the controversy about them to rest…starting with Theo-a shy and cautious traction engine who displays traits of autism, and I have to say that I love how relatable that this little guy was made to be and the fact that he could soon be a good role model among many people on the autism spectrum.  As for Lexi-the supposed ‘gender-fluid’ cab-forward engine…yeah, that whole controversy about her being homosexual led to a bigger lie than ‘Gay Lefou’ from the 2017 remake of ‘Beauty And The Beast’ since I didn’t see one single hint or clue at that possibility at all and think that people should just get over it.  But the main newbie that stole the show for many fans was Merlin The Invisible, who happens to be voiced by Downton Abbey’s very own Hugh Bonneville and I’m just gonna say right now that Bonneville did an outstanding job in capturing the wise and eccentric nature of this King Arthur class engine…let the Sword In The Stone references flow forth.  And now, we come to our villains for the movie-Hurricane and Frankie: to be honest, they reminded me of Sailor John from ‘Sodor’s Legend Of The Lost Treasure’ with how they start off all welcoming and friendly only to show their true colors when they don’t get what they want especially with how they run the Steelworks in a way that makes the place feel more like a concentration camp from the war times.  As for Beresford, he didn’t really add all that much to the story and didn’t leave that much of an impact and…if the only reason this film is ten minutes longer is because of him, then you could’ve very easily cut him out of the movie and nothing would change.  However, what I can say about Beresford is that he served as a good parallel for Frankie and Hurricane with how they were pressuring Thomas into being their friend…so that’s at least gotta count for something.

Overall, ‘Journey Beyond Sodor’ managed to do right what ‘Sodor’s Legend Of The Lost Treasure’ and especially ‘Misty Island Rescue’ did wrong as well as manage to work its way up to the second place slot on my favorite Thomas specials just under ‘The Adventure Begins’ in order to get a rating of a 10 out of 10…and don’t forget, everyone: never mind about who is the favorite, the most important thing is being friends.