Friday, April 13, 2018

Equestria Girls: Forgotten Friendship

I originally wasn't going to write a review for this, mostly because I felt Equestria Girls has gone on for way too long, and that was due to stagnation in the writing. But these thoughts have been haunting my mind for so long that I simply could not ignore them anymore, and so I've decided to sit down and give Forgotten Friendship a proper review. Oh joy...(!)

I'm going to start by saying the story for this "special" is terrible. It suffers from Sharon Miller Syndrome. I don't mean that the story uses the three-strikes formula and has constant rhyming and alliteration that makes you want to chop your ears off. No, I mean that the story very much follows the same generic Equestria Girls plotline we've seen post-Rainbow Rocks:
After last week's crisis, everything is doing great for Sunset, Sci-Twi and company, except that there's a new personal conflict among friends and a new generic female villain on the loose. After a whole lot of fluff in the middle, the villain reveals herself and everybody else is useless in stopping the bad girl of the week, and it's only Sunset or Sci-Twi that gives them the boost to save the day and forgive the villain for her misdemeanors. All is forgiven. Roll end credits and include generic pop song.
Let's use Legend of Everfree as an example: Following the Friendship Games, things are relatively okay for Sci-Twi and her new friends, but Sci-Twi has shell shock from Midnight Sparkle and Gloriosa Daisy is causing trouble at Camp Everfree. She transforms into Gaea Everfree and the Human Six struggle to beat her until Sci-Twi comes in to save the day. Gloriosa is forgiven for her actions, and raises enough money to save Camp Everfree before the end credits roll.

And then there's Mirror Magic: The post-production for the Daring Do movie has completed, and things are great for the Rainbooms, except Sunset is worried about Equestrian magic in the human world and Juniper Montage is bitter for her humiliation. She becomes a fifteen-foot giantess and traps the Rainbooms in a magic mirror, only to be talked down by a visiting Starlight Glimmer. Juniper is forgiven and all is well; cue the end credits.

(Yes, I know Dance Magic and Movie Magic don't follow the exact formula to the letter, but they're still incredibly generic and boring in and of themselves.)

I don't know if this was intentional or not, but if you strip the stories down to the basic elements, they are more or less the same, and each has gimmicks sprinkled on top to try and distract the audience from the fact that it's the same story they've seen before. You can change a couple of ingredients to bake a pizza, and it will still look and taste like a pizza.

And that is the biggest problem with Forgotten Friendship; they replace Gloriosa Daisy/Juniper Montage with Wallflower Blush, the shell shocked Sci-Twi/stressed out Sunset with Sunset realizing her friends don't remember her being their friend, the geodes/mirror with some stupid rock, and yet Nick Confalone (the writer/editor of this crapfest) expects us to think this is new?! I'm sorry, but most of us aren't stupid, Hasbro! The only difference is that Wallflower Blush doesn't transform at the climax.

Oh, yes. Wallflower Blush. I absolutely deplore this stupid, stupid brat!! I never thought there'd be a character who angered me more than Timber Spruce, but I found them. Nothing about her is likable or sympathetic in the slightest! Before you comment that I should like her because she's "cute," appearances do not factor into my views on a character because they're a default setting, not a freak accident. Wallflower is not cute! Not in the slightest!

Think about her "goals" for a moment; she feels neglected around her peers and wants to be noticed. Fair enough, it's something that's a little more grounded, but that's where the story takes a rifle to the chest. She erased awkward memories with the Memory Stone and for no reason blames it all Sunset! Seriously! What had she done to Wallflower to deserve it? Nothing! Sure, she turned off the lights with Wallflower still in the room, but that was hardly the worst thing you can do to someone! Juniper Montage had better motivations than this! I'm not even kidding.

Why is Wallflower targeting Sunset when she could've targeted literally anybody at CHS? What was she hoping to accomplish with this, and how would erasing everyone's memories of Sunset make her feel better? All this would do is make things worse for Wallflower, and she'll have no personal gain from this! Her motivations are petty at best, and outright stupid and malicious at worst!

Also, did anyone notice that her inclusion in the flashbacks of first three movies was contrived? They (along with Legend of Everfree and the 2017 specials) never acknowledged she existed prior to this, and she'll most likely never be used again, making her role completely pointless! This would've been a good way to bring the Dazzlings back, and as much as I'd be okay with them not returning, it would make a hell of a lot more sense as their grudge against Sunset and co. would be a lot stronger.

And yes, I'm going to talk about her redemption at the end; I HATE that godforsaken cliche! What's even more insulting is that it felt like Wallflower was being given the happy ending she didn't deserve! This was a moment where adults should've been involved to give her a punishment, but they dropped the ball here by implying that people will accept you after you emotionally traumatized one of their friends. Seriously, that is legitimately what Wallflower did to Sunset!

And that brings me onto the Rainbooms; whilst Sunset is written fine, the others are once again caricatures of their pony counterparts! This is a problem with the Rainbooms which has been brewing since... Rainbow Rocks, actually. The writers have to make the Rainbooms look as weak and helpless as possible whilst making Sunset (except in Everfree and Mirror Magic, when it was Sci-Twi and Starlight, respectively) the big hero in the end. It made sense in Rainbow Rocks, but everything after?

A while back, I spoke with someone on DeviantArt finding Sunset an overrated character and that she's a spotlight stealer, and honestly? I don't blame her, and I can see where she's going with this. And yet fans accuse Starlight Glimmer for stealing the spotlight, and her character has gotten better since To Where and Back Again (though it's debatable at best). Sunset? Praised to high hell. I imagine some of you are going to call me a hater and a hypocrite, but calm down; I don't hate Sunset Shimmer. I never did, not even in 2013. But sometimes, it helps to look at both sides of the coin, and as much as I'll always love Sunset, it pains me to say that it feels like she's for EG what fans are saying about Starlight for FiM; over-glorified by the writers.

It's a special kind of sad that the Human Six actually have potential to be as well-rounded as their pony counterparts, but are constantly dumbed down to a few traits; seriously, why does Pinkie Pie have to make some stupid food related jokes every few minutes? It wasn't funny in Movie Magic, and it's definitely not funny here! Until they're allowed to have deeper personalities on a consistent basis, and within a longer timeframe, this will not improve.

Also, this is a nitpick, but I'm gonna complain about it anyway. Why the hell did Sunset not remind her friends of the time they made a music video together and then showed it to them? Heck, why didn't she ask Spike to confirm she's their friend? I know this doesn't have a huge effect on the story, but it's a prime example of cherry-picking continuity. They show flashbacks of the first four movies, and yet they ignore the events of the 2017 specials! Either reference all the events that had happened, or not at all. This is another of many plot holes of the special; there's so many that Swiss cheese feels whole by comparison!

Then there's the swimsuits of the Rainbooms; they're fine for what they are, but let's look at them from a marketing standpoint. Minis of them were revealed long before the special came out, and that tells me that this special was made just to sell toys! I get that MLP started as a toy franchise, but come on! They should be a byproduct of the show, not the other way around! It feels like a gimmicky distraction from the lackluster story. They could be hanging out at the mall in regular clothing and the plot wouldn't change.

Back to legitimate issues; there's the two signature scenes, and the first being the one many fans wanted - Princess Celestia and Sunset reuniting. And it was absolutely anti-climactic. Seriously, that was the biggest slap in the face since the ending of Crusaders of the Lost Mark! It could've been great, except they have Twilight (the Princess, that is) acting like an idiot trying to lighten the situation, therefore making the tone feel confused as to what it should be - comedic or heartwarming? It can't be both! They should've made that an entire special on its own, but it feels like it was shoehorned as an afterthought and has little effect on the story, as well as payoff that's unsatisfying on so many levels. It's just another way to distract the audience from the fact that the story is lackluster, almost like Big Mickey's reveal in New Crane on the Dock, in fact!

Speaking of the ponies, was Equestria even necessary to the story? The reason Wallflower found the Memory Stone was because Clover the Clever (male or female; I don't care at this point) banished it to the human world instead of, oh, I don't know, destroying it in the first place?! Yes, I get that you wouldn't have a story in the first place, but I counter with my comments on Legend of Everfree's ending; if the solution to a problem is that simple, then the story is pointless.

And now we come to the climax, and again, it's very anti-climactic and just laughably stupid (not in a good way either). First off, Sunset gets her memories of the human world taken from her. I would agree that it's dramatic... if it wasn't for the fact that past experience showed me that she and her friends are unlikely to get killed off by now! We got the message in Mirror Magic; they're the main characters and cannot be killed off. With that knowledge in mind, it makes the story even more pointless than it is! Oh, and why did they have to transform just to destroy that damned Stone? They could've simply took it from Wallflower and smashed it to the ground!

But the things I hate most about Forgotten Friendship is that it feels like it was padded out to fill the runtime (and that is a huge problem with Nick Confalone as a writer) and the wasted potential. I'm serious; this is what I'd have done:
  1. Change the title to Sunset's True Friends and reduce the runtime to 22 minutes.
  2. Make Trixie the antagonist and have her spread rumors about Sunset among the school. Yes, it's kind of petty and cliche, but at least it's not as bad as what we got.
  3. A few select students - maybe a few background humans? - believe Sunset is bullying them behind their backs, but the rest are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Remember Flash Sentry's cameo near the end? Have him be the co-star alongside Sunset and we delve a little more into their past.
  5. During all this, have Sunset worry she might not be as good as friendship as she thinks and she expresses her concerns to Princess Twilight.
  6. The more rumors spread, the more Sunset worries and is on the verge of depression. This paranoia is only affirmed when her best friends slowly turn on her one by one.
  7. Trixie is confronted in the hallway, and she reveals her intentions in front of a lot of students, resulting in Flash calling her out for her petty behavior, even to the point of calling her a complete, utter blowhard.
  8. Principal Celestia has Trixie put in detention for the rest of the year, and the latter gets a very humiliating photo in the yearbook.
  9. As gratitude for Flash helping her, Sunset decides he and Princess Twilight need closure, and writes to her friend about it, and then lets the two talk things out.
  10. Don't worry, I didn't forget the Princess Celestia bits; have that its own individual special called Celestial Sunset, and it's built up by Flash asking if there's any others she hasn't had closure yet, which surprises Sunset. In the next special, she returns to Equestria and by the end, has full closure with Princess Celestia. (I'll let you work out what happens in between.)
Seriously, it takes a lot of effort to create something astonishing like A Royal Problem. If they had gone for something similar to what I've suggested, this could've been one of the best of the Equestria Girls spinoff! But as Forgotten Friendship stands, it's a trainwreck from top to bottom, and the worst thing to come out of Generation 4.

The voice acting is serviceable, but I feel really bad for the cast having their talents being wasted on terrible concepts for the spinoff, especially Rebecca Shoichet and Vincent Tong (even if he didn't voice in this special). The former has always done a fantastic job as Sunset Shimmer, so to never see her character show up on the actual show is just sad, even if she does a great job voicing Sugar Belle. As for Vincent Tong? Flash is never given a chance to shine, and it's sad as unlike Juniper Montage and Wallflower Blush, who are merely toy ploys, he has potential as a character. But since Sandbar from season eight is voiced by Vincent, at least he's given a chance to voice more often, though I doubt it means Flash will turn up again in the actual show...

The animation, once again, is fine. But apart from the beach scenes and the scenes in Equestria, there wasn't a whole lot where it stood out on its own. It's not terrible, but not as grand as it could be.

And then there's the music; the instrumental themes are quite generic and forgettable, but the songs are just plain awful. Wallflower's song tries way too hard to make you sympathize with her, and its generic pop sound makes it sound worse than it already is. "Open Up Your Eyes" handled this way better in The Movie, mostly because we were being shown what was happening instead of just being told. The fact that there was orchestral music made it sound grander than it did. The opening song is extremely forgettable; in one ear, out the other.

Final Thoughts
I'll be honest; when the description for A Friendship to Remember came out (it's the novelization of the special) and then it was revealed it'd be in animated form, I knew it was going to be awful, and watching it proved my point. It's a piece of garbage from start to finish, and there is no redeeming quality about it. There are so many plot holes throughout that it almost feels like Nick Confalone is half-assing his way to tie up some loose threads in the series. And that's not even mentioning that it actually could've worked as two specials.

And I know people are gonna say, "But it's the best thing ever! Sunset and Celestia reunited!" Open your eyes, people! My Little Pony was a success because of the writing first and foremost! Everything else is purely secondary, and the gimmicks should be stone dead last or not there at all. Stories should work around characters and not the reverse. The music, voice acting, and animation are there to help the story being told. Hell, even season six, much as I'm not a fan of it, got that right. And on top of that, the characters were written to be relatable. With Friendship Games and all EG productions afterward, I didn't feel any of them were relatable at all, and even when they do try with the likes of Wallflower Blush (I assume they tried to make her represent autistic people, but I'd take Theo from Journey Beyond Sodor every single time), they fail spectacularly.

Let's take a look at the Toy Story franchise for a bit, shall we? All three movies, even if they have similar tropes, each feel different to each other. The 1995 original was about Woody feeling jealous of Buzz and then both get separated accidentally from Andy, so they have to work together to get home. The 1999 sequel had Woody being stolen by a greedy toy collector, and so Buzz and several other toys head out to save him. And then in the 2010 threequel, all of Andy's remaining toys get trapped in a daycare run by a tyrannical teddy bear and so they plan to break out and return home.

The reason I bring up the Toy Story trilogy is because that the two sequels at least try evolving and taking risks in their storytelling. Equestria Girls is constantly spinning in its wheels, and it's become stagnant to the point it leaves me wondering how people are willing to accept the same story repackaged slightly every time; it's the Hasbro equivalent to the Thomas Creator Collective. They need to stop reusing the same story over and over again, try new things, cut the gimmicks, and for the love of God, stop using the baddie redemption trope!

If you liked the special - as well as EG in general these days - good for you; you're in the majority. This special as it stands just isn't for me, and I'm absolutely baffled it's still going on even to this day!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

My Little Pony: The Movie (2017)

It's time for the big one, the review many of you have been waiting for since October; my thoughts and views on My Little Pony: The Movie from 2017.

A few things before I get started:
  1. Because the movie was being produced as early as 2013/2014, and since we weren't to know about what happened in seasons 5-7 before the film came out, I won't let certain things bother me as I'm reviewing the film.
  2. I will not let the critics' reviews on the film affect my own; most likely they're people who don't give a crap about the series or the themes behind it.
  3. Unlike my more recent MLP reviews, I'll be talking about each plot element as I go along to see what the story gets right and wrong. And since the songs are integral to the story, they'll be discussed along the story as well. Oh, and it'll be split into sections, much like on the DVD.
2016 had been a disappointing year for MLP; season six's writing quality was inconsistent throughout, and Legend of Everfree was quite possibly the worst thing to come out of the franchise. 2017 had a lot to prove to make up for that, so imagine my surprise when season seven turned out to be really good, but the Magic trilogy for Equestria Girls left a lot to be desired. Could The Movie capitalize on the success of season seven, or was it a sign the show was on borrowed time?

Plot
The Four Princesses
We're introduced to a redesigned Canterlot (I'll get to that in the animation section) where the ponies are preparing the city for a Friendship Festival whilst others come from everywhere from Saddle Arabia to Manehattan, all to Rachel Platten's version of "We Got the Beat". Yeah, about that; it may not be the most ideal way to kick off a movie, but then, it's a really nice subtle nod to the fact that the franchise all began back in the 1980s. That being said, I do wish they'd release a longer version.

Spike shows up at Canterlot Castle to find that Princess Twilight Sparkle, not for the first time but surely not the last, is freaking out. And just why is our Princess of Friendship freaking out? Because she's in charge of the Friendship Festival, and Songbird Serenade will be performing there. Given her (Songbird's) celebrity status, you can understand why Twilight is so worried about making things perfect for her.

Of course, Twilight asks for the help of the other three Princesses - Celestia, Luna, and Cadance - to set up the stage for Songbird, but Celestia reminds her that she has all the magic needed to make the Festival a success. Twilight, of course, takes it as a "no". Oh, and have I mentioned that Celestia has been a fantastic character as of late?

We Got This Together
Outside the castle, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Applejack, and Rarity are making preparations of their own; clearing the weather, setting up the balloons, preparing the music, handing out cider, and decorating the stage respectively. From those two minutes, if you're a casual moviegoer, you kind of get a basic idea as to what their characters are like. Rainbow Dash is brash, Rarity is a bit of a perfectionist, Applejack is honest, Pinkie is fun-loving, and Fluttershy is a bit... well, shy. At least what they display in the movie is way more than what their human counterparts do in the godawful slog known as Forgotten Friendship. Or any Equestria Girls product from Friendship Games onward.

This is perhaps the biggest issue with the movie as a whole; it feels like it was made for the fans and not a general audience. Diehard fans will know of the events from Sonic Rainboom, Magical Mystery Cure, and The Return of Harmony, but what about everybody else? Most likely they'll dismiss it as a girl's show without giving it a proper chance.

Honestly, I think it'd work a bit better if there was a five minute prologue at the start where Twilight narrates what had happened in the seven seasons. Sure, it would bog the film's pacing a bit, but at least you're giving those who aren't familiar with the show an idea as to how they got to this point so they might end up interested in seeing the first three seasons.

Anyway, after Twilight's disappointment, the rest of the Mane Six brighten her spirits with a song; it's pretty decent, but not what I'd call one of the most memorable of the entire show. That said, it does show how everypony is getting ready for the Festival, and we have a great foray of characters who turn up like Big Macintosh, Moon Dancer, Starlight Glimmer, Cheese Sandwich, DJ P0N-3, etc. And before anyone questions why the likes of Ember and Thorax aren't there, keep in mind, again, that this was produced long before season six and whilst it was airing. Most likely they had other things to worry about.

And no, I'm not that bothered about Discord not being involved in the story. Most likely it'd end very quickly, and let's consider that John de Lancie is a busy guy. Besides, he's in the end credits, so it's not like Discord wasn't featured in some capacity.

Enter Tempest Shadow
Songbird Serenade shows up just after a giant cake lands on Twilight. And... if I'm honest, she's pretty much my least favorite of the characters introduced in the film. I don't necessarily hate her - she's no Juniper Montage - but Songbird Serenade, as a character, is pretty flat. She's all style and no substance, and I genuinely believe she was featured so Sia could have a song for the film (I'll get to that later). She does not appear to be bothered about little things like buttercream is splattered onto her, and... that's it. She's a character that just exists. It's especially disappointing when you consider that most other guest stars of the show have some backstory and character to them; Songbird has neither.

Suddenly, some dark clouds begin to loom over Canterlot, and a giant airship lands. Out comes Sonic the Hedgehog's overweight cousin, Grubber, who introduces us (and the ponies) to the Storm King's lieutenant Tempest Shadow; she's a unicorn whose horn is broken. (Hey! No laughing there!) That's a really dramatic moment there, especially for a kid's movie. You don't know what's going to happen, and you get the idea that Tempest Shadow is bad news to everypony.

It's shown more so when she demands the four Princesss surrender, and when they refuse, an army of Storm Creatures attack Canterlot, and Celestia, Luna and Cadance get petrified. And can I just say how sweet that is that Celestia tells Luna to seek help from the Queen of...? We'll come to that later, but it's nice to see that Celestia trusts her younger sister, especially if you consider the events of A Royal Problem. And before she gets petrified herself, Twilight escapes with Spike and the rest of the Mane Six but take a dive into a waterfall to their doom...

Tempest and The Storm King
...except that it isn't. Realizing they can't return to Canterlot, Twilight decides to head south to find what she thinks is the Queen of the Hippos. The others are scared at first, especially because they don't know what's beyond Equestria, but they choose to stick by their friend, no matter what. It's a bit of a breather scene, especially since they barely escaped with their lives, and it's also really heartwarming that they're willing to go with Twilight despite the dangers of what's beyond Equestria.

Back in Canterlot, the three Princesses have been taken to the throne room, and everypony else outside has been captured and put in chains. It's really sad to see them like this, especially as they were just about to prepare for their Festival, something which Tempest sees as a waste of time and magic.

She communicates to her boss, the Storm King, via potion spell, and we learn that she's working for him so he can restore her horn. Because Tempest has only captured three Princesses, the Storm King gives Tempest three days so he can prepare for his arrival. It's a tense moment there, but it's also very subtle as you don't know what the Storm King would do when he doesn't get his way. That being said, his actual arrival is... a bit anti-climactic, we'll come to that later.

I also like how the dynamic between Tempest and Grubber plays out in the film; although the latter's backstory is unknown, you get the feeling that she won't tolerate his crap when he thinks about food instead of taking over the world. The way she shocks him (and the spongecake he's holding but still eats anyway) is also quite funny to see.

I'm the Friend You Need
The Mane Six and Spike are now in the middle of the desert, with Pinkie on the verge of delirium. It's nothing we haven't seen in other films about getting lost, though it does serve to lead them the main characters to Klugetown.

Understandably, the look of Klugetown is creepy and dangerous, and it's also a good way to show kids that you should never approach anyone suspicious, something Twilight points out to Pinkie Pie.

They get noticed by an anthropomorphic cat by the name of Capper, who cons the creatures living in Klugetown by claiming they're infected with pastelus coloritis. He then offers to lead them to the Hippos, but Twilight is wary about trusting him.

Capper charms his new friends with an Aladdin-influenced song that he can help them through the city. It's brilliant, charismatic, and it shows off Taye Diggs' vocal performance really well, and I'd never even heard of the guy before! (Fun fact: He was in Hedwig and the Angry Inch along with Lena Hall, and married to Queen Elsa's voice actress for some time.) And as the song comes to a close, he sends a creature to tell someone named Verko to come here to settle his debt.

Escape from Klugetown
Tempest Shadow and Grubber show up in Klugetown to find Twilight and friends. Tempest is assumed to be an accomplice to Capper by a large fish creature, but she beats him down and asks for information. Once again, you can tell she's not a pony to be messed with.

Twilight and friends are at Capper's house. As thanks for earlier, Rarity fixes up Capper's coat, which has a lasting effect on him we'll come to in a bit. Twilight discovers that they need to find the Queen of the Hippogriffs - Celestia was unable to finish her sentence earlier.

And that's when Capper's initial intentions unravel to the Mane Six; he was going to sell them to Verko, a naked mole rat crime boss, to settle a debt! The ponies and Spike are angered by this, and Capper is horrified at what he'd just done. The problem here is that Verko and his relationship with Capper are never brought up again, almost as if it were an afterthought. I doubt it'll be an episode of the actual series, but you have to tie up all loose ends, something that Equestria Girls fails to notice these days.

By convenience, Tempest and Grubber turn up, and whilst Verko is distracted, Spike and the Mane Six make their escape to the docks and onto an airship. That scene is pretty over the top, but then again, this is My Little Pony; what else do we expect? It also shows more than ever how determined the Mane Six are to find help. The ship they land on is filled with... more on that later.

Time to Be Awesome
I really feel for Capper here; you can tell that he feels terrible for betraying the Mane Six by almost selling them for money, so he makes up for this by deliberately misguiding Tempest that they're headed to Black Skull Island instead. With a name like that, I don't think I'd want to go there! Or Klugetown, for that matter, which, again, is never mentioned after this, making the scenes there feel kinda pointless... except Capper would've come from nowhere.

It turns out that the Mane Six are stuck on an airship run by anthropomorphic parrots, led by Captain Celaeno. On first glance, she looks quite intimidating, but we learn that she and her crew used to be sky pirates before being taken over by the Storm King, becoming delivery parrots. It's also not personal, but they don't want to help the Mane Six unless they suffer the Storm King's wrath.

This causes Rainbow Dash to encourage them to go against the Storm King's orders through song - and another great one at that! - which they do... pretty easily. But then, it must've been the final straw in getting them to rebel, and you get the impression that they've been doing this for years, against their will. Oh, and that crazy parrot with the lazy eye - who lets a guy like that on board a ship?! (That's not criticism; that's actually quite funny.)

Another Awesome Escape
To celebrate Celaeno and crew's return to glory, Rainbow Dash performs a Sonic Rainboom catching the attention of Tempest Shadow, glaring at Capper for deceiving her, and attacks Celaeno's ship. Twilight and friends hastily duck below deck, and you can see Twilight is not happy with Rainbow Dash for blowing their cover; it's also a great build up to Twilight's pot boiling over.

Thinking up a way to get out of this jam, Twilight brings together a crate, a Storm King flag, and a bit of rope to MacGyver a hot air balloon to fly to Mount Aris. It's a great way to show how you can improvise your way out of a bad situation, as well as a good showcase of Twilight's ingenuity, especially with using Spike as a blower.

Where's the Hippogriffs?
Back on Celaneo's airship, Grubber shows Tempest a map that the Mane Six left behind, and out of anger for betrayal, Tempest destroys the ship with Celaneo, her crew, and Capper on board. The way the scene ends implies that they've all been killed, but, as we'll see later, that's not the case. Still quite dramatic though, don't get me wrong.

Back to the Mane Six and Spike, and I can definitely understand how frustrating it was for poor Rarity to climb up the mountain. Only, in my case, I once had to travel to my local library after school whilst snow was blowing, and it left me physically drained for about three hours (true story!)

They finally make it to the Hippogriff Kingdom... except there's nopony there. Just as they feel the journey had been for absolutely nothing, they hear a voice coming from an underground pond and end up sucked down a whirlpool. Thankfully, they don't drown, so they're able to breathe with magic air bubbles, courtesy of...

One Small Thing
I'll say this right now; I have not loved a character this instantly since Quibble Pants in Stranger Than Fan Fiction. I'll talk more about her in the New Characters section, but Princess Skystar is adorable, through and through.

You also get what her relationship with her mother Queen Novo is like; Skystar has this habit of going against her mother's wishes, even if Novo wants to keep her people safe from the Storm King. We also learn why they're seaponies (by the way, good mythology gag about Generation 1) - they were transformed from Hippogriffs and hid Novo's pearl to protect it from the Storm King; how's he expected to get their magic if he can't last more than two minutes underwater?

I really felt sad for Skystar when the Mane Six and a pufferfish Spike couldn't stay; they have friends and family on the surface, and you also understand that Skystar wants a friend to play with. I just wanted to reach out and give the poor girl a hug!

Whilst Skystar mopes, Pinkie turns up to sing "One Small Thing" - a really cute, innocent song - offering to have fun before they leave, eventually resulting in even Novo to get swept up in the celebration as well! It looks like they're about to become allies...

...except Twilight suggested this as a distraction to steal the pearl. Novo is furious and banishes all seven to the surface. The whole scene is handled brilliantly with the right emotions. No complaints there.

Friendship Fallout
The rest of the Mane Six are angry at Twilight for attempted theft, but Twilight is angry at them for their methods not being good enough. This is perhaps the most contentious scene of the film, but let's take it apart, shall we?

Remember the confrontation scene in the first part of A Canterlot Wedding when Twilight's friends abandoned her? Twilight was suspicious about Cadance not acting like the Cadance she knew in her foalhood, but nopony really listened to her because they were more concerned with how the wedding would go. Yet many fans would rather believe that it was "mean-spirited and cruel towards Twilight" and take their anger out on many of its issues than actually analyze the situation!

From Twilight's view, her home has been under invasion and she was blinded by stress and trying to follow Celestia's orders, all whilst completely failing to notice her friends gaining allies as they head to Mount Aris; what didn't help her case was that she thought her friends weren't taking the mission seriously.

On top of that, making this scene even more dramatic is when Pinkie Pie, of all ponies, calls Twilight out for her stubbornness. This is quite possibly Pinkie's best moment as a character. We usually expect her to be a party-throwing goofball, not someone who calls you out for doing something incredibly stupid. That is when you know you've messed up big time.

And then comes the breaking point; Twilight says she'd be better off without them. Her friends leave her, making Twilight realized she spoke without thinking, and how much she screwed up. It's far more powerful than any scene in Legend of Everfree where Sci-Twi mopes. You don't care that Sci-Twi is suffering because it's practically shoved down your throat to the point you'd be forgiven for thinking it's her only character trait. Here, though, Twilight realizes where she went wrong and feels like she's failed altogether, and you relate to that.

Open Up Your Eyes
Suddenly, as if from nowhere, Twilight gets kidnapped by Tempest Shadow. It's there we learn Tempest's backstory; she lost part of her horn in an Ursa minor attack, which caused her magic to become unstable and dangerous, and her friends shunned her out of fear.

This is perhaps another contentious scene in the film, especially with my gripes over the "villain redemption" trope (which we'll get to later), and how overused it's become - Forgotten Friendship being the nadir of that cliche. Yet, for Tempest, her backstory... actually makes sense. An accident like that can be harmful to young children, both physically and emotionally. With Starlight's backstory (yes, I'm going there again), it feels weak that she'd just give up after one friend got a cutie mark. With Tempest's, I figure that if she tried making more friends, it wouldn't last long because of her disability. And it's a damn sight more believable than Wallflower Blush's backstory, which made the green-haired abomination look like a complete dumbass!

As for the song itself? I love it. It's probably the best bad guy song MLP has ever made. The flashback is also very effective, especially with the instrumental; they don't tell you what happened, and instead, they expect you to fill in the gaps. That was really great!

Return to Canterlot
Back with the rest of the Mane Six, they decide to speak with Twilight, but Spike tells them that Twilight has been captured. Just as all hope seems to be lost, Capper suddenly turns up alive and well, and even gives them an uplifting speech. I'm a bit disappointed he didn't apologize to them for almost selling them into slavery, but given what they had to focus on, I'm assuming he apologized off-screen.

And no, I didn't forget Calaneo and her crew; they too join the Mane Six to join the battle, but it's Princess Skystar who's the real highlight of the scene. She's willing to risk getting into trouble with her mother for sneaking off just to help her friends. Definitely not your average princess, is she?

Finally, we return to Canterlot, and you can see how much depression the Storm King has caused among the ponies; seriously, the poor Crusaders are stuck in a cage! If that doesn't show how heartless he is, then what does?

We finally see him in person at the throne room, and it's... pretty anti-climactic overall. Seriously, he turns up like seventy-three minutes into the film, and has about ten to fifteen minutes of screen time, tops. You'd expect he'd be a dangerous foe like Lord Tirek or King Sombra, right? Nope! Instead, the Storm King's pretty much a clown occasionally throwing a temper tantrum when things don't go his way. He feels like a complete joke of a villain; even Starlight Glimmer was a more threatening villain, and her backstory was badly handled.

The Siege to Canterlot Castle
Whilst the Storm King fools around with his newfound powers in his staff, Capper turns up carrying a big cake with the Mane Five pulling it (and with Spike as a candle). I dunno if the Storm Creatures are that easily fooled, and it feels a bit cliched itself, but it's still a fun little scene.

Speaking of which, things fall into predictable territory when the pirate crew and Skystar jump out of the Trojan cake, but again, it's still really fun to watch. And who would dare question Pinkie Pie using cupcakes as a weapon against a Storm Creature? Oh, and the bit where Fluttershy comforts a crying Storm Creature? Equally sweet and hilarious. But I don't think you can get cooler than Capper using Spike as a flamethrower.

Frustrated and sickened, the Storm King uses the staff to create a bigger storm over Canterlot, where Pinkie Pie has an idea of getting to the castle...

The Storm King's Last Stand
When Tempest reminds the Storm King of their deal, he refuses to fulfill his end of the bargain. He used her just for his own ends - ouch. And this is why Tempest Shadow is a far more effective antagonist than Wallflower; Tempest believed someone she shouldn't have trusted could restore her horn, but the Storm King was merely using her as a pawn to his plan, and so you feel more for her. Meanwhile, Wallflower erased awkward memories using the Memory Stone and blamed Sunset Shimmer for her own problems!

And even though Tempest caused her some grief in the last few days, I actually don't mind Twilight saving and forgiving Tempest this time, especially after the betrayal Tempest had been given from the Storm King. Just as he's about to finish them off, he's stopped by the rest of Twilight's friends with the party cannon from earlier. Her and Pinkie apologizing did feel a bit like it was glossed over, but then again, they nearly lost Twilight forever, so maybe that puts things into perspective for them.

That being said, it was probably the fifth time in the film alone that Twilight nearly got herself killed. We got the message by now; she's the main character and she can't be killed. Did that have to be shoved down our throats multiple times in the film? This is followed by Tempest sacrificing herself to save them and killing the Storm King by shattering to pieces! (Which, I should find, is pretty satisfying, especially with all the bad guy redemptions we've had as of late.) And of course, the Princesses (and Derpy) are de-petrified, the ponies freed, and Canterlot's restored to normal. All that in about a minute which feels a bit anti-climactic overall.

Rainbow/Off to See the World
Finally, the Friendship Festival begins. As Songbird Serenade sings "Rainbow", Twilight offers Tempest to live in Equestria, but she's still upset about her broken horn, but Twilight says it can still be useful, so Tempest makes some fireworks with her broken horn. And she reveals that her true name is Fizzlepop Berrytwist. Really? Who gives a (formerly) dangerous character a name like that? That being said, Pinkie's reaction to it is hilarious.

"Rainbow" is an absolutely beautiful song. I can't tell you how many times I've heard it; it gets better every time. "Off to See the World" can't exactly hold a candle to it, but since it's only heard in the end credits and soundtrack, it's not too bad.

Animation
Because My Little Pony: The Movie is a theatrical release, the Flash animation we've come to expect for the actual show wouldn't really do the film any justice at all. I think traditional animation is due for a comeback, given how many people are more drawn to flashy CGI films these days. Now, before anybody has a go at me for bashing CGI, keep in mind that without it, we wouldn't have Toy Story.

Overall, the presentation for My Little Pony is really good. I like the redesigns for Canterlot and its castle; they definitely feel bigger and more realistic, like you expect to see in a city. I wonder how that will translate onto Flash animation for season eight.

The character designs also feel more realistic as well, especially the movements. If you take a look at how they move their mouths, they feel much more fluid and natural, especially given that it's traditional animation. It's a shame it's all for the movie; I'd love to see how well it could work in the actual show.

New Characters
Songbird Serenade
I'm gonna be talking about how I see them from least favorite to most favorite. Not that Songbird Serenade is awful, but as I've mentioned before, she's got nothing going on. What if she were substituted for Rara (if Lena Hall wanted to return) or Sapphire Shores? Yes, her song is great (as is Sia's performance), but her lack of substance makes Songbird, as a character, weaker than a bad guy who barely grasps the bar of mediocrity.

The Storm King
Sure, he's got a few funny moments here and there, but the Storm King, as I've said, is a very anti-climactic bad guy. He kind of feels like Discord and Lord Tirek put together, only for a discount price. Maybe if he was given more screentime, I'd probably like the Storm King better. As his role stands, however, Liev Schreiber's performance is fairly serviceable.

Grubber
Whilst it's debatable as to how much of a point Grubber serves, he is at least a good foil for Tempest Shadow, especially if things get tense. Whether you laugh at his moments or find him annoying depends on who you ask, but you can tell Michael Pena had fun voicing him. Fun fact: He also voices Vincent Tong's character in The Lego Ninjago Movie.

Queen Novo
So now we're getting to the characters that, I feel, are done a fairer degree of justice. For the small amount screentime she gets, Uzo Aduba really brings out the sarcastic wit of Queen Novo. You can also tell that she is someone who do not want to steal from, unless you want to end up close to drowning. I'm hoping she and Skystar return for season eight (maybe with different voice actors), but it would be a shame if that wasn't the case.

Captain Celaeno
Zoe Salanda portrayed a pirate in The Curse of the Black Pearl, and now she plays a parrot pirate fourteen years later! You can understand why Celaeno's stuck in the position she's in, and it's very satisfying when she defies the Storm King. She also gets better when you realize how much she cares for her crew.

Tempest Shadow/Fizzlepop Berrytwist
If the Storm King wasn't announced as being the big bad, you'd be forgiven for thinking Tempest Shadow was the lead villain. Although her relationship with the Storm King is a bit vague, you do feel for her when she loses her ability to control magic. But despite this setback and not being able to get her horn restored, Tempest works around the problem by making a great fireworks display, which is perhaps one of the movie's most clever hidden messages.

Add that to Emily Blunt's performance, and you end up with one of the best MLP bad guys since Lord Tirek... but why isn't Tempest in the Top Two?

Capper
Tempest Shadow might have a more complex backstory, but Capper ranks slightly above her for one reason alone - charisma. In fact, he's probably the best male character in the series, as well as the most sympathetic. Many male characters we have these days are either poorly utilized by the writers (Flash Sentry), horribly unlikable stereotypes (Timber Spruce), or just plain forgettable (Sunburst). Thankfully, Capper doesn't fall into any of those traps. His character development really shines when he feels guilty for almost selling off Spike and the Mane Six to Verko, even though Capper (initially) had a reason for this. But happily, he makes up for it by deliberately misguiding Tempest and then joining in for the final battle. Taye Diggs may have voiced the best new character for the film if it wasn't for...

Princess Skystar
...this precious little cinnamon roll. Just... everything about Princess Skystar I love. From her cute, lovable personality, her sympathetic plight of feeling lonely, her friendship with Pinkie, all the way down to Kristen Chenoweth's performance. She's even fierce when she wants to be! I could go on for days, so to make it short, she's the third best character of the franchise behind Fluttershy and Sunset Shimmer.

Voice Acting and Music
I've already given my thoughts on the guest stars for the film; all of them are fantastic in their own way (even Sia, despite having little screentime), but you can't overlook the voices behind the show. Tara, Andrea, Ashleigh, Tabitha, and Cathy all do the job they've done for the past seven years, but for me, Andrea Libman as Pinkie Pie is the standout, especially in the scene where she confronts Twilight. I can imagine how everyone felt when recording that scene!

Oh, and can I just say that it's really heartwarming to have Nicole Oliver perform alongside her husband Mark? It'd be nice to see him voice someone in the show; maybe a love interest for Celestia (could be Good Sombra)?

Unlike in the show, Daniel Ingram actually uses a live orchestra to record the music, and my Celestia, is it great or what? Especially in the title sequence. I think the best moment was when I heard it for the first time, and it still gives me the chills to this day. Though, sadly, I don't think my headphones do the music any justice at all; it sounds way better listening to it in theaters.

And as mentioned earlier, the songs are all really good, and even the weakest of the bunch is better than most of season seven's offerings (barring the song from The Perfect Pear, the only good song of season seven). I haven't heard those exclusive to the soundtrack, so I can't comment on them.

Final Thoughts
I honestly don't get the hate the film gets. I know My Little Pony isn't for everyone, but maybe those who haven't seen the film yet should do some research on the show before declaring it one of the worst films of 2017 - there's no way it can be worse than The Emoji Movie, am I right?

For all the minor issues I have with the film, it's very solid as far as films based on TV shows go; one of the better ones for sure. Okay, so it uses a few cliches I don't like that much, a couple of characters are underutilized, and maybe a few scenes are not for all people, but I haven't much of a reason to hate it. The characters in general are all really good for the most part, the songs are fantastic, and the themes they depict are absolutely wonderful, the big one being that friends can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Overall, I can look past the issues and call it one of the best films of 2017.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Thomas and Friends Season 21: Episodes 11-18

Here's part two of my thoughts on Thomas and Friends' 21st season!

Episodes 11, 13, and 16 are written by Lee Pressman; 12, 14, and 18 by Helen Farrall; 15 and 17 by Davey Moore.

11. Philip's Number
This is gonna be fun!

It's safe to say that Philip has become a divisive character among the fandom; either you love his childlike charm or you find it annoying. I've found myself in the former category since Toby's New Friend, and Philip's Number is a great continuation of the little boxcab's character development. Some of you will argue that he's a diesel equivalent to Percy, but what you're forgetting is that Percy isn't young anymore. Okay, he still kind of is, but Philip is even younger than Percy!

Anyway, I really enjoyed the episode. And no, the fantasy sequences don't bother me in the slightest.  You can see that it's all in Philip's mind; Dianna Basso and her team didn't outright say so, and they pretty much expected you to fill in the gaps. Besides, is it any more trippy than "Never Overlook a Little Engine" in Lost Treasure? Not really. Heck, it was this episode alone that made Basso my favorite Thomas director. Even at her most pathetic, she knows how to make an episode look great on screen.

Even though I'm annoyed by the constant usage of the "be yourself message", it worked for this episode, only they added a new angle about carving your own path. At first, Philip wanted to know why he was given the number 68 (by the way, wouldn't it be funnier if he was number 69?), but after saving 68 sheep from Gordon hitting them, he decided that's what he should be remembered for. It was great!

What makes it even more so is Gordon's character. At first, he makes fun of Philip's number, but after saving him from running into the sheep, he genuinely apologizes for teasing him earlier, showing that despite his arrogance, he does have a sympathetic side, something I hope we see more of in season 22. There may be a few issues here and there, but in the end, I don't think they're worth moaning about. It's an episode that can't be overlooked, especially for it's message at the end.

12. The Fastest Red Engine on Sodor
This is a big one; the episode that fully showcases Rosie in her brand new red livery (which she will retain, no matter what certain "fans" think). How does it fare, and does it do Rosie any justice?

Well, even though she appears prominently, this is mostly a James episode, but a great one at that (and I'll get to why in a bit). They say Rosie was given a repaint, but they don't say why. Did she need a change? Was it because she didn't want to be made fun of for her old livery (which would be understandable)? Anything would do instead of simply cutting one of eight missing episodes.

Despite this issue, the episode, as I mentioned earlier, is great. James' stubbornness really shone here, and he's got solid reasoning to why he didn't want to worry about his brakes until it was too late and had his crash at Tidmouth Sheds. Though I should point out that steam engines don't use brake fluid; there's a reason you got a railway consultant!

The theme, once again, is really good here; it is incredibly stupid to let problems fester to the point they're out of your control. Yes, the episode aired long before the ToonKriticY2K scandal, but thinking about that recent event, it makes the moral of this episode much stronger, especially as some of his former "friends" would rather try to claim innocence instead of at least showing the tiniest bit of regard for those he's hurt! What is it with the Thomas writers pointing out issues with the fandom?

On the whole, I love this episode, and the crash is amazing. A pity that Rosie didn't do much here, but it is interesting how this lead up nicely to the next episode...

13. A Shed for Edward
And here we go with possibly the most controversial Thomas episode in recent years. No, not fandom controversy like The Way She Does It or Rocky Rescue. I mean, like, legitimate controversy. I'll get to that in a bit.

To start with, this is the very first episode of the entire show where Mark Moraghan doesn't narrate except for the episode's title. But really, what is the point of a narrator these days if we can see what's happening before us? This is why CGI storytelling is better than model storytelling; much as I like the latter in the classic era, it had limitations. After all, less is more.

I really like Edward and Philip's dynamic in this episode. Sure, it's a bit like Edward and Thomas' in The Adventure Begins, but that was when Thomas was new to Sodor. Since then, he's grown up and is now in charge of his own branchline. This feels like Edward and Thomas for a new generation.

What makes the dynamic even stronger is how it connected to the themes. Philip was chattering at night, and Edward wanted to find somewhere to sleep. Some of the locations he found are rather silly, but it emphasizes how desperate he was, making it funnier. And when Edward nearly has an accident, Philip realizes where he messed up and chose not to bother Edward the next night they were together. If that isn't character development, I don't know what is.

And then there's the ending; I don't care what anybody says. It is one of the most heartwarming of the whole show. Edward moved to Wellsworth Sheds of his own volition because it was closer to his branchline, and Philip needs someone wise to guide him. Something "fans" don't care about because they're randomly screeching "EDWARD'S BEEN KICKED OUT OF THE STEAM TEAM" or whatever.

Well, guess what? The Steam Team concept is irrelevant these days! The only reason it was formed back in season eight was to establish a core cast of engines #1-7 as well as Emily. Nowadays, we have episodes featuring the likes of Diesel, Daisy, Toad, Stephen, Spencer, etc., which means the Steam Team concept is simply redundant.

It's not just Edward being written out of the Steam Team; so are Henry and Toby. And honestly? I'm okay with that, especially if you consider the terrible starring roles they had in the likes of Edward Strikes Out, Henry Gets It Wrong, and Toby's Triumph, where they had their characters rewritten just to suit the story. Not only that, their personalities aren't that interesting compared to Thomas, Gordon, James and Percy. With those four, there's a lot more storytelling potential. Frankly, Edward, Henry and Toby are better off as secondary characters; even the Railway Series didn't give them that much time to shine in the books (at least, after the early ones).

In addition, fans were miffed when Duck wasn't a member of the Steam Team, but in retrospect, I'm glad he wasn't, because if he had been, he'd have been butchered badly during seasons 8-16, and would fans rather have him as a main character and be messed up horribly, or as a secondary character and written properly? I know what I'd choose, frankly.

Sorry about the rant, but this is something that has been on my mind for a while now. And yes, they are appearing in season 22, regardless of what certain "fans" think. Getting back to A Shed for Edward, that ending is perhaps the most relatable to me; when moving, you can either be sad about leaving your friends (and that's perfectly fine), or you can be excited about meeting new faces and going on new adventures. It's the Magical Mystery Cure of Thomas episodes, and I'm glad that Edward's finally returning home, and that he'll never be poorly written again.

We'll miss you at Tidmouth, old blue #2, but at least you're finally home again.

14. The Big Freeze
This one was... disappointing, even for Helen Farrall. The plot description said that Diesel proves himself to be a hero, but all he did was mock the steam engines and in the end, deliver the coal they needed. That's it. And how does a railway survive with diesel shunters that can go at, like, thirty miles per hour? That's an issue which has been plaguing the show since season six; there's no diesel muscle. In fact, it felt like a missed opportunity to bring BoCo back into the fold pulling the express.

There were a few good things like Thomas being punished for his ignorance, as well as showcasing the negative side of winter (something I've recently found out all too well), and... that's pretty much it, I'm afraid. Oh, and the Fat Controller tripping up three times felt more cringe-worthy than funny. Can we at least add variety to his comedy? I don't hate the episode, but it felt rather... meh. It could've been four and a half minutes long and the plot would be the same. Or maybe if it was a special on its own...?

15. Emily in the Middle
You know how there have been episodes this season I've defended that people disliked? Well, this one is kind of the opposite. To get to the point, it's basically the season 21 equivalent to The Other Side of the Mountain. Allow me to explain...

This is practically Love Me Tender 2.0, only with Emily slapped on and without the heart and charm of the season 20 episode. Think about it; both are Donald and Douglas episodes written by Davey Moore, they take place in winter, and at least half the plot is spent on them arguing. Oh, and Toby is there cause why not. In Love Me Tender, it made sense for them to bicker because they disagreed about which lines they should clear first. Here? They just argue because the story demands it, and that each infuriated the other by telling Emily about their past incidents.

Here's the thing; we already have a set of twins in that mindset, and they are Bill and Ben. Donald and Douglas are supposed to be more mature than that! Hell, the reason the latter came to Sodor was because the former did not want to be separated from his brother. That, and there was the threat of them being scrapped. Not only that, there can be more done with them if given the chance, and not just in winter episodes. They don't always need to work together, for goodness' sake! See Donald's Duck and Escape as to why that's the case.

Then there's Emily, and honestly, she's the best thing about the episode. It's a nice idea to try and put up with two arguing engines at their worst; had it been James or Gordon, they would've snapped much sooner. And I don't blame Emily for getting frustrated at the twins' petty bickering, though it's something they needed to learn after Love Me Tender that arguing will only land not only themselves, but others in trouble as well, something that should be taken into consideration for season 22 onward.

So yeah, I'm not a fan of this one either; it's probably my least favorite episode featuring Emily as lead character. As I've said, it's very much The Other Side of the Mountain of Davey Moore episodes. If I wanted to see this plot, I'd rather watch either Love Me Tender or MLP's A Royal Problem. The former gives more credence to Donald and Douglas' conflict, and the latter shows great development not only to Starlight Glimmer, but Princesses Celestia and Luna as well. Emily in the Middle just feels like another sign of creative stagnation.

16. Terence Breaks the Ice
Now we're talking! This is the episode very much every Thomas fan was looking forward to ever since it was announced; Terence made his debut in a winter episode, so it's appropriate he returns in a winter episode.

I quite liked the flashback; yeah, it's a bit lengthy, but it's possible there wasn't enough story to fill up the runtime. That being said, it's a great way to reintroduce Terence to a modern audience who may not know who he is, though it is rather odd that Thomas would say he always wore his snowplough after said episode when we've seen episodes where he doesn't.

Some people have criticized that Terence doesn't have much character, to which I can understand. Here, they give a bit of a more cocky personality like he had in Toby Takes the Road, and it works really well for the moral and story. Plus, the rescue is really dramatic as he could've sunk like the big tree.

Speaking of which, I really like how the Earl worked around the problem he faced by stacking another small tree on top of some presents. That's really creative of him to do so, and it's something I think all of us can do when faced with a problem.

17. Daisy's Perfect Christmas
If there was any episode that was a metaphor for the Thomas fandom, it would be this one. Daisy feels like the perfect representation of entitled fans who'd rather the show focus on them rather than children - you know, the actual target audience. They even used children to further hammer in the metaphor, and it works brilliantly. Oh, and did I mention that I loved the moral here; breaking tradition can be a good thing?

Plus, any episode where the troublesome trucks become carolers is worth watching. I will never not love this episode; this is how you do Fame and Misfortune. Well done, Mr. Moore.

18. Confused Coaches
Here we go with the season 21 finale, as well as Helen Farrall's last (confirmed) episode. Is it a grand finale? Well... not really. It wasn't really a bad episode either. It's... serviceable, to say the least.

For one, it takes a while for the main conflict to build up. Gordon and Spencer's rivalry is fun to watch, though it feels a bit strange the former would boast about platform one being the most important. Then again, he did boast about it in Respect for Gordon, so... I can understand... kind of? That being said, it does lead to some funny bantering over numbers; Spencer got burned for not having one!

What wasn't funny was the Fat Controller tripping up whilst offering drinks to the Duke and Duchess. It's getting old, writers! And it's gotten to the point you wonder why he's even in charge of the North Western Railway. Fortunately, they do show him being authoritative when he scolds Gordon and Spencer for their petty rivalry. That is something we need more of.

Another positive was the coach swap; it definitely feels like a plot device taken from the Railway Series. And I can totally buy Thomas and Philip not seeing who's at the platform, but the passengers and station staff are a bit questionable. Wouldn't they or Sir Topham notice that something was off? Although it does lead to an interesting race around the third act and it makes me wish for an episode where Spencer takes the express whilst Gordon is absent; that would be great to see!

Oh, and it's the first time Thomas has had a New Years' themed story! It's so refreshing after umpteen Christmas stories per season. And as for Thomas working with Philip? I don't really care. Anyone saying the boxcab has replaced Percy just because of this episode are extremely shallow.

Overall, this isn't really Helen Farrall's strongest episode, but I don't have much of a reason to hate it either. It's fun to watch if you're in the right mood, but there are stronger episodes in this season alone I'd watch more often.

Final Thoughts
Well, this was a tough one to get done. I dunno if it's because I was so distracted with My Little Pony, settling down in Oregon, or dealing with college in real life and stupid people online that I was generally disinterested in reviewing season 21. But now, I've finally got it done, and how does it hold up?

Surprisingly well, actually! Even more so considering that eight episodes have been cut due to Big World! Big Adventures! Yes, you heard right - Mattel have cut eight episodes out of season 21. Yeah, we lost The Missing Coach for season two, but we do have the original story out there, and Break Van was just about enough to establish the predicament Donald and Douglas were in. Gordon Goes Foreign would be great for season three, but working their way around that gap in Time for Trouble worked alright, and the original story, again, is out there.

But season 21? That was meant to establish Rosie's new role and job, but so far, we've not been able to see it, and we don't know why she was at Vicarstown in Journey Beyond Sodor (which supposedly takes place after season 21, but more on that later). Were they also going to do more with Carly and Big Mickey? Bulgy? Terence? Or what about Trevor, who hasn't done a thing since Three Steam Engines Gruff? Heck, what about the railway museum that was mentioned in Over the Hill? Was Hugo going to get one last shot at redemption?

So many set ups, and yet very few have been given pay off so far. I hope they find their way in season 22 or maybe even season 23. Otherwise, that'll be eight scripts up in smoke.

But the biggest issue I have with season 21 is its continuity with Journey Beyond Sodor. Again, the latter is meant to take place after the former, but the biggest plot holes are in regards to Carly's presence at Brendam Docks (and not to mention Thomas going to the mainland with Edward to pick her up) and Edward living at Tidmouth instead of Wellsworth. Heck, James didn't even make a comment about Rosie's paint in the special! I even asked people when Journey Beyond takes place in relation to season 21, and the results I got were... inconclusive. Unless Team Thomas makes a comprehensive timeline of the series, I'm afraid it's an unanswerable question for now.

Even more frustrating is how confused season 21's own timeline appears to be; Carly didn't appear in Emily in the Middle, Harvey was confident in A Most Singular Engine but wasn't in Stuck in Gear, Edward was at Tidmouth in The Big Freeze (unless he was visiting), Rosie appeared in red in Hasty Hannah prior to The Fastest Red Engine on Sodor (unless it wasn't made as huge a deal back then in the former), Daisy's Perfect Christmas didn't have snow, the list goes on.

The season wasn't all bad, though. I love that they're making female characters more prominent (barring Rosie, which is a shame), and the themes for the show, even if some weren't the most original, have never been stronger than they have been. And again, I didn't mind the experiments being implemented. It's not the first time a season has tried new things, and it won't be the last either. So really, what's the fuss all about? It's not like Mattel dumped all of these changes in one season; otherwise, fans would have a reason to moan!

To sum up, season 21 is unfairly underrated. There were a few episodes I didn't like that much, but the good outweighs the bad by a lot. It's like season three of My Little Pony, and I think Ryan says it best:
“Maybe it wasn't better or worse than usual - just different. Today wasn't perfect like it used to be. It was a new kind of perfect.”
As long as the writing quality for the show remains high with Brenner and company on board, the fans should have absolutely nothing to worry about... unless they'd rather be a big bunch of Daisy Downers!

One final note I'd like to make is for Helen Farrall; thank you for giving us some of the best episodes Thomas and Friends has ever had. Your work will truly be missed by many, but you'll still be standing as one of the best writers of the entire series. Thank you once again, and good luck on your future endeavors.

Thomas and Friends Season 21 Rankings
18. New Crane on the Dock: 3/10
17. Emily in the Middle: 3/10
16. Cranky at the End of the Line: 4/10
15. The Big Freeze: 5/10
14. Confused Coaches: 7/10
13. Stuck in Gear: 8/10
12. Unscheduled Stops: 8/10
11. Hasty Hannah: 8/10
10. P.A. Problems: 9/10
9. Terence Breaks the Ice: 9/10
8. Philip's Number: 9/10
7. The Fastest Red Engine on Sodor: 10/10
6. A Most Singular Engine: 10/10
5. Springtime for Diesel: 10/10
4. Runaway Engine: 10/10
3. Dowager Hatt's Busy Day: 10/10
2. A Shed for Edward: 10/10
1. Daisy's Perfect Christmas: 10/10

Final Overall Rating: 8/10

Monday, February 12, 2018

Thomas and Friends Season 21: Episodes 1-10

Has it been ages since the last written Thomas review here? No really; the last major review I wrote on the blog was The Great Race back in July, well over five months ago. And there's my Journey Beyond Sodor video review from October (or, depending on how you view it, November). Season 21 seems to have gone neglected... until now, that is! There's been a ton of discussion about the show's future since it came out, and I wanted to wait until the hype for the new season had died down so I could analyze it properly having absorbed it all, especially as I want to view the episodes for what they are, not what they're signalling for the show's future.

So, without further confusion or delay, here are my thoughts on season 21 of Thomas and Friends!

As the title card above states, it'll be reviewed in two parts; part one about the first two weeks, and part two about week three and the Christmas on Sodor episodes.

Episodes 1, 2, and 4 are written by Davey Moore; 3 and 6-9 by Lee Pressman; 5 and 10 by Helen Farrall.

1. Springtime for Diesel
I don't get why Diesel in the later seasons is being given flack for "not being his devious self". He's a far more complex character than fans are giving credit for. He's very much the Thomas equivalent to Discord from season three onward. If anyone should be the threatening villain, it's Diesel 10, and he hasn't shown up since season 17.

Anyway, I really love this episode, especially the character development; Diesel's deviousness being a habit he can't shake off, Daisy getting her passengers to their destination despite being crippled (so did Skarloey, Rheneas and Edward, but they did what you'd expect them to do), and we even got Den standing up for himself when Dart tries correcting him. And given that he was last seen in season 19's Den and Dart, also by Davey Moore, that was great.

There were a couple of issues, even if they're minor; one, how did Den not know what Daisy was given that she went to the Dieselworks in The Railcar and the Coaches? Two, why were they not supplied with springs? But in the end, they're just minor plotholes that can be given a simple tweaking.

The ending really does it for me; seeing Diesel go through emotional turmoil was pretty funny to watch, and seeing him pour his heart out to Daisy that night was really genuine and heartwarming. Even more so when she tells him off for bumping her earlier (kind felt suggestive, don't you think?). This is what I call a great start to the series.

2. A Most Singular Engine
Have I mentioned how great a character Daisy has been since Ryan and Daisy? It really is true, and this is another fantastic episode. Though, the continuity between this and Springtime for Diesel is a bit confusing given the relationship between him and Daisy. But then again, maybe character development isn't instantaneous?

Another odd thing was that it's said Daisy is the only diesel railcar on Sodor. Did they forget Hugo? It's kind of an issue as A) they could've said she was the first diesel railcar and B) it would've been a better debut for him than season 20. It's also not a problem for me as... well, it makes it easier for me to forget that the German sausage ever existed! :P

Anyway, the way the plot builds up was very nicely handled. Diesel being frustrated with Daisy's overbearing personality and him seeing Harvey to put Daisy in her place all felt believable; heck, Ryan's role was great as well since he's naive.

Once again, the second half was great. Daisy and Harvey finally confronting each other... only to encounter a cute little bunny at the crossing. Their rivalry gets nipped in the bud when they help each other out and Diesel gets a good dose of karma by rolling into the sea. Though the toilet humor felt rather shoehorned in...

Still, another lovely episode. Oh, and is that the first time in years Duck and Diesel have been in the same shot? If only we could have an episode based around their current personas...!

3. Dowager Hatt's Day Off
Oh my God, I don't think I've ever laughed this much at a Thomas and Friends episode! But seriously, it feels like The Green Controller done properly. As in, they're not using an engine to run the railway. Dowager Hatt was the perfect choice for temporary controller, and her entrance into the story is the right mix of badass and hilarious. Also, did anyone feel sorry for poor Percy? First he's had a tissue land on his nose (and seeing him struggle to try and get it off without hands), and then he can't even get up Gordon's hill pulling the express.

The episode itself is a satire on the Barlow era; how Sharon Miller's railway would be run. But unlike the "joke" in The Way She Does It, this doesn't feel out of place at all, even if that era should stay a thing of the past. And fortunately for (almost) everyone, Emily is around to speak sense into Dowager Hatt. Episodes like this are why Emily's my favorite character; she is the ideal sister figure for the main cast and I think it'll be interesting to see how she'll play off against Rebecca and Nia (more on that later) in the next season. And that ending with Philip? You feel sorry for him, but you can't help but have a bit of a laugh at the predicament he's in.

4. Stuck in Gear
This one, however, kind of feels like a step backwards. Does that make the episode bad? Not necessarily. I'm glad Harvey got a lead role to himself, though his character feels rather inconsistent with what he had in A Most Singular Engine when he was confident in his own abilities. That's a problem I got with season 21 as a whole.

But the episode's biggest problem within itself is Harvey's crew not being involved. Couldn't they have tried to help their engine in removing the branches from his gears before it got worse? It's pretty jarring as season 20 had three episodes where the engines interacting with their crews. That being said, I really like the theme they showed here, and it's one I can relate to. I understand how stupid it is not asking for help before a problem gets worse, but with my shyness being ingrained at a young age, it's a habit I can't shake off.

I really like the ending and how the lesson stuck with Harvey; he was so excited at moving his arm again that he lost himself and felt sheepish, but still asked for help anyway. The weakest of the first week, but still a good watch nonetheless.

5. Runaway Engine
Now there's an episode I was looking forward to when it first came out, and did it deliver? Yes, it did! Especially given that it's a Helen Farrall episode.

The dynamic between Stephen, Millie and Glynn is one of the best of the entire show, and the middle act shows how genuine their friendship is, especially when Stephen feels guilty for unintentionally hurting Millie. Then again, she did leave waste in front of their shed out of pettiness, but then, that's what Stephen and Glynn got for not listening to instructions. And I can't forget the grumpy passenger's role; he's always entertaining whenever he appears ever since his debut back in season 18's Duncan and the Grumpy Passenger, even more so how Sir Robert calmly dealt with his temper.

And I know some will complain about Stephen being childish for his age, but here's the thing; if he was a generic elderly character, he wouldn't be fun to watch. Stephen's a flawed character, and episodes like this and Over the Hill show why it's a good thing. He's got drawbacks just like everyone else, but he knows how to roll with them. On the whole, it's a brilliant end to the first week.

6. P.A. Problems
And here we go, people; the 500th episode of the entire series. It's very rare that a kids' show could last this long, but here we are with a milestone in Thomas history. How does it hold up?

Quite well, actually. It's nice to see Edward co-starring in this one, especially as Crocks Scrap Yard is near his branchline, and how he was featured to demonstrate that old doesn't mean useless... but the theme is very much a strength and a weakness. Why? Well, look at what happens when the TX-1000 fails. Fair enough, it breaks down, but they don't explain what was wrong with it or what caused the speakers to have awful feedback. And that implies that all new technology is flawed, which is rather narrow-minded. Laptops are sometimes better than desktops, MP3 players provide you with more variety than a cassette player, flat-screen TV sets are more reliable than the bulky, squarish sets, etc.

The point is, if you're saying we shouldn't upgrade to newer technology, then by that logic, Thomas wouldn't be in CGI and they'd still rely on worn out models that can't even pull more than two pieces of rolling stock. In The Fogman, there was a reason the foghorn was unsuitable as a replacement for Cyril.

Anyway, like I said, Edward had a really good role here, as did Reg. So nice they didn't forget about him completely. His enthusiastic nature is so contagious I can't help but enjoy it. Much like Beresford from Journey Beyond Sodor, Reg is one of the most understated characters of the series. And yeah, I feel bad for the workmen having to put up with his singing, especially the one at the end. A great episode with a solid (though flawed) theme; with a few tweaks, it'd be perfect.

7. Hasty Hannah
Fun fact: This episode was actually intended to be a part of season 20, but it was held back and is now a season 21 episode. But was the wait worth it, and is Hannah as interesting a character she's made out to be?

Okay, so this is an episode where Toby is portrayed as being worrisome... but unlike Three Steam Engines Gruff, it actually has a catalyst behind it. Hannah is rather overbearing, and Toby is not used to going at high speeds. Might've worked better if he was a bit more assertive against Hannah's desires, but we got what we got.

Hannah herself was a really fun character, though it would be a shame if she never returned to the series. I think she would be great as part of the Ffarquhar coach stock; can we have a story with her, Annie and Clarabel? Seeing her almost getting killed was really dramatic, and shows that you can have too much of a good thing like speed. I would've preferred a scolding from the Fat Controller, but nearly getting killed would hammer the point home further. Though, I have to wonder; why wasn't James used more in the story?

And how would Toby get to Knapford within twenty minutes? Sure, he said it out of sarcasm, but it would be impossible to get there from Crovan's Gate, even for someone like Gordon, within that time frame. For Toby, it'd probably be twenty hours instead! (Okay, maybe not, but still.) And how on earth can he get from Dryaw to Gordon's Hill? If he was on the mainline, I could understand, but as a guy who reads maps, this is rather frustrating.

Despite the issues, I think this episode was really good. Not one of season 21's strongest, but the way it played out worked fine for me. Oh, and we also get a preview of Rosie's new livery, as well as - what I think, at least - implications of romance between Toby and Henrietta. Not sure where the writers are going with this though...!

8. Cranky at the End of the Line
There's... not a whole lot I can say about this one. I mean, it became obvious that Cranky would not be replaced by Carly. It was obvious from Stuck in Gear that there'd be a new crane. Heck, Thomas and Edward traveling to the mainland completely goes against the former's desires in Journey Beyond Sodor, and that's supposed to take place after season 21! Yeah, there's comedy, but it didn't really make me laugh as it felt like a distraction.

And then there's a huge plot hole if we consider Kevin's Cranky Friend; why didn't the Fat Controller plan on getting a new crane after Kevin returned to the Steamworks? Was it not considered at the time? The episode as a whole feels like filler; you could skip right to the next episode and miss nothing.

9. New Crane on the Dock
Is this one better than the previous? Well... no. It wasn't. Sure, the theme is good, but it's nothing we haven't seen in the likes of Ryan and Daisy and No Help at All. Sure, they added the theme of communication, but it's hammered in at the end. Sure, there's some nice humor, but again, it feels like a distraction.

I like what they went for with Cranky and Carly's dynamic; he's the older brother who's jealous of his new baby sister getting all the attention and they get into a petty squabble about it. And I guess that makes Salty the uncle figure telling them a story about a two-headed sea serpent. It's funny, sure, but it doesn't really add much to the story. And in case you're wondering, it's something we'll be seeing in season 22 when it comes out, but will that (along with other aspects being hinted at) make it bad? No. I look purely for good storytelling and themes, and whilst the themes are good, the story is pretty unoriginal.

Which brings me onto Big Mickey. This is pandering to older fans at its absolute nadir. Only they know about TUGS and the younger fans don't. They won't know about it unless they looked online. Big Mickey gaining a face feels like a half-baked attempt at acknowledging his presence, perhaps the biggest plot hole in this season alone. Why did no one bother with him until now, of all times? At least when Henrietta gained a face, there was a reason for it. What was the point of giving Big Mickey a face other than fan service? It's like having Sunset Shimmer and Starlight Glimmer being paired up to take away the fact that the story is terrible! (Oh wait, they already did that.)

So yeah, I didn't like this one; it's my least favorite of the season up to this point. It almost feels like a sign of stagnation in the writing department, and they need to come up with new ideas. Otherwise, the show will have reached the end of the line...

10. Unscheduled Stops
I'm not the kind of person who automatically gives an episode a high rating simply for who returns. As I've said countless times, I look for a good story and theme to go along with it. That being said, it was a nice surprise to have Bulgy return for the first time since season 12, and the voice Colin McFarlane gave him is absolutely brilliant; he is perfectly cast. I don't think we've had a surprise like that since Harvey's return in Thomas' Shortcut.

This episode starts out with some typical Thomas vs. Bertie racing until the small red bus breaks down at the crossing gate. Thomas offers to take his passengers, but unfortunately, his good deed results in him making more stops than necessary.

That brings me onto the episode's themes which are... a bit confusing. Think about it; Thomas does a good deed for Bertie's passengers at the cost of being late. The Fat Controller isn't too happy about that and so he hires Bulgy to look after Bertie's passengers. Thomas more or less disobeys the Fat Controller's orders and gets off scot-free. I'm not saying the episode is bad because of a flawed theme, but I think Helen Farrall could've been a little more explicit as to where she was going with this one.

I do enjoy the episode for what it is, especially with the Fat Controller having the right balance between being a clown and a serious controller (something which fans have rightly complained about, for the record), but the flawed and confused theme at the end keeps it from being a full 10.

Thomas and Friends Season 21 Scorecard
1. Springtime for Diesel: 10
2. A Most Singular Engine: 10
3. Dowager Hatt's Busy Day: 10
4. Stuck in Gear: 8
5. Runaway Engine: 10
6. P.A. Problems: 9
7. Hasty Hannah: 8
8. Cranky at the End of the Line: 4
9. New Crane on the Dock: 3
10. Unscheduled Stops: 8

Season Rating So Far: 80/100