Sunday, 24 November 2013

Episode review: "Princess Twilight Sparkle" (S4E01 & S4E02)

Twilight and the others in Canterlot Castle
It's all too beautiful...
It's been a long, long time in coming, but the premiere of Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has finally arrived. Was the (probably deliberately blandly titled) two-parter, Meghan McCarthy's "Princess Twilight Sparkle", worth the wait? I'll spare you the suspense this time: yes, it most certainly was. There's no need to leave the fandom; the ride continues; everything really is going to be just fine. Well, for us the fans it is, at any rate. Perhaps a little less so for our favourite ponies, but for more on that you'll have to come with me past the break…

The suggestion from McCarthy had been that this opener would be a continuation of the story that began with "Magical Mystery Cure", but I didn't think the link was all that close. Yes, both stories had the Elements of Harmony and Twilight's ascension at their core, but that was about it. As with the previous three season openers, "Princess Twilight Sparkle" was an adventure story. It was a damn good one as well, in my view beaten only by "The Return of Harmony" of the other premieres. It didn't hurt that we've now been set up for a season-long story arc, something I'm very excited about.

I was intrigued by the storyline about the Everfree Forest "invading", since Lauren Faust mentioned in her interview in The Elements of Harmony that it had once been much smaller. Discord was, of course, involved – although not in quite the way most of us (ponies included) had imagined! John de Lancie put in another wonderful performance as the Draconequus, and it was great to see the way he teetered on the line between his old chaotic self and his Fluttershy-inspired reformed version. I hope he's not overused in S4, but this Discord may well be his most enjoyable incarnation yet.

Discord in the twilit Ponyville
Discord gets to know Shutterfly. And Whatever
Perhaps just slightly less effective was the tension between the ponies in the forest. Applejack, in particular, was not quite her "most likeable pony in Equestria" self here, and probably came out of the premiere worst of any of the Mane Six. Rarity was more fun, especially when she was accidentally attacking Opal. Pinkie Pie's frosting obsession was amusing, though I hope she doesn't get too flanderised as she's shown other sides to her character in the past. Fluttershy didn't do that much, but her double act with Discord continues to be a highlight. Rainbow Dash was a bit one-dimensional.

The best parts of the premiere, though, were undoubtedly the flashback sections. We saw, thanks to Zecora's (a little bit too convenient) alicorn-only potion just what did happen on that fateful day when Celestia had to banish Luna to the Moon. Hopefully the remaining anti-Tia faction will calm down a bit now! The fight between the two alicorns was stunningly animated, even if it was unavoidably short. (Oh, American telly, if only you had fewer ad breaks…) Even more intriguing was the second flashback, showing a – clearly knocked about, though this wasn't referenced – Celestia and Luna defeating Discord the first time round.

We didn't get to see how Discord had come to rule Equestria in the first place, nor what the alicorn sisters were doing during his long and miserable rule. But yet another flashback told us of something just as interesting: the origin of the Elements of Harmony. It's been clear ever since "A Canterlot Wedding" that the writers have been getting a little irritated with the idea that the Elements can sort things out in a flash, so I wasn't entirely surprised about the Mane Six having to give them up. It does prompt the question of whether Fluttershy's friendship will be enough to keep Discord in check, though.

Celestia and Luna at the Tree of Harmony
Interesting that Luna keeps her S2 design even in flashback
Now then, what about the Tree of Harmony? It's an interesting concept, and the fact that it bears Twilight's cutie mark (but not Cadance's, poor mare) suggests that Celestia probably knew something was up when Twi's mark first appeared in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" flashback. It also makes the Everfree Forest seem that bit more intriguing, which is good as it's always been a fascinating place. Mind you, was Fluttershy really okay with leaving the vined-up Cragadile to die? Maybe she was: as we saw with AJ and the Timberwolves, these ponies can be harsh judges.

Something else to say about S4 is that the animators have stepped up their game once again. For all that I love S1, it is noticeable when I go back to it now how (relatively) plain it all looks. That certainly isn't the case any more. There were scenes here that were breathtakingly beautiful, starting with the early scenes in Canterlot Castle's hall of stained glass windows. Shading and lighting were used to fine effect, and it's great to see the team still pushing the boundaries of Flash animation. There was even better to come later on, as I've mentioned, with the alicorn fight scene.

In auditory terms, the main event turned out to be William Anderson's background and incidental music, which was unsurprisingly as well done as ever. We didn't get a song, unless you count Discord's less than stellar rendition of a couple of lines of "Winter Wrap Up" (even he isn't immune from the addictive properties of that song!) but then "The Return of Harmony" didn't have a song either. We know there'll be plenty before the end of S4, so I'm not worried at all. We did also get a tweaked opening sequence, though having Twi's wings only visible for some of it was a little bit jarring.

Twilight weeps over the fallen Celestia
Surely one of the most heartbreaking moments yet in MLP:FiM
And talking of Twilight... I thought her character development was pretty well handled. The cold open scene of her flight training with Rainbow Dash was okay; her longer flight to Ponyville with Spike was more amusing. Poor Spike: Celestia made a big show of telling Twi she didn't need to bow any more... but her Number One Assistant still has to grovel! Although it was (too) short-lived, Twilight's obvious distress at being told to go home by her friends was actually very moving, too – though even that was beaten by her desolation over the unmoving form of the Luna-zapped Celestia. And yes, the "Sparkboom" at the end. In all honesty, not a big deal for me.

So... all in all, this was a great start to the fourth season. I'd place it second out of the four season premieres, a little behind "The Return of Harmony" but definitely ahead of the other two openers. We've been set up for something the show has never attempted before, and with a full 26 episodes to play with this time there should be plenty of space for the evolving story arc (that box with six keyholes!) to breathe. As I've touched on, it wasn't perfect – and oh yes, I'd hope that Spike doesn't get knocked about quite so much every time! But "Princess Twilight Sparkle", like "A Canterlot Wedding" before it, was dully-titled but compelling viewing.

  • Action-packed and exciting almost throughout
  • Beautiful to look at, the best animation we've seen yet
  • Heaps of backstory, including that banishment scene
  • Discord being Discord as only he can
  • Season-long story arc is go!
  • Applejack was really rather annoying at times
  • Rainbow Dash wasn't at her best either
  • Zecora's potion was a wee bit too convenient


  1. I'll definitely write a review too when I have the time. This was a really enjoyable read, especially as I'd so recently seen the episode, whereas before I was having to skim back a long way to see your reviews. So it's great to see this (very glowing!) review while the episode is so new. :)

    I'd definitely agree that the animation and the levels of detail has been ramped up another few notches. That was especially noticable (as you say) during the scenes with the stained glass windows and the battles. Also, something I noticed is that the skies seem a lot more detailed than in earlier seasons, Only a small thing admittedley, but the detail (as you can see clearly in your pic above of Discord) is definitely an improvement.

    On that note I was very glad to see Discord return, but yeah I do hope he isn't in every single episode. He works well because it's a treat when he does turn up, and seeing him too often could water that down. I like that they've made sure to keep him still very mischevious, and considering he's reformed, he really pushes his luck at times. Especially bearing in mind that everything that happened with the Everfree forest was his fault, as it turns out!

    The battle with Celestia and Nightmare Moon was breathtaking, and That Scene(tm) you showed in a screengrab, of devastated Twilight sitting by Celestia, was utterly heartbreaking. I didn't realise at that point that it was actually a flashback, so I think that was cleverly done.

    Something you also mentioned, and I'd have to agree totally with, is the point where AJ told Twilight that she should head home. It seemed so out of place and out of character that I was convinced it would turn out that they were all mirages, created by the forest or whatever was causing the trouble. I can kind of see the point the story was making but it seemed a bit clunky. It seems that particular bit could have been handled better.

    All in all though, it was an outstanding episode and it certainly outshone the opening episodes for S1 and S3, for me. And the way it's been set up to continue that particular story arc as the series progresses... well that should be a fascinating story to say the least! I can't even begin to guess how that will all work out and just what could be in that box!

    1. Ooh, if you do have time to write a review then I'll be more than interested to see it! You make some very good points right here, though. I *do* have a theory as to what's in the box -- a pure guess, and I won't spoil it here, but I did mention it (under a spoiler-cut) in one of my UKoE posts.

  2. loved the review! :3 as ever. My #1 place to go to get UK reviews of the pony eps :D

    the rest of the mane 6 were a little backgrounded, and AJ tend to come off worst when they're in the background. Flutters can be amusingly cute, Rarity can be amusingly diva-ish, Pinkie can be amusingly silly, even Dash can be amusingly hot-headed (although she can also be seen as a bit brash) but AJ can't seem to get a niche thing so well.

    I agree that Discord's development was a great feature. Celestia too! Going into the past of the alicorns could be a surprisingly fertile ground for future writing!

    Speaking of: Have you come across Ink Rose's history of Equestria stuff ( )? Probably you have, but if you haven't daaaaamn it's so good!

    1. Thank you; I do my best! I hope to do a review every week, unless I'm on holiday or something. You'd think AJ would be best at being a background pony, what with all the experience she gets... ;)

      We *surely* have to get an explanation at some point for Celestia and Luna's injuries in the First Discord Era. They didn't put those in just for the sake of it.

      I have noticed Ink Rose, but haven't seen that much: so much fandom, so little time!

  3. S4 is the best Pony Season and it haven't even finished yet.

    1. It's certainly fantastic for the most part!