Sunday, 16 February 2014

Episode review: "Filli Vanilli" (S4E14)

Fluttershy, happy in the spotlight... ish
Star quality. You either have it or you don't
All right then! Into the second half of Season 4 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in the best way possible: with a Fluttershy episode! Well, it might be... the stakes are high Cheese Sandwich when 'Shy is at the centre of things since I'm very demanding. She deserves only the best. Writing duties for "Filli Vanilli" were handled by Amy Keating Rogers, which is interesting as she's never done a Fluttershy episode before – and I thought she mischaracterised our favourite Pegasus in "MMMystery on the Friendship Express" back in S2. After the break, we'll see!

Oh. My. Word. This episode came closer than I ever could have imagined to becoming my favourite Fluttersode of all time. And seeing as the title-holder there is "Hurricane Fluttershy" – which is my favourite from the whole darn series – that's quite an achievement. I'd go so far as to say that without one particular aspect that rubbed me up the wrong way, this would have had a run at threatening its long-held supremacy. Yes, it really was that good. I had a big stupid smile on my face much of the time, and not just because of the cheeky "Milli Vanilli" reference in the title!

Although not strictly a musical episode, this is most definitely a music-themed story. We only get two songs (given the ending, you could even argue that they're both part of the same song) but they're superbly done. Fluttershy's opening scene is so cute that my monitor began to melt, while the Ponytones' (initially a capella) rendition of their own song is a real departure and extremely well done. Disappointed by Big Mac not speaking? This time he sings, and sings well at that!

The Ponytones in concert
The Ponytones, live(ish) in concert tonight!
I'll get my main complaint out of the way now: Pinkie Pie. I was surprised, given that AKR usually writes Pinkie wonderfully (she's the person who wrote the extremely enjoyable "Pinkie Pride"), that Pinkie was so unbearable this time around. Yes, her friends did call her out on it, but even by Pinkie's standards it seemed a bit much. Maybe she'd do that sort of thing once, but not again and again. Remember, it was Pinkie who showed sensitivity to Fluttershy's feelings way back in "Griffon the Brush Off". It took the edge off an otherwise almost flawless episode.

Back to Flutters herself. I initially thought it a slight shame that we were getting yet another episode about her facing her fears. "Bats!" (and, much earlier, "A Bird in the Hoof") showed that there are other sides to her. Nevertheless, it was handled extremely well. She was shown wanting to perform, but not quite being able to do it. She'd progressed a bit since the early days, but not all the way. And it was topped off by the "Baby steps" line at the end: more realistic and satisfying than if she'd ended up utterly carefree. (And whew, that black-and-white bit. Shudder...)

Which brings us to Flutterguy. I was really unsure about whether revisiting this would work, since I like to see the show look forwards, not back. I was even less sure when I realised that the voice acting had changed from the wonderful Blu Mankuma to Alvin Sanders (speaking) and Marcus Mosley (singing). But they were wonderful too, so it did! It also gave us a nice excuse to bring Zecora into the story. A shame she didn't sing, though: I've wanted to see that ever since I watched her Epic Pony Rap Battle against Iron Will!

Pinkie Pie makes a face
"Annoying comments? You told me they were endearing!"
I was fascinated by Zipporwhill, the filly who flew hither and thither beside her (much larger) father. Was she really just a very small Pegasus, or something else? I've never seen a Pegasus fly like that, and I'm wondering whether she might actually have been a Breezie. We haven't seen one of those in G4 (though they've been mentioned) but it might explain why she's so different. I did look up her name to see if any of the previous generations had featured a filly called Zipporwhill, but it would seem not.

Quite a few background events to talk about this time, even if I steadfastly refuse to talk about those little moments of FlutterMac and CheeriMac fuel. (Oops...) It was strange to see deer in the pet compound: I'd guess they can talk, but are considered on a par with cows and sheep. I liked the way they used fireflies for the stage lights. We saw Lyra and Bon Bon next to each other in the queue. And AJ did not look at all happy about Goldie Delicious coming to a pet-adoption event!

As I said near the start of this review, this was not far off being the greatest episode of MLP:FiM that I've had the pleasure to see. I find myself wishing so much that Pinkie had been in her more thoughtful mode, since that could have pushed the episode's score into the stratosphere and established it as, without question, the best ep of S4 so far. As it is, I don't feel I can quite justify putting it out on its own. However, "Filli Vanilli" remains a wonderful, joyous episode that I know I will watch many, many times in the future.

Zipporwhill, dog and dad
"Yeah, we got the Ponytones. Now shut up about it!"
Best quote: Rarity: "Pinkie Pie! Don't be ridiculous!" Pinkie: "Aww, but I'm so good at it!"

  • Fluttershy's singing and dancing
  • The Ponytones' music, including Big Mac singing!
  • Applejack's "conversation" with her brother
  • Rarity was supportive and kind to Fluttershy
  • Zipporwhill and her (unnamed?) father
  • Visually inventive and attractive
  • Superb physical comedy throughout
  • Nicely judged, realistic ending
  • Pinkie Pie. Out of character or not, she was incredibly irritating


  1. I mentioned that "Pinkie Pride" had become my favourite episode of S4 at the time I watched it, in my comment for your review, but as I said there, as soon as I'd seen *this* episode, it immediately nudged that one out the way and into second place. I can't think of anything much to really add to your review, because it pretty much summed it up perfectly. Lots of humour, some really good music (I especially liked the first main performance of the Ponytones song - the version where Fluttershy first joined in replacing Big Mac) and some emotional moments. (That one particular moment, which reminded me more than a bit of the infamous "surrounded by eyes" moment, was very chilling.)

    With the exception of the Pinkie Problem(tm) that you mentioned, it was pretty much the perfect episode. Even as a Pinkie fan, I was very unimpressed by the way she was portrayed here, and it just didn't seem likely *or* necessary at all. I think I'll just have to assume she had been replaced by aliens and the real Pinkie was in another dimension at the time....

    Another reason I loved this episode so much was because of parallels, which meant I could empathise with Fluttershy totally. I would love love love (sorry Cadance) to be able to perform my own songs live, with a really good light show and surrounded by synths. It's one of those dreams that I'd love to do, but I know realistically that I just can't do it. (I can't play keyboards all that well anyway, but the thought of being on a stage is terrifying.) As much as I'd like to have the chance, I just can't face it, and that's why I can fully understand what Fluttershy was feeling. And why I thought the ending was especially well written. There was no quick fix - just "baby steps" which was far better than just "that's it, I'm cured of all my stage fright problems!"

    So yes, this was an absolute cracker of an episode! Now excuse me, I have to have a few words with Pinkie....

    1. And I can't add much to that! Reading some other reviews of this episode, though, it's interesting that most Fluttershy-type people absolutely loved it, and that most of the people who didn't were the more extrovert, Rainbow-type people. Being able to empathise with Fluttershy really helps a lot with this ep, I think.

  2. Ah, forgot something. I also meant to say that I wondered if Zipporwhill's father was based on someone. I can't even begin to guess who he might have been based on, but there was just something about him that seemed to suggest he was meant to look like somebody in RL. (They'd gone to a lot of effort to get that facial hair, the actual hair and the glasses in a particular style.)

    1. You're certainly not the only person to be wondering about that! Nobody seems to know the answer, though. Maybe he was based on a show staffer?

    2. Oh, forgot something too... Zipporwhill's VA was none other than Tabitha St Germain! Is there anything this woman can't do?

  3. This episode ranks in my top 5 of Pony episodes.

    1. Yes, mine too! Maybe even my top three. :)