Monday, 16 May 2016

Episode review: S6E08: "A Hearth's Warming Tail"

Pinkie singing her song
Either Canterlot has invented electricity or there's a lot of magic here
As it's May, it's clearly time for... a Hearth's Warming episode. Well, okay, then. The big pre-showing news about this ep, apart from its timing, was that it would mark the My Little Pony writing debut of Michael Vogel, once vice-president of development at Hasbro but now promoted into the greatest job anyone could ever want. The stakes were upped a few days ago by Big Jim Miller tweeting that it just might be one of the best all-around episodes the show had ever done. I'll give you my take on it after the break.

What we have here is nothing less than A Pony Christmas Carol musical form, and it makes a damn fine show of it, too. I love that story, and I like to think Charles Dickens himself would have enjoyed many of its adaptations over the years. After all, he always hammed up that final "Tiny Tim, who did NOT die" line when he gave public readings of his story at Birmingham Town Hall. "A Hearth's Warming Tail" doesn't quite match up to the Muppets' stupendously brilliant version, but it's still very good indeed.

As it's a musical episode, Daniel Ingram's work is obviously to the fore, and I'm pleased to say that I think the songs are generally excellent. There's plenty of variation in tone and style, and each song fits the character(s) singing it nicely. Kelly Sheridan does wonderful work with Starlight's villain song, "Say Goodbye to the Holiday", but my favourite may be "Pinkie's Present", recorded with a live band at The Warehouse Studios, the same place where A Pony Kind of Christmas was made. Additional: Luna's song was voiced by Aloma Steele this time, not Kazumi Evans, though the latter still sang for Rarity.

Snowfall Frost's song
Brings a whole new meaning to "green screen acting"
Starlight, as I say, is the antagonist, Ebenezer Snowfall Frost. I'm not sure how she feels about Twilight picturing her in that role these days, but it works very well so let's roll with it. Twilight makes a fine narrator, as you'd expect, and I love her Star Swirl fanfillying and the little reveal that she's been doing the voices for everypony else! It's nice to see Spike included as well, though his best moment is the perfectly timed lampshading of the final commercial break.

One thing I really appreciate about this episode is how well paced it is. It's fairly common for me to enjoy an ep of Friendship is Magic, but to voice a reservation that it feels a bit rushed at the end. "A Hearth's Warming Tail" doesn't fall into that trap, and all the important plot points get a little room to breathe. In that sense, it reminds me a little of "The Cutie Mark Chronicles", another ensemble episode where a lot of stuff is packed very skilfully into 22 minutes.

There are so many little touches that turn this episode from a good one to a great one: the animation effects when spirits pass through bodies, the cameo from Professor Snape Flintheart and Featherweight as Tiny Tim to name but three. Actually, let's name some more. Vinyl is the only pony who doesn't actually sing, the Doctor is seen with Rose, Berry Punch drinks, there's a Sherlock/Watson pair (Rathbone rather than Cumberbatch era) and – of course – some excellent business with Derpy on the tree.

Princess Luna reveals herself
"When you're right you're right. You're on your own, folks"
I'm pleased to say that there's really very little that I feel like criticising here. Fluttershy, although very cute when she does appear, still seems a little bit marginalised this season – and Pinkie's had plenty of screen time, so it can't just be a VA thing. Daniel Ingram's music continue to be a tiny bit too clever for its own good in one or two places, and a few of the songs' lyrics could do with a little work to fit them perfectly to the lyrics. But that's really about it.

This is a very strong episode, and on a second watch it's overtaken "Gauntlet of Fire" with some ease to become my favourite of S6 so far. Its faults are very minor and greatly outweighed by the positives, not least that it takes a less-than-original plot and places a highly distinctive Pony spin on the thing. If "A Hearth's Warming Tail" is representative of what Vogel can do as a show writer, then I'd be very pleased to see his name appear on more episodes this season.

You'll doubtless have seen my star rating down there, and I expect some of you will disagree profoundly. This episode seems to have been almost as divisive as "Newbie Dash" in its reception by the fandom, but this time round the reason is simpler: people who don't like A Christmas Carol, Dickens in general or Christmas stories at all mostly don't enjoy this. People (like me) who love the story are mostly far more positive. I was grinning virtually non-stop, and that means a five.

Filly!Snowfall and Professor Flintheart
"Out for a little walk, Starlight, are we?"
Best quote: Twilight, as Pinkie: "And the reason is to be with your friends."

  • Great adaptation of Dickens' classic tale
  • Very well paced throughout
  • Starlight getting the chance to be a baddie again!
  • Wonderfully animated
  • Some really nice touches of humour
  • Derpy's extended cameo
  • Several other background scenes
  • Overcomes its out-of-season scheduling
  • A few slightly awkward lyrics
  • Beyond that... um... yeah


  1. I didn't know the Pinkie one was a live band, although that song did impress me regardless, so need to give it another listen.

    I'm fairly indifferent about 'A Christmas Carol'; I neither love it or hate. The only adaptations I'm really familiar with are the Patrick Stewart one, and 'Mickey's Christmas Carol'.

    1. You're just awkward. :P

      The Muppet Christmas Carol is my favourite Christmas film full stop, not just my favourite Dickens adaptations. It manages to stay remarkably faithful to the original, but with a really clever Muppet-y twist. Michael Caine is the only actual human actor, and does a wonderful job. The songs are very good too -- though for some bizarre reason one of them is cut from almost every modern release (it's on the VHS).