My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and all the images you see in this recap are owned by Hasbro.
Episode directed by Denny Lu and Tim Stuby
We’re back with another episode of The Taming of the Starlight! After last week’s respite from the newest member of Twilight’s inner circle to focus on Rainbow Dash, it’s time to check back in with our not-quite-yet reformed former dictator. Not only that, but it’s SOMEHOW Hearth’s Warming Eve time already which is odd considering it looked very much like Spring in the last episode, so maybe the show is trying to make up for lost time or something. Anyway! Will Starlight learn about the magic of Hearth’s Warming Eve, or will they let her be a Grumpy Gus until the ornaments are put away? Well you can probably guess which one it is, but let’s find out!!
The episode begins with everypony singing a Hearth’s Warming Eve carol throughout the town and leading into Twilight’s Doom fortress where the main festivities are happening; presumably leaving the chosen people of Pony-rael to their own devices as they celebrate Horse-anukah in the privacy of their own homes.
So far I think they’ve done an okay job distinguishing Hearth’s Warming Eve from X-Mas in this series, what with the various unique traditions and the completely separate origin for the holiday, but this episode seems to be the point that they threw up their hands and gave up trying to make it any different from X-Mas. That’s not necessarily a bad thing considering that X-Mas specials and movies are some of the most memorable pieces of entertainment out there, but it feels a bit limiting for a world that doesn’t have to gear itself specifically towards one Holiday, especially considering that they bothered to make up a fake one in the first place. So what classic X-Mas tale will we be sitting through this time? Turns out that Starlight feels pretty jaded about Hearth’s Warming Eve (big shocker there…) and so Twilight makes it her mission to get her to have fun this Holiday season, by any means necessary!
In this case, it means sitting her ass down and having her listen to A Hearth’s Warming Tail (no doubt written by Char-horse Dickens) until her Hearth is sufficiently warmed. That’s right. MLP is joining the long and storied pantheon of television shows that drags out this public domain dead horse (nyuk nyuk nyuk) to see if one more interpretation can be wrung out from it. I will give it this though; despite being ANOTHER adaptation that was already way over done by the time The Flintstones did it, it’s at least not a straight adaptation here. In fact, it has as much to do with How the Grinch Stole Christmas as it does with Dickens’s ghost story, so while we have yet to see if the changes were GOOD ones, they at least bothered to try. The story here is that Not Ebenezer Scrooge (Snowfall Frost played here by Starlight Glimmer) is a powerful mage in Canterlot who feels the Holiday is too much of a distraction for her; therefore it must be a pointless distraction for EVERYONE else, including her assistant Not Bob Cratchit (Snow Dash played by Rainbow Dash).
So the first thing that bothers me is that they cast Starlight into the role of Ebenezer Scrooge; the character who is the villainous protagonist that will ultimately change their ways by the end of the story. Whetherwhat we’re seeing now is intended to be Twilight’s mental image or not, it’s a bit off putting the way this is framed. Starlight just wants to skip Hearth’s Warming Eve because she doesn’t like the Holiday; therefore it makes the most sense to cast her as someone who wants to destroy it. Um… that’s a bit much, don’t you think? It’s not like in the first Hearth Warming Eve episode where the framing device is that they were putting on a play. In here, the whole reason we’re hearing this story is so that Starlight can be taught a lesson and start to enjoy the Holiday; a sketchy proposition in the first place (why force a Holiday on someone?), but doubly so when the story is literally villainizing her for not falling in lockstep with everyone else. I’m just saying that this is ALL starting to sound a bit like propaganda.
That’s the framing device though, so while I DO think it’s important to discuss it, let’s try and look at the story in isolation to see if it’s any good outside of the context of why it’s being told. Snowfall Frost is sick of all the noise, noise, noise, NOISE from the revelry of the other ponies, and after begrudgingly letting Snow Dash have the day off, she spends the rest of her Hearth’s Warming Eve hemming and hawing in song about how much this Holiday sucks. Eventually she gets the idea to use magic to… I guess skip over the day? I don’t know exactly what she’s brewing, whether it’s some worldwide hypnosis stew that will erase Hearth’s Warming Eve from everyone’s minds, or if it’s some sort of super powered formula that will give her Superman’s power to go through time by spinning around the globe. Whatever it is, it doesn’t go unnoticed by the ghosts of Hearth’s Warming Past (played by Applejack) and presumably to be followed by Present and Future.
So far, I like what they’re doing here. We all know that almost all the adaptations of the original story either don’t realize or intentionally ignore the fact that Dickens was writing a horror story and not a heartwarming X-Mas tale. Even so, the good ones still manage to maintain a certain sense of dread and hardly any of them fail to make Scrooge an unlikable scumbag. Here though, they’re intentionally avoiding both. I wouldn’t say that Snowfall Frost isn’t the bad guy here, but her evil is more misguided than Ebenezer’s. She feels her actions are justified and will legitimately help the suckers who still believe in the Holiday; using the time instead to make the world a better place. Her opinion is not an really not that unreasonable of one to have as long as you’re not about to wipe out a national Holiday (i.e. criticism about the commercialization of X-Mas). On top of that, the ghosts here (at least the first one) don’t seem like they’ve have the same kind of dark presence that they do in other adaptations, and there’s no Jacob Marley analogue to kick things off. Hell, she’s not even in bed when they show up so I don’t know how (or even if they will) make this all turn out to be a dream. So while it’s not trying to recapture the darkness or the weight of the original story, it manages to have its own spin on things that include elements that wouldn’t have worked in a darker interpretation; an example being Snowfall Frost’s villain song before she makes her vat of Hearth’s Warming Eve erasing goop. Anyway, The Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Past does the one thing they’re good for and that’s to drag her ass back through their own sad and lonely life, accompanied by a song of course.
So what do we learn in this flashback to Snowfall Frost’s childhood? Well she apparently had THE WORST TEACHER IMAGINABLE who seems to be unclear on the fact that burnout is a hindrance to education. The guy seems to think that taking ONE DAY to celebrate Hearth’s Warming Eve, is an irrevocable detriment to a pony’s education and that any time that is NOT used studying is a waste. Hey kid! Why are you eating that sandwich when you could be reading this book? How long do you plan on sleeping? If you have time to sleep, you have time to practice your spells! I would hate to see this guy’s arguments on why weekends are the work of the devil or how bathroom breaks are a sign of weakness.
So there you go! Her childlike wonder and innocence was snuffed out by a cartoonish buffoon who SOMEHOW manages to stay employed as a teacher. It doesn’t have quite the same impact as Scrooge’s slow decline into self-centeredness and cynicism that ends with the snuffing out of his sense of humanity when his fiancée leaves. Maybe if we didn’t have to fit the entire story into a single episode (or had to wrap it around the framing device) this could have been expanded somewhat and we could see what happened IN BETWEEN her teacher yelling at her and the present she finds herself in. Speaking of which, Snowfall Frost is returned to her home by the Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Past and is greeted by The Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Present played by the only pony it could possibly be played by.
Oh I’m sorry. She’s actually The Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Presents instead of Present. Was that meta joke in the book Twilight’s reading, or does Pinkie Pie’s fourth wall breaking powers extend this far? Now the thing is that after that flashback with The Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Past, Snowfall Frost is ready to change her way and really doesn’t need much more encouragement to set things straight. This sadly shows the weakness of softening up the Scrooge character too much as her character arc already seems to have been completed with the flashback, so all the stuff after that is gonna be extraneous at best. Still, we might as well go through the motions, and The Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Presents does indeed have a song of their own. I’m… less enthused with this one than the other songs we’ve gotten, mostly for this one scene where she tap-dances with Tiny Tim. That just seems kinda… wrong to me.
Am I the only one who thinks it’s kinda crass to undercut Tiny Tim’s illness and role in the story (this is his ONLY scene by the way) for a silly musical number? It’s kind of like the Inquisition bit in History of the World Part One, only without a hint of satire or irony. After that… awkwardness, The Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Presents takes Snowfall Frost to Snow Dash’s Hearth’s Warming Eve party where everyone there is complaining about what a prick she is and how laughable it is to think that the effort spent on Hearth’s Warming Eve would be better used to making Equestria a better place. That’s… kinda odd. Again, because Scrooge is so sanitized here, it creates a disconnect between the story they WANT to tell with Snowfall Frost, and the story they HAVE to tell so that this is a Christmas Carol adaptation. Snow Dash even tells the party guests (including Fluttershy and Rarity) what Snowfall thinks a better Equestria would be (ponies working hard, learning, and using their abilities to the benefit of Equestria), and they snicker at it. Oh no… what a HORRIBLE worldview to have…
Thankfully this ghostly visit is cut short as The Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Presents starts disappearing in a cloud of mist to be replaced by The Ghost of Hearth’s Warming Future; played by Luna who appears to be standing on REALLY tall stilts with a cloak hiding them.
This ghost? Yeah, she ain’t fucking around. She straight up tells her that Windigos exist and that if she casts the spell she will plunge them all into The Day After Tomorrow which is a fate that nobody deserves. I don’t know HOW this will happen as it’s still unclear what the spell will actually DO (will everyone just forget to be nice to each other if they don’t get plastered on eggnog one night a year?) but it’s enough to convince her (for the third time) not to cast the spell. And with that, FLASH! She wakes up in her study and, without having to ask a boy outside her window, knows that there’s still time to set things right! She goes to Snow Dash’s party, apologizes for being a jerk I guess, and lives happily ever after; presumably revealing to no one that the she discovered a spell to wipe out a day on the calendar. And so we must return to the framing device where no doubt Twilight’s scheme has worked and Starlight is more than happy to recant her earlier statements and get into the Holiday spirit! Well… kind of. Twilight is just happy to have shared the story with Starlight and puts no pressure on her to join the festivities down below which is actually a really great way for her to handle the situation. Instead of micromanaging her every move, Twilight is gonna let her do her own thing. I guess she really DID learn something from episode six! I KNEW that was gonna be the best episode this season! Starlight does eventually join them which is fine as it was ultimately her choice and not due to OVERT pressure from Twilight, though I kind of wish Trixie was there too so that she’d at least have someone to talk to. Oh well. I guess the musical number the end the episode on will be good enough.
At first, I thought the framing device was awful and that the Christmas Carol story was doing something interesting. Interestingly enough, my opinion completely flipped by the end of it with the Christmas Story reenactment going off the rails towards the middle and the framing device having a strong ending. The main failing with the retelling of the classic story is that it knew that the time restraints (and probably some content restraints) wouldn’t allow them to fully recreate the story, but when they made changes they weren’t as well thought out as they should have been. I would have preferred if they veered much more away from the source if there wasn’t enough time to tell it properly, but what it feels like here is a half measure and ultimately an incomplete adaptation. Still, it did manage to have some very strong elements such as the updated character designs and the excellent songs, but they were in service to a story that didn’t live up to all it could have been. Let’s just put a moratorium on all adaptations of this story for the next decade or so. There’s really nothing more to gain from dipping back into that tapped out well at this point.