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After the conclusion of the Season 3 finale, it would seem like the viewers had split themselves into two camps. There are those who really loved it, and those who didn't. While I find myself in the latter camp, after reviewing some other opinions I'd have to say I'm clearly in the minority. However, despite some of the problems I had with this episode, it wasn't as bad as some (including myself at first) make it out to be. On it's own, the episode could have been a rather fun experiment, but even then, this episode would have felt like a step back in quality. As a season finale though, I thought it was nowhere close to living up to the expectation that episodes prior had set before it.
There was a certain recipe that has made some of this show's best episodes stand out to me. That great combination of music, comedy, character exploration, and world development has consistently set a standard that has met or even exceeded some of the other cartoons that I've come to know and love. The season 3 finale, like those before it, also contains all of these important elements. However, it's a perfect example of how, just like baking a cake, you can't shove all the materials into a bowl, slap it into the oven, then expect it to turn out perfect. It needs the right kind of ingredients, in the right amount, and baked for the right amount of time.
Thankfully, it didn't turn out like this
That said, time really was among the biggest of the limiting factors here. The episode tries to shove way too many critical events and important information in a short amount of time. As a result, a lot of what I felt were important plot points were sped through like lightning or sometimes even dropped altogether. From what I perceived, Magical Mystery Cure tried to focus on three items; How Twilight's friends would act if they switched lives, Twilight writing her own spell (or fixing a broken one rather), and her transformation into a princess. From the sound of it, just two of these would be hard enough to fit in a 22 minute time period. In fact, two of them is really all they did effectively, and even then, they still suffer slightly as a result. For those of you who are interested, I've tried examine this problem further on the next page.
The biggest thing that most viewers will notice for this finale is the music. Yup, it's a musical, and Daniel Ingram really had his work cut out for him. You may have noticed a large meme movement after the episode aired called, "I Believe in Daniel Ingram" that replaced the growing "I Believe in M.A. Larson", a meme trying to express confidence that the writer would do a good job despite the constraints presented. Truthfully, I felt this was pretty well justified, since I thought the music far outshone the writing. Ingram composed some rather catchy songs here, and I found myself singing a few of them in the back of my head at work.
This is also where my feelings come into conflict. The tricky thing about musicals for me is that the music needs to both enhance and contribute to the rest of the material in some way. The characters, world, and story should all lay the foundation while the music gives it that final kick. It's kind of like icing on the cake to speak. The problem I had with this musical though, is that it felt like 5 thin layers of icing engulfing a bite-sized cupcake. While Ingram's music certainly enhances the emotional aspect of the story, it had a hard time balancing plot exploration versus plot advancement. Some songs would forward past a scene that really could have been expanded, while others songs spent too much time enhancing something that had (or could) already been explained enough without it.
The animation for this episode was fairly standard for the most part, but there were some new effects. There was plenty of shiny auras to symbolize returning memories, and the rapidly changing scenes in the pony eyes during the talent rediscovery was a nice effect. I was kind of disappointed that during the sad or 'shocking' moments, there wasn't any experimentation with facial expressions. No bulging eyes, silly sad faces, or something akin to this.
Then again, there was that moment with Twilight and her cutie mark eyes so perhaps it's not a total loss. I loved having the straight haired Pinkie back. Having her work on a farm was a great throwback, and I'm glad they took advantage of the opportunity. The spacey dimension/area was beautifully tranquil, and having a star road to walk down memory lane was really neat. The floating box frames felt kind of cheap, but they did a passable job. The final full-screen presentation I felt could've spent just a bit more time on certain scenes, but due to time constraints, it felt just a tad too fast. The transformation sequence was definitely a dramatic moment and it almost nailed it. We got the swirling magic, the rising hum, and dramatic hovering, and an engulfment of bright shining light, but what follows after? Not slow-mo evolutionary style change like Beauty and the Beast or Pokemon. Instead we get a cheap, giant, poorly animated 2-D Cutie Mark that floats back to earth and then *poof*
Twilight's transformation is just important as the coronation ceremony itself, and I really felt it could've used that last coat of polish. At the award ceremony, I felt most of the outfits passable but uninspiring. Twilight's hair was just her old style with a curl at the end, and given how unique the wedding, gala, and even crystal festival styles were I had come to expect a little more. The mane 5 outfit designs felt like they were rushed in at the last minute, especially since only Fluttershy and Rarity were the only ones that weren't wearing an entirely blue suit. Cadence had the great hairdo from the last ep, then it magically disappeared when she was with Shining Armor. Luna's dress and especially the crown looked weird. I'm not a fashion expert but the dark purple with yellow trim just didn't sit well on her navy blue body. Overall, the earlier moments left something to be desired, and the later moments could have used one last coat of polish. It's not awful, but for a season finale, it's rather disappointing.
I won't try to rate this episode on a scale or anything, but I do want you all to know that this finale isn't terrible. For what little time the team was given, this episode explored some pretty interesting concepts while drowning us in a wave of pony songs. While the review may sound extremely negative or nitpicking, all of it really could gone away if the team was allowed to make a second part. The fact that "Magical Mystery Cure" came out halfway decent at all is really a testament to the production team's ability not to completely crack under pressure. We're entering another lulling period in between seasons and I really hope the team makes the absolute most of it. While this finale, may not have reached the bar, it certainly has set the stage for something greater. I hope Hasbro and the animation team use this period to their advantage, and really take their time for the next season opener and TV movie. I know that talent and magic is still there, I just hope it isn't starting to run out.
Plot Summary and Analysis
If I were to open up a TV guide and read the description for this episode's plot, it would say "When Twilight casts a spell that switches the Cutie Marks and destinies of her friends, the only way to reverse the spell is by writing her own magic." Cool. In fact, that sounds awesome. The episode starts off with Twilight running around town, meeting each of her friends as they struggle to perform the talents based on their newly switched cutie marks. We find out later that Twilight was given a book from Celestia saying it contained a spell that Starswirl couldn't finish, and maybe she could take a crack at it. Casting the unfinished spell results in the Elements of Harmony having their colors switched, and (by extension I guess?) her friends have switched Cutie Marks as well. Although each one believes (through mind trances or what-have-you) that they've always had said cutie mark, they're terrible at their job, and every last one of them are just completely miserable.
Now prior episodes have experimented with Twilight's friends before. The Pilot introduced the characters and their wild personalities. The Gala showed how they'd uniquely react when each one selfishly tried to pursue their own goals in spite of each other. Return of Harmony gave us a glimpse of what would happen if they acted the complete opposite of themselves. This finale shows us what happens if they were to switch lives with each other. Unfortunately, this right here is where more time was most certainly needed. There was hardly any dialogue, banter, or comedy outside of the songs, and even then, the song itself would often just overshadow or blaze past it. The situation wasn't given enough time to be really explored, most of the dialogue played it almost too safe, and in the end the musical numbers just barely save it from being un-entertaining (but more on that later). To top it off, nearly every character is depressing and void of any unique personality. Background ponies could probably have fit the roles just as well.
To make matters worse, when Twilight is tasked with fixing it, she just gives up right off the bat. Giving up is nothing really new for Twilight. She's done it plenty of times before, but she only does it after exhausting every possible option. In this episode? (paraphrased) "I accidently cast an unfinished spell, and since the book doesn't hand me a cure, I give up." What? Really? Twilight you are a student, and a scientist. What happened to research? Experimentation? You do it all time! Yet you refuse to do it here. Even Spike tries to goad you into doing it, but even after admitting (before even trying) that there isn't a known cure, you have to wait until Spike comes along and reminds you of your friends. I'd have thought that lesson would have sunk in after 2.5 seasons, but I guess not. After being inspired by Spike, Twilight runs out to grab Fluttershy, who is leaving for Cloudsdale after being a failure of a party maker. She then suggests that Fluttershy go help Rainbow Dash, and only after another nudge that they're all friends that need each other does she agree.
What happens next was a missed opportunity. RD sits in a cooking pot as Fluttershy tries to calm a bunch of hungry animals. The scene could have given us the chance to really flesh out how bad Fluttershy's parties could be, but instead it cuts right to the chase. Fluttershy instantly calms them down and immediately hands them food. There was no experimentation with her new cutie mark, no stare, no comedic, or profound routine. Naturally, she awakens to her true talent, and after placing the Element of Harmony on her, everything goes back to normal. Aaanndd she wakes up with amnesia. At least we know they are in trances now. Twilight and friends then dive themselves into another musical number where they are reawakened to their new talents and everything is fixed. Once again, the song blasts through this pretty quickly and there was still no experimentation, slapstick, or exploration by this point. Twilight never does explain to her friends what happened to them, her friends never push the subject, and instead are content to hug and be happy with each other. By this point, you'd think the episode would be done. They've learned their lesson, everything is back to normal, and we're all supposed to have the warm fuzzles by now. BUT WAIT!! WE FORGOT ABOUT THE BOOK! Book? What book? Besides a 5-10 second clip, the book, the spell, and everything about it has been forgotten up to this point. All the episode descriptions I've read and even the title suggested that writing her own spell was the key to fixing it, but this "Magical Mystery Cure", however, isn't really the focus at all.
The book is an afterthought at this stage, but then in a random moment of clarity, Twilight is inspired with Starswirl's spell "From one to another, another to one, a mark of one's destiny singled out alone fulfilled" and runs back into house to fix it. This plot forwarding isn't new and usually acceptable for the sake of time, but once again no asks questions and instead stand just around Twilight as she writes, "From all of us together, together we are friends, with the marks of our destinies made one, there is magic without end." What the heck is this? Who wrote this!?! I'm one for cheesy dialogue, but what does this even mean? From a spell's context, it's too open ended, especially for the target audience. After placing the final dot, the Elements of Harmony activate, firing 5 large beams at Twilight whose own Element absorbs the energy and the BAM!! She's gone. The only thing left behind is a charred floor with smoke coming up from it (though if you pause, you'll notice it's in the shape of Twilight's cutie mark, which was pretty cool). But wait, this isn't your average teleport. It's a mini explosion! You'd think Twilight's completely bewildered friends would have thought they just killed their friend or something. But instead of getting "OMG WE KILLED HER" or the more target audience friendly, "What have we done!?", we'll have to settle with "What happened? Where did she go?" and quick second of aimless panic (Sorry, I'm just really desperate for a laugh out loud moment by this point).
It works for the most part, but it's a missed opportunity especially considering the next scene. Here, Twilight wakes up in a realm of space and stars naturally asking where she is and if anyone is there (a stereotypical scene that some characters go through during or after death). Celestia makes her newly random appearance congratulating Twilight on her accomplishment. A confused Twilight rightfully asks her mentor to clarify, to which Celestia responds that she was able to finish a spell that Starswirl couldn't figure out because he didn't truly know friendship like she did. Then the book is tossed aside once again. What the heck is the spell? We know what it did before, what does it do now? Apparently to the writers (and Hasbro I guess too), it's a trifle. It's not important. What do you mean it's not important!?! This was the focus point and it's just overlooked. In it's place we get a nice little trip down memory lane with a song. Woo clip show! I kinda wished the big scenes focused solely on the triumphs of Twilight's career, while the smaller ones focused solely on the day-to-day stuff, but it was a good enough job. After Celestia sings about Twilight fulfilling her destiny, a blob of magic comes out of Twilight's heart and begins to engulf her.
I'd guess that this is what the spell was supposed to do all along, but that's all it is, a guess. Even if I'm right though, it wouldn't really change my opinion of it. As far as I'm concerned the spell didn't cure anything and even if that wasn't the point (hello title?), the full spell probably shouldn't have resulted in that anyway. Yes, it has the words 'a mark of one's destiny fulfilled', but added with the rest of it, including 'our cutie marks made one there is magic without end', it sounds more like a proverb than any specific action. Anyway, Twilight is carried back down to Equestria from the heavens and lands outside in front of her friends. The show's charm finally awakens from its hibernation. Each of characters are bouncy, happy, and uniquely react to Twilight's new wings. Finally! Some character! A set of dialogue that's not depressing! Even Pinkie tries to throw some comedy in there! But we now we have a pressing question on our hands. What is Twilight going to do as a princess? Will she have to study how to conduct herself? Will she still be a student? Celestia answers saying she'll gradually learn in due time, and she'll still see her mentor. Guess we'll have to wait until next season.
Cut to the Coronation ceremony where we get a nice boring speech from Celestia about how she saved Luna and wrote her own magic. Too bad we already knew about Luna, and we still don't have an explanation of what the spell actually does. Remember that clip show? That whole speech about how she has showed the character of a princess? How she is an inspiration to us all? This right here is where it was needed. Despite the misleading title (which if split into two episodes, wouldn't have been a problem), this scene was supposed to be the crowning jewel (if you'll pardon the pun) and while it does well enough, it could have really used that kick. The speeches, the scenes, the music, and even the bowing should have all been done here. You know, like a real coronation ceremony? Twilight then heads outside for a rousing, if not slightly cheesy, speech about friendship. Not bad.
Cheers are given and tears are rightfully shed. We get a nice little moment from Shining Armor about liquid pride which managed to finally crack a smirk on my first time watching this. I had been losing my liquid pride watching the rushed execution of this episode up to this point, and even after re-watching it time and time again I could still feel my pride starting to leave. In the end, the final result was a rather neat story whose time constraints and missed opportunities set itself below the bar of it's predecessors. As a sum of its total parts, however, it's still a rather decent episode and isn't close to being the worst.
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