Lost Boy TV: Phineas and Ferb

The Disney Afternoon has not existed since 1999, but fans of the shows that ran in that prestigious time slot are still ones that are remembered to this day by the people who grew up watching them. Many fans have been almost demanding Disney to make new animated shows that were of the quality of the ones found in the Disney Afternoon, but there have not been many results worth mentioning (except for Kim Possible, which was absolutely fantastic), but now we have Phineas and Ferb. If there was ever a show that should have been part of that programming block, it’s this one.

When I first sat down to watch Phineas and Ferb, I was hesitant. I had been burned by shows on the Disney Channel before, but my hesitation had become completely removed the first time I heard the ska theme song and saw penguins rocking out on guitars. I was hooked immediately.

Phineas and Ferb almost always follows the same exact formula for each episode: Phineas and Ferb create a crazy invention and their sister Candace tries to bust them to their mother. While that main storyline is going on, the B story is always their pet platypus, Perry, also known as Agent P, fighting against his nemesis, the villainous Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. Whatever Doofenshmirtz builds to get rid of something he hates or would allow him to take over the Tri-State Area ends up destroying or otherwise getting rid of whatever Phineas and Ferb make right before Candace can bust the boys to their mother. Perry always returns to the response of “Oh, there you are Perry” and everyone has a snack. Rinse, wash, and repeat for around 150 episodes.

While the show has a very obvious formula, each episode feels incredibly fresh. Every one of the boy’s inventions are individual ideas that are never repeated (except for one, but that’s because the second time is a musical version of the episode, but that’s something I will touch upon later). In one episode they can be playing with giant Spinning Tops of Death and in another the boys can be fighting giant treehouse robots with their sister and her friend Stacy. Even Doofenshmirtz and Perry’s story lines never stagnate. There’s always a different “-inator” that Doofenshmirtz makes to “fix” his problems with the world along with a new way to capture the intrepid platypus secret agent (my personal favourite is encasing Perry in quick drying chocolate to stop him from stopping the good doctor from melting all of the chocolate in the Tri-State Area in order to sell his own chocolate at exorbitant prices).

Most of what keeps Phineas and Ferb from stagnating is the consistently high quality of the writing. The jokes fly fast and stick leaving the viewer with numerous quotable lines for each 11-minute episode. The writing also follows the Disney standard of animation in that it writes both for kids and the adults who watch television with (or in my case, like) children. Part of this stems from the fact that it was created by Dan Povenmire (a writer for Rocko’s Modern Life and a director of a number of Family Guy episodes in earlier seasons. He also voices Dr. Doofenshmirtz) and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh (who also wrote for Rocko’s Modern Life and voices Major Monogram on Phineas and Ferb). There is definitely a lot of similarities that can be drawn between the styles of humour in Rocko’s Modern Life and Phineas and Ferb, the largest of which would just be how unbelievably bizarre both of the shows can get at times (Giant Floating Baby Head and the Jewish Mexican Cultural Fair are two that immediately spring to mind).

The other major component to the show’s success is the quality of the characters. Phineas and Ferb are two absolutely brilliant children with imaginations that are just demanding to be expressed into new and interesting ideas. What is most interesting about them, but is something that really isn’t focused upon in the show too often (which is a subtlety that I’m glad exists) is that the brothers are actually stepbrothers. Phineas and Candace’s mother and Ferb’s father married when the boys were young, but the relationship between the entire family unit is just like a family where all of the members are blood related. There is never any amount of dysfunction besides the standard sibling rivalry, which leads us to Candace. Her major role is to try to reveal her brother’s adventures to their mother, but this usually gets in the way of her having an actual life of her own, much to her friend Stacy’s chagrin. Their mother, Linda, is eternally patient with her daughter (though she believes that Candace is completely crazy) and wonderfully doting towards Phineas and Ferb. All of this hides (rather poorly) the fact that she used to be an 80’s one-hit-wonder. Their father is not seen all that often earlier in the show, but when he does finally show up, he just looks upon the inventions of the boys with a blissful joy and relative unawareness.

Even Dr. Doofenshmirtz gets some character development, partially from his constant insistence of telling Perry the Platypus the back story that led to the invention of his latest “-inator”, partially from his hatred of his perfect brother Roger, but mostly from the existence of his daughter, Vanessa. Dr. Doofenshmirtz wants nothing more than to get his teenage daughter to love him, but she usually is just hopelessly embarrassed by him. He also is not really that evil (seriously, he runs a company called Doofenshmirtz Evil, Inc. that has it’s own jingle), he just goes about solving his problems in a very odd manner.

A musical version of an episode was mentioned earlier, but musical numbers are not just limited to that one episode. Most episodes, in fact, have a song in them written for just that episode; on top of that, they’re exceptionally well done.

The theme song (“Today’s Going to be a Great Day”) for the show is performed by Bowling for Soup and really sets the tone and premise for the show up perfectly (and shows a number of inventions that Phineas and Ferb might do over the course of their summer adventures, and by the end of season 3, all but one of them have been accomplished (it’s actually a running joke within the show)). Most of the songs were written by Dan Povenmire and/or Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, and as such, fit perfectly within the tone of the show. Some of the best songs in the show can be found in the season 1 episode “Dude, We’re Getting the Band Back Together”, which also happens to be one of the best episodes. What is so amazing about the music is that the songs do not necessarily follow a specific musical style, they range from disco, to country, to 80’s rock, to even jazz and ska. There are 3 separate soundtracks for the show and they are well worth a listen even if you aren’t a fan of the show.

Phineas and Ferb is easily one of the most brilliant shows I have seen in ages. It has wonderful writing, well developed characters, fun stories, and amazing music and animation. Drop whatever you are doing and watch this show. 3 seasons of it are available on NetFlix Streaming and you will not be disappointed.

Cinematic Adventures: Tinker Bell

After growing up in the 90’s, the thought of watching a straight-to-video Disney film is one that did not really interest me. Most of the sequels they released were unanimously terrible and only a few gems glimmered out of the river of ankle-deep sewage. Oddly enough, shortly after Disney announced that it’s DisneyToon Studios would not be releasing it’s straight to video sequels (despite the fact that they are now making a spin-off to Cars called Planes, which will probably be just as bad as most of the straight-to-video sequels), it announced a completely different take on the trend of films they had been releasing since 1994’s Return of Jafar: a series of films based off of Tinker Bell.

Now many people would ask: how do you make a series of films based off of a character who doesn’t even speak? The answer is simple, make it all about fairies and not include Peter Pan whatsoever (a decision that personally cut me to the core, but that’s neither here nor there) and in turn, create a completely brand new line of merchandising akin to the Princess line that would act off of Tinker Bell’s already suprisingly devoted fanbase.

Just as an aside, Tinker Bell is one of the oddest characters in the Disney canon. People love Tinker Bell in that she is one of Disney’s mascots and is always present in firework shows, and has been used in the introductions for shows like Disneyland, so her appearance is one that is highly saturated and ripe for people loving her without actually knowing anything about her besides the fact that she is a fairy and is magic. That being said, her actual character in Peter Pan is one that is really either loved or hated. People who like her, adore her for her “sassiness” because of how she jealously treats Wendy; people who hate her think she is just mean and cruel for the same reason that the other crowd loves her. I wanted to like Tinker Bell mostly due to the fact that I love her character design, and Marc Davis’ animation on her is amazing, but I was unfortunately in the latter camp despite my knowledge of her character and why she was acting the way she did.

Luckily, the first Tinker Bell movie allowed me to actually like her character for the first time in my life.

The film opens on the “birth” of Tinker Bell (Mae Whitman, Katara from Avatar: the Last Airbender, Roxy Richter from Scott Pilgrim VS the World, and Ann Veal in Arrested Development) from the first laugh of a newborn baby and we find out that all of the fairies in the world live in a location within Neverland called Pixie Hollow and that they each are magically assigned to a job when they are born. They can be a garden fairy, a water fairy, light fairy, animal fairy, and others. Tinker Bell is a tinker fairy, a fairy who fixes and creates items and tools for the other fairies, but is not quite in love with her job. Her new friends Rosetta (Kristin Chenoweth), Iridessa (Raven-Symone), Fawn (America Ferrera) and Silvermist (Lucy Liu) try to teach Tinker Bell about their jobs to see if she has the talent to do them, and of course, she fails on a spectacular fashion. The fairies are all preparing for the changing of the seasons from winter to spring, as they change the seasons on Earth, and in a spectacular Disney fashion, Tinker Bell ends up ruining the preparations, but learns that she has the power to create and tries to save it.

Tinker Bell is a much more likable character in this film than she is in Peter Pan. She’s sweet, curious, and determined to figure out her role in the world, but she does have that jealous and angry streak that was present in Peter Pan, it’s just not a constant thing like it was in that film.

One of the things I noticed about the film were that there are a few similarities that can be derived between this film and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that I could not help but notice. Both feature characters trying to figure out their role in life (Tinker Bell and the Cutie Mark Crusaders), both feature the changing of seasons actually being caused by the characters. They’re not huge, but they definitely exist.

I fully expected this movie to be bad, and not that awesome kind of bad (in other words, the Pac Man effect: when a film is so bad it goes all the way around to being good), the really, really, genuinely awful kind of bad. A year or two after the film was released in 2008, I spent some time over at my neighbor’s house with their young children who were watching Tinker Bell and I was genuinely surprised that it was not only watchable, but that I wanted to actually watch it in it’s entirety. It’s not a remarkably good movie, but it is very entertaining to watch. The animation is good, not great, but good. The characters are well designed, but a lot of the faces look very similar and move in kind of a weird way. The music is nothing special, but it’s passable and it doesn’t intrude on the film.

If you’re a Tinker Bell fan, you’ve probably already seen this film, but if you aren’t a fan of the fairy you should still see it. It’s a pretty good film that above all else, entertains. I’m definitely interested in seeing the other Disney Fairy films and will probably get to those sometime in the next few weeks.

Lost Boy TV: Thundercats

The 80’s seem to be coming back in a major way with Transformers and GI Joe in the movie theatres and new Thundercats, Voltron, Transformers (which to be quite honest, they never really went anywhere), and My Little Pony shows gracing our television screens with their heavily nostalgic presence. I did a preview of Thundercats before and now that the first 13 episode season has been completed, I wanted to follow up on how I feel about the rest of the season besides the first 3 episodes.

The quality of the first 3 episodes definitely held up throughout the season in every way. The story got much more intriguing, especially when the characters received a massive amount of character development, and by around halfway through the first season I was attached more to the characters than I ever was in the original series. Now the characters actually feel like characters rather than action figures. Also, as soon as Panthro actually showed up, the show got immensely better as Panthro is a complete and total badass.

Thundercats is still a very episodic show, but they don’t feel disjointed at all as the episodic episodes are just them traveling to their next goal, meeting new people along the way. These encounters also have some sort of reason for being there, whether it is getting the Thundertank fixed or just getting supplies as so that they can keep surviving.

This is a really short post, but that’s mostly because I’m trying to not repeat myself too much. The new Thundercats is really, really good. The animation is fantastic, the characters are memorable, the story isn’t remarkably deep but still very entertaining to watch. Go watch this show.

Video Game Review: Mario Kart 7

There are many people on the internet who would look at a review of Mario Kart 7 and immediately ask “Why do people need a review of Mario Kart? It never changes!”

Those people would be wrong in the case of 7.

There are usually some small tweaks that occur from Mario Kart to Mario Kart, but they’re really never massive (besides the ill-advised double drivers in Double Dash and the awesome addition of bikes in Mario Kart Wii) and they usually never really affect the gameplay that much. Nintendo added customizable karts, hang gliders, and propellers to the usual kart based racing formula, but also changed around how courses work with the inclusion of rally races and even changed up the balance of items by trimming some of the fat and adding some really spectacular new items.

The karts are really the main focus of the tweaking in this game. Now you have a choice of different chassies, wheels, and hang gliders to mix-and-match in order to find your personal kart to complement your play style (my kart is made up of the B Dasher, Standard Wheels, and the Super Glider, all of which help me to make my car fast but with decent acceleration, but is a drifting monster). This works considerably better than just picking a pre-made kart from a list mostly due to the fact that Nintendo doesn’t have to make 50 karts with slight modifications in order to accommodate as many people as possible, they can just make a bunch of parts that when combined can make more karts than Nintendo ever would have made on their own. You get these parts by picking up the coins on the racetracks, which is something that has not existed since Super Mario Kart, and like Super Mario Kart, when you collect 10 coins the top speed of your kart is enhanced. You lose coins when you’re hit by items, but there are always more on the tracks.

Unfortunately for me, the bikes from Mario Kart Wii did not return, but with the inclusion of customizable karts, it’s something that I can forgive. There’s always Mario Kart Wii U for them to make a return.

Speaking of items, there’s been a bit of a shift. Fake Item boxes were removed from the game (which I love, as they have never really served much of a purpose) along with Mega Mushrooms, POW Blocks, and Thunderclouds. In their place, Fire Flowers, the Super Leaf, and Lucky 7 have been inserted into the item blocks. Fire Flowers allow you to shoot out fireballs for a set period of time that bounce all over the place and if one of them hits an opponent, they drop a coin. The Super Leaf puts a Tanooki tail on the kart that works like a shield, but unlike the Super Star, the Super Leaf’s Tanooki tail has to be activated. When it is, it spins the tail around you once and can destroy an item or hit opponents. The Lucky 7 is the biggest item in the game and works kind of like the Special Items in Double Dash, but instead of giving each racer set an individual item, it gives them a green shell, red shell, a banana, mushroom, Super Star, Blooper, and a Bob-omb that all rotate around the  racer and can use them at will. It’s a very rare item, but when you get it, it can change the course of the race.

Unlike other Mario Kart games, the AI in the game does not flat out cheat. In previous installments in the series, if you got really far ahead, it was inevitable that you would be hit by multiple Blue Shells and Lightning Bolts until you lose the race in fourth place. This doesn’t really happen too much in Mario Kart 7 (much to my enjoyment). Instead of the other racers inevitably getting whatever item they need, Nintendo actually seems to have boosted their intelligence and race skills. This makes the game much more fair and much more enjoyable, as instead of getting frustrated when the game intentionally screws you over and costs you the race, you can get frustrated when the game beats you because you just aren’t good enough (which is my problem with 3 star-ing all of the 150 CC cups and beating Mirror Mode).

The new tracks in the game are some of the best in the series. Like all of the games since Mario Kart DS, the game is divided between 16 new cups and 16 cups returning from previous games. Now there  is another subdivision between the tracks: the standard 3-lap tracks and some new 1-lap, super long, rally race style tracks. These rally race tracks are amazing, tracks like Wuhu Loop, Maka Wuhu, and the new Rainbow Road really help to break up the usual formula of the Mario Kart games and has ended up making some really interesting and fun tracks. Another thing that has broken up the formula is the inclusion of propellers and hanggliders. The hanggliders are activated by going off a blue jump, and through some skill and air vent boosts, you can actually use the hanggliders to glide over the other racers. The propellers are activated when you enter water and don’t really change the game like the hanggliders do, but your kart does end up handling considerably looser than it would normally.

Character weight classes are now divided up between 5 different classes: feather, light, medium, cruiser, and heavy and the pre-existing and new characters have been shifted around. The stat breakdown between characters has been streamlined in that instead of each character having 1 individual stat boost along with the division of stats between weight classes, it’s now just the weight class. The addition of the two extra weight classes is something I personally enjoy as I usually end up racing as heavy class characters, but I really don’t like their inherent stats, so with the inclusion of the Cruiser class and the customizable karts, the game is more customizable than it has ever been. That being said, while there are a number of new characters (Metal Mario, Shy Guy, Wiggler, Honey Queen, and Lakitu), a number of characters did not return for this installment. Characters like Waluigi, King Boo (my personal favourite besides Rosalina, Metal Mario, and Mii), and even Diddy Kong were not brought back. It’s odd that some really well known and loved (well, not in Waluigi’s case) were not brought back, but it’s something that just happens with series that have gone on for this long and with such large character lists.

The graphics in the game are amazing. Everything is crisp and colourful and there are even some special effects on the tracks, such as falling cherry blossoms on the new Mario Circuit. Like Super Mario 3D Land, this game is one that definitely should be played with the 3D on. Seeing the actual depth between you and the racer in front of you is something that can help your game exceptionally well, and having the Blooper’s ink actually fly out and hit the closest level is pretty cool. There is also a new first person mode that places you in the kart and allows you to control the kart through the 3DS’ gyroscope. It works surprisingly well, especially when compared to the Wii Wheel in Mario Kart Wii.

People have been saying that with the 3DS, Nintendo has finally figured out online play, and there is no game that has shown off their new online prowess like Mario Kart 7. The online play is as smooth as butter and has both racing and battle modes to play against people all over the world. The track selection is done by a randomized process where each racer chooses the course they want to race on and the game chooses a course out of the choices. The system works well and being able to play Mario Kart against people when ever you want is awesome. The game also uses StreetPass in a fun way by allowing you to make your own Grand Prix out of the available courses and send it to people where they can race against their Mii.

Mario Kart 7 is easily the best modern Mario Kart game (I still contend that Mario Kart Super Circuit is the best). It’s a massive step forward in the series that seems to continuously get better with each installment (excluding a few small missteps along the way) and shows that Nintendo still has it when it comes to making games that are both familiar, but still feel exceptionally new and fun. This is easily the best game on the 3DS right now and is definitely a system seller. Be sure to play this game, it’s one of the best of 2011.

Blu-Ray Review: Cars Director’s Edition

The Cars films are ones that are highly debated as to their quality (or lack thereof) by both Disney fans and the general theatre going public. They are definitely loved by little boys (and mostly by little boys) and it is usually seen by people as Disney’s boy response to the wildly successful Princess line (considering that Pirates never really caught on in that regard, much to my chagrin). The films do not have a wide adult fan base, which makes the fact that this set even got made is rather surprising.

The set just oozes style and class from the outside with it’s metallic red paint job (it’s actually Lightning McQueen’s paint colour) and it’s exceptionally minimalist box design. On two sides, there is the Cars logo, John Lasseter’s signature, and the phrase “Director’s Edition”. On the other two sides there are the logos for the movies and short collection contained within (Cars, Cars 2, and Cars Toons: Mater’s Tall Tales). If someone were to not know what the Cars movies were, the only indication as to what they were getting into would be the clear plastic box on the top of the set containing a John Lassetire die-cast figurine. The set looks awesome when put on a shelf between other DVD’s and Blu-Rays and helps to class up what could just be standard cases lined up next to each other. That being said, the box is rather big, it’s about the size of 11 DVD or Blu-Ray cases and is taller than your standard DVD case, so if you use a shelf made just for DVD’s, it’s going to need to sit somewhere else (I just sit it on top of the shelf with my other oversized or oddly shaped sets).
The Director’s Edition opens in a rather bizarre fashion. You actually have to lift off the entire red box (it ends up just being a giant slip cover) to reveal, for lack of a better phrase, a multi-tiered steel looking tower with the John Lassetire sitting on top of it. This tower does not look nearly as good as the slip cover, but it’s still a good looking box. The major problem with the set comes when you take off the top part of the tower. When you take it off, you are hit with a cheap looking checker-board flag, which seems to exist only to hide the cheapness of the disc packaging. The 11 discs in the set are covered by a cheap piece of plastic packaging that doesn’t even lock into place, which arises the question: why is it there? The inclusion of the plastic piece is weird, but what is infuriating is the fact that all of the discs are shoved into a piece of foam. No cases, no sleeves, just foam. For a set that has an MSRP of $119, this is completely unacceptable. I understand that Blu-Ray discs are able to take a higher threshold of scratches before they become unreadable due to the smaller size and the strength of the blue laser, but scratches are still scratches, and the foam will provide less protection than your standard DVD or Blu-Ray case. I’m really thinking about going out and getting either some jewel cases that fit in the box or just getting some cheap paper sleeves in order to keep the discs safe from harm.

The packaging of this set is really upsetting to me. I love the casing, but the way that the discs are held just kills the whole thing for me. I’m glad that I got the set for only $50 through a combined use of a $10 off coupon and a deal from Best Buy that got me an additional $10 off of the $70 price tag at the store. While the packaging leaves quite a bit to be desired, the discs themselves are pretty spectacular. The 11 discs are broken down between 5 discs for Cars 2 (2D and 3D Blu-Ray with a separate special features disc, DVD version of the film, and a digital copy) and Cars and the Cars Toons have 3 discs each (DVD, Blu-Ray, and digital copy). The special features for Cars are slim and are just the special features from the original release back in 2006 and I can’t speak for any special features on the Cars Toon set as I just haven’t watched it yet. The special features for Cars 2 are many and plentiful. Along with the normal making-of featurettes, there is a featurette on a car show that Pixar puts on every year, a short on Cars Land that ends up just being a giant commercial for the upcoming land, and even a version of the races from the film that are just the races and none of the story elements that breaks them up within the film.

Recommending this set is rather difficult, as it’s a great set from a looks perspective and the fact that you get a lot of content for your money, but the packaging really holds me back from saying that you should just go out and buy the set. If you can get it for cheap (like I did) and wouldn’t mind getting some cheap jewel cases or some disc sleeves or you don’t have at least 2 of the movies, then definitely go for it. Otherwise, stay away from this set.

Lost Boy TV: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

There are two topics that I am immensely surprised that I have not talked about on this blog yet (two of which should be very apparent if you follow the official Adventures of a Lost Boy Tumblr, and while I’m in a schilling mood, like us on Facebook). Those topics are Pokemon and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

If this were any time before October of 2010, I would have been disgusted by the idea of even liking My Little Pony. The original show was terrible, as were a large number of the animated shows from the 1980’s that were made to sell toys. Only a few actually tried to tell some sort of meaningful story or provide content outside of constantly introducing new characters in order to keep selling toys. Luckily for fans of animation, the 1990’s ended up being what is referred to the “creator-driven era” of animation where the creators of the shows had almost complete control over the design, writing, and creation of their shows. It was a period of unbridled creativity in the animation industry when creations such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, Animaniacs, and Tiny Toons were created to much critical acclaim and success. The two worlds have now collided with the creation of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic by combining a number of the tennants of the creator-driven era of animation (including one of the big names of the era, Lauren Faust) with the sheer merchandising power of the 1980’s shows.

Friendship is Magic follows the adventures of Twilight Sparkle, a unicorn and magical prodigy, who moves to the town of Ponyville from Canterlot because her teacher, Princess Celestia, wants her to learn about the magic of friendship. There she meets the fun-loving Pinky Pie, the speed demon Rainbow Dash, the loyal and hardworking Applejack, the creative Rarity, and the kind but incredibly shy Fluttershy and they all embark on adventures that always seem to end with a message.

Yeah. That’s it. That’s the show.

This is the point where you ask: Ryan, why are you watching My Little Pony?

And this is the point where I tell you.

To put it succinctly, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is one of the most brilliant animated shows to come out in years. The story for the show as a whole is kind of silly and incredibly simple, but the actual stories for the episodes are pretty awesome. To give some examples, here are some plot synopsis for a few of my personal favourite episodes from season 1:

  • Applebuck Season (episode 4): “With her big brother hurt, Applejack volunteers to harvest the apple crop in her family’s orchard all by herself. However, she is too prideful and stubborn to accept any help from the other ponies. She gradually works herself to the point of exhaustion, causing problems when she promises to help the others around town.”
  • Dragonshy (episode 7): A sleeping dragon’s smoke is disrupting the skies of Equestria and Twilight Sparkle is tasked with getting it to leave. All of her friends are set to head to the dragon’s lair, with the exception of the fearful Fluttershy, who is not used to the rocky terrain, much less a giant dragon. The timid Pegasus must find the resolve necessary when her friends are in danger.
  • Winter Wrap-Up (episode 11): Winter comes to an end, and Ponyville prepares for an annual cleanup to make way for spring. Twilight wants to take part as well, and is willing to do so without the use of her magic in the name of tradition. Everything she tries ends in disaster, but an argument among the disorganized teams inspires her to find her own way to help.
  • Sonic Rainboom (episode 16): Rainbow Dash is preparing herself for an upcoming contest, with a day with the famous Wonderbolts as the grand prize, and is sure that an old move she claimed to have pulled off long ago will guarantee her a win. However, she becomes increasingly nervous that she won’t succeed. Rarity, who has gained beautiful wings by Twilight’s magic to join in cheering her on, is recommended to enter the same event. Can Dash gather the confidence to win, or will she be overshadowed by her friend’s elegance?
  • Stare Master (episode 17): Fluttershy has great experience with all kinds of animals, but it is an entirely different story when she offers to take care of Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle for the night. Will she be able to keep them out of trouble, and what exactly is “The Stare”?

The stories for the episodes are usually very entertaining, but what makes the show so genuinely good are the characters. The characters are all incredibly well defined as so that you can usually sum them up in one word, but each of the mane six (yes, that is actually what they are referred to on the internet) goes through some major amount of character development over the season as they learn lessons that allow them to grow as ponies. While the descriptions of the mane six can be summed up in a few words, their characters are much deeper than many people would expect. Rarity is obsessed with fashion, but she is not someone who acts like a bimbo and just goes to the mall and talks about shoes. She is incredibly creative and is obsessed with fashion as so that she can use ideas that she sees in the clothes in order to inspire her to push forward her own designs as to make her boutique more prevalent. She’s a business woman, as is her friend Applejack. Applejack, at first glance, is (for lack of a better term) a hick. In reality, she is a hard-working and determined pony who wants to keep her family’s apple farm open and will always stand by her friends. Each of the characters have layers upon layers to them that allows for deeper story lines to be written about them. The show also involves each of the mane 6 having a complete mental breakdown at some point in the show, which leads to both hilarity (or in Pinky Pie’s case, horror) and some major grounding for the character.

The show is very much akin to the Cartoon Cartoon shows that ran on the Cartoon Network in the 90’s and early 2000’s, and a lot of that is because of the involvement of Lauren Faust. The show is very funny and exceptionally well designed as so that they can constantly add characters and locations and not have it feel bloated or unnecessary. Most of this comes from it’s writing and the fact that it draws surprisingly heavily from various mythologies and general fantasy lore. A large amount of the comedy comes from Pinky Pie, who genuinely seems to not only understand that she lives in a cartoon world, but genuinely relishes the idea of it. It also helps that she is completely crazy. This all really comes from the involvement of Lauren Faust.

For those of you not in the know, Lauren Faust worked on shows like the Powerpuff Girls, Codename: Kids Next Door, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and movies like the Iron Giant and Cats Don’t Dance. Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends was partially her creation and if you loved that show, then you will definitely love My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, as they are incredibly similar in tone and style.

Friendship is Magic is easily one of the best looking shows I have ever seen to be made using Adobe Flash. Everything is crisp and fluid and the style of the show works really well with both the strengths and limitations of Flash. The character designs don’t look like the old creepy vaguely pony  looking designs of the old My Little Pony, and now have taken on a much more angular and stylistic design (much to the show’s benefit). Every character is super distinctive from each other, with no pony design looking the same, or usually even close, to another. The great animation is complemented with some great music (well, except for the theme song. The theme song can die in a fire). The show even has musical numbers in a number of episodes, but they always work within the confines of the show and never feel obtrusive. It doesn’t help that they are super catchy, though (“Winter Wrap-Up” is almost constantly stuck in my head).

This show is huge on the internet. Practically every single episode has numerous memes that have sprung from them and there are almost constant flamewars between fans of the show and people who hate it. 4Chan, that den of internet villainy, actually banned people from talking about Ponies because the Bronies (male fans of the show) were starting to take over the image board. People are constantly creating fanart of characters, or making pony-fied versions of themselves, or making super awesome cosplay of the characters. The internet created names for background characters that have been adopted by the entire community. Characters like Doctor Whooves (who actually is a Doctor Who reference), DJ P0N-3, Lyra, Octavia, and the internet favourite Derpy Hooves. What is surprising about all of this, though, is that Lauren Faust follows all of this and not only acknowledges that it’s there, but actually plays to the fans. As of season 2, Derpy Hooves is actually canon. She appeared in an episode with a talking role and was actually named Derpy Hooves! Friendship is Magic has become this oddity in that while it was made to appeal to young girls, the largest demographic who watches it is actually males in their 20’s (and not in a creepy way). The creators of the show even put in a number of references for adults, such as putting pony-fied versions of the Dude, Walter, and Donny from the Big Lebowski in an episode that partially takes place in a bowling alley.

I can honestly say that most people will enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic if they can get past the idea that it is My Little Pony. The show is immaculately designed and genuinely hilarious with a strong continuity and some genuinely useful (and sometimes surprisingly adult) lessons that can benefit everyone, not just little girls. If you take my advice to watch the show, I would suggest starting with one of the episodes I listed above in order to see if you like the show. Use one of those episodes as a litmus test: if you like it, go back and watch the show from the beginning. If you don’t, then just don’t watch the rest of the show. Chances are pretty high that you’ll enjoy it, though.

Before anyone asks who my favourite pony is: Big Macintosh is best pony.

Video Game Review: Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land is a very interesting beast. It is plays like a 3D Mario game like Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy, but the level design is very akin to the 2D games like Super Mario World and Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. It’s a mash-up of worlds that sounds like New Super Mario Brothers, but is almost completely different.

Unfortunately, a major factor of that is that the game is entirely too easy.

Some people have complained about recent Mario games being easy (and to be honest, some of them (Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Brothers spring immediately to mind) have most definitely been), but that trend seemed to have been turned around with Super Mario Galaxy 2 (where most of the difficulty comes from trying to collect all 120 stars in order to unlock Green Star mode which is apparently controller throwingly difficult) and New Super Mario Brothers Wii (which is a fairly difficult game in and of itself, but it becomes the friendship killer when you introduce even one other person in the co-op mode). Super Mario 3D Land completely reverses this trend and I blew through the vast majority of the game in around 2-3 days. It is just way too easy, but hopefully that will be fixed in the inevitable Super Mario 3D Land 2: Electric Boogaloo as just about everything else in Super Mario 3D Land is extremely fun and entertaining.

The game is the standard Mario formula: run through numerous bright and colourful worlds, stomping on Goombas and Koopa Troopers along the way collecting coins, power-ups, and stars (which take the form of Star Coins this time around) all going towards stopping Bowser and saving the constantly in peril Princess Peach. There is nothing new to the standard formula, but the Mario games really don’t need to change up the formula as every game feels fresh and new due to it’s constantly amazing gameplay and level designs.

The Mario games have always had some of the best level design in the industry, mostly due to it’s unrestrictive theme. Sure there’s always the usual lava, ice, underwater, desert, and castle levels, but they never feel rehashed due to the fact that you can do a lot of things with those ideas. The levels may be ideas that you have seen before, but they’re always a blast to run through due to the combining of different ideas in new and interesting ways. Within one level you can move from a standard grassland platforming segment, through a castle, and then up a mountain; within the same world you can be traveling down a series of floating blocks and using warp pipes in order to move between segments of blocks. The game does not follow the Super Mario 64 formula of having multiple routes or challenges in one large area and it doesn’t follow the New Super Mario Brothers style of lumping all of the desert levels into one world and all of the ice levels into another. You can move from one completely different idea to another within the course of a single world, but it doesn’t break the experience at all.

The levels are designed to be able to be beaten in around 2 minutes, which is great for a portable game where having the 10-20 minute long Super Mario Galaxy levels would just not work. They are also designed around the idea that it is to be played in 3D, and it really shows when you try to play it without the 3D on. The game uses the 3D to actually perceive the depth of Mario’s jumps. Without it, jumping becomes infinitely harder as you cannot necessarily perceive the length of the gaps.

The levels play, at times, very similar to LittleBigPlanet in a few ways. The biggest of which is that a lot of the time, the level design is heavily reminicient of 2D Mario games, but with the ability to move more into the foreground and background instead of along a straight line. Unlike LittleBigPlanet, though, is that you have completely free movement within those levels along with the inclusion of more traditional 3D platforming segments. Also unlike LittleBigPlanet, the controls are exceptionally tight and the jumping has no instance of floatiness, unless you have the Tanooki suit.

The game marks the return of a few things that have been long absent from the Mario franchise. The idea of Mario and Super Mario being two different states of being have been brought back, replacing the health system introduced in Mario 64. The Super Leaf and Statue Leaf have returned from Super Mario Brothers 3, but the Tanooki suit that comes with them is slightly different. In Super Mario Brothers 3, the Tanooki Suit was an upgraded version of the Racoon Suit, which only gave Mario ears and a tail, but allowed him to essentially fly if you had the skill. The Tanooki suit bestowed the same power, but also allowed Mario to turn into an indestructable statue on command. The base-level Tanooki Suit allows Mario to hover for a short period of time, which can allow him to make longer jumps, and the higher-level suit works the same way as in Super Mario Brothers 3, but without the ability to fly.

As nostalgic and awesome as it is to have the Tanooki Suit back after its extremely long abscence, it is one of the things about the game that really breaks it. The ability to make longer jumps and the included floatiness of the suit makes the game significantly easier and making precise jumps almost stops mattering. It makes it so that you can just blow right through levels without thinking and you will rarely, if ever, have trouble. On top of that, the game starts you out as Super Mario, so if you have any level of competence at the game, whenever you find the first item block in the level, boom, instant Fire Flower or Super Leaf. Congratulations, you are now basically invincible and can take three hits before you die. On top of that, the game does not shirk from giving you plenty of options to get extra lives. There are coins everywhere, if you get a Super Mushroom when you’re already Super Mario or above, you get another 10 coins instantly. You get coins from killing enemies, coins from the occasional mini-game or side level, and it all adds up extremely quickly. By the end of World 8, I had over 100 lives with no sign of anything to force me to lose them.

All of that being said, the game does get harder after World 8 with the inclusion of the Special Worlds, but the difficulty doesn’t really ratchet up until the very end of the game.

Super Mario 3D Land is somewhat self defeating. On one hand, the level design is at the normal level of Mario games, the game is extremely fun, and manages to combine the new and old-school in the series, on the other, it is extremely easy. I would recommend that people play the game, but get it used or when (read if) it drops in price.

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