Archive for January, 2012

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.

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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.

Cinematic Adventures: Beauty and the Beast 3D

After the advent of home video, the idea of the theatrical rerelease was one that seemed like it was going to go the way of the dodo, and for a number of years, it definitely was. Until the phoenix-like rebirth of the 3D movie, it was something that both did not seem like it would return nor did it seem like there would even be a point. That being said, one can always expect that Disney will be able to find a way to make money off a concept that almost no one else would expect to work (well, at least at first). The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D when it was originally released in 2006, it raked in an extremely surprising amount of money and Disney continued using the 3D medium to get massive amounts of money (they have had 3 3D movies (Alice in Wonderland, Toy Story 3, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) in the past 2 years that made over a billion dollars worldwide each) and they do not seem to want to give up on the money-making venture that is 3D, with most of their big films being released in both 2D and 3D, but also with brand new 3D conversions of older films that people already know and love. It may sound like I’m bashing the idea of 3D movies (I’m really not as I quite enjoy 3D), I’m more just making a point.

All of that being said, and while I know that 3D is one of the greatest money making schemes in entertainment today, if Disney keeps releasing 3D conversions like the Lion King (which I already talked about) and the new (but not really) conversion of Beauty and the Beast, they will continue to get my money. I’m obviously not going to be reviewing the film here (because that can be found here), but I do feel like there are things to talk about with this conversion.

The actual conversion itself is rather spectacular, but not as good as the one for the Lion King. The 3D is rather good, and it feels very different from the Lion King due to it sometimes looking like a moving storybook (especially in the very beginning and the tracking shot through the forest). Each layer in that scene feels very separate from each other and some people may not like that, but the rest of the film looks really good, and in a lot of scenes, actually makes the film look better. One problem that a lot of 3D films face is that the glasses make the picture look darker, but it’s not quite the case with the 3D conversion of Beauty and the Beast, the colours really pop on the big screen and besides the fact that the version in theatres looks almost like it’s standard definition, it still looks rather gorgeous. The times that the 3D looks the best, though, are when there is rain and snow present, as they take up the very front layer of the film and it makes you feel much more involved in the story unfolding in front of you.

The 3D version of Beauty and the Beast was actually supposed to come out on Valentines Day of 2010 (which made me actually look forward to that day for the first time in a number of years), but the release was inexplicably dropped, despite the fact that the conversion was already complete. Valentines Day 2010 came and went without an enchanted castle and it was announced that it would come out the following Valentines Day. That ended up being false again and Disney never spoke of it again. Beauty and the Beast got a double-dip Blu-Ray release when the Diamond Edition Blu-Ray was brought out again, but with a new disc that included the 3D version of the film and a digital-copy on October 4th, 2011 along with the new Diamond Edition of the Lion King. After that, it did not seem that we would ever see Beauty and the Beast in theatres again, until the Lion King was rereleased in 3D and raked in money hand over fist in the box office. It was announced that it would be coming out along with Finding Nemo 3D in September 2012, Monsters, Inc. 3D in January 2013, and the Little Mermaid 3D in September 2013.

I’m still holding out for Aladdin 3D in 2014, but we will have to wait and see if that comes to pass.

The real reason that Beauty and the Beast 3D is noteworthy is the existence of Tangled Ever After, a new short that premiered before the film. The story is, obviously, a sequel to Tangled where Rapunzel and Flynn tie the not, but not without Pascal and Maximus losing the rings and are forced to run all around the kingdom trying to get them back before it’s time to declare them man and wife. The cast from the movie returns, as does the vast majority of the cast of characters, for the genuinely hilarious short, but something I am concerned about is how the short is going to be released to the public. The 3D version of Beauty and the Beast is already out and it does not have Tangled Ever After on it, and the short is only around 6 minutes long, so it wouldn’t get it’s own release.

I would highly suggest going to see Beauty and the Beast 3D even if you don’t like 3D movies. Being able to see Beauty and the Beast on the big screen is a real treat that should not be missed, and Tangled Ever After is really just the icing on the cake.