• How Magical Mystery Cure Changed My TV Expectations

    Hard to believe this was 10 years ago huh? Are you guys feeling old yet? ‘Cause I sure as heck am! That said, even if it was a long time ago, if you were in the brony community in early 2013, you probably remember when Twilight was on the road to becoming an alicorn princess, and the subsequent reaction. And by reaction, I mean the internet losing its collective mind! But like it or not, Magical Mystery Cure is a monumental episode in Friendship is Magic, and looking back on it, it had a profound effect on me and my perception not just on MLP, but television in general.

    So today, on the 10th anniversary of Magical Mystery Cure’s premiere (we’re all ooooooooold!!)I want to talk a bit about how the debut of Alicorn Princess Twilight Sparkle affected me.

    Judge Slowly

    I got into the fandom at a very, turbulent time. If you saw my One Musical Scene we shared here a few months ago, you know I officially started calling myself a brony after watching A Canterlot Wedding. Which I saw in November of 2012. At first, the fandom was a welcoming and optimistic place as long as you stayed clear of 4Chan. Everyone loved the show and the characters and everything in Equestria. There might have been individual divisive opinions, but as far as the majority was concerned, the show could do no wrong.

    Then about 2 months into my time frolicking through the wealth of fan art and PMVs, that now infamous image leaked. Suddenly, the honeymoon phase was over. Everyone was mad! And admittedly, so was I. Like a lot of other people at the time I saw the reveal that Twilight was going to become a princess as a marketing ploy. A decision that was a shallow attempt to sell more toys to little girls rather than something that would benefit the story, characters, or the show in general.

    In fact it seemed like it would demolish the show! Once they did this it seemed like there’d be nowhere else to go. The fact that Season 3 was only 13 episodes, which would put MLP in the 65 episode requirement needed for animation to be sold into syndication (which isn’t really a thing anymore), it made the entire proposition feel more and more like a cash grab. The whole idea just felt cheap and hollow rather than something that would enhance a show that was great just the way it was.

    But when the episode came out, I was pleasantly surprised by how they handled it. I found myself swept away in the emotion and spectacle of the whole ordeal, and feeling proud of this purple unicorn that I’d only known for a couple of months. True I still had my hesitations on where this was all gonna go. Expressing a lot of the concerns for this change that most of the fan base had at the time. But I warmed up to it much quicker than I thought I would. I can’t tell you how many times I rewatched this episode in those 9 months between Seasons 3 and 4. And that’s gotta count for something.

    This is where I learned a very important lesson when it came to my consumption of media. Judge slowly. We live in a time where the reactionary mentality is the norm. Every trailer, every casting announcement, every small tidbit of information in entertainment, is a queue to draw conclusions on the entire project before it even reaches the public. But that’s not fair.

    I was ready to dismiss Twilight becoming a princess as a bad idea. Thinking about it in the simple surface terms I had rather than waiting to see how they were actually going to do this. Maybe the things you fear from those bits of news will come to pass, and it will be just as terrible as you thought it would be. But every story deserves the chance to at least be told before it is judged. Because who knows? You might be pleasantly surprised. Like many of us were with this show in the first place.

    What’s Most Important To You (and how to explain it)

    The early 2010s were the dawn on Internet reviews and analysis. Where voices from all over the world placed a camera in front of their DVD collections, sat in their desk chairs, and could share their opinions on anything and everything in geek culture. It’s also the era where a lot of us forgot we were allowed to enjoy things.

    Riffing was the flavor of the day and while that certainly has its place, it could be alienating. Whenever I found videos of people talking about stuff I liked, only to watch it be consistently ridiculed, I wouldn’t usually find it funny, I’d get bummed out. I’m the kind of person who can feel kind of insecure about enjoying something that a lot of other people don’t seem to. Especially when they make a lot of good points. And Magical Mystery Cure definitely falls into that category.

    But there’s the flipside to when that happens. If I heard those kinds of criticisms over and over again, and I can see where they’re coming from, but still enjoy that episode regardless, there must be a reason why. Right? Reading and watching the reactions and critiques towards this episode made me realize that there are flaws in entertainment that a viewer just might not care about, where another does very much, or how the strengths of a story or its presentation can make up for its shortcomings.

    The big criticism with this episode is that the story feels rushed and underdeveloped, which it is, but to me, rushed doesn’t necessarily equal bad. Should such a significant part of the main character’s story have been given the two episodes it deserved to breathe? Of course. But that shouldn’t take away from what’s already here. A beautiful, sentimental quest for Twilight to realize what’s important to her, and finding the power to preserve it.

    A good example of something that embodies both of these points of view to me is the inciting incident. Starswirl the Bearded’s original spell. If some viewers can find fault with the very thing that makes your story possible, the entire foundation will fall apart. Yeah the spell doesn't make a whole lot of sense when you think of what it’s supposed to do when it’s cast, which is never explained even after Twilight rewrites it. However, when you look at it through the lens of comparing the two ponies who wrote it, it becomes a clever device to highlight those differences, and why the end result was what it was.

    Let me remind you real quick how each pony wrote this spell. Straswirl’s entry reads out:

    From one to another. Another to one. A mark of one’s destiny singled out alone fulfilled.

    Not much to go on right? WRONG! Granted some of this might benefit from hindsight, since we’ve actually met Starswirl in the show since this episode aired, but I still think we could make some assumptions from this passage that contrast heavily with what Twilight writes.

    The first half kind of spells out what the spell does. Moves somepony’s cutie mark from one to another. Considering how Starswirl valued academia above all else, we can assume he tested this spell quite a bit. Especially since Celelstia mentions in the accompanying note that “He was never able to get it right”. We saw the damage this spell could cause through the rest of the Mane Six being mixed up and stuck with the wrong talents. But I don’t think Starswirl would have cared about the failed result as much as Twilight did, if it meant it would get him one step close to succeeding in it.

    Which brings me to the second half. “A mark of one’s destiny singled out alone fulfilled.” That could mean a lot of things, but what I took from it was what Starswirl’s attitude towards achieving his goals as a magic user was. That the only way to fulfill one’s destiny, would be by themselves. So when he couldn’t do that, he abandoned the spell to focus on one of the other 200 he created. Clearly a colt with no future!

    Compare this to how Twilight deals with the after effects of the spell. Devastated that she’s caused her friends such pain, even inadvertently, until she feels the same spark she did when the five of them first became her friends, and uses that to fix everything. A solution she never would have found, if her friends didn’t mean so much to her. Once she brings them all together to fix what went wrong, that’s when she rewrites the spell. Which reads:

    From all of us together. Together we are friends. With the marks of our destiny made one, there is magic without end.

    From all of us together. Together we are friends. With the marks of our destiny made one, there is magic without end.

    Another passage that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense when you look at it as a spell that’s presumably supposed to do something, but when you look at it as an embodiment of Twilight's relationship with her friends, how that applies to her views on magic, and how it differs from Starswirl the Bearded, it’s an interesting contrast.

    When she was faced with a problem, she didn’t find a solution on her own. Because she couldn’t. Not without the help of her friends. Even with how scrambled and lost they are because of the spell, that desire to be there for each other still burns bright. They may have had all these talents and skills before they became a group, but they’re able to rediscover their own individual sparks by supporting each other. Using the very objects that brought them together in the first place. The Elements of HarmonyAs she says when she comes out of this epiphany: “I may not be able to remind them of who they are, but I can show them what they mean to each other.”

    So the addition made to the spell could be seen as an affirmation that Twilight finally understands that friendship is the most powerful and reliable form of magic there is. She harnesses it even in the most difficult of times, and it’s those bonds that amplify and solidify the best traits of each of the Mane Six. With friends standing together, there is magic without end. It’s possible that that understanding solidified was the final step she needed to become the Princess of Friendship.

    When you look at Twilight's ascension to princesshood as something she achieved by creating “new magic” as Celestia called it, simply by rewriting the spell, it falls flat and is not the best way she could have earned those wings. But when you look at that new magic as reigniting the magic of friendship; something that we see is sorely missing from these lands throughout the series, by standing by her beliefs in the face of hardship and hopelessness, it takes on a lot more meaning. Those themes are certainly present I think. It just wasn’t worded the best and crammed well into 22 minutes.

    Which is what I realized when I was trying to figure out why I didn’t have as many problems with this episode as a lot of other people I was hearing talk about it. That's where I developed a technique.

    If I could totally see where some people who didn’t like this episode were coming from, and their arguments were sound, why did I still like it? So I focused on those points, and got a better understanding of what matters to me as a viewer. Yes the plot is rushed and convoluted, and there were tons of better ways for Twilight to get her wings. But this was an event that had a lot going for it too.

    The animation was fantastic, the songs were so catchy I had them in my regular music rotation for months after it aired, the characters and their connections felt strong, and the end result felt like the natural conclusion to a long journey. The moment where Celestia bows to Twilight and calls her an inspiration, was such a beautiful moment that felt like something she's been waiting to do for some time.

    So if you find yourself feeling differently from the consensus you hear about the media you consume, take some time to look within, and figure out why you felt that way. You might discover not just something to really appreciate about the media in question, but about your own preferences and what really resonates with you as a viewer.

    This Chapter May End, But The Story Continues

    My final big concern going into Magical Mystery Cure, was that this would be the end of Friendship is Magic. Season 4 wouldn’t be confirmed for another month and it would be just my luck that this show was on its way out just as I was getting into it.

    I was almost 20 when this episode came out. I’d been down this road dozens of times with cartoons or just TV in general. The main character finally achieves their goal, gets everything they ever wanted after several episodes of work and determination, and they all live happily ever after. The End. I couldn’t fathom how MLP could continue after something like Twilight becoming a princess, and I’m sure a lot of viewers felt the same way.

    Yes there were other goals the writers could focus on. Like Rarity opening her boutique in Canterlot or Rainbow Dash becoming a Wonderbolt, but like it or not Twilight is the main character. Her story started all of this so logically, the presumed end of that arc would end the series as well. Leaving the rest of the arcs in this show unfulfilled. Something else I was concerned about.

    But no. That’s not what happened. Season 4 was confirmed and MLP was set to continue. I still had some trepidation about Twilight becoming an alicorn princess, but with the news that the show was going to continue, I suddenly got kind of excited. They couldn’t go back on this change. That would have been worse. So instead they leaned into it. Slowly but surely Twilight grows into her role as a princess. It doesn't happen immediately, which is memory serves was a complaint with Season 4 as it was airing, but it does happen. And I like that they take their time with it. For a TV-Y cartoon in the early 2010s, that was kind of unprecedented.

    When Twilight became an alicorn, it was a game changer for the MLP in every sense. It set a very important standard for the show. Things were gonna change, and they were gonna stick. And I loved that! This is a mindset the show continued to have going forward. Almost each season adding something else that would shake up the status quo. Twilight discovering what it means for her to be a princess, the addition of Starlight Glimmer, the School of Friendship. The list goes on. Even the goals I mentioned before among the rest of the Mane Six eventually got addressed and accomplished.

    Yeah sure you can argue that they did that kind of continuity rather clumsily, but it wasn’t for lack of interest. After Alicorn Princess Twilight Sparkle, the show was constantly in a battle between studio creativity, and corporate notes and mandates. Warring between being as episodic as possible, while having continuity and a story that, changed from week to week. In fact that's sort of how Magical Mystery Cure wound up the way it did. You've likely heard about how Hasbro and the higher ups tampered with M.A. Larson's script. Adding things throughout the process of nailing down how to make this transition.

    G4 of My Little Pony ran for 9 seasons by the time it was done, and if you ask me , making those changes while ensuring this was still the same show it started out as, were essential tools for keeping the show from getting stale all that time. A feat that most Western cartoons don't manage to pull off.

    Not everyone adjusted to this changing approach. Some thought it was too much, some thought it wasn’t enough, and a lot of those people stopped watching the show. Which is fine. I’m sure you don’t need my approval on this because if you're one of those fans you're probably not even reading this, but you do you. If this isn't what you came to MLP for, that’s totally okay. But this just got me even more excited about the show! Wondering what each new season would bring, and how the changes from the previous seasons would be affected by it! It made me so much more invested in Friendship is Magic as a whole and what each new episode would bring. Even if they were simple slice of life stories.

    It also, kind of changed my mindset about how character arcs are handled in media in the first place. I often hear the argument that a character can’t reach a certain milestone or apex of development because then the story would be over. But Magical Mystery Cure shows that, that’s just not true. The argument is a common one, but it’s kind of silly when you think about it. After all, do things stop happening to you just because you get married, or do you stop facing obstacles when you get that job or recognition you always wanted? I’m gonna guess the answer is no.

    If we want characters in our stories to be relatable, we have to let them face challenges, even after they achieve their dreams or conclude a certain arc. There are certain stories where it seems like there’s not much to tell after happily ever after, but a good team of writers can find somewhere to go next if they’ve truly created 3 dimensional characters. The writers room at DHX definitely did that.

    Us adults who spend our time watching and even analyzing animated shows aimed primarily towards kids, often say that these worlds and characters have the potential for more complex stories that can reach not just us, but their target demographic. That’s kind of what Magical Mystery Cure is.

    For me at least, it challenged my preconceived biases and expectations on how I viewed the media I consumed and what I wanted out of it. Is Magical Mystery Cure entirely responsible for that? To be honest… no not really. But it embodies a lot of these ideas in a time where my thought process towards entertainment was changing. For the better I'd like to think.

    After Magical Mystery Cure, I took a breath with each change that was made in Friendship is Magic to consider the possibilities, I noticed more subtleties, I appreciated more of the effort put into the show when I had to really think about why I wasn’t feeling the ways others did, and I demanded more from other shows I watched when the excuse was tossed out that things can’t change because then the show would end.

    Say what you want about Magical Mystery Cure. Love it or hate it, you can't deny that it fundamentally changed MLP forever after it first aired 10 years ago. As weird as it is to think about, Twilight was an alicorn for much longer then she wasn’t by the time the show ended. It laid the foundation for what it means to be an alicorn, and become one of the most powerful magic users in Equestria. A philosophy that has carried over into whatever is going on with Sunny’s alicorn powers in G5. But that’s an editorial for another time.

    Taking this time to look back on Magical Mystery Cure, and my relationship with it is kind of fascinating. It was yet another way Friendship is Magic broke down the preconceptions on what the My Little Pony brand was capable of, when we all thought it was playing into the worst parts of what the franchise was before G4. The drama has long since died down, so it’s easier to look at it as the shift in story direction it wound up becoming. And it’s one of the many ways MLP challenged my own assumptions, and made me more tolerant and open to things. How even when a story goes in a different direction then what you wanted, if you give it a chance, it might be better than you expected it to be.

    What did you guys think of Magical Mystery Cure? Did you think the episode did a good job selling us on Alicorn Princess Twilight? Do you think it changed the show for better or worse? Have your feelings changed on it since the episode premiered or whenever you first watched it? Let us know all that down below!

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