Before I start with this post, another shout-out to the excellent analysis of The Ticket Master by Misfortune-Dogged over on his own blog. In it, he compares the episode against a similar episode of My Little Pony Tales, and uses it to dissect what’s so interesting about the presentation of themes in Friendship is Magic. I won’t be restating much of what he said, so I recommend you read that post as well.
The Ticket Master begins innocuously with a conversation between Twilight and Applejack. Notice that when Spike reads the letter they get from Princess Celestia, he says that the Grand Galloping Gala takes place, “on the 21st of, yada yada yada.” A sneaky way of not making Equestria have the same months as the real world, as well as keeping the show from having a definitive timeline.
The presentation of the conflict between Applejack’s and Rainbow Dash’s reasons for going to the Gala is quite interesting. When I watched it the first time, I thought that the show was making Applejack out to have the better reasons, but in reality, the show doesn’t suggest anything like that. It presents both of their arguments on equal grounds—I was the one making the value judgement at the time, based on what little knowledge I had of the ponies and what they were suggesting about their ambitions.
I know that a lot of people consider Applejack to have the better reasons, but that’s just a projection of their morals. The episode never makes this decision for the viewer, which is something I’m very happy about. I’ve always hated cartoons wherein a character with controversial habits and interests is treated like a complete asshole by the rest of the show (see: Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends with regards to Bloo). It would’ve been so easy for the show to paint Rainbow Dash as selfish, but it doesn’t do anything more than present her as who she is and leave the value judgement in the air.
It pulls this off by not having Twilight pick a side. Rainbow thinks her reasons are better and Applejack thinks hers are better, but there’s no one else pressuring the arguement in one pony’s favor. Does Twilight actually think that one of them deserves it more? She might, and just isn’t saying anything because she’s afraid of hurting one of her friends.
Breaking away from that chain of thought entirely, I want to talk about the animation in this episode in comparison to the most recent episode, Too Many Pinkie Pies, just because this is as good a time as any. Most of this will likely apply to a lot of the early episodes, and I think it’s important to take apart.
There’s a pretty cool editorial on The Round Stable (one of the few sites that seems to be taking an in-depth look into this series) called The Very Models of Cartoon Individuals, which dissects how it’s possible for the ponies in this show to have such ultra-distinct personalities, despite the fact that they all share the same character model. This post talks about how each pony has a lot of unique expressions and mannerisms which none of the other ponies would ever be seen making. The author compares it a lot to Ren and Stimpy as a sort of benchmark for character animation, but doesn’t mention (perhaps unaware) that show director Jayson Thiessen is a huge Ren and Stimpy fan himself.
Indeed these unique expressions are a huge part of what makes this show great, even as early as episode three. But what’s really mind-blowing is to go back and watch this episode after seeing Too Many Pinkie Pies, and see how far the show has come.
In The Ticket Master, the majority of shots feature the ponies in neutral poses and making neutral faces. This doesn’t dilute their personalities, though, since every moment of unique expression stands out and adds depth to their character. By the time we reach season three, almost every single shot has some kind of unique pose or expression. Obviously this is because the studio has grown to understand the characters and how to express them perfectly, has gotten altogether better at their craft, has a higher budget to work with, and generally care a lot about their show, even more so than before.
It’s a very clear line of improvement that happens all throughout the show, wherein each new season and episode presents even more unique animation and expression until we’ve forgotten that there ever was a neutral pose and expression for the ponies. Looking back, I’d just about forgotten that they ever moved this similarly before.
Back to the episode: Twilight continues to be neutral about the other ponies’ reasons for wanting to go, but I love that she actually gets pissed at them and tells them all to go away and let her figure it out. It was like a scene out of real life…
Out of all the spontaneous pony favors, Applejack certainly does the best job, providing food, which Twilight actually wanted. Obviously she only did it because apples are kinda her thing, and everyone tries to use their thing to convince Twilight—if she’d presented it more as concern for Twilight’s hunger, she might just have been set. BTW, I think Applejack was all-around best pony this episode. Just sayin’.
In spite of how much Misfortune Dogged was able to say about this episode as an example of what sets the show apart from the older MLP and makes it fascinating, I don’t have much to say about it as an episode of the show. You could use any episode, or the show as a whole, to explain the broad strokes of its appeal, but as an individual episode, this one is pretty thematically weak, and occurs too early for the characters to have developed any strong chemistry or depth. (Which they develop in the next episode.)
One thing I can do just for fun though is to contextualize the desires of each pony into what I know about their characters from having watched the whole show until now.
Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Rarity are all thinking about long-term benefits from the gala, although only Rainbow and Rarity would have a truly life-changing experience if things went according to plan. Of course, like most things that are supposed to change your life forever, their plans are also the most far-fetched. Rarity expects to fall in love with some dude she never met, and Rainbow Dash expects to bust in on the Wonderbolts’ live performance and show them up somehow.
By the time we reach The Best Night Ever, I think the writers must have realized how much of an ass Rainbow would look like if she honestly tried to show up the Wonderbolts like she explains in this episode, and instead she mostly tries to hang out and get face-time with them, impressing them with some tricks here and there. She ultimately makes no progress whatsoever. Rarity meanwhile ends up negating the possibility she sought altogether, since Blueblood turns out to be an asshole.
Applejack is looking for pragmatic solutions to her immediate concerns. While this is a noble ambition, if you think about it, her reasons aren’t as imperative as Rainbow’s and Rarity’s. While the Gala could be a boost to sales and set her forward a bit, either way we would assume that Applejack will eventually make the money and get the farm shit fixed. This is even confirmed with some very subtle development over the series. (See image.)
Applejack’s life followed the same course that she plotted it to follow at the gala, only slower. Meanwhile, notice how both Rainbow and Rarity stress that this is their ONE CHANCE to possibly achieve their dreams. In Rarity’s case, that really might have been true, but only because she isn’t actively seeking to get with Blueblood, whereas Rainbow Dash is honestly trying to get into the wonderbolts. It’s like the difference in hoping that you’ll win the lottery, and hoping that you’ll write a bestselling novel after years of training.
Pinkie Pie just wants to have fun and make some fond memories. She has the least need to go to the Gala. Sure, it’s supposed to be the ultimate party, and she would’ve made great memories, but Pinkie is constantly making great memories, and she probably would’ve thrown her own party that night either way. While she does put in effort to win Twilight’s favor like the others, she also probably would’ve been the least disappointed and upset if she hadn’t gotten to go, given her natural lack of seriousness.
Then we have Fluttershy, who wants to see a garden of creatures. Again, like Pinkie, this is just an opportunity to have a particularly fun night doing what she loves. It’s more likely for Fluttershy to get something out of it since there are genuinely animals there which she can’t find elsewhere, and she could probably cross something off of her bucket list with that. Pinkie could probably throw a better party than the gala if she tried, but Fluttershy can’t find these animals elsewhere. Still, it’s hardly a life-changing desire like Rainbow’s.
So with all that said, from an idealogical standpoint, I think Rainbow Dash had the best reasons to go to the Grand Galloping Gala, even though her plans of what to do there were obviously flawed. Of course, it turns out that everyone’s plan was deeply flawed, so in the end none of it really matters.