Analyzing “A Canterlot Wedding”

Text version and links:

My OC is designed by Mizuki Takashima:

Antony C’s Canterlot Wedding Review:
And The Big Fix:

It’ll Be OK – Sherclop Pones:

This is one of the big ones. Next to Magical Mystery Cure, A Canterlot Wedding is the episode carrying the highest and lowest opinions of the brony fandom. It’s either the moment when the series jumped the shark–an episode so broken and convoluted that it doesn’t deserve to exist–or, it’s the most satisfying two-parter in the show and the mark of its actualization into an epic piece of work. I can perfectly understand the views on both sides, but I’m inclined to believe the latter. I’d like for this video to be considered a companion piece, or at least an opposite perspective to Antony C’s Canterlot Wedding review. His video, and the subsequent Big Fix video, perfectly explain everything wrong with this episode and how it could’ve been done better. However, I’m going to be arguing purely from the angle of how the episode works, and works well, in its current state.

I’m a big fan of the idea that context informs one’s appreciation of a piece of media. We’re always bringing our own personal context to all the works that we consume, and there’s a ton of contextual things that go into this episode, from basic stuff like how it’s an episode of an ongoing series, and a season finale at that, to more complex things like which social constructs have informed the episode’s setup. I’m telling you this now because I have a lot of points to raise about this episode which might seem all over the place, but I want you to bear in mind that I’m doing all of this to build up the context that I view it in so that you can see where I’m coming from.

We’ll start with the most controversial aspect of this episode–the characters Princess Cadence and Shining Armor. Both of these characters had never been mentioned in the show before, and it bothered a lot of people that Princess Cadence was an unnecessary alicorn, changing the nature of alicorns in the show altogether. However, now that we’ve had time to take a step back and see where the show would take these characters, I think they can be given a little more credit.

Personally, I never found it all that odd that Twilight had never mentioned Shining Armor to her friends. I can recall several instances when my best friends revealed to me that they had siblings that I didn’t even know about, and that they were close with those siblings. It’s not hard for me to imagine that Shining wouldn’t come up, especially since he lives so far away. Now, would it have been much cooler if Twi had paid him a visit in, say, Sweet and Elite, where she had a birthday party in Canterlot that he probably could’ve attended? Sure. I’ll concede that it would’ve felt BETTER if we knew about Shining Armor beforehand, but I don’t think it makes the episode BAD that we hadn’t.

As for Cadence, the nature of alicorns has changed a lot by now. We know how an alicorn comes to be via Twilight, and we even know the story of how Cadence became one thanks to the Crystal Heart Spell book. Sure, there are unanswered questions about the nature of alicorn immortality and power levels, but I think that these changes to our perception of how alicorns work are not necessarily incongruous with the rest of the series. While they change the allegorical nature of the alicorns and add more rules to their existence, it doesn’t break any of the series up to this point outside of in the headspace of the viewer. I could understand how these changes might ruin the show for someone who was more invested in another idea of how the show’s world works, but from the perspective of taking in the entire show collectively at the vantage point of where we are now, I think the alicorn additions work well enough.

On a personality level, Cadence and Shining Armor don’t have much impact in this episode. However, they’ve since had a phenomenal arc in the My Little Pony comics which fleshes out their personalities and relationship in awesome ways, making them actually some of the more interesting characters in the franchise. We’ve also seen them together since, in The Crystal Empire, which while not terribly exciting, still gives more weight to their existence. Coming back to A Canterlot Wedding with all of this additional context makes it an even more enjoyable experience, with the marriage itself carrying a lot more weight than it did on the initial viewing.

Now, if you ask people who loved this episode why they did so, you’ll probably hear something about how it’s an epic, satisfying series finale. That’s the tangible version of what it is, but there’s gotta be some grounds for those statements, so lets look into them.

First of all, at the time that this episode came out, it was a full-on event. The Hub promoted the living shit out of it, with billboard ads, a formal wedding invitation in the New York times, constant commercials on TV, and they even had the double-episode event hosted by wedding expert Tori Spelling. Most of the promotion was based around the idea of the “royal wedding,” which was a giant reference to the British royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton a year prior. This went down to the level of basing the dresses of characters in the show off of real dresses worn during the royal wedding.

When viewed in the context of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic as an attempt to elevate and justify girly concepts as relevant and interesting ideas, the Canterlot Wedding makes perfect sense. It takes a wedding, which is about the most quintessentially girly concept imaginable, and embraces the way that feminine culture regards the wedding as the most epic and memorable event of a woman’s life. It does this by actually making an epic and memorable wedding, but one that still promotes the things that are supposed to make weddings awesome in the first place–an event about symbolizing the ultimate union of two lovers. Whether or not you think weddings deserve to be seen this way or like the concept of a wedding in general, the point is that this episode embraces it and presents it awesomely.

It does this using imagery and pacing that borrows from epic works of fiction, while simultaneously using wedding-based concepts to tell its story. The villain is a bridezilla–a woman who is so obsessed with having the perfect wedding that it turns her into a force of evil. The hero is a protective younger sister who doesn’t want to see the older brother that she loves married off to an evil succubus. True love conquers all in the end, and a happy family is born.

Visually, the episode has a lot of epic moments that prepare the viewer for something big, especially in how it uses the building and breaking of Shining Armor’s barrier. The state of alert in Canterlot and ultimate game of traitorous intent is reminiscent of the Cloud City arc from The Empire Strikes Back. My friend Neal X used to have a great video showing how the invasion of the Changelings almost perfectly resembles cutscenes from Starcraft 2, but his videos have sadly been pulled by copyright. Hopefully Starcraft fans will be able to see the connections, and we do talk more about this episode and how it connects to other works of media in the yet-to-be-released fourth episode of the Elements of Brony.

The whole idea here is to take the most epic event in feminine culture, and give it the same gravitas that epic events in masculine culture typically have, and I think the episode does a fantastic job of that.

On an emotional level, the script connects with the viewer perfectly. It sets up the events in such a way that everyone’s skepticism of Twilight is understandable, but it gives the viewer enough information to share in Twilight’s frustrations. The emotional crux is reached when, after Twilight gets slammed by Shining Armor, the sheer backlash from everyone she cares about causes Twilight to think that she was wrong all along, even though the viewer is convinced already that Cadence is really evil. That disconnect allows us to understand just how hard Twilight has been hit by her abandonment at the hands of all her friends, and it’s heartbreaking.

The episode is great at these small, emotionally resonant moments. Just look at when Twilight sees Cadence desperately trying to budge the mine cart and is moved by the love Cadence has for her brother. Or better yet, this moment when Cadence is at once so happy that she has been reunited with her lover, so sad to see her lover in the state that he’s been left in, and so determined to get him back, that she doesn’t say a single word. It’s fantastic.

There’s also a ton of memetic details, both big and small, that give it an extra kick. The big ones are the songs, especially This Day Aria, which are some of the best in the show and provide extra feels. Smaller details are the likes of Applejack putting her hat on over her dress, or how the mane six all have unique dance moves, or showing Vinyl Scratch and Fancy Pants for the second time.

We also get a big new threatening villain, and the entire concept of changelings, which have been expanded on in the comics as well as run away with by the fandom. I won’t get too far down that rabbit hole but suffice it to say this episode alone has spawned an enormous range of fan content like few others have.

A Canterlot Wedding isn’t the deepest or most interesting episode of My Little Pony, and its storyline doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. However, the episode is so dense and has so much additional context to bring into it that there’s plenty to like about it. Ultimately, your opinion is going to depend mostly on what you value in the series, which is more or less true of every episode, but I think this one is understandably controversial.

Tomorrow I’ll be taking on something a little lighter so stay tuned, and if you liked this video, consider supporting my channel on patreon. This week, my patron funding allowed me to replace my computer and laptop which managed to die on the same day, so if not for viewer contributions, this channel would probably be taking a nap right now instead of firing on full cylinders as it is. I can’t thank my supporters enough, and I hope you’ll look forward to everything else I have in store!

One thought on “Analyzing “A Canterlot Wedding”

  1. My only storytelling complaint with this episode set was the use of Celestia in combat. I believe the proper term is that she was “Warfed,” referring to Star Trek TNG character Warf who’s is oft touted to be a badass and then thoroughly trounced to provide context for how awesome the villain of the week is. Celestia’s combat prowess is mostly a matter of head canon, of course, but it’s difficult to imagine an ancient creature with enough magical power to toss around celestial bodies with a thought being bested so easily. Losing off screen while buying time for the main crew to escape would have been preferable to seeing her get one-shot by the new baddie, I think.

    As for the context we bring into the episode I think you really hit the nail on the head. I am the oldest of six (that I know of), and that really shaped my view of Twilight and Shining’s relationship. I have a brother (via my father) a little younger than me that I’ve never met (and nobody knows where he is. His mother ran off with him as a newborn). My next two siblings (local, via my mother) are nine and ten years younger than me, which has made bonding properly somewhat difficult. Generational differences and divergent interests are a pain, though we’ve at least found common ground in MLP. My two youngest siblings (again via my father) live with my dad in another state and I’m ashamed to say I’ve had little in the way of contact with them. I just don’t cope well with distance.

    Watching “A Canterlot Wedding” made me feel like a total shit of a big brother. Specifically, the BBBFF song. When I watched it with my sister and brother (the two local siblings) I wandered off during the song because it made me feel so bad. I’ve since made it a point to be more cognizant of my relationship with them. Maybe I can’t do the BBBFF thing, but I can sure as hell earn my regular ol’ “big brother” title.

    I honestly forgot what my original point was. Context! Right. It matters. Thanks for that.

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