Episode: s3e09 - Apple Family Reunion
By: Cindy Morrow
Review after the page break.
DHN Review by Ryan
We’re now well into the second half of the third season and every pony is starting to get their fair share. Scootaloo had her day in the sun (moon?), Rainbow Dash finally started on the road to get what she wants, and even Cadance and Luna have had some rather important parts when previously they had been overlooked. Now one of the most popular background ponies finally gets a chance to show what she has to offer. That pony being Applejack, of course. “Apple Family Reunion”, written by Cindy Morrow, is the 9th episode in production order, but 8th in airing order, similar to what happened last year around this time with “Hearth’s Warming Eve”. Morrow must certainly love the Apple family, as her writing credits for “Friendship is Magic” include “Family Appreciation Day”, “One Bad Apple”, and “Apple Family Reunion”. She does prove to have a very good grasp of the family dynamic that the Ponyville Apples have, and it’s once again on display here.
The Apple Family Reunion is coming up and the Ponyville Apple family is gearing up for another big party at Sweet Apple Acres. While listening and watching Granny Smith recall her previous, memorable reunions of past years, Applejack becomes more and more convinced that she should be the one to take the reins of the reunion this year to prove to the family that she can run a reunion just like Granny Smith can. Every event that is mentioned – the 7-legged race (they’re horses, remember?), fritter cooking, quilt-knitting, and more – is one more challenge for Applejack to accept and elaborate upon. She plans to make this reunion bigger and better. Partially for her own pride and partially because every single Apple from Las Pegasus to Manehattan has sent their R.S.V.P. and plans to take the trek to Ponyville.
Applejack proves to be far too overzealous in her attempts to show that she can throw as big of a hootenanny as Granny Smith. Applejack loses sight of what makes gets-togethers with your family important and goes a bit nuts in her preparations and events. From overly long, exhausting races to out-of-control haybale rides, AJ constantly turns what should have been a relaxing weekend with her extended family into a disaster. It seems unusual for Applejack to be so out-of-touch with what the other ponies are thinking. Typically, she is the one that is more down-to-earth and empathetic, but in this episode she seems more like Twilight in “Lesson Zero”, even hearkening back to early series episodes like “Apple Buck Season”.
Ultimately though, the issue is that the writers just didn’t do anything with Applejack. They gave her an out-of-character personality quirk and just sort of expected that to carry her through the whole episode. “Apple Family Reunion” is just another in a long line of failed attempts at making Applejack more interesting. She’s supposed to be the ‘straight man’, the solid foundation, and the shoulder to lean on. It may not be exciting, but that’s what it is. When AJ is taken out of her element and placed in another situation, it seems to contrast wildly with what had already been established with the character.
I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t raise an eyebrow at Applejack’s first solo song. I get they were trying to go for the whole square-dancing, hoedown, yee-haw tune, but it went from ‘homage’ into ‘terribly parody’ rather quickly. The song also suffers from absolutely horrible and simplistic lyrics. It’s also somewhat humorous that Applejack tries to make reparations for forcing her family members to do ridiculous activities by forcing her family members to do physical labor.
This episode also has the issue that most Applejack episodes have in that the spotlight is constantly stolen away from her by more interesting characters. In this particular instance, it’s Babs Seed. Yes, I did mention Manehattan earlier, and yes, Babs does indeed return for her second episode. She’s once again a main character, participating in activities with Apple Bloom for the whole episode. She reveals a bit more about her home and school and even references two possible new Manehattan Crusaders. It’s nice to see a new character return in such a big way, proving once again that DHX and the writers aren’t afraid of continuity. She almost has more to do and say in “Reunion” than she did her own episode.
The fact that Babs was represented so prominently and the fact that she mentioned a possible two new Cutie Mark Crusaders in Manehattan presents an interesting opportunity. Is it possible that we could get our first episode of FiM not featuring one of the established main characters and instead being set in Manehattan with Babs? It’s an interesting idea to think about, and may be a setup for a future episode in season four.
In a note of interest to some – the two shooting stars seen at the end of the episode were meant to represent Applejack’s parents who had passed away some time in the past. This was always meant to be as per Lauren Faust’s admission, but it was Sabrina Alberghetti, a lead storyboard artist, who finally confirmed its inclusion in the episode.This blink-and-miss-it scene was a small way to show something a bit deeper and thoughtful than sunshine and rainbows while still keeping it tasteful and not overly heavy-handed. This is still a children’s cartoon, after all.
The pacing in this episode, like most of season three, was superb. It never once felt like things were dragging on too long or being rushed at too hurried of a pace. Though I can say with confidence that this wasn’t the best episode of season three, it most certainly was not the worst. Ultimately “Apple Family Reunion” suffers from the issue that a lot of “Friendship is Magic” episodes suffer from: the episode comes, events happen, and then it ends, without much character progression or lasting appeal. It’s not a problem of the episodes being bad, per say, just that they are merely ‘good enough’. It’s important to note that, in the world of children’s television, being merely ‘good enough’ is often enough to propel the show to great heights, given its contemporaries. “Friendship is Magic”, though, has the added bonus of most of the episodes actually being ‘very good’ or ‘great’, even when compared to non-childrens programming. It so happens that “Reunion” just isn’t one of them.