Thursday, November 29, 2012

WeirdRaptor's Review of My Little Pony: Rescue at Midnight Castle

Hello, ladies and gentlecolts, WeirdRaptor here. This is my text review of My Little Pony: Rescue at Midnight Castle. In 1984 and 1985, Hasbro worked with Marvel Pruductions and Sunbow Productions to create a pair of half-hour TV special based on their toyline. At this tentative stage, they were simply testing the waters to see if anyone would be willing to sit through a televised program starring the pastel-colored equines running through fields, playing, dancing, singing, and battling the force of Apocalyptic evil. Release April 14th, 1984, it aired in Prime Time.

The story goes as follows: Evil Overlord Tirac requires four ponies to transform into dragon-demon-thingies to pull his chariot so that he can fly through the skies and rein in The Night That Never Ends and take over the world. Why he couldn’t do this from the ground is left unexplained. He sends his reluctant henchman Scorpan to carry out this mission. So Scorpan leads his army of dragonriders to Dream Valley!

On Tirac and Scorpan: Tirac is a demonic centaur with godlike powers granted by his Rainbow of Darkness, which is a very powerful magical tool that can do just about anything. Scorpan is a Satanic-looking winged goat-man and Tirac’s primary enforcer.

The special actually begins in Dream Valley as we’re introduced to our heroines as they come out of their castle to celebrate the Spring after what was presumably a long Winter. Our leads are a group of six ponies out of the lot: Firefly, a fiery tomboy Pegasus, Medley, her more cautious worrywart companion, also a Pegasus, Twilight a motherly Unicorn, Bowtie, a soft spoken and down to earth…earth pony, Applejack, clumsy earth pony, and Amber, a cute but useless baby earth pony. They run around and skip and play in their idyllic setting without a worry in the world, completely naïve to the coming danger. Funnily enough, the last two lines of the opening theme that plays over this sugary sweet goodness are:“No sign of trouble in sight,
May all your days be bright!”

Not even thirty seconds later do Scorpan’s army of dragonriders show up and snatch two ponies while the others successfully retreat into Dream Castle and pull up the drawbridge. Well, most of the others. Firefly leaves to find help. And by “go find help” I mean “use the first person she finds”, the first person being a 10-12 year old cowgirl who lives at a ranch, Megan Williams. She basically kidnaps the girl and takes her back to Dream Castle with her. …I am not making this up. Boy, this could have been a very different special if she’d run into someone else.

Firefly: “So will you help us?”
Duke Nukem: “No one steals our ponies and lives!”

Meanwhile, back at Midnight Castle, Tirac is displeased with Scorpan’s offerings and sends him back for the other ponies. Scorpan’s second raid arrives just as Firefly and Megan reach Dream Castle. This time he succeeds in snagging one other adult pony and a foal named Amber. Scorpan saves Megan after she takes a spill in the ensuing chaos (a bit of a hint concerning his true nature) and then warns her to leave Dream Valley.

Incensed by the injustice of it (and possibly taking Scorpan's words as a challenge), Megan teams up with The Mane Five to go rescue their friends from Tirac, but first they stop by the Mushromp, home of the Moochic and Habit. After a little trouble finding it (accompanied by the best song of the special), he gives them The Rainbow of Light, which is basically Yin and Tirac’s Rainbow of Darkness’s Yang.

In Midnight Castle, Tirac is enraged that Scorpan failed him a second time, this time by bringing in Amber, who is too small to be used to pull his chariot. So in retribution, Scorpan’s adoptive son Spike The Baby-Dragon is imprisoned and set for beheading (!!) unless Scorpan succeeds in bringing in the fourth pony on time. Before then, Tirac decides not to let what he’s already been given go to waste and transforms the three ponies Scorpan’s brought in anyway. The transformation, by the way, has the black tendrils of the Rainbow of Darkness ensnare the ponies and seemingly burn them alive while transforming them in a surprisingly creepy sequence.
Do I even need a “Parental Warning” this time after describing that scene? Old-School My Little Pony doesn’t mess around, folks.

Once arriving at Midnight Castle, Megan and company break in and confront the overlord, himself, and accomplish little more than handing Tirac the final adult pony he needs to convert into a chariot-puller. Yeah, “My bad,” doesn’t quite cover this. Meanwhile, Scorpan, tired of Tirac’s increasingly abusive behavior, frees Amber and Spike. Then he saves the Hero Party from Tirac’s guards and leads everyone out onto the castle roof, followed closely by Tirac riding his chariot. Both Rainbows are unleashed, but Rainbow of the Lights turns out to be mightier, and it eats its opposite. Then it tears Tirac to shreds before taking him into the sky and exploding him! If I could burrow a quote from Familiar Faces’ CR: ”Hoohoo! That guy is deader than shit!”

Then with Tirac’s evil magic gone, everything he created, castle, henchmen, and dragon, all revert into their original forms (excepting only Spike, who was born a dragon): plants, animals, and ponies. Scorpan, meanwhile, is revealed to be Freddie Mercury…er, a prince.
The End. Firefly takes Megan home as the credits roll.

Story: The story is solid, if a little clichéd. We’ve seen Evil Overlords try to Take Over The Earth, and can only be stopped by a Ragtag Bunch Of Misfits with their Macguffin a million times before (even by 1984). Then again, it wasn’t meant to be ground-breaking in any regard. It did what it was supposed to well as a fun little fantasy-adventure.

It does have its flaws. With the story it ran with, a half-hour held back a lot that could have been done with it. A full hour and a half movie would have suited the story much better (and would have been a much better My Little Pony movie than what we ended up getting two years later).
As is it, Tirac only gets a chance to shine as a villain a few times. The rest of the time he’s just sitting on his throne badgering Scorpan. The journey to his castle is also less than spectacular. It’s literally an afternoon stroll away with hardly any obstacles along the way (the worse being completely accidental). Obtaining the Macguffin needed to defeat The Big Bad is literally just handed to the heroes because they didn’t have enough time to crawl their way through a dungeon or temple to get it.

With that in mind, it certainly had its strengths which do outweigh its weaknesses. The special had atmosphere and the audience feels as though there is something at stake at all times. Its villain had a very commanding presence and the nastiness to back to it up. I also liked how Tirac’s henchmen were decently competent. They spot the heroes entering the castle, catch them, and are only undone by the top dog henchman, himself.

Characters: they weren’t deep, but their personalities are concisely written, easily identifiable, and distinguishable from the rest of the cast. Firefly is a head-strong, fun-loving daredevil tomboy. Medley is reserved and cautious. Twilight is motherly and supportive. Bowtie is level-headed and takes charge. Applejack is awkward and clumsy. Amber wants to grow up quickly. Megan is inexperienced and unsure of herself, but sincere and brave. Spike is naïve and excitable.
And then there’s Scorpan, Tirac’s reluctant enforcer. This character is “don’t judge a book by its cover,” defined. Despite his demon-like appearance, he’s actually a kind and noble (if blunt) fellow, who truly cares for his adoptive son, Spike, and can just barely stomach the things Tirac makes him do. He only obeys because he was forced to, a fact that’s made clear from the very first time he has to force himself to spat out “…Master” when reporting to Tirac.
The message is delivered with unexpected subtlety. The creators simply let Scorpan’s own actions speak for themselves. No “Sonic Sez”, no “Knowing Is Half The Battle”, and no “Dear Princess Celestia…”
His Heel Face Turn was delivered just as well, getting nicely foreshadowed with a few simple inflections in his voice, his look of utter horror and remorse when Tirac transforms ponies into demons, and his well-established care for Spike. Little moments like these spoke loud and clear.

The only truly flat character was Tirac, and it’s acceptable in his case. He’s the dark overlord of evil. He has what counts. His presence and stature are grand and he’s a lot more menacing than anyone was probably expecting him to be. I mean, come on, demon centaur commanding the forces of darkness. Oh, excuse me, I mean BEHOLD THE POWER OF DAAAARKNESSSSS!!!! NOW BEGINS THE NIGHT THAT NEVER ENDS!!!! roared at full volume while riding his ponies-turned-demons pulled chariot to usher in Eternal Darkness across the land.
Enjoy him while you can, folks. I’m afraid this is as good as the villainy gets for all of G1. Tirac wouldn’t be rivaled for “Most Badass My Little Pony Villain” until Friendship is Magic cartoon hit the airwaves.

Animation: The animation for this special was actually pretty solid. It was nothing wowing, but it actually had some care put into and lacked a lot of the constant errors from the later G1 works. The ponies moved fairly realistically (as much as Pegasi and Unicorns can, anyway) and they were designed to look a lot lke actual ponies.
A handful of inspired designs such as the overall memorable look of The Moochic and his Mushrump, Midnight Castle, and the Rainbow of Darkness certainly help give the look of the special an edge as well.

Music and Songs: The music and songs are fairly stock for the medium, but were by no means terrible. The songs were more memorable than the score though, and quite enjoyable. My picks from the songs would have to be “Dancing On Air” and “A Little Piece of Rainbow”, sang by Sandy Duncan and Tony Randall respectively, because…Sandy Duncan and Tony Randall. Come on. The singers for the other songs were good, but they don’t hold the candle for those musical powerhouses.

Voice Acting: The cast of characters was well-cast, overall.
While hardly her best performance, Sandy Duncan gives Firefly an excitable and adventurous aura with just a little bit of attitude. Firefly sounds truly at home when thrill seeking and trying to pull off stunt-flying. Her take on Firefly is not too far removed from how she played Peter Pan many years before.

Tammy Amerson as Megan was also very enjoyable, mixing just the right measures of girly and tomboy. She was given the role of an ordinary girl in extraordinary circumstances and delivered in full giving some weight to Megan as she goes from doubting that she’d be much good to the ponies to leading the charge to Midnight Castle.

Victor Caroli as Tirac was very commanding and threatening. He also knew when it was time to start hamming it up, leaving no castle stonewall un-chewed in his wake. I also love the arrogance that oozed from Tirac in his performance. He had a real “yeah, I’m big, I’m bad, and just what do you think you’re going to do about it?” feel to the character.

Ron Taylor as Scorpan gave what is probably the most impressive performance in finding a low, growly voice without making it sound evil, I imagine had to be a bit of a challenge. Anyone can add a growl to their voice. It takes talent to make it sound non-threatening and to be able to give such a voice inflection. His voice as De-Transmogrified Scorpan was ordinary…and that’s all you can say about it. It was probably Taylor’s natural voice.

The other voices ranged from Really Good-to-Decent. I in particular took a liking to Bowtie’s voice.

And last, but certainly not least, Tony Randall as The Moochic was just excellent. He played the role of ditzy, absent-minded old wizard perfectly and with his usual Tony Randall charm. He isn't given much screen time, but his one scene is easily one of the most entertaining in the whole special, because…Tony Randall. The man was a walking scene stealer. He commanded the screen of every scene of every movie or show he was ever in.

Final Conclusion: It was good. Pretty stock in many cases, but some inspired writing, designs, and performances raised it just a notch above the standard norm of early-mid 80s TV animation. To this day, My Little Pony: Rescue at Midnight Castle remains a cult classic among fans of the franchise and fans of 80s animation in general and rightfully so. Give it try, if you haven’t yet. I think this TV special just might surprise you.

Next Episode: WeirdRaptor Reviews Escape From Catrina

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