MLP:FiM Episode Reviews: Character and Story Analysis by Half the Battle

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Episode 38: "Baby Cakes"

Aired 1/14/2012, written by Charlotte Fullerton (her fifth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Mane Six visit Mr. and Mrs. Cake's newborn twins in the hospital.
  • Act 1: Pinkie's celebration of the twins' "monthiversary" is interrupted by mundane childcare needs. The Cakes remember an engagement that requires a last-minute foalsitter and find Pinkie to be their last resort. Pinkie happily volunteers.
  • Act 2: The foals immediately cry and are inconsolable despite Pinkie's attempts at comedy. Bath time and a diaper change are disasters. Twilight Sparkle arrives to help but is pushed out when she implies Pinkie can't handle responsibility. Pinkie becomes stern to get the infants under control, but they somehow go missing.
  • Act 3: Pinkie searches for the foals and discovers that the pegasus can already fly and the unicorn can use magic. Unable to cope, Pinkie finally bursts into tears until the twins themselves cheer her up. They behave from then on, allowing Pinkie to clean Sugarcube Corner before the Cakes return. They are impressed with the scene that greets their return and offer to make Pinkie their go-to sitter.

Character: Pinkie Pie is a complex character. She's super-capable and can handle the responsibility of running the store or arranging a party, but she prefers fun. She's spontaneous but refers frequently to calendars, checklists, and time estimates. She tends to think of herself first and behave offensively but would never dream of deliberately hurting another pony's feelings. She's commonly underestimated, even by the Cakes here and most pointedly by Twilight, and the strength she demonstrates here is her resourcefulness. I believe this episode captures all there is to Pinkie very nicely.

Twilight takes a hit here with her only two appearances being a report that surely isn't really being required by the Princess and a remark she had to know was insensitive. I was kind of appalled actually. You can really tell Pinkie was hurt by it. She could certainly have been shown in a better light in this episode. I guess that's not necessarily a mark against the writing; characters are allowed to have flaws. Maybe I'm just overprotective of Twilight's presentation. The other characters basically have cameos and their scenes are fine as such.

I have no particular problem with the month-old Cake kids since we have no baseline for how baby ponies should behave. They do seem advanced beyond Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo's abilities, but there could be any number of explanations for an early "power surge."


Lesson: Babysitting is a big responsibility. True, but I find no tie-in to friendship here and I doubt the target audience is anywhere near old enough to babysit an infant. (I'm thinking mid-to-late teens would be appropriate.) The lesson is also undermined somewhat in that none of the problems Pinkie faces have anything to do with her not being responsible. She takes her charge dead serious the whole time; it's just a lot harder than she expected, which is a reality lesson rather than a character lesson. It's also odd to show Pinkie's ability to handle this as being in such doubt, as the rest of the Mane Six are about her age (Fluttershy's a year older) and are able to live on their own, hold jobs, run businesses, etc. I get the feeling someone in studio called for a babysitting episode, or else wanted babies on the show, and the story was written to fit with the responsibility of babysitting as the "moral." That's not usually how MLP usually works; the best episodes draw important lessons about friendship out of the established traits of the characters. Because of this, I felt like I was watching a different show.

Logic: I can't think of an in-universe reason for why the Cakes would approach Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie before asking any of the mares outside the Mane Six. What about Cheerilee or Sparkler or even Zecora? In fact, Zecora as foalsitter is an idea with a lot of potential to flesh out her character. Hmm... Connections: The twins have scenes in A Friend in Deed and Ponyville Confidential, with Pumpkin getting an additional cameo in Magic Duel.

 

Resonance: Fullerton's creative and bold use of humor make this episode much more entertaining than it would have been with a bunch of stereotypical baby gags. However, the mere presence of babies will all by itself cause many adult viewers to find the episode annoying, while those drawn to the cuteness will find it adorable. I lean toward the third option of just finding the whole thing funny, with Pinkie being the source of the most effective humor. Her stage act is a delightful parody of the sort of entertainment so often directed at young children (of both the over-their-heads and treacly varieties.) Pinkie also gets a chance to deliver the occasional snarky comment usually given by Twilight, and I found her somehow diapering herself to be hilarious, as well as the moment while being dragged through the house when she gets a raspberry-splattered face that she deals with in the usual Pinkie Pie manner.

The third act begins with an effective swerve into horror territory, conveyed through music, sound effects, and camera angles, as Pinkie searches for the twins. It provides something of a break from the all the comedy, sort of the inverse of comic relief, and is our only real hint at the possible dangers of bad foalsitting.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: This episode originally aired thirteenth in the season, since Hearth's Warming Eve was moved up in the schedule to coincide with Christmas week. I follow the order of episodes on the Season 2 DVDs, so this is counted as S2E12.

I don't dislike this episode. There are a lot of fun moments and as stated above, Pinkie is handled well. My favorite sequence is the delightfully creepy beginning of the third act, and the show could probably have used a bit more peril to drive home the importance of responsible child care. The animators go full-bore on the cuteness here, but I don't mind that at all since (1) cuteness is always allowed with babies, and (2) there's enough sharp physical comedy and wit to offset the fluffier moments. One problem with the structure of the episode is that there's nothing to cut away to. Without any sort of "B plot," the kids' antics are unrelenting, twelve straight minutes of crying and chaos. This may be intentional, and I don't dock the episode much for that. It is difficult to do baby gags without being cliché, gross, or annoying, but to the writer's credit most of it feels fresh and fun, at least for me. I do have serious issues with the other characters' treatment of Pinkie and the relevance of the lesson, as stated above. With the good and the bad factored in, this episode evens out to the top half of the Leather tier.

(Note: As much as the show's creators care about their work and interact with fans, it's possible they may come across this review. If you helped make this episode and I'm offbase in my understanding of it or have overlooked its strengths, you're welcome to give me the "Marshall McLuhan from Annie Hall" treatment and show me the insights I've missed.)

 

Baby Cakes armor rating: Leather Armor
Ranked 22nd of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 125th of 147 stories overall

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