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

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Episode 159: "Campfire Tales"

Aired 8/26/2017, written by Barry Safchik & Michael Platt (their first episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: The Cutie Mark Crusaders and their sisters set up camp in the forest during their annual trip to Winsome Falls. Their meal is interrupted by a swarm of flyders.
  • Act 1: The six ponies take refuge in a cave. Applejack helps pass the time by telling the story of Rockhoof, who used his strength to save his village from a volcano eruption.
  • Act 2: The flyders have ruined the camp, but Rarity comforts Sweetie Belle with the story of Mistmane, who used her generosity to redeem the corrupted ruler of her town. As the flyders threaten to enter the cave, Rainbow Dash causes a cave-in to block them out.
  • Act 3: Scootaloo panics, but Dash calms her down with the legend of Flash Magnus, who bravely rescued his squadmates from dragons. Trapped by the cave-in, the ponies head deeper into the cave and follow a river out, finding themselves at Winsome Falls.

Character: The question has come up a few times in fan discussions: What sorts of stories are told in Equestria? The series' previous camping trip gives us scary stories of the Olden Pony and the Headless Horse. But even before that, even in the first episode, we hear Spike dismiss the account of Nightmare Moon as "just an old pony's tale." Rainbow Dash later says the same was once believed of sonic rainbooms ("an old mare's tale"), and Twilight Sparkle dismisses curses as an old pony's tale as well. The word legend is also asssociated with the prophecy of The Mare in the Moon, the Windigos of Hearth's Warming Eve, the Mirror Pool, the Pony of Shadows, and the Idol of Boreas. Yet most of these things turn out to have some truth to them, and a few are even pivotal to Equestria's history.

However, take a look back at the legend of Nightmare Moon as told by Zecora in Luna Eclipsed, and how the Mane Six inject their personalities into the roles they play in the Hearth's Warming Eve pageant, and you can see how these legends represent a warped view of otherwise real events. The phrase "old pony's tale" suggests these stories are passed down from the older generation to the younger, but oral transmission is subject to alteration and embellishment. (Consider how memories of the generosity of Nikolaos of Myra have evolved into the myth of Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus.) Meanwhile, some things such as the Crystal Empire have been forgotten: As Princess Celestia says, "Few remember it ever existed at all." It seems the general population of Equestria doesn't have a strong tradition of written history, and so their sense of the past is mixed with mythology. In my personal headcanon, I like to think Celestia has actually encouraged this outlook in past centuries as a way of distancing herself from the memory of banishing her sister—a fact she kept from even Twilight Sparkle until Luna was restored.

Why bring this up in the Character section? Because in this context, we have reason to suspect there may be some truth at the bottom of the legends in this story. The appearance of Dragonlord Torch in the pegasus legend supports that possibility. Also, Sunburst mentions the names Rockhoof, Mistmane, and Flash Prance in the Crystalling. But the details may be somewhat different from what actually happened. But we can treat Rockhoof, Mistmane, and Flash Magnus as actual characters in a way we might not do with the Headless Horse. (Apologies in advance if the Headless Horse shows up for real in the eighth season.)

What stands out for these three legendary ponies is their parallel with the storytellers. Rainbow Dash represents the Element of Loyalty, and the bravery of Flash Magnus is driven by a sense of loyalty to his comrades. Rarity's Element is generosity, and Mistmane generously gives away her beauty to restore ponies and their surroundings. Applejack's honesty and Rockhoof's strength are a little more challenging to connect, but AJ is known for her determination and physical strength, and her honesty often takes the form of being true to her commitments. Except for one noble pony, the Mighty Helm desert and abandon the villagers they're sworn to defend, and so Rockhoof does their duty for them. It's the sort of thing Applejack would do, and in fact if the Mane Six were inducted into a sort of Equestrian Pantheon, we might expect our three ponies to be remembered with similar tales of their own. Also notice that the legends fit the cultures of the pony types from Hearth's Warming Eve: Rockhoof the earth pony is the son of a farmer, the unicorn Mistmane studies magic, and pegasus Flash Magnus is a warrior.

As for the series regulars, we see a lot of good sisterly behavior here. One often-neglected trait for Rarity makes a showing here. The key to her creativity is the ability to find beauty and inspiration in the unlikeliest of places, and she illustrates that with her cutie mark talent of finding precious metals in the drab cave wall.


Lesson: This is a "meta" episode in the sense that, like the MLP episodes themselves, the legends are morality tales. The overall message is that stories like these aren't just fun to listen to, but can propel us to model their good examples. "Any time you go out of your way to brighten somepony's day by doing something like giving them flowers, you're following in the hoofsteps of Mistmane." Flash Magnus "always inspired me to be my brave and awesome self." Apple Bloom proclaims that Rockhoof was originally "just like us!" As Rarity finds beauty in the cave wall, we can better ourselves by looking for lessons in stories and events around us, whether mundane or legendary. There is beneficial truth to be found there, but you may have to dig for it.

Resonance: The synopsis may make this seem like a mild episode: the CMC gathered around a campfire listening to stories. Actually, this is pretty exciting. The flyders are horrifying, and I'm grateful I don't have to look at the bites for the whole episode. Thanks to the animators for eschewing continuity to spare us that. We get a couple adorable moments such as Apple Bloom's excitement over Rockhoof's story, and Rainbow Dash's gentle look at the frightened-into-a-ball Scootaloo. These two give us cuteness all over the place, as well as the story's biggest laughs: Scootaloo takes refuge on Rainbow's face and as Rainbow later serves as a flotation device. Within the stories, the lava animation is simultaneously beautiful and threatening. Mistmane's sacrifice is seriously touching, as is Sable's wonder at her restoration. The action sequences with Flash Magnus are also thrilling and well paced.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: I enjoy seeing Norse and Oriental cultural elements on display in the Rockhoof and Mistmane legends. They remind us there's a whole world of ponies in Equestria (although as with our world, some of those cultural distinctions may have receded as ponies have modernized). Overall, this is a fun sequel to Sleepless in Ponyville, and I like the idea of this being an annual trip (though the ambiguous dialogue doesn't help us much with the timeline). Not particularly deep but engrossing and enlightneing nonetheless, Campfire Tales makes Equestria's world a bigger place and could have been a fine pilot for a spin-off series. In fact, I rate it a highly excellent story just below the series premiere.

 

Campfire Tales armor rating: Diamond Vest
Ranked 16th of 26 season-seven episodes
Ranked 73rd of 175 stories overall

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