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

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Episode 33: "May the Best Pet Win!"

Aired 11/19/2011, written by Charlotte Fullerton (her fourth episode)
    Storyline:
  • Intro: Rainbow's dream of flying is interrupted by an animal made of various parts of her friends' pets. She wakes up to find the pets gathered around the tree where she is napping.
  • Act 1: The friends tell Rainbow Dash about their weekly pet play dates, leading Rainbow to wish for a pet. Fluttershy offers a selection, and Rainbow decides a contest is in order.
  • Act 2: Rainbow tests the creatures' speed, agility, guts, style, coolness, awesomeness, and radicalness, ending up with four fliers and a tortoise who insists on competing. The final event is a race through Ghastly Gorge, but Rainbow herself is left behind when her wing is pinned by a rock slide.
  • Act 3: Bringing up the rear, the tortoise comes upon Dash and frees her from the rock. At the finish line, Rainbow chooses the tortoise, naming him Tank, and has him equipped with a magical propeller that allows him to fly.

Character: By now we know all the pets; they each have a personality. But we haven't seen much of the characters actually enjoying their pets. In a more saccharine show, we might tire of scenes like the one in the park, but for MLP it's a pleasant surprise to see the "love and affection" Twilight refers to played out without a crisis to distract us. In that way it recalls the stargazing scene from Owl's Well That Ends Well. I put this in the character section because it reminds us of a side of the Mane Six we haven't often seen. Anyone who loves a pet spends a lot of time just enjoying it.

This is only Fluttershy's third explosion of joy, after meeting Spike and witnessing Dash's sonic rainboom. This speaks not so much to her love of animals as to her wish for Dash to know the same happiness she's found in her critters, and thereby make the two ponies best friends. It's fascinating to trace their relationship from the Cutie Mark Chronicles flashback, through Dragonshy and Sonic Rainboom, to this episode and Hurricane Fluttershy. It's an excellent example of natural interpersonal development over the course of a series.

The other characters have only small parts to play, but we do see Applejack and Twilight's higher understanding of having pets, and Pinkie and Spike's support and concern for Rainbow toward the end. The also-rans among the pet candidates each have their moments as well. (By the way, the hummingbird has the same coloring as Hummingway from A Bird in the Hoof, but a different beak.)


Lesson: This is the sort of twist I like in a morality series: This isn't really about choosing pets or how to treat them. A pet episode would probably have more to do with the responsibilities of keeping a pet, since the love/play/affection side of it is what kids naturally think about anyway. (I'm not saying it should have been this by any means; that ground is covered in Baby Cakes with reference to child care, and more directly for animals in Just for Sidekicks.)

On the contrary, the tortoise himself is the role model, demonstrating the tenacity that is "the mark of a real winner." I've heard before that tenacity, curiosity, and strong character are the three main ingredients for childhood success, but stick-to-it-iveness is important in adult relationships as well: We should be the same kind of friend that Tank is to Rainbow Dash. Another word for it is fidelity, which happens to be very near the concept of loyalty, Dash's own element.


Logic: One could question the morality of owning a pet as sentient as these companions appear to be. They don't talk like the hoofed animals on the show, but that seems to be the only real difference. Chalk it up to the weirdness of a world in which some animals are very humanlike and the rest are still more than just animals. BTW, per the creators, the sentients in the world of MLP include ungulates and ruminants but not most other natural animals. (Also, this episode establishes the ability of flying animals to perch/rest on clouds. Connections: The pets return to the background after this episode but take center stage again in the third season's Just for Sidekicks. The rejected kitten shows up again in Read It and Weep. This is the second time Rainbow Dash has tied for last place in a race, the previous one being Fall Weather Friends.

 

Resonance: Just about everything that isn't a tearjerker is an occasion for laughs, cheers, or both. For the funny I especially enjoy Gummy stuck to Pinkie's ear, Fluttershy dragging Dash along the ground in her enthusiasm, and the Twilight head-pat. The bat's time in the spotlight is the most awesome part, hands down, but Tank gets points too for showing up Opalescence at the end.

Rainbow's time trapped under the boulder is wisely played for drama and is very powerful for the few seconds it lasts, though it would be more effective were it twenty seconds longer and not interrupted by a commercial break.

 

Other Impressions and Final Assessment: Going on purely subjective criteria, I would rate this one of my top five episodes, partly because I'm an animal lover, partly because Rainbow is right in the middle of her character arc, and partly because there are so many little "moments" that grab me in just the right way.

I'm fine with the pacing here for the most part. There's really an awful lot packed into the second act (eight scenes plus the race), but it seems to flow naturally due to the effective use of montage-style cuts. We have plenty of time to absorb the beginning and end of the episode. I like the song and it's catchy, but at 3 1/2 minutes it's a little long. There are a couple lines whose rhythm is a little stilted, and I personally wouldn't have gone for the Charlie Brown faces at the end. But enough about the duet. "Ride of the Valkyries" was well chosen for the gorge race. One missed opportunity here: We could have used more shots of the other characters' pets reacting to the contest. I'd like to see Angel rooting for Tank alongside Fluttershy, for instance, or possibly Gummy somehow worming his way into one of the events even though he's not a contestant.

A solid episode, impressive but outshone by most of the stories that lead up to it. Not to damn with faint praise; it's excellent, but the first few shows of the season just happen to cross into higher territory, and as of the late fourth season it's the median episode by my ranking.

 

May the Best Pet Win! armor rating: Golden Vest
Ranked 14th of 26 season-two episodes
Ranked 90th of 147 stories overall

Click HERE for Character Appearance List and Screentime.

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