Title: My Little Pony: Escape from Midnight Castle aka Escape from Nightmare Castle aka Firefly’s Adventure aka Rescue at Midnight Castle aka Rescue at Nightmare Castle
Yes, I’m pretty sure this episode was named by a group of drunks. [bat: It was also known as “My Little Pony Special”. Because it was the first.]
Summary: Tirek captures some of the little ponies to use as demons to pull his Chariot of Darkness at midnight. The rest of the ponies panic, fearing that they will be next. Firefly goes off for help and finds Megan, a girl who lives at a stable at the other end of the rainbow. Megan agrees to go to Pony Land with Firefly, but will they be able to rescue the little ponies in time?
Grade: A+ mostly because, having seen the movie, I know it’s going downhill from here, and I really enjoyed bits of this, so I want to give it a strong grade so I’ll remember that I loved it.
Just so we’re clear, I haven’t watched this yet. I’ve watched the movie many times and a chunk of the first season of MLP, but this is the first episode, which means it is last in the season on the DVD. I think these guys went on to sort out the scheduling of Firefly on Fox. Now there’s a recent joke that will resonate.
Also, I’m not being lazy by not giving bat a capital b, that’s how she spells it. [bat: It’s true.]
I’ve known bat for almost as long as I’ve known Wing. [bat: we’re old!] We were all in fandom together, but when I arrived, bat was taking a time out – she came back a month or so later. This would be circa September 2001. We have never worked together, so I’m very excited to share this project with her.
[bat: Funny how we’ve gone from vampires to ponies yet never really worked together one-on-one on anything. I’m super stoked to work with Dove on all things My Little Pony!]
[Dove: Also, I forgot to mention, bat introduced me to Raven, who I’ve been with/married to for fourteen years. Most of the time I’m grateful about this.]
I will refer to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic as FiM, to save typing it all the time.
Ok, so it actually opens with the standard animation at the beginning of all the episodes, except there’s dialogue overlaid. Which means the Hasbro folks were thrifty. They knew how to recycle animation. Glory on rollerskates careens out of control up a hill, past Twilight, over a cliff and lands on Bow Tie. Baby Ember jumps off Twilight and also leaps off a cliff, where she is saved by death by Firefly. For reference, Baby Ember is purple with pink hair in this. (There were several other releases of her in the toy line.)
Twilight then teleports down, Glory has vanished, and then Firefly goes for “the double inside-out loop”. Medley says it’s too dangerous, seconds before Firefly then crashes into Applejack and her stack of apples. “Applesauce anyone?” AJ quips, and everyone literally falls about laughing. Moonstone and Glory rock up. I love Moonstone and Glory. I’m very bitter that Moonstone is in FiM but there is no toy of her. WTF, Hasbro?
Ember is snuggled up to Twilight and asks if she’ll fly one day, or teleport, or jump far, and just as Twilight is reassuring that she’ll grow up to be her own self, the sky turns dark.
Someone squeals what sounds like “Oh no! It’s the Stromadoms!” … “Oh, not the Stromadoms!” someone else replies. I could google what the fuck these things are actually called, but I want to highlight that it was said twice back-to-back and I couldn’t figure it out. Don’t worry, I bet bat knows. [bat: I believe they’re called Stratadons, whatever that’s supposed to mean. They’re basically flying cloud lizards? Five year old don’t care; they just know they’re supposed to be evil/scary.] These guys, anyway:
I swear these dudes are the bad guys in Dungeons & Dragons. Also, he has wings, why is he riding a flying beast if he can fly himself?
Cotton Candy and Moondancer (oh noes!) have been taken by the Stromadoms Scorpan (I broke down and googled it – that’s a name I actually already knew and I still couldn’t figure it out), and the talking ape thing announces that they belong to “Tirek, the master of Midnight Castle!” I’ve met Tirek in FiM, he’s my favourite villain (actual villain, Discord does not count after season 2) because things actually look bleak and the beat down is awesome.
I fear my expectations have been raised rather high for a cartoon from the 80s.
While everyone else holes up in Dream Castle, Firefly flies away to get help.
Back at Tirek’s castle, Spike the dragon (who I know from the movie and the toy line) begs Scorpan to let him come along next time. Also, Scorpan’s voice actor has done something else, I recognise it – is he a bushwoollie or something? [bat: Ron Taylor voiced ‘Bleeding Gums’ Murphy on The Simpsons and played a lot of secondary characters in TV and film. He passed away in 2002.]
Next we see a gigantic hand stroking a bag that has a heartbeat. There is a deep rich voice that’s been treated the same way as the gods’ voices in Ulysses 31 (coming soon!) to give it a really deep and layered quality, and for a cartoon from so long ago, I’m giving this moment an A+.
Scorpan reports that he’s taken two of the ponies, but GOD VOICE (presumably Tirek) reprimands him for not being on his knees. Tirek bitches because he wants four ponies, not two, not three, FOUR! Spike tries to stand up for Scorpan, but Scorpan grabs him and gags him for his own good, by the sounds of Tirek’s rage.
By the way, we still can’t see Tirek, he’s in the dark, all we see is a long shadowy shot, or a hand stroking the heartbeat bag. [bat: Which reminds me so much of Dr Claw from Inspector Gadget.] [Dove: I had completely forgotten about that, but you’re absolutely right.]
Scorpan says he will arrange another raid and walks from the room, cradling Spike, and I’m already feeling it. Tirek is terrifying. Scorpan is sympathetic, Spike is… well, he’s Spike, the annoying animal sidekick, but in this context – trying to big up his friend to the boss, it’s actually cute.
I’m four minutes and three seconds in, and this is so much better than the movie. I’m worried my heart will be shattered when they fuck it up.
Right, it’s night time in the human world, and Megan – a girl of unknown age – is out in the stable grooming her horse when she sees a shooting star. It falls out of the sky and lands in the well on her farm. She winches it up in the bucket and it’s “A talking pony!” Megan exclaims.
She’s not alarmed by the fact that the pony is pink and blue. But she’s understandably confused when Firefly runs off up the hill, saying it’ll do. She then tells Megan to hop on, providing she knows how to ride. “Of course I know how to ride!” Megan sniffs, before performing a highly unprofessional “bum vault” that would get you tossed out of Pony Club, and settles herself on a pony so small her feet drag on the ground. (If there is another phrase for “bum vault” please tell me, but that was the official term when I was growing up.)
Megan asks why Firefly wants her, and Firefly says that Megan is strong, can fight and can fly. Megan’s in the process of disputing all of them when Firefly takes off. Firefly is an idiot.
Firefly then breaks into song about how much everyone will love her, and Megan has reservations, giving us the duet, “Dancing on Air”. And it might just be me, but Firefly’s singing voice doesn’t suit her speaking voice.
Firefly brings Megan to Dream Castle and they’re like “YAY! WE’RE SAVED!” and… dudes, let’s not put the cart before the horse.
Especially because the dragon things are back. And they grab Megan, Bubbles and Baby Ember. Also, they make the same noise as Tiamat from D&D.
Firefly and Medley decide that the only way to save them is the double inside-out loop again, and this causes a dragon to drop Megan. Firefly dives but can’t make it. Scorpan flies past on a dragon, catches her and sets her down safely on the ground.
I… love him?
As the dragons take off with the ponies, Scorpan pauses to tell her to leave this land, it’s not her fight. Megan responds by screaming that he’s a beast and attempts to axe-handle him (lacing her fingers together and flailing around – it looks much better when a wrestler does it). She misses.
After Scorpan leaves, she vows she’ll save the ponies, somehow.
Back at Tirek’s castle he’s displeased with Ember because she’s a baby and too small to pull his Chariot of Darkness. Finally, we get a shot of him, and… DUDE. This is pretty scary stuff. This shot reminds me of the animated Lord of the Rings film, where they filmed actors and painted over the stills.
… and spoiled it. I mean, he’s scary, but the crossed eyes undermine the sheer size of him, the horns, and the creepy voice.
[bat: Technically, Legend was released about a year *after* this special. Yet, the comparison between Tirek and the Lord of Darkness still remains in my mind.]
He then opens the bag he’s been fondling the whole time and says, “Behold the power of darkness!” A swirl of darkness dances around the ponies and turns them into purple or blue dragons with gigantic tusks. Both Spike and Scorpan look suitably disturbed by this.
Tirek then tells Scorpan if he doesn’t have a fourth pony to pull his chariot by midnight he will kill Spike.
Megan, Bow Tie, Applejack and Twilight set out to see the Moochick, who has magic powers, and will save them all. Having seen the movie, I will be surprised if he doesn’t try and flog them a Baby Bonnet School of Dance before they leave.
They cross a rickety bridge over a river and Applejack falls off, so Megan jumps in after her. Applejack tumbles to the river bed and things go dark.
If you don’t know what that means… you probably didn’t collect ponies.
It means these overrated wankers are about to steal the spotlight. If you ever tell a dickhead you collect ponies, you may hear, “Oh, I had all of them back in the day.” When they see how unimpressed you are, they will add, “I even had some sea ponies!”
(Nobody had all of them except Hasbro. I would say that Jewel Chevalier is the closest to owning all of them. And her collection is breathtaking.)
People like that have no idea how unimpressive owning sea ponies is. To anyone who does this to collectors: stop. It’s annoying. And if you want to brag, tell people you had a Rapunzel. Or Mimic. Or Ice Crystal. Something of that ilk that it actually took some effort to buy. Or you could just not one-up someone in a hobby you’re not even involved in.
[bat: I could list all the stuff I have in my collection that most collectors don’t, mainly because my mom saved every bit of packaging and I was careful with my toys (to a fault) but this one-up-manship crap is stupid. There aren’t awards for it; the reward is ENJOYING YOUR COLLECTION.] [Dove: On that note, when I finally move house and get my Pony Room set up, maybe we could each do a video showing our collections? Maybe arrange some trades if we’ve got anything suitable?]
So, back to the plot. These three irritations break into their signature song, “Call Upon the Sea Ponies”, all the while, presumably, the rest of the party is looking down at the water and crying over their friends’ apparent death by drowning.
The sea ponies take them to the surface and hand Megan a shell, saying, “If you need us again, just call!” Presumably it’s a shell phone. Yes, I punned. I’m not even sorry.
They find themselves at the Mushromp, which is so astounding, it causes Megan to do derp-face.
The Moochick skips right past introductions and heads straight for exposition. Tirek is going to bring about the night that never ends, and to stop him, they must sneak into the castle and steal the Rainbow of Darkness. Which is, I’m sure, the Rainbow of Light’s evil twin. And the Moochick actually does have a Rainbow of Light, so he’ll hand it over (or, actually, his bunny does, because the Moochick is very absent-minded). When he does the music gives a tiny refrain of “Always Another Rainbow” (from the movie) as he holds it up, so that’s a nice touch. It’s kept in a red locket which goes around Megan’s neck.
[bat: Due to time constraints, or crap editing, a song was deleted from this scene for the secondary syndication run. Thanks to the magic of YT, here is “A Little Piece of Rainbow”!]
[bat: “A Little Piece of Rainbow” demonstrates why the Moochick is a forgetful twit who doesn’t remember anything and why dealing with his mostly-mute rabbit pal is a better option.]
Right, so that’s why Megan had it in the movie. And how she knew the Moochick.
So, on they move, and get to Tirek’s castle, but there’s a huge moat, so Megan lobs the shell in the water and summons the sea ponies. That would never have occurred to me, if you hand me a shell and say call any time, I assume I call your name and possession of the shell will bring my voice to you. Or something.
Immediately Twilight and Applejack start bitching about how long it’s taking for the sea ponies to get here, maybe they won’t show up – FFS, you weirdos, the shell has only just hit the water, there are still visible displacement ripples. And almost instantly we hear “SHOO-BE-DOOO! SHOO-SHOO-BE-DOOOOO!” so they have shown up. And they just know of a secret passage into the castle. Why? Fuck you for asking.
Back with the bad guys, Tirek is still bitching about not having a fourth pony, and Scorpan is apologetic. A minion comes up and whispers something, and Scorpan takes this moment of distraction to vanish, before Tirek can finish his mid-year assessment of Scorpan’s abilities as a minion.
Scorpan breaks out Spike and Baby Ember, because he’s actually a decent guy underneath all of that hair.
[bat: There’s a deleted scene that I’m failing to find that shows how protective/caring Scorpan is of Spike. Of course, it was cut out for syndication.]
While Megan and co are searching the castle, Applejack falls behind and gets snatched. The rest make their way to Tirek’s throne room and are cornered by Tirek and some of his minions. He unleashes the Rainbow of Darkness on Applejack and she becomes a big blue-purple dragon-demon thing.
Scorpan does a hero’s entrance, by throwing open the double doors and striding in like a badass, telling the ponies to run. Good god the animation is shit on this screencap.
He frees them and they run out to a balcony because… I don’t know, and the ground starts shaking, then the door they just came through blows up, because TIREK IS FUCKING DONE WITH DOORS, Y’ALL!
Or his Chariot of Darkness or whatever wouldn’t fit through a regular door. This is some scary stuff. I don’t mean that in a mocking way, I mean that whoever dreamt up Tirek is probably related to Stephen King and probably quite bitter he was working in children’s animation.
[bat: My mother had no idea what I was watching until one day she sat and watched with me and was like “WHAT ARE WATCHING?! IF I’D KNOWN HOW DARK IT WAS I WOULDN’T HAVE LET YOU!” 80s Children shows were dark and scary, which explains so much about us.]
As Tirek prepares to unleash the night that never ends, Scorpan flies to up to confront him, but Tirek smacks him down and he crashes back towards earth while Spike cries out to him. Scorpan thankfully lands on some hay which was on the balcony/roof because… I have no idea. Everything that they have at the castle seems to have sharp teeth implying they’re carnivorous – and I’m pretty sure they weren’t feeding the ponies. Even if they were, why on the roof? Why not in their cells? I have so many questions about that hay. Or it might have been straw, for that matter, which opens up even more questions, because ponies don’t eat straw.
Megan and Firefly take to the skies to fight Tirek too.
You’ve got the Rainbow of Light, you fucking muppets! Unleash that spangly little bastard and let it take care of things!
Oh for fuck’s sake, Firefly’s going for “the double inside-out loop” for the third time in seventeen minutes. Stop trying to make fetch happen.
But they knock his bag containing the Rainbow of Darkness out of his hand, and the ponies play keepaway with it until Megan suggests that Firefly takes it to Dream Castle.
Sure, let’s lead the bad guy right to our home, Megan.
But one of the dragons knocks it away from Firefly and Tirek has it again. WHY ISN’T THE RAINBOW OF SODDING LIGHT TAKING THIS SHIT ON? JUST UNLEASH THAT MOTHERFUCKING RAINBOW, YOU WAZZOCKS.
Oh. That’s why.
It quickly gets trounced by the Rainbow of Darkness, and if Megan sings “Always Another Rainbow”, I will punch you, bat. [bat: What’d I do!? Other then suggest you take this on as the first recap… 😂]
The rainbow fights back, there’s a flash of light, and the dragons turn into butterflies, the minions turn into birds, the castle turns into a giant… fern(?), the ponies turn back to their usual selves, and Scorpan turns into – disappointingly enough – a human being. I actually liked him better as a creature. I also much prefer a Ponyland that doesn’t have humans – but that’s my love of FiM talking.
Then Baby Ember sneezes and falls into a river and every one laughs so hard I worry they may pee themselves.
Ok, that was surprisingly good. For a Gen 1 cartoon, designed to sell merchandise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if the writing is on par with Stand By Me or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but it was actually pretty good.
Villain – A+, Tirek was terrifying and actually as good as I hoped he would be, having seen him absolutely own Ponyville in FiM.
Plot – fine, not great, holes all over the place, but in 20 minutes, it did the best it could.
Characters – the biggest let downs were the ponies themselves, Tirek and Scorpan were awesome. Even Spike was good – it’s the closest I’ve ever come to liking Spike. The ponies were bland and interchangeable. Also, I hate the sea ponies. They’re smug.
[bat: After some checking, I guess FiM retconn’d Scorpan into Tirek’s brother, which is kind of weird but whatever.] [Dove: Yeah, and Tirek turned on him when Scorpan chose to live in harmony with the ponies, rather than making them his bitches.]
I worry that the rest of the series is going to be a major letdown after such a strong start. Thank god I’ve got bat here to share the workload.
Next up, bat will be recapping Escape from Catrina/Katrina.
[bat: YAY!!! My favorite of the original two specials!]