One is the name; "Power Ponies" obviously suggests a superhero-themed episode, but it also bears resemblance to an old superhero show that I was never particularly fond of: "Power Rangers." Even when I was six I could recognize that show was rather...lackluster. And so I was greatly afraid this episode was just going to be some lame parody of a show I had never liked, and just wouldn't fly with me.
Fortunately, that was not the case at all, and in fact, the similarity in names may be coincidence...it's sometimes hard to tell with MLP and it's many references, accidental or not. So already the episode is proceeding on a better note.
But even I know that alone wouldn't be enough. This was an episode where the concept is a good idea, but only if you do it just right. Miss the target, and you get an episode that just doesn't quite fly, or come off as horribly cheesy.
So the question now stands, where does this episode wind up? Successful? Cheesy? Or just mediocre?
Me, I didn't really read many comic books growing up, and am actually somewhat in the dark in a number of heroes, at least up until recently when a number of the more famous ones started appearing in movies and stuff. And as it turns out, if you miss out on growing up on comic books, you can't really go back and catch up once you've grown up, because you're already outside the best age group for it. Not helped if you're like me, who is looking for a good, logical, and sensible story...something I've noticed most comic books fail to deliver on. Or are just darker and more adult than I'd care to be reading anyway.
So an episode that is basically banking on a whole bunch of superhero pop-culture references to succeed isn't really going to distract me from any and all flaws it might have, like it might with other viewers that are more into that sort of thing. Not that's a bad thing, I've done the same thing myself and over looked flaws just because I enjoyed the episode anyway with other episodes in this and other series. But for "Power Ponies," it lucks out on that count.
Now someone who reads my reviews might point out that just two reviews back I had commented that I enjoyed the last superhero episode MLP did, "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well," and are now wondering why IT got better favor than "Power Ponies." Couple reasons, one is that Mare-Do-Well parodied a far smaller range of superheroes, all ones I happen to know well enough to get the references, AND had a generous amount of homage to Darkwing Duck, one of the few superheroes (of a sort) that I DO know backwards and forwards and thus won a lot of brownie points with me by default. Also, I thought "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well's" plot was handled slightly better (despite the botched lesson it taught) than "Power Ponies" in terms of story telling.
So where does "Power Ponies" fail, then?
One big issue is that it had to spend too much time introducing the comic book world to the audience (and the Mane 6), taking up roughly half of the episode before it had finally covered everything enough to really get into the good parts of the episode, and by then, it had taken so much time that you couldn't really stop and have fun with all the parodying you were trying to accomplish with the episode. But keep in mind this isn't necessarily due to poor writing; actually it's quite the opposite, the writing is perhaps too good for the confines of a half-hour episode. If it was a hour-length episode, then it's actually a very well structured episode and would work exactly as I, as a viewer, would want it to. The problem, though, is that MLP is not a show with hour-long episodes, its episodes run at half that length by design and is thus greatly constrained to that. Write an episode that needs longer than that, though, and you either have to break it into two, shorten it to squeeze into a half-hour, or just not do it altogether. The latter option obviously NOT an option, and "Power Ponies" is not a significant enough an episode to merit becoming a two-parter, so only option left is to squeeze it into a half-hour, and with that option, no matter how you cut it, the episode is going to suffer in some manner, and MLP has had this problem several times in the past. Yet "Power Ponies" still gets by well enough despite this disadvantage, so one can't doom it entirely over this.
Next is the lack of subtlety. It was pretty obvious how the episode was going to go almost from the beginning, and this wasn't helped by the fact that this has been one of the more promoted of this season's episodes and most already had clues about what it was going to be about anyway. So when you already know roughly how the episode can only go, it loses a lot of that magic and becomes, at best, mediocre.
"Power Ponies" does have one redeeming trait though, and that's it went beyond being just a flat out parody and threw in a fitting message along the way, addressing the issue of Spike not getting much attention in the spotlight and, save "The Crystal Empire Part 2" where Spike...helped...save the day, everybody's favorite baby dragon doesn't really do anything to save the day. So "Power Ponies" gives him that big chance and teach the lesson that everybody has a chance to help and the capacity to do it. It just doesn't always present itself, or seem that significant against the flare and pizazz of other, more famous, helpers (the Mane 6) and is a bit of a confidence booster for Spike all in all, which is nice for Spike to get. In a way, it's also the crew's way of addressing the criticisms from the bronies on Spike often just boiling down to being just the "comic relief" and being more hindrance than help to the Mane 6, especially prevalent after "Spike At Your Service" (which was another episode that I liked well despite the criticisms of others) and show that Spike can and will be more, it's just the opportunities doesn't always present itself, or his role is just out shined by other, but is no less significant. So my only criticism on this part is that I wish they had explored this theme just a bit more. But that's often the case with MLP episodes, so after awhile you just have to accept that what you get as being good enough.
I also liked that, despite parodying comic book heroes with the Power Ponies, the crew did try to be somewhat original with them, with the only exceptions being Fluttershy, obviously a Hulk reference (which I actually didn't like as much as I thought I would), and Rarity, as a Green Lantern reference. But even with Rarity a little originality is added with it, in that the sort of things she made "appear" with her powers were all of the usual prissy things we associate with Rarity, and not so much with the Green Lantern Corp, hiding the reference just a little (in other words, I didn't immediately place it, myself). The rest have references to other heroes, yes, but none that can be associated with any just one hero, and usually refer to two or more, or at least not without putting their own twist to it unique all to themselves. I'm not sure who Twilight was even supposed to be referencing for that matter, and looking it up online shows that others aren't entirely certain either. So another bonus point for the episode on this originality, even if just slight.
So in the end, that leaves the episode's as just mediocre, but that's okay, really. I'd rather have that than it coming off as totally cheesy, and I think most of us all can agree with that much.
Some final notes: turns out I may have called it back in my review of "Castle Mane-ia" when I suggested that the added focus on the old princesses's castle would result in the gang fixing it up to use for their own purposes, because it seems that's what they're doing in the start of this episode. I'm actually a little surprised, I didn't think I was actually going to be proven right on that, but I guess I can't complain. I suppose this also means we'll be seeing a lot more of that castle in future episodes, which could be both good or bad, depending on how they do it. Though I do wonder if the Mane 6 intend to keep all of the secrets and traps in the castle or remove them while they're at it...
And on Mane-ic...when she got her powers, she must have also gained the power of telling bad puns because man...I've been known to tell some bad puns myself, but even I had to cringe at some of those horrible puns! Still, she was okay for a villain. She properly monologued and everything. :P
Leave it to Pinkie to run off to who knows where and then consistently come back with souvenirs every time.