|Nothing can stop the Smooze!
Not even giant delicious cookies!
This week is something a little different, as I take off for my birthday and Anime Boston. Stepping up to the plate for the Sunday post is regular commenter Spoilers Below. I think you’ll enjoy this piece; I know I did.
The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,
Today I learned that running away from your problems actually solves them! If you run far enough, you’ll eventually meet someone who can fix all your problems for you, and who can make all the bad things in your life go away. Because none of your problems are really your fault in the end. You and your friends exist in a perfect state of innocence that needs to be preserved, and forces more powerful than yourself can be begged into saving you from the evil and nasty outside world.
Your Faithful Student,
What is it? An hour and a half long animated feature film. It’s available on VHS, BetaMax, and DVD, but I bet you’re going to watch it on YouTube because this is the 21st Century.
What’s it about? Three evil witches conjure an evil flood to drown the ponies and destroy their home. The ponies run away in search of someone who can help them stop it.
Is it worth it? Depends. This is an hour and a half of your life you will never get back. You could instead watch Yojimbo and have 20 minutes left over to make a pizza. You could prep and cook a chicken. You could go on a bike ride through your town or rural area. You could watch 3 episodes of a much better TV program (I bet the host of this blog could recommend something if you still want magical pastel ponies…). Or you could watch this, a psychodrama of existential horror and resisting growing up by any means possible…
What else was happening? 20 June, 1986: Two benign polyps are removed from Ronald Reagan’s colon the morning the film is released. Also this month, the last issue of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is published, a story every bit as bleak and age-obsessed as this one, as is Labyrinth (a film much better than this one, and not just for David Bowie in tight pants), which, ditto. Thousands are arrested in South Africa as the state of emergency that had been in place since the previous year is expanded to cover the entire nation and keep anti-Apartheid activists in their place through intimidation, police violence, and censorship. It becomes a crime to even mention someone being arrested until the government sees fit to make their name public. The US Congress will override Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 a few months later, the first time in the 20th century that such a thing takes place over a matter of foreign policy. Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald’s “On My Own” is at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts this week, featuring a pretty cool split screen music video and an amazing beard. The Sega Master System is released in the US and dies an ignoble death because Nintendo already had most of the video game competitors locked into (essentially) exclusive contracts. It will fare much better in Europe and South America. The novelization of The Celestial Toymaker, as racist and execrable a story as Doctor Who will ever produce, is published, while we wait for Colin Baker to return in the fall after an overlong hiatus. Of interest to plain old non-advanced Dungeons and Dragons people, the final part of Frank Mentzer’s BECMI is published, Immortals, detailing high level play as immeasurably powerful gods and goddesses.
Speaking of the gods, the Great Flood is one of the earliest myths in existence, owing perhaps to the tendency of the Tigris and Euphrates to overflow and destroy everything built nearby. When such a thing happens more than once during your lifetime, it is easy to imagine how the destruction of everything would simply be a scaling up of the already catastrophic destruction you are forced to live with periodically. The flood itself was sent by (the) God(s) to wipe out the wicked and unclean, the aborted ways that civilization could have developed, the cutting short of all the threads to focus on one single family and all the animals they could gather. Danny Devito’s Grundle King functions seamlessly in the role of Utnapishtim here, explaining the loss of his race and kingdom to the previous flood.
The Smooze’s coming is foreshadowed early on, with mischievous little birds covering each animal with fresh snow to wake them from their slumber. Their little version of the winter wrap-up is ignored by the ponies, who are busy preparing for their spring festival. The ponies of the 1980s are a primitive and simple breed; there is no Princess Celestia to keep the nasty weather at bay and tell the animals what to do, let alone keep them safe from the horrors that want to enslave and destroy them. Even the calm before the storm is restless and tense, however, the fun and excitement disrupted by Lickity Split’s desperate practice of her own dance moves, and subsequent ruination of the performance. In doing so, she nearly manages what the witches cannot: ruining a good day. Her costume is no less garish than the witches’ own, her ostentatious displays and inability to fit in a reflection of their own desire to win their mother’s approval. Who but Spike, the pony’s eternal other, acting in the old series is a sort of older brother to the ponies, could accompany her past her leap of faith and subsequent fall, trapped alongside a waterfall too loud to be heard over? The flow of water, as feminine a symbol as exists in western media, leaves her isolated and alone. Learning that one is not, in fact, capable of doing whatever she wants is a hard lesson: “You’re not a pegasus pony. You’re just an earthling!”
As mentioned above, this inability to fit in it is mirrored in the witch Hydia’s daughters, Reeka and Draggle, who are simply no good at their chosen vocation. Their mother makes it abundantly clear how conditional her love and respect are: she refuses to let them call her “Mama,” and threatens to kick them out of their home if they cannot do the job correctly. It’s not for any lack of trying: they’ve got the dictionary of evil and the desire to ruin the ponies’ day, but just knowing the book isn’t enough. One rarely senses that their hearts are truly in it. Their initial attack (a flood of water, dankness itself) is rebuffed by (who else?) the Sea Ponies, saviors of the first animated feature and emphasized-commercial-property-being-promoted, their song no less catchy than the Smooze’s, but also many years older. We have different toys to sell you with this film. Indeed, the Sea Ponies do not even speak, they merely redirect the torrents and disappear. Clearly, just water will not be enough for the witches plot.
In his review over at Overthinkingit, Fenzil notes that the Smooze is the perfect villain for the non-violent ponies. It allows them to passively run away for most of the movie, rather than confront and fight head on as, say, Megatron and Optimus Prime do in the boy’s version of this film. Being powerless on their own, the ponies need their own young girl (an ordinary girl just like you!) to tell them what to do. Megan got them out of trouble last time, and the time before that as well, defeating Scorpan and saving the ponies from eternal chariot pulling duty, charming the Moochick, and freeing the Bushwoolies from slavery. She liberates the ponies from bondage as easily as you, dear viewer, liberate the ponies from their cardboard and plastic packaging — don’t tell me you’re one of those collectors who refuse to remove them from the box?
The Smooze itself is as blatant a puberty metaphor as Madeline’s appendicitis. I mean, come on: the arrival of a dark purple stain that covers everything, turns you irritable and mean, and makes the old, childish ways impossible? Something that must have been created by an evil witch (or, to keep the metaphor going, a wrathful god) who hates you and wants to destroy your life? The choice of an oversized brassiere for a sail on the witches’ ship can’t be mere coincidence. Note also how Spike seems unaffected when he gets some on his tail. What problems could puberty cause to someone who has internalized their cynicism and already grown up? The Smooze emerges from a volcano, echoing Krakatoa and Pompeii in its destructive eruption, indurating Dream Castle and its adjacent childhood nursery in a deep purple rock.
And yet the Smooze is not perfect. It is missing the flume. An interesting thing, flume. Checking the definition, one finds:
“Flume. noun. 1. a deep narrow defile containing a mountain stream or torrent.
2. an artificial channel or trough for conducting water, as one used to transport logs or provide water power.”
At this point, one suspects that the reason the two sisters didn’t want to fetch some was due to simple engineering restraints. Sadly, the truth is much scarier.
Megan’s arrival threatens to end the film far earlier than usual. She goes straight for the heart shaped locket she carries and releases the Rainbow of Light, which solved all the problems in the past two specials. It ought to end here, at the 35 minute mark. With a few more minutes of padding you’ve got a nice two part special to show back to back, with plenty of commercials in between. Saturday morning cartoons at their finest.
But no. No matter how viciously the rainbow fights — twice decapitating the Smooze and removing one of its hands at the wrist — it is in the end helpless against the onslaught and is devoured to the ponies’ horror. The Smooze ends up caught in the valley and calcifying, unable to proceed after the destruction of Dream Castle. Growing up forces these sorts of confrontations, the end of dreams and of innocence, the smothering of the magical rainbow that solved all your problems in a sequence that feels both overlong and horrific in its slow churn towards absorption. Nothing can stop the Smooze. Puberty comes whether you like it or not. The ceaseless march of time is unending and evenly paced. The ticking alligator can only be dodged for so long. The bird will never see the rainbow, and Noah will never receive word that the deluge has ended. Nothing can stop the Smooze.
Fenzil’s analysis does miss one key point, however, argued saliently by Clausewitz in his seminal work, On War. Namely, that defense is the stronger position to be in during a conflict. An attacker has to have an objective or goal in mind, while all the defender need do is thwart those attempts. It is much more difficult for Hydia to expend her resources going after the ponies, acquiring strange and rare substances (i.e. the aforementioned flume) to continue her assault. All the ponies need do is survive, and she has lost. And survive they do. A quick trip to the magical ashram of the Moochick gives them a brand new home and a continuation of their previous, safe lives. Is the only way to avoid growing up a deeper retreat from the outside world, into a perpetual fantasy with enough rooms to do everything you used to (and even a swimming pool!)? An Estate which is truly Paradise.
The witch sisters’ collection of the flume is as disturbing a scene as one will encounter in children’s media. The flume comes from a horrible tentacle monster shaped like a jug that proceeds to undress, spank, and abuse the two sisters while threatening to drop them off the edge of a cliff after they assault it with a pickaxe. They barely escape with their lives, having acquired enough flume to reanimate the Smooze. We are deep in it now, the horrors of what maturity can mean. It should come as no surprise that their next task is to bribe the spider Aagh (a no less sexualized monster than the flume plant, given its multiple limbs and semen-esque webbing fluid) into stopping the ponies from reaching Flutter Valley. Paradise Estates is no safer than Dream Castle once the reanimated Smooze starts rolling along, singing its funky, gunky song.
Following the instructions of the Moochick, Megan and co. make their way through a gigantic field of sunflowers in search of the only being that can defeat the Smooze, the mysterious Flutter Ponies, and battle with the aforementioned gigantic spider, it’s legs echoing the Flume plant’s tentacles. They are trapped by its webs, until Molly “remembers” that spiders are ticklish. The metaphorical meaning behind tickling a huge hairy beast with pussywillows until it falls to the ground in delighted laughter, expelling sticky white fluid from all eight of its legs, is too horrible to contemplate. I feel uncomfortable even mentioning it, but we cannot change the text, we can only interpret it. Needless to say, the ponies reject the Spider and everything it stands for, retreating into the cave that lies at the end of the canyon. They choose not to grow up. It is only after their defeat of the spider and everything it represents that they reach Flutter Valley, pure and innocent in its beauty and splendor.
The flutter ponies are a cowardly and skittish bunch, whose refusal to defeat the Smooze seems almost cruel considering how far the gang have come, and what that refusal means to their very existence. But since Lickity Split, whose childlike rebellion has spared her from the Smooze, has saved one of their own, Rosedust agrees to drive the Smooze away, freeing the rainbow, uncovering the castle, and depositing the witches back in their volcano to be trapped in the Smooze for all eternity. They do so with relative ease, creating a sweeping wind that would make Rainbow Dash envious. The dusty sparkle that emerges from their wings recalls the fairy dust that allows one to fly off to Nevernever Land and eternal childhood.
The message seems to be, then, that if you wish to remain in an idyllic and childlike state, one must seek out those even more isolated than yourself, and learn from them to return to a state of grace. Everything is undone by their magic and everything is safe again. No one has really learned anything beyond the basic desire for a home and companionship, and nothing in truth has changed. Baby Lickity Split is happy to be back, having learned nothing about herself save that she should remain the same child she was. The ponies now live on a high plateau, safe from the world around them, to live in Paradise (estates).
The flood, no matter its origin, has washed away the sins of the world.
That is, until…
Other bits: The film effortlessly passes the Bechdel test, as a good 90% of the dialogue is between two different female characters talking about ponies or pony related things.
The film lost about $10 million, and is considered one of the biggest flops in animated movie history (and indeed, still ranks high among movies flops of any genre and format).
South Korea’s AKON studios, who are now famous for producing The Simpsons and just about every other animated program you watched in the 90s, banged this pictures out in only 10 weeks, producing over 300,000 cels of animation. It shows. What color was Shady supposed to be again?
The sky appears to be a wall, based on the way the balls of itself the Smooze tosses at the flutter ponies splatter against it.
Lickity Split’s song at the Wishing Well is a shockingly accurate portrayal of how echo is actually supposed to work, with the repetition of the last syllables forming half of the conversation. It’s much more difficult to write than it sounds (no pun intended).
Firefly’s absence haunts the film in a strange fashion. It was she who first brought Megan in to solve their problems, she who was the closest thing to a defined personality that the ponies had, she whose voice actress received top billing in the initial special. You could afford all these other stars; was Sandy Duncan simply not available that day? Are we promoting new pegasus ponies now? Or would putting Peter Pan directly into the film as the hero have made the message too spot on?