My Little Pony Rewatch Project

Deconstruction is Magic

Episode [3.06] – “Sleepless in Ponyville”

This week, on My Little Pony

“Oh, yeah… Wait, is this just a dream? But it feels so real!”
“I assure you that you are asleep. But when you awake, the thing that frightens you most will still exist.”
“Eh… The Headless Horse?”
“Hmmm… Is The Headless Horse really what frightens you the most?”

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The Cutie Mark Crusaders are going on a camping trip with Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash, and Scootaloo is desperate to impress her idol. After she’s a bit too eager to look brave during Dashie’s scary campfire stories, she starts having horrible nightmares. Will Scootaloo be able to make it through the camping trip without letting Rainbow Dash know she’s a scaredy-pony?


Tessa

There are two main things that make this episode particularly great. The first, at least for me, is how relatable Scootaloo’s problem this episode is. I’m particularly easy to spook, and disturbing imagery and scenarios tend to stick with me, and I’ve had quite a few nights like poor Scoots is stuck with the first night of the camping trip, curled in a ball and humming to myself for fear of the nightmares that are definitely coming as soon as I drift off to sleep.

Scootaloo is unique amongst the CMC in that she’s the only one of the three who doesn’t have an older sister. We don’t know for certain (as none of her actual relatives have ever been shown), but she’s likely an only child, and doesn’t have much in the way of relatives that she appears to look up to. Rainbow Dash, of course, becomes the perfect surrogate sister for her… at least, that’s how it plays out in Scootaloo’s fantasies. Rainbow Dash is everything she aspires to be, and she’s desperate for her idol to give her any kind of praise or attention. So when she gets it, she’s ecstatic, and eager to capitalize on the momentum to get more, with the end goal of the pegasus sister-adopting her.

…sisdopting?

In any case, once it’s all started, she’s terrified of screwing it up. She tries to puff herself up as much as possible to look extra-cool for Dashie, and frantically tries to save face every time she stumbles. Which mostly works (with some minor bodily injury involved) right up until the point when Rainbow Dash decides it’s time for some extra-scary campfire stories. It has the desired effect on all three of the fillies, but while Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle have their big sisters to cuddle up to for comfort after being spooked, Scootaloo only has Rainbow Dash – and not only does Dashie not seem the cuddling type, but admitting to her that she needs comforting at all would only cause the cool image she’s been trying to build for her idol to crumble away, and in her mind, that’s synonymous with the prismatic pegasus rejecting her, putting her dreams of her idol considering her a younger sister out of reach forever.

And so she suffers through it, somehow managing to make it through to the second night. At which point, of course, Rainbow does more scary stories, just making the entire thing worse. Now Scoots has two nights worth of stories for her brain to pull from for nightmares.

And then we get to the other reason why this episode is notable – Princess Luna is in it.

Not just in it, but actively in her element, and we get to see for the first time one of her actually duties as princess of the night. She patrols the dreams of ponies, keeping watch on her subjects while they sleep, and occasionally to offer insights and lessons to them in their dreams. I love learning about this side of her, and it goes a long way to fleshing her out more as a character with an active role in the world – even though we don’t see her up and about doing much in the way of ruling in Canterlot (granted, we usually see the place in the daytime), we now know pretty definitively at least one thing that she is busy doing during the night. This isn’t the last time we’ll see her act in this capacity, either. Now that this has been established as something that she does, it’ll be revisited with other characters later in the series.

I also like that her presence in Scootaloo’s dreams is shown before she actually confronts her directly – there’s a brief shot of her while Scootaloo is running from the Olden Pony in her first nightmare.

Luna imparts the lesson to Scootaloo that she needs to confront her fears in her own way, first and foremost the worst of them all – the idea that Rainbow Dash might reject her if she learns that Scoots was scared by the stories. After nearly getting swept away by a river in the non-dream world, she finally tells Dashie the truth. At which point Rainbow Dash lets her in on a secret – despite all of her bluster and boasts to the contrary, she wasn’t so different when she was Scootaloo’s age. Rainbow Dash agrees to take Scootaloo under her wing, and sisdopts her on the spot, and when the Sweetie Belle calls for the sisters to pair up to race the others in the morning, Rainbow Dash is right there to lift Scootaloo up and help her soar.

Noel

We’ll get to Scootaloo in a sec, but I love that her story is wrapped up in what could very well have been a great CMCs plot all on its own. Heck, it still largely is as we get plenty of big sis/little sis action with Apples Jack and Bloom being the most comfortable of the lot out in the field – being the regulars of this traditional get-together and thus being able to focus on the others, especially Applejack who keeps trying to look out for Scootaloo – and Rarity and Sweetie Belle being the ultimate outsiders to a weekend among nature. Well, Sweetie Belle doesn’t complain much because she’s stuck with hauling duties for most of the trip, so the outsider role is primarily filled with Rarity being the selected butt for this episode. Sure, I expected her to fall into all the old vanity tropes at the thought of foliage, and love that she counters it with her own designer trek suit and inflatable, multi-story tent palace, but I’m a bit surprised how thoroughly she put her own sister in the role she’d typically fill with Spike. Especially hauling all that luggage, day after day after day. With most of the focus going to Scootaloo, I do feel that’s one thing which is overlooked, a confrontation of Rarity’s buttitude and some bonding time for that pair of sisters. It does feel like a setup that never goes anywhere beyond gag scenes. There was also room to explore the Apples a bit, having sacrificed the bonding time they typically dedicate to themselves to instead welcome in their friends, but that isn’t really a loss of anything necessary. The Rarity/Sweetie Belle stuff, that is lacking a bit.

That said, losing that time so we could focus squarely on Scootaloo? I’m pretty okay with it as I like what they give us. Scootaloo’s problem is anxiety, which is a problem I’ve been known to deal with quite often. You can be confident, you can be a thrill-seeker, you can dash along on your scooter like nobody’s business, but there are still things that can get under your skin and leave you hopelessly terrified, which compounds with the worry over people learning about these fears and thus thinking less of you. I like how they play this, swirling Scootaloo’s fear of a woodland night with her fear of disappointing Rainbow Dash, so that the two anxieties build on one another to the point where she can’t sleep because of how much her fears and doubts are stuck in her head. I’ve been there. Heck, I was just there a few nights ago. It’s not fun, and is yet another sophisticated psychological study that I’m impressed to see being tackled by this children’s show. That’s good. That’s something that should be talked about and children should learn to recognize about themselves.

I admit that I had a little trepidation about where they were going with it in terms of the dreams. Not the dreams themselves, those are fun if a bit overly drawn out. I love how they visualize and put a pony spin on the old campfire legends with their Headless Horse and the old woman searching for her swiped rusty horseshoe. My hesitation came from bringing Princess Luna into things, literally her entering a child’s dreams because I worried they’d use that as an easy out, a simple solution to Scootaloo’s problems. I’m glad they didn’t, that she instead just gave Scootaloo an advising nudge. And I like that even that doesn’t fix things at first as the initial problem Scootaloo tries to face is her fear of the woods, by running into them at night and going off a cliff into raging rapids. Still, she confronted one fear, which leads her to confront another. I know this feeling, too, where I push past the fears and barrel head-first into what I’m afraid of. Sometimes it comes out gloriously (trips, visiting people I haven’t seen in a long time). Sometimes it doesn’t (close relationships – still working on figuring those out). Still, it’s good to not just bury and try to avoid things, even if it doesn’t work out, and I like the relief Scootaloo earns in the end. The moment where Scootaloo and Dashie come together as surrogate sisters is really nice, especially the dawning realization from Dashie. That this episode never once plays Dashie in butt mode – she’s excitable, prideful, and isn’t reading others problems, but she’s not being a butt about it – was something I especially appreciated.

And it’s cool to have Princess Luna show up again for an episode, offering us another great window into what she’s up to every night, looking after the Ponies under her watch in her own guiding and protective way.

I still wish we’d gotten a bit more with the full group – maybe shave down Scootaloo’s nightmares, possibly have Applejack be the one to give her the nudge, definitely make time to say what the heck to Rarity – but it’s still a solid episode, strongly written (first script for the series by Corey Powell) and directed, and puts a nice focus on the one CMC that I don’t believe has gotten a spotlight plot before. If I’m wrong on that, correct me, but this is the first time I really clicked with Scootaloo as a character whereas Sweetie Belle and Applebloom have definitely had their own solo turns in the light.

Weston

Is this our first Scootaloo-focused Cutie Mark Crusader episode? We’ve had Sweetie Belle episodes, and Apple Bloom episodes, but I don’t recall any for Scootaloo. It’s also unusual that we haven’t met any of her family – Sweetie Belle has Rarity and Burt Reynolds, and Apple Bloom has the entire Apple clan, but Scootaloo hasn’t had a lot of development there. I hope that changes.

Two CMC episodes in a row woo! And Rainbow Dash is being a butt again, but she does show an awful lot of sympathy at the end that mitigates her buttitude. I mean, all told, I think this might be the least butt she’s been since Hurricane Fluttershy. It’s not blatant, boldfaced butt, like we saw in the second part of the opener; it’s just Rainbow Dash being super awesome and somewhat unaware of the effects her actions have on others. Herself, in other words.

I'd be afraid of Rainbow Dash, too.

“How about I tell tonight’s story?”

Rarity’s fainting couch reappears after a brief vacation, though it could be a new one that she’s added to the fainting couch collection. At least one has wheels!

The animation in this episode is superb. Every face Scootaloo makes is screencappable, Luna is stellar, Sweetie Belle pulling Rarity’s cart full of stuff, everything. There’s a possible exception in the Headless Horse, who is entirely in silhouette and whose name sounds really weird without a second syllable so I keep calling it the Headless Horsepony which sounds even weirder.

The “Scootaloo falls asleep at the wheel” sequence should be familiar to anyone who’s watched Mr. Magoo, or Mindy and Buttons on Animaniacs, or anything in that vein.

I am deeply amused that Princess Luna’s big entrance is literally as the Mare in the Moon. I’m also very pleased that she has another episode without Princess Celestia around to steal the spotlight.

I really, really like that Rainbow Dash wound up taking Scootaloo under her wing, both literally and metaphorically. She seems like she’s needed a direct role model and guide, and Dash will probably use the experience to build a little more responsibility and maturity. Speaking of responsibility, have we seen Tank since he was introduced? I know we saw Owlicious last episode, but I haven’t seen any pony pets in a while.

Gerf

Like Tessa mentioned, this episode really underscores how Scootaloo apparently doesn’t have an older sibling figure to look up to… and that she desperately wants one. Her manner of going about finding that sort of companionship is amusing in an endearingly pathetic sort of way, though, as she’s more or less trying to get it from a celebrity or a sports superstar (or, as is the case for Rainbow Dash, both). In some ways it’s as if I were to run up to LeBron James and say “Hey, we both grew up in the Cleveland area and work in Cleveland and I guess you could say we both left Cleveland and then came back so that means we’re practically brothers!”

Almost had to bring the e/i label back here for "environmentally insensitive."

Not gonna lie, though: with moves like that, I’d be pining for Dashie, too.

Get it, pine? Because they’re trees? … okay, right, they’re not pine trees. Guess that one FELL flat. Like how she FELLed those trees? … okay.

Also, for the record, Applejack is a total baller: hammering in tent stakes with her bare hooves? Baller. Using her own hoof as a socket for the drill-shaft of the fire starter? Überballer. Kicking up a canteen the size of her saddlebags out of her saddlebags and catching it such that it falls right back in as though it never existed in the first place? Seriously, that mare’s a beast.

Scoots’s reactions to Rainbow’s scary stories is pretty much dead-on as far as I’m concerned. Sure, her unbridled (har har) fear seems silly now, but think back to when you were her age (or at least that of the target demographic of this show) and how you were dead certain that completely preposterous characters or horrors from ghost stories were indeed real and right BEHIND YOU OH SWEET CELESTIA RUN. “Ernest Scared Stupid made me dead certain a troll was living in my parents’ garden and was going to grab me the moment I left the minivan to try and run into the house. My freinds’ assertion that flushing a penny down the toilet, chanting “Candyman” five times into a bathroom mirror, and then turning off the lights to cause an evil spirit to jump out of the mirror and murder you kept me away from dark bathroom mirrors for years (that, and I would verify there were no mirrors nearby when I did happen to say the word “candyman,” just to be on the safe side). Completely nonsensical, completely stupid, completely illogical… and completely terrifying when you’re seven.

Can't sleep, Oldenpony will get me. Can't run, Dashie will think I'm chicken. Can't call myself a chicken, will only self-perpetuate the joke.

So yeah, just a long-winded way of saying that, like Tessa, I can totally relate to Scoots. Scootaloo’s defense system? Staying up singing songs… and making this sound. Quite possibly the best sound ever to come out of her face, that.

While it was awesome to see Luna come back in Luna Eclipsed, her presence here in this episode shows her in her element as an arbiter of dreams. Her stint in Nightmare Night was a much more lighthearted introduction to her character, but this is the Luna I adore at her finest: powerful but subtle, wise but enigmatic, stern but kind. I mean, a warning like “Everypony has fears… but they must be faced, or the nightmares will continue” coming from she who was formerly Nightmare Moon? You best listen, squirt.

I'm sure there are plenty of snarky comments I could make here, but this scene is just so great I don't want to even think of ruining it.

“Hey, I’m gonna tell you something, but if you ever tell anypony else, I’m gonna deny it.”

This scene depicted above would have been extremely un-Dash (and thus a facehoof of “ugh, what miserable writing”) had it not been for that one line right there in the caption. And I’m supremely glad that line is there, because this is quite possibly my favorite Rainbow Dash moment ever: when she lifts her mask on her own volition (as opposed to having it painfully torn away like in Sonic Rainboom or, to a lesser/different extent, Hurricane Fluttershy) and reveals that she does have something else going on underneath. I don’t think we ever see her willfully opening up to another pony this way again (at least as of the time of this writing, which is just about at the end of Season 5). One could argue that to be evidence of this episode being a fluke to be brushed under the rug, but I would argue that it’s a sign that Rainbow Dash was written very well: that she truly is a decent pony with real internal complexity (and maybe some loyalty even), but that she tries really, really, really, really (99 buckets of oats later) really hard to keep that under wraps. RD wouldn’t appreciate me dwelling on her softer side like this for long, though, so I’ll leave her alone. But, really, after the beatdown she received last season, this is quite nice.

This episode is, by a pretty long shot, my favorite of Season 3 (and it doesn’t even involve Fluttershy… amazing!). It contains an excellent mix of adventure, silliness, character development, humor, feels, relatability, and atmosphere; most episodes are only able to tackle two or three of those aspects, and even then usually not nearly as well. I feel like Corey Powell, this episode’s writer, did an exceptional job of starting with the characters and building the story around them, rather than start with a MacGuffin and toss some of the Mane Six at it as tends to happen in other episodes. Interestingly, even though this is her first time writing for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, she portrays the characters with a level of mastery I’d normally associate with Megan McCarthy or Amy Keating Rogers. Very well done!

For a parting song, I’d like to recommend The Olden Pony by AwkwardMarina. It’s catchy, head-bobby, and heavily autotuned as is AwkwardMarina’s trademark of sorts; I may have accidentally left it on endless loop for a good long while on more than one occasion. Also, while typing up this deconstruction I noticed I had only semi-purposefully used the phrase “Scootaloo’s defense system,” which also happens to be a song by Whoosh and remixed by DJ Poniver… and of course ITG-ified!

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