Well, Season 4 is officially underway! with a very satisfying two-parter right out of the starting gate.
"Princess Twilight Sparkle Part 1" opens with a flying lesson for the most recently ascended alicorn princess, under the tutelage of Rainbow Dash. However, it seems Twilight's new appendages don't come with a manual. She ends up ploughing into the ground after trying to practice her "big finish" for the upcoming Summer Sun Celebration. This scene makes it pretty clear that Twilight is now taller and more horse-like than her friends, and her horn is noticeably slimmer and longer. Her wings are larger and of a different shape to regular pegasus wings. All of which is to be expected, and I like the changes personally.
While she may have changed physically, she's still the same old Twilight personality-wise, refusing to wear her crown or to allow her friends to treat her differently... for the moment at least.
In the next scene, the Mane 6 discuss the Celebrations to be held both in Canterlot and back in Ponyville. Twilight's new status means that she has to stay behind instead of being with her friends on the anniversary of their meeting and defeat of Nightmare Moon, which she is unhappy about. However, the others manage to convince her that it won't be as bad as all that. Twilight's stain-glass window is quite interesting to look at, having a picture of Starswirl's journal and another book with Twilight's cutie mark on it. The animation and lighting in this scene really is top notch. However, one gripe is that Pinkie continues to be the "gag" character, doing little more than making odd pronouncements and not otherwise contributing to the scene. The next scene treats her a little better, though.
Back in her suite, Twilight and Spike go through (what else?) a checklist. Being ahead of schedule, Spike suggests a quick trip to Ponyville, but Twilight worries about something going wrong in the meantime. Like in "Lesson Zero," her train of thought becomes a little erratic at the prospect of disappointing Princess Celestia. Also it has shades of Pinkie Pie from "Wonderbolt Academy". Princess Celestia herself soon arrives to provide both reassurance and quite a bit of double-nostril alicorn pictures.
She confides some of her feelings to Twilight, about how she previously dreaded the Summer Sun Celebration as a reminder of her having to banish her own sister. Now, she says, she can feel joy of her own in having her sister returned. This conversation really does add a lot to Celestia's character, and is pretty touching. Princess Luna, meanwhile, seems to be having a ball raising the moon outside. After their talk, Princess Celestia leaves Twilight to double-check her checklist. A freaky vine comes out of the ground and attacks her. Perhaps it's best that it happens off-screen...
Twilight wakes to find that day and night have decided to join forces. With Spike in tow, they head out of the castle. The citizens of Canterlot (many of whom we've seen before from "Sweet and Elite", including Jet Set, Upper Crust and all the high class ponies Rarity accepted invitations from) gather around in the hopes that Princess Twilight will know what's going on. A Royal Guard rescues her from the press to tell her that not only Princess Celestia, but Princess Luna too, is missing. (Spike faints) They then ask her to give them orders. (Spike faints) Reluctant at first, Twilight steps up and tells them to keep looking for the other Princesses. Just then, a guard comes with a message from Ponyville... the Everfree Forest is attacking! (Spike faints - has he been taking swooning lessons from Rarity or something?)
Back in Ponyville, the Mane 6 are having to deal with the encroaching Everfree forest. Fluttershy's animals are all cowering in her cottage, the entire Apple family is fighting a losing battle against weeds, with Big Mac taking the brunt of the forest's sauciness. His usual "yup" and "nope" make their appearances here, so this indicates we're not getting much more lines for him than that even in Season 4. In the sky above, Rainbow Dash is fighting a losing battle of her own against spiky black clouds. One even manages to knock her from the sky, but...
The plants also seem able to affect a unicorn's horn, as poor Rarity discovers when her magic causes her teapot to go on a rampage. Opalescence is not amused in the slightest, despite Rarity's protests that she isn't doing it on purpose. Even magically challenged Sweetie Belle is not spared from the shenanigans, and ends up being chased by a curtain. The Mane 6 eventually find each other and wonder what's to be done.
While all this is going on, Twilight back in Canterlot decides to go to Ponyville herself. After a literal "forgot she could fly" moment, she and Spike take to the air. Bonus points for the spluttering engine sound effect as Twilight first gets going with a bit of wobbling, and for the seat belt gag (where was that hidden?), then the crash landing, leaving poor Spike to make the acquaintance of Mr. Window.
Her friends are glad to see her, and Pinkie's Pinkie Sense gets a workout, allowing her to dodge a branch that then hits Rarity. Oddly enough, it's clearly "twitchy tail", which should mean something falling from the sky, not a branch coming in from the side, but meh... When told that the Princesses are missing, Rarity steals Pinkie's GASP! sound effect in retaliation. After thinking about it for a while, Twilight comes to the conclusion that Discord is the one behind all this, and they don the Elements of Harmony to summon him... and his bathtub. It's funny that he's singing "Winter Wrap Up" as he appears.
Discord himself is in good form, which makes me a little bit less inclined to say he's been ruined by being reformed. I prefer him as a villain myself, but even now, he provides a good deal of entertainment. His protests of innocence fall on deaf ears (except for Fluttershy, and even she isn't quite willing to believe him - she does however make the very good point of "innocent until proven guilty", so props to her for that.) He suggests asking Zecora, who has been driven out of the Everfree Forest.
Conveniently, she has a potion only an alicorn can get to work. I really do wonder why Twilight uses dark magic here, but perhaps that will be explained later. Drinking the potion, she gets a vision.
Back in the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters, Princess Luna comes out and appears to speak to Twilight, saying that she is not going to stand by while others "bathe in your precious light". Understandably confused, Twilight is then horrified to see that Luna is having a bit of a bad mare day ()
Using her magic to cause an eclipse, Luna begins to transform into Nightmare Moon, in one of the most badass sequences ever shown in the show. The sheer amount of effort that went into this is amazing, and the zoom in on Twilight's aghast expression is fantastic. Now this, fillies and gentlecolts, is how you do a cliff hanger. Honestly, they should have just ended it there, and made everybody squirm for a week.
Whew! What a journey it's been and we're only half way through the premiere! Stay tuned for the next half of my review. Until then, stay sunny side up, everypony!