Something something Christmas themed spoiler pun.
An hour-long pony special featuring Hearth's Warming airing around Nightmare Night, eh? You know what? If my local Dollar General is willing to start stocking Christmas items next to Halloween items, I might as well talk about this Hearth's Warming special days before Halloween comes and goes... Ah, you knew I was gonna talk about this in any case. So, what does this hour of Hearth's Warming in October contain? Twilight's fallen behind on her Hearth's Warming preparations thanks to the School of Friendship on one hoof (makes me wonder if this took place around the same time as season eight's "A Hearth's Warming Tale") and some family coming over (Shining Armor, Cadance, and of course, Flurry Heart) on another hoof. Of course, the rest of the mane six and Spike come in to help by... *plasters eyes against synopsis* ...if I'm understanding this right, going all over Equestria with Twilight to seek out gift ideas? And the entire Pie family is here, too?
NOW you have my attention.
We start off with some spooky commercials from Discovery Family to remind you exactly what month it is before we jump into a *insert James A. Janisse voice here* title card! Behind that title card is the Student Six getting on a train and a song! It's Hearth's Warming Eve... Eve, and everybody is making last-minute plans and coming up with last-minute gift ideas. Indeed, we see MARBLE PIE BEING DISAPPOINTED BY BIG MAC KISSING SUGAR BELLE AT SWEET APPLE ACRES. Yup, the entire Pie family arrives at Sweet Apple Acres, but at Twilight's castle, Twilight herself is worrying that she might not have time to properly celebrate the holidays. Oh yeah, the song itself was pretty good! Insert crazy Twilight trying to make last minute preps here as she wanders into Ponyville. Applejack tries to calm her down then comes up with an idea - to do a Hearth's Warming Helper thing. Basically, it's Secret Santa on steroids. Insert Sparity fuel here and Pinkie reluctantly agreeing after initially wanting to be her Pinkie self and give as many gifts to as many ponies as possible. Twilight then - at the speed of light - becomes decently sane and draws the mane six's cutie marks and Spike on a piece of paper, tears them evenly, and puts them into AJ's hat. So, who picked who? We don't know - that's why they call this a "Secret Santa"! Spike tries to bargain with AJ to try to get something for Rarity - presumably, he *didn't* manage to pick Rarity, but then AJ reveals that she didn't pick Rarity. Spike then flies away.
At Twilight's castle, Twilight is still decorating for the arrival of Shining Armor, Cadance, and Flurry Heart. She also reveals that she picked Pinkie, and she doesn't know what to gift her. Pinkie, meanwhile, HI LIMESTONE. Anyways, Pinkie reveals that she picked Twilight. Pinkie's sisters try to help out, and then, out of nowhere, she decides to go to Yakyakistan. Spike then bumps into Rarity, who reveals that she picked Applejack. She also decides to get a gift delivered from Manehatten. RD and Fluttershy are also shopping, and, after RD leaves, Spike comes in. He reveals that he picked RD, and Flutters reveals that she picked Rarity. Of course, they trade with each other, something that AJ allowed. Coincidentally, AJ comes in after Spike leaves and reveals that she picked Spike. RD then gets a candle for Fluttershy, and the candle turns out to be Discord. They go off to try to pick something out for Fluttershy. Back at the castle, Spike has a bit of a meltdown when he realizes that he doesn't know what to gift to Rarity.
Fluttershy and AJ arrive at the Rainbow Falls, and... can it be? Flim and Flam? What in all of Equestria are you two doing here? Anyways, Fluttershy is suckered from buying the latest Daring Do book (...come on, Fluttershy! Well, to be fair, RD might already have it...) to buy... a crappy stuffed doll from the two con stallions. In Yakyakistan, Pinkie arrives, does a title drop, and Prince Rutherford tells her in private that the yaks... aren't the best at giving gifts, but he knows a few beings who are. He then gives her a map to "the best gift givers". At the post office, Derpy has a voice--wait, Derpy has a voice again? Anyways, Derpy, in arguably the best moment of this entire hour, reveals that she delivered AJ's gift (sent by Rarity) to Sweet Apple Acres, and then she corrects herself - she actually delivered it to Sweet Acorn Orchard. Spike, meanwhile, is trying to think up of something to gift Rarity. RD and Discord are still trying to think up of something to gift Fluttershy, and then Discord reveals that he wanted to gift her the fastest animal in Equestria, a winter-chilla. Twilight is still figuring out a gift for Pinkie, and then, after going through her library, she finds it: a pudding supposedly made by Chancellor Puddinghead... minus the recipe. Nice callback, by the way! Fluttershy reveals what she spent literally all her bits on a crappy doll to AJ, and you know what that means. After Fluttershy shows her who she bought that piece of crap stuffed doll from, AJ is very displeased.
At Sweet Acorn Orchard, the two ponies who live there thank her for the gift to their son, Pistachio, and, on their insistence, she decides to stay for a while. Twilight is still looking for the recipe and gets progressively crazier (seriously, crazy Twilight is fun to see), and then the rest of her family arrives. In the middle of nowhere, Pinkie rides a polar bear to... the North Pole, I guess, where Rutherford's map pointed to. She encounters three reindeer - Aurora, Bori, and Alice (get it?), and they seem to know a LOT about Pinkie. They give Pinkie the perfect gift for Twilight and cryptically say that she'll find out its purpose soon. Back at the Rainbow Falls, AJ tries to give Flim and Flam (planning an expansion to their resort) a piece of her mind, but they ain't having it. Back with the RD and Discord storyline, Discord turns himself and RD into a ninja for a bit, and then they find the animal they were looking for. Spike makes himself glow on accident by falling asleep whilst making an original gift for Rarity, and AJ and Fluttershy show up Flim and Flam by saying that crappy dolls do not equate to a special gift for that special somepony or whoever.
Back at Sweet Acorn Orchard, Rarity tells Pistachio that he has a future in fashion, and then Pistachio tries to give Rarity's gift to AJ - a special fedora - back to her. Being the Element of Generosity, she gives it back to him and reminds him of his bright future... in season nine? No, I'm being serious - he seems like a pretty cool kid! AJ and Fluttershy leave Rainbow Falls, not having the best gifts for Spike and RD. At the castle, Cadance and Shining Armor are on Twi's case, and then Flurry Heart screws up the recipe by throwing random stuff into the mixture, causing it to grow and become mutated. Discord and RD start to part ways as night falls, and then, after RD invites Discord to help gift the animal they found over to Fluttershy, the winter-chilla begins to grow into something I'm sure the Power Rangers need to attend to, a winter-zilla. Oh yeah, that happens when night falls. At the castle, AJ, Pinkie, Rarity, and Fluttershy meet back up with a bunch of nothing but blanks for gifts. The glowing Spike brings them in, but both the mutant pudding and the winter-zilla begin to attack.
The winter-zilla is attracted to Spike's glowing self, the mutant pudding tries to attack Rarity but is repulsed by Twi, Cadance, and Shining; Fluttershy calms down the winter-zilla after it attacks some decorations, and Pinkie reveals that the reindeer gift to Twilight wound up being the exact ingredients to turn the mutant pudding into a regular pudding (as Discord put it, "reindeer-ex-machina"). Afterwards, everyone seems to lament about their Hearth's Warming Helper gifts being total disasters, and then Spike gives his gift to Rarity in the form of a song. Okay. OKAY. THIS GOOOOOOOOOOOOOD, and Rarity seems to like it. The titular "best gift ever", big shock, turns out to be friendship and going through all that effort to try to give someone else a special gift, and the song continues on into the night with scenes all across Equestria (literally, we see Starlight and Trixie hanging out, Luna and Celestia hanging out, a shot of the yaks being yaks in Yakyakistan, and even a scene from the changelings - HI THORAX AND PHARYNX! EDIT: Didn't realize that Ocellus was in that scene, too!) and the three reindeer end the special by driving the point home.
You know... If this was a regular two-parter, this might be one of my favorite two-parters EVER. Coming into this, I couldn't help but be a bit cynical. Aside from the whole Christmas-in-October thing, the premise stuck out to me as being pretty simple and very predictable. However, this reminded me why I like this series so much. It takes a simple, common premise and adds its own unique twists to it. That is where this special shines. About the only thing that really went bad... I've said it before and I'll say it again, I think Flim and Flam should be absolutely done as characters. Yeah, I know they're the type of character that you should dislike due to them being absolute jerks, but at this point, do we really need to see them this often? Okay, back to gushing about this special. Holy crap, was the comedy good or was it good? No, it wasn't great. It was only the best thing about this special, that's all! Derpy having a voice for the first time in ages (since "Slice of Life", if I'm not mistaken) was unexpected and cool, Discord's good side came out to play in a BIG way, and... It's at this point that I should mention this was an ensemble presentation with how many characters and storylines shared the spotlight here. Discord, the Pie family, Derpy, the yaks, Twilight's family (minus her parents), Flim and Flam, the Acorns, the reindeer, and, of course, the mane six and Spike. I know there's gonna be some disappointment about Starlight and Trixie not having any lines or bigger roles outside of background characters, but still, the ensemble feel of this special was the icing on the cake (and I didn't mind Starlight and Trixie being reduced to very minor roles here). It takes mighty good execution to pull off something of that nature successfully, and, well... Just about everything seemed to click on all cylinders here. The writing. The execution. The comedy, as I've already mentioned. How the characters were handled. The story--actually, let's go back to the story for a bit. Yeah, it was kinda predictable, but, as I always say, being predictable isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when there are enough twists in the formula to distinguish it from the crowd. The songs. Oh my, the songs were good. In a way, I'm glad that songs didn't dominate this special, and the only two that were present made effective bookends and were very good to begin with - quality over quantity, folks! As for new characters, the reindeer... I dunno. Something seemed really off about them. Maybe it's the fact that they seemed to know more about Pinkie than possibly Pinkie herself for characters we've never seen before until now. Maybe it's the fact that the gift they gave to Pinkie wound up being exactly what was needed to stop the mutant pudding - what, can they predict the future or something? Actually, do they have that ability? They fully expected Pinkie arriving at their cozy little North Pole-like hideaway, so... Yeah, they were perhaps the most unintentionally creepy things about this entire special in my view! I'm not saying they're bad characters, but man, thinking about them is creeping me out. The Acorn farmers and that Pistachio kid, on the other hand... I'm gonna say it again. I want to see them in season nine. I just think there's good potential for an episode featuring Rarity and Pistachio. Okay, I think I've gone on long enough about just how good this was. This is one I can see myself watching again, preferably around Christmas... I'm sorry. I'm never gonna get over that.
That'll wrap things up for pony this year! Unless something crazy happens like half of season nine leaking in December or airing in Belgium in December or something...