Movie Review: My Little Pony – Equestria Girls
I can still remember a couple years ago, when one person I know suggested I give My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic a chance. “I know how you like well-written animation,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll like this show.”
I will admit I almost didn’t make it past the first strains of the sweet-sounding intro song, but pretty soon, I found this person had been spot-on. The writing was definitely entertaining, and the balance of comedy and drama was something I wouldn’t have come to expect from a show like this. This sentiment has been echoed across many different areas of the fandom.
Of course, that was a few years ago. As it is now, the My Little Pony franchise has found itself in one of the most popular times of its branding, probably since its first inception in the 1980’s. While Hasbro continues to struggle with how best to address “The Brony Issue,” their minds have turned to other thoughts, like “How can we expand this property into other areas?”
That answer came in the form of Equestria Girls, in which the “mane 6” characters from the show, were re-imagined as spindly-limbed, go-go boot-wearing teenagers in an alternate dimension. Naturally, the fans of the show got furious that this huge company would even consider humanizing these characters, even though fans of the show had been doing human-style cosplays, and drawing humanized ponies. At one point, Hasbro even made mention about the inspiration from the humanizing artwork around the internet.
Because the animation company DHX (who also work on Friendship is Magic) was also bearing the workload of animating Equestria Girls, the third season of FIM was cut in half, to 13 episodes. And, if you sit down and watch Girls, it definitely could be classified as Season 3.5.
The film picks up right where Season 3 left off. Twilight Sparkle is still getting acclimated to being a Princess, not to mention now having wings. She and her friends have been invited to the Crystal Empire for a Royal Summit. However, during the night, a cloaked figure makes off with her crown, and disappears into a mirror on the castle grounds.
Princess Celestia then reveals that the thief was a pony named Sunset Shimmer, who had been under her tutelage before Twilight. As Twilight’s crown is important to the well-being of Equestria, she is sent through the portal to retrieve it, with Spike tagging along. However, once she’s on the other side, Twilight finds herself as a purple-skinned humanoid, and Spike has become a dog.
They soon enter the world of Canterlot High School, where Twilight finds that her crown is actually being used as the prized headdress, for the Princess of the Fall Formal title, which Sunset Shimmer has won for the last 3 years. One would assume that Twilight would just take back her crown, but we’re dealing with a character that has a conscience. Instead, she vows to win the crown fair and square. With the Fall Formal just 3 days away, there also is a “ticking clock” mechanism in the plot, that the portal back to Equestria will close the same night, stranding Twilight in this “strange new world” for 30 days, if she doesn’t get back in time.
Going around the high school, Twilight is surprised to see the school is divided into numerous cliques, and even girls that resemble humanized versions of her pony friends, are no longer friends! Naturally, being the over-achiever that she is, Twilight wants to find some way to mend these broken fences as well.
The standard mode of thought if I try to review a film like this, is that the majority of people will say, “you’re finding fault in a cartoon for little girls?” In my opinion, animation does not automatically equal a free ride. Some of the best animation can work when a great story is in place, and you care about the characters, and their interactions. After all, that was what drew people to Friendship is Magic.
A staple of many films that go beyond a television show, is the introduction of a movie-created character, and Sunset Shimmer fits that bill to a “T.” In a sense, she’s the negative version of Twilight. Not just in regards to her name (four syllables, with two synonyms that tell about light at the end of the day), but also her multi-colored hair, and the fact that she’s voiced by Rebecca Shoichet, who has been Twilight Sparkle’s singing voice since the TV series began.
One level of the story that intrigued me, was how Sunset Shimmer tied into the history of the series, as she was Celestia’s prized pupil before Twilight. One has to figure that if Sunset had not been so brash, she might have been in Twilight’s hooves, and eventually become a Princess herself. I had often thought that maybe like Neo in The Matrix, there might have been the possibility for another group of 6 ponies over the years to unite the Elements of Harmony, and Twilight was “The One” strong enough to pull off the feat.
Given that Sunset “rules” Canterlot High School, that means she came in as a Freshman, and has pretty much been pulling this “I’m better than you” schtick for 3 whole years now. Given that she would be a Senior at the time of this film, it does make one wonder: what would she do afterwards? Would she lamely be one of those kids who never graduates, and repeats the same grade over and over again? For that matter, where does she stay, since she obviously seems to have no home to go to.
Speaking of story questions, one also has to figure that if Twilight’s friends already exist in this world, then where is Twilight’s human version? The film wedges in a rather contrived answer that human Twilight and dog Spike already exist, but just in the nearby City.
There also is the question regarding the rather “perfect timing” for Sunset’s stealing of the crown. Originally, the mirror was in Canterlot, but had been moved to the Crystal Empire, yet Sunset knew Twilight was there with the crown she desired, and had even brought a fake to switch it with.
In some films, there’s enough going on that I can be”distracted” from such things, but the more I thought about Equestria Girls, the more story points like the ones above just stick out like a sore thumb to me.
The film also revels in the fantasy element of “simplicity.” It seems that anyone could walk in off the street and become part of the student body, and that’s what happens with Twilight.
In regards to Twilight’s friends, much of their personalities are carried over from the pony world, with a few cute additions. One is that human Fluttershy loves to care for stray animals, and even volunteers at the local animal shelter. Pinkie Pie is still her wacky self, but being human, is denied her fourth-wall breaking motif (and party cannon). One flaw to me, is the writing for Rainbow Dash seemed a low point, as she seems to end up saying things are “awesome” when the writer runs out of ways to keep her included in a conversation.
Some have claimed that each character in the human world having colored-skin feels odd, but I just laugh and think, “hey, they did it on the Nickelodeon show, Doug.” The makers of the film even attempt to have some fun with the background characters, making numerous humanized ponies, and several fan-favorites interspersed throughout.
Some of the character designs work well, but others can be a bit jarring (Granny Smith as a school lunch lady!?). I found Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna’s facial designs didn’t hold up that well. I don’t know what it is, but seeing Luna with lips just didn’t work for me.
One element of the film that was a little annoying for me, was the “possible” relationship angle, when Twilight meets a male teenager named Flash Sentry. He’s the “handsome nice guy” that you see in many shows, and quickly makes Twilight tongue-tied. There’s even a hint this “might” translate over into the world of Equestria, but I seriously hope that won’t be the case.
Some consternation was caused at seeing Spike’s human-world form translated into that of a dog (though one who can still talk). I guess in terms of mirror teleportation, an animal is an animal, except when they’re a pony. To me, I would have seen Spike as a little boy living down the street, who was a good friend and helper to human Twilight.
A bright spot in the film is Daniel Ingram’s songs. His work on the show has often resulted in many memorable and toe-tapping pieces, and a few are in this film too. The highlight is a centerpiece called Helping Twilight Sparkle Win the Crown, which has a steady build-up until the first chorus, when it just takes off with a great amount of energy.
Given my love of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I have built up a strong tolerance to what constitutes a bad movie. With that in mind, Equestria Girls is OK, but not the worst I’ve seen. There is a story here, but it’s the typical unpopular girl takes down the mean girl storyline we’ve seen underlined in many types of stories before…with a tie-in to ponies and magic. It luckily never goes down the typical path about boyfriends, having hot new fashions, and getting a cool new sports car.
It could also be the fact that we are dealing with a film-length story, and not one that can develop/show characters over the span of several episodes. As such, there is a lot of black-and-white when it comes to certain character personalities. Take Sunset Shimmer, who seems to be locked into full-on “my way or the highway” mode through much of the film.
There is an underlying story structure that Twilight was feeling uneasy being a Princess, as well as having wings after the end events of Season 3. The film is meant to give her a way to get over these feelings of inadequacy, but it feels like those story points are buried until the few minutes at the beginning and end of the film.
It’s one of the few films I could call “harmless fun,” and given the types of other kid-related “fluff” that feels like its draining you of your IQ points, this one is the lesser of two evils. I think the best thing I can use to describe it, is Rarity’s reaction to her sister’s efforts in the episode, Sisterhooves Social: “Not…bad.”
As it stands now, this humanized iteration of Twilight Sparkle and her friends, is mainly just existing as a film, plastic dolls in the toy aisles, and some additional stories in the pages of IDW Comics. There’s been no confirmation if Friendship is Magic will fold into the series, or if Girls will become its own show on The Hub network. With Friendship is Magic about to begin its fourth season, one has to wonder what the next year will hold for the series.