DVD Review: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks
For those who are fans of the series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, the decisions of the show’s parent-company Hasbro, has been both up-and-down. It seems for everything they do right, there’s always a couple things they seem to do wrong (by the ‘fans,’ mostly).
When the announcement that a MLP-related film was going to be released in 2013, there was some excitement…until it was revealed that the characters would be from an alternate, “human” dimension, albeit one where the FiM character of Twilight Sparkle (voiced by Tara Strong), would find herself on a high school adventure, trying to mend broken friendships, and get back her stolen crown from former ponygirl, Sunset Shimmer (voiced by Rebecca Shoichet).
Many were expecting subpar work, and while the film did not blow everyone away, many agreed that there was plenty more good than bad in the mediocre product that had been produced. Word was the film caused quite a number of young girls to give in and buy from the new Equestria Girls doll line, and the numbers soon brought about word of a sequel: Rainbow Rocks.
Just like the first film, this one was treated to a limited theatrical release in large cities. And surprisingly, word from those who had seen it, was very positive. One joke heard at a Comic-Con panel, was from one person who said it was The Empire Strikes Back of the Equestria Girls film series (some had alluded to The Wizard of Oz for the first film).
Following the events of the first film, Sunset Shimmer has been working on trying to turn her image around at Canterlot High School, but is still finding some resistance among much of the student body. However, Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity, have made good on their promise to help her try to learn more about friendship.
As the school prepares for a Musical Showcase, the event is turned into a Battle of the Bands when three girls calling themselves The Dazzlings (Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze, and Sonata Dusk) become part of the student body, and incite a fracas among everyone.
These new girls seem to have some sort of magical power to incite discontent among the students, and our main girls realize they have almost no powers to stop it. Their one solution is to try and contact Twilight Sparkle for help, and surprisingly, the Princess of Friendship (and her companion, Spike!) return to try and save the day!
There are some films that manage to build upon a low-key first film, and Rainbow Rocks does just that. This reminded me of how I felt when Spider-Man 2 in 2004, managed to be more entertaining than the milquetoast 2002 Spider-Man.
Rainbow is a film that definitely gives us a larger glimpse into this alternate world, and helps us see that it is not a carbon-copy of the world of Equestria. This can possibly annoy some, as the characters in this universe don’t seem quite as developed as those in the pony world. One example is Rainbow Dash, who seems a little more self-centered than even her pony-counterpart. This has bugged a lot of people, but one has to remember we are dealing with a teenage personality…and, let’s face it, most of us were not perfect at that age (as we liked to believe at the time).
DHX Media has definitely improved on their bag of Flash Animation tricks this time around. There’s some great use of perspective, with characters breaking the Z-axis (as seen above), eliminating a lot of scenes that would have seemed ‘flat.’ Getting extra dimension into the scenes definitely helps, let alone the hypnotic hip-swaying that they give to Adagio Dazzle, and the light and smoke effects this time out.
As a concept, the Dazzlings to me are ‘acceptable.’ It’s hard not to see them as borrowing a little from the Monster High book of character designs, though they almost become little more than a trio of girls almost on par with Sunset’s actions from the first film. Much of the time they just seem to stand around, biding their time until the main event. However, there are some fun little character moments here and there (and Sonata Dusk’s dopey personality has earned her a small following online so far).
Musically, The show and first film’s songwriter Daniel Ingram has returned for a larger assortment of songs to be sung. While the first film had maybe one major song that was enjoyable, there’s quite a few here that may make you ask which is the best. From the retro-rock of the opening title song, to the swaying beats of the Dazzling’s pieces…and, one that I just can’t put into words.
I think I speak for a lot of people, that this film’s secret weapon is definitely Sunset Shimmer. Unlike Discord’s redemption in the Friendship is Magic series, Sunset’s redemption feels a bit more grounded and ‘real.’ I saw her almost like a recovering addict: after the events of the first film, she’s been knocked back to square one, and has to figure out where she fits in to this world. Though she may seem quiet at times, the animators and storyline show us that she is analyzing things, and just may hold key information…if only she’d speak up at times.
One of the high points of the first film was Spike, and while he does return here, he serves little more purpose than “Twilight’s pitch-dog” for much of his screen-time. As well, the fandom’s on-again/off-again feelings regarding teenager Flash Sentry (and his crush on human Twilight Sparkle), will most likely continue to be debated about in online forums still.
It seems that I’m being rather hard on the film, but in truth, it does feel like there has been extra time and effort put into this one to improve on the first outing. The Equestria Girls films show that there may be something there for this iteration, other than a placebo for the FiM fandom between the TV series’ down times. Personally, I equate the films to mid-season numbering, like the first Equestria Girls film is “Season 3.5,’ and this one is “Season 4.5.”
The way I see it is, if you don’t really care for this alternate-dimension film series, you can ignore it, and it doesn’t impact your watching of the FiM TV series.
The Special Features
It almost seems that the amount of special features included in this film’s release, is a little more sparse than the first film’s home video offerings. Then again, most of the features there were geared towards that film’s ‘target demographic,’ and not towards the older fans who were a little more enamored with the filmmaking process.
To me, the highlight of this release (and the main reason for my purchase of it), was the inclusion of an (optional) Audio Commentary track over the film. The track is a round-table viewing with the likes of Mike Vogel (VP of development for Hasbro Studios), Brian Leonard (Executive Director for HS), Meghan McCarthy (writer of Rainbow Rocks), Jasyon Thiessen (Supervising Director of RR), and Ishi Rudell (Co-Director of RR).
I’m a fan of audio commentary tracks where the filmmakers are having fun, let alone providing some observations and shout-outs to certain bits. Several times, the storyboard artists are called out for several major scenes, and the director’s make a rather uncouth joke regarding the side-effects of Taco Tuesday (that’s all I’ll say). There are even things that they question themselves regarding logic (like how in an opening scene, the Dazzlings can contain their enormous hairdos in their hoodies).
There were several small shorts released in the months before Rainbow Rocks premiered, and they are included here in their own section. Several deal with the girls getting their instruments, though a few show them planning a party, let alone rocking out in some non-movie outfits.
One has to wonder if along with promoting the film, most of these were made as ways to get the animators better acclimated to animating the human characters this time around. As well, there’s plenty of little extras to be had here (including the human versions of the Flim-Flam Brothers, and a small cameo by a certain Draconequus, as seen above). There’s also some additional music that didn’t show up in the final film.
There’s also a sing-a-long feature, where you can view clips with lyrics to three of the songs in the film.
*Technical Issues with DVD Release*
Unless you saw the film in theaters, most may not know that there was an error when the DVD was released. Somehow in the disc pressings, chapters 5 (Battle of the Bands) and 6 (The Semi-Finals) got rearranged.
While the separate chapters will open fine if you select them individually, this error occurs if you click Play Movie, and attempt to watch the film from start to finish. If you see the Chapter 6 image above, before you see Celestia and Luna talking on stage, than most likely, you have the disc error. Shout Factory has mentioned that this error did not affect the Blu-Ray production.
If you have a DVD that needs to be replaced/corrected, it is advised to go to the following page Shout Factory has set up: Rainbow Rocks Replacement Disc Program
Word is that they are working to ship the corrected DVD releases as soon as possible, but just keep an eye out for these errors if you’re looking to make a purchase.
With Equestria Girls, many of the fans of Friendship is Magic were greatly incensed that somehow, the world they knew and loved, might be invaded by ‘tall fleshy two-legged creatures.’ If anything, Rainbow Rocks shows us some more concrete evidence that if this human-world series continues, there’s enough within it to stand on its own two feet, with little “cross-dimensional camaraderie.” The world won’t have the amount of fantasy and mythological depth as FiM, but there could be some interesting directions to go in it (college, perhaps?). As well, what is done with Sunset Shimmer (not to mention an easter egg after the credits roll), has ignited a great deal of interest from many who were at first dead-set on hating this thing.
At a recent quarterly report given by Hasbro in the Fall of 2014, there was a major announcement that caused another fandom explosion, when word came that a movie with actual pony characters from the FiM TV series, had started development for a 2017 release date! Few details have been given, except that Meghan McCarthy is signed on as a co-producer, and the script is being written by Joe Ballarini. It shold be noted that Ballarini is not a regular on the current TV or film series related to the pony characters. As such, his only animation credit to date has been the 4th Ice Age film, with the majority of his work being in live-action (with writing credits for the film, Dance of the Dead).
So, while it may seem we are on level ground regarding the future of the Equestria Girls, we have a whole new can of worms to open, as to what a pony-related film in 3 years, will be like.