Movie Review: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games
A couple years ago, many fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, grew incensed that Hasbro was planning to do an iteration of the show, taking place in a humanized world.
The result was My Little Pony: Equestria Girls. While the first film was given a marginal pass by many based on it’s seemingly simplistic storyline, the vehemency of the MLP fandom seemed to largely die away when its sequel, Rainbow Rocks, took its characters and story to another level. The film introduced some catchy new songs by Daniel Ingram, and helped elevate the character of Sunset Shimmer to becoming the Twilight Sparkle of this world. But, as some saw at the end of Rocks, there is a Twilight Sparkle in this world…and she is curious about some strange powers emanating from Canterlot High School.
That final scene piqued many people’s interests, though in the lead-up to the third (and final?) installment of the Equestria Girls series, one had to wonder if Equestria Girls: Friendship Games, could carry on the momentum from the previous installments, and provide a third film that could stand on its own.
Since the events of Rainbow Rocks, Sunset Shimmer, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy, have seen their magical powers grow. Now, instead of materializing while just playing their musical instruments, the girls seem to have little control over when they ‘pony up.’
Principal Celestia and Vice-Principal Luna ask Sunset Shimmer to investigate why this is happening, with the goal to make sure that these unusual powers are repressed, in time for The Friendship Games.
The event pits Canterlot High School, against their cross-city rivals, Crystal Prep Academy. It occurs every 4 years, and since the beginning of the games, Crystal Prep has always won.
As Canterlot prepares, many are surprised when Twilight Sparkle shows up, though this is the human-world’s Twilight, who attends Crystal Prep. Being more of an isolated bookworm, Twilight is mainly entered into the games, at the behest of Crystal Prep’s Principal, Abacus Cinch.
Twilight hopes the time at Canterlot High can also help her learn more about the magic she’s found emanating from the school, but her curiosity soon leads to unexpected side-effects.
I’m not sure what the deal is with Friendship Games, but even with plenty of previews, and word-of-mouth, it feels like the enthusiasm for the film and its story, has been a little more ‘dulled’ than the previous film.
The film is also the first one that shuts out pretty much all of the Friendship is Magic connections to the television series, with all of the film’s energy largely focused on just this world. Sunset Shimmer is seen attempting to contact Twilight a couple of times in Equestria, but her inquiries go un-answered, leaving her more frustrated as she attempts to solve the ‘pony up’ mystery on her own.
Unlike the previous two films, Games has a new writer at the helm. This time it’s Josh Haber, following his stint writing 4 episodes for the Friendship is Magic television series.
I do commend Mr Haber for pulling Rainbow Dash out of the ‘awesomely egotistical jerk’ mode that she found herself in from the first two Meghan McCarthy-written films. However, even with Rainbow getting a character ‘upgrade,’ it feels like the other girls in the group (sans Sunset) are just there out of ‘contractual obligation.’
Even certain areas of the story seem to suffer from logic holes. Several of the skills involved in the Friendship Games focus on sporting events, which it seems all of our ‘mane’ cast somehow have knowledge of…though when they found time to practice archery and motocross racing, is beyond me.
With an added stable of new characters from Crystal Prep, one would assume we’d get some more time to see just what they’re all about, character-wise. In the end, it seems that it doesn’t matter, since the majority of the student body are just snarky/snooty private schoolers. Twilight is supposedly the best student in this school academically, but every other student in the school just treats her as an inferior, to which I kept wondering, “why?”
The film is also the first that the bad guy isn’t on the same age level as the girls. In this case, the role of bad guy falls to Crystal Prep’s principal, Abacus Cinch (voiced by Iris Quinn). Her character is basically the standard ‘stick-in-the-mud’ who wants her institution to be the best. Fortunately, we’re saved from the usual ‘we’ve cheated for years’ subplot that would be obvious, though she doesn’t fail to use some blackmail to get Twilight to participate in the games. One would assume Cinch would want her participating students to be knowledgeable in a number of things, so they’d be better all-around in the games…but, we need to find some way to get human-world Twilight into them.
Twilight and Sunset seem to be the focus of the story, but it just feels that it’s held up largely with a lot of flimsy storytelling to make the entire thing seem important. It feels to me that there could have been a more meaningful way to get the story’s message across, rather than making a lot of the supporting players just ‘being there,’ or seem moreso another excuse to make lots of toy dolls to sell in stores.
On a positive note, Daniel Ingram returns to this world, with some more catchy songs. Whereas the last film went all out with its Rock-n-Roll angle, it feels like he’s channeling a mixture of High School Musical and Wicked here, with a teeny-tiny hint of Daft Punk thrown in.
One thing that’s eye-catching, is that the animation has taken another step forward. Walk cycles, character models, and much more have been improved on. The characters also have a better range of emotional movement, with human-world Twilight benefiting the most for her characterization as a mousey over-achiever.
Third films in a trilogy can often be problematic. More times than not, they will end on a low note. Friendship Games tries to somehow balance itself as a final entity, but draws energy and scenarios from its previous films, and that might be hard to ignore for some people. Those previous scenarios will probably leave many with a combined reaction of “wow,” and “aww, a-gain!?”
Final Grade: B- (Friendship Games becomes a middle-of-the-road trilogy-capper for the “Equestria Girls” movie series. Its title almost hints about making friends with your rivals, but instead, seems to focus moreso on following the thread that was started at the end of “Rainbow Rocks.” The revelation regarding this world’s Twilight Sparkle will surely draw people in, but it doesn’t feel enough to balance out the lackadaisical games subplot of the film’s title. Even so, Daniel Ingram’s music will give you at least a track or two to bop along to, and the continuing character development of Sunset Shimmer, makes one almost want to see more of her after the film is over…though we still are left to wonder where her ‘human-world’ counterpart is)