My Little Pony: The Movie: The Review

Okay, okay… you convinced me…
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I’ll write a review for My Little Pony the Movie.
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To be fair, as the resident brony, I jumped on the opportunity to review the first feature film starring Twilight Sparkle and all the rest of the Mane Six. I’ve watched all the episodes of the show (at least through what Netflix has available) and have read ALL the comics. I even subjected myself to Equestria Girls, an experience I have yet to recover from. I have all sorts of merchandise from the show and have never been ashamed of my fondness for My Little Pony, so I would say I’m pretty much an expert on all things Ponyville.
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This movie was designed to give fans of the television hit on its seventh season the Hollywood treatment, with a big budget and an all-star cast. You need to be somewhat aware of the history of the show to follow along though because they waste no time, jumping straight into the meat of things. When I say the core audience for this film is kids and existing fandom, I mean it.
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In the film, the main antagonist, Storm King (voiced by Liev Schreiber), needs to harness the magical power of all four princesses of Equestria in order fully control the weather and he uses his wide influence to instill fear across the world. At a big celebration in Canterlot they are attacked (which is pretty much a given if you watch any season premiere or finale) by one of the Storm King’s lieutenants, Tempest Shadow played by Emily Blunt. She is a unicorn with a broken horn who has been promised the restoration of her horn in return for helping the Storm King. Princesses Celestia, Luna, and Cadence are all defeated but only Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong) is able to escape. Along with Spike the Dragon (Cathy Weseluck), Rarity (Tabitha St. Germain), Rainbow Dash and Applejack (Ashleigh Ball), and Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy (Andrea Libman), Twilight must seek the only lead they have to save Equestria… again. In search of the “queen of the hippo”, the Mane Six must traverse the land, sea, and sky and encounter a number of unique characters to overcome their foe and restore the princesses to power!
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Let’s talk voice acting first. In addition to the entire cast reprising their roles from the show, there are several new characters that appear in this stand alone film. Liev Schreiber is not known for doing any voice work before, but he does well and seems to have fun. Even though he is the “big bad guy”, it is Emily Blunt’s character that sees a real focus and she does a marvelous job. Tempest Shadow is easily the best new character of this movie and deserves all sorts of credit. Their sidekick Grubber (Michael Peña) is a goofy little hedgehog that offers up some funny moments amidst serious villainous scenes. Taye Diggs plays a catty character named Capper reliant on his cunning deception but undone by his good conscience. There is also a pirate crew of bird characters led by Captain Celaeno, voiced by Zoe Zaldana, who works for the Storm King despite wishing otherwise. And finally, I won’t ruin any good twists for you but Queen Novo (Uzo Aduba) and her daughter Princess Skystar (Kristen Chenoweth) are not what the Mane Six are expecting. Even popular singer Sia appears as a celebrity performing at the Friendship Festival!
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Speaking of music, this film is jam-packed with new songs and it’s no surprise that most of these actors and actresses have musical backgrounds. I counted no less than six songs, but there probably more that I can’t remember off the top of my head. With each new character, the audience was given a brand new song to go with them. Some were catchy, others forgettable, but I will say that you get plenty of bang for your buck. Friendship is Magic songwriter Daniel Ingram did the score and soundtrack, hoping to go above and beyond what is expected from the television show, and Sia contributed her own original song “Rainbow”. Think Shakira in Zootopia, only for My Little Pony. Since the shows aren’t always musical, this was an opportunity to show off that this cartoon is just as musical as what Disney can put out, even if the songs aren’t going to be nominated for an Oscar anytime soon.
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The animation style changes drastically from what fans of the show have grown accustomed to. Instead of using Adobe Flash, My Little Pony the Movie switches to a more three-dimensional software in Toon Boom Harmony. The general aesthetic of the show is retained but it just felt off to me. Cool, sure. Dynamic. Different. Exciting. However, I really like the way the show looks, and this almost felt like an unnecessary “improvement”. Bigger budget means more opportunity to make it big screen friendly, and going a more Pixar/Dreamworks route makes sense, but in my opinion? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
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If you haven’t noticed, I still haven’t answered the question of whether I actually enjoyed the movie or not, and I’m going to be blunt with you. I liked it, but I didn’t LOVE it. I felt the movie was more spectacle with less stakes for the invested fans of the show and/or comics. The TV show is quirky and fun, with new stories and characters all the time. It focuses on individual characters sometimes, both primary and secondary, which builds the world and let’s you care about what happens to them. Occasional songs don’t weigh it down as a “musical” show like some other kids shows but still entertains. Yet this movie threw in everything, all at once like a sonic rainboom. So much in such a short span left me overwhelmed. The opening and end scenes have plenty of cameos from popular characters like the Apple family, Cutie Mark Crusaders, Derpy (or Muffins), DJ Pon3, Bulk Biceps, and Cheese Sandwich (hey, I didn’t make these up) but ignored others like series regulars Discord and Zecora. The show’s villains and minions are much better (or at least more complex) than Storm King is, so I didn’t really care what happened to him. Give me Sombra or Chrysalis any day.
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I liked most of the movie, but it felt more like Hollywood’s version of what My Little Pony should be and not what makes it great. Showrunner Lauren Faust is nowhere to be credited in the movie, and it shows. Character moments could have been much more frequent. By trying to squeeze it all into a package deal, I think it missed out on much of the heart of MLP.
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It also raises the question of where it will fit into the show. Will we see Tempest Shadow again or reference the events of the movie? Or will it be ignored much like Equestria Girls? You don’t need to be completely up-to-date on the show to enjoy the movie, but would I be behind on the show without watching the film?
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Oh, and one more beef I had: throughout the show, animals generally adhere to conventional physiology. Ponies walk on all four hooves, as do donkeys and yaks and zebras and other animals as well. Birds fly, fish swim, etc. Yet, in this movie we have anthropomorphic characters that would never make sense in the My Little Pony mythos! Both Capper and the bird pirates look and function like people instead of going the MLP route of making their animal nature apparent. (BTW, this is part of why I hated Equestria Girls because it humanized the Mane Six into Bratz ripoffs!) Dragons and some other mythical creatures get a pass, but shame on them for breaking such a nice animal tradition. Capper belonged in Cats Don’t Dance more than he belonged in this movie.
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So, should fans of My Little Pony watch this film? Yes, absolutely yes. Bring your kids (or not) and see Pinkie Pie blast a party cannon or Spike get turned into a fish. Even as a general kids movie it works, if you don’t mind them asking all sorts of questions about who characters are and what they’re doing. But in my personal opinion, the show does it better. You have to invest more time to appreciate Equestria and suffer through 2D animation without a dozen guest voice actors, but it’s much more fulfilling for me. The movie just acts like a bonus for fans like me who want to support My Little Pony in theaters and experience something different from what you can get at home. And in that, it’s a huge success. (But if there’s a sequel, we gotta get Discord in there somewhere!)
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3.5 out of 5 Apples
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