Recently, when people were deciding which movies they wanted to see in theaters, this is probably how the conversation went: “Let’s see what’s playing in theaters. Hmm… there’s that clown one that everyone’s been talking about, a new ‘Lego Movie’(Pshh, figures), ‘Blade Runner 2049’ (thirty-five years too late) and… ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’?” The last one most likely raised a few eyebrows, but allow me to explain.
“My Little Pony: The Movie” is based on the long-running animated television series (seven seasons and counting) “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” The show was originally marketed as a kids’ show, but due to the high quality of its stories and characters, it blew up into a cultural phenomenon with a fandom that transcends age and gender. With its popularity, a cinematic adaption was inevitable.
Cut to the 2017 film, which likely flew under the radars of anyone who wasn’t familiar with the series. It stars the show’s protagonist, Twilight Sparkle, who is a purple unicorn with a magical ability so great that it basically makes her a goddess. Accompanying her are her colorful friends, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. Together, they face a powerful villain named “The Storm King,” an ape-like creature who wants to conquer their home continent of Equestria. In order to defeat him, they must seek the help of the queen of a race known as the Hippogriffs, or else face utter enslavement and destruction.
To start off, the film has gorgeous 2D animation and design. The television series it was based on was known for its appealing colors and cutesy character models, but its animation quality was lacking. It was made using Flash, which is notorious for producing animation that is cheap and stiff looking. Luckily, the film benefited from a larger budget than the show and was therefore able to sport silky smooth character movements and dynamic camera work. Within the first moments of the film, the viewer is treated to a gorgeous tracking shot, which follows three Pegasus ponies as they seamlessly descended from the clouds and soar over the bright, popping landscape of Equestria. In the show, such a flowing shot would have been near impossible due to the limitations of its animation. So seeing it presented in the film was a gratifying spectacle.
In terms of the visuals, I felt like a kid being fed sweet ice cream and toppings. I ate up each new piece of lavish scenery and smooth character motion, with one exception. A location about two-thirds through the film appears as though someone gargled a mixture of brightly colored paints and spat it onto the screen. It is bright and garish, and it brought my enjoyment of the film to a halt. Coincidentally, this was around the time that the triteness of the story started to show through.
The first two thirds of the film are adventurous and ambitious. The characters hop from one new location to the next, each with a unique aesthetic and intriguing lore, and I was sitting in my seat, eating it up. At the two-thirds mark, though, some invisible narrative chain tugs on the characters’ throats and pulls them back to what appears to be the center of their universe, the capital city of Canterlot. Their return is understandable, since they need to go back to face off against the Storm King, but in terms of its structural feel, it makes the film all too reminiscent of one of the show’s repetitive season finales, which was a huge letdown. It takes the wind out of the momentum that the film had built in the first two thirds, and renders it more of a glorified episode of the show than a proper cinematic debut.
I also must mention a huge problem with the film’s story, which extends to the story of the show, which is that the rulers of Equestria, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, are utterly useless. The two ponies, who are heralded as gods by their subjects, are defeated within the first ten minutes of the film, and in nearly every one of the show’s season premieres and finales, by a well-placed spell. It’s pathetic, and seriously brings their authority into question.
I can’t complain too much, though, in spite of the clichés and disappointing narrative. The film is a serviceable cinematic adaption of one of my favorite shows with pleasing animation and characters and a world that I’ve grown to cherish over the past five years. It’s not a masterful film, but it’s a good source of fun, ironic or otherwise.
Timothy Eineberg can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @TitanSlayer675.