My Little Pony: The Movie
Writer: Meghan McCarthy, Joe Ballarani
Director: Jayson Thiessen
Starring: Tara Strong, Andrea Libman, Ashleigh Ball, Tabitha St Germaine, Emily Blunt, Taye Diggs
A review by Cameron Kieffer
My Little Pony is the latest in a long line of several animated properties of the ’80s to get the big-screen treatment. The difference here is that rather than act as a reboot or retooling of the original concept, My Little Pony: The Movie is a feature film spinoff of the series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which currently airs on the Discovery Family network.
The series takes place in the fictional world of Equestria and follows the adventures of the scholarly Princess of Friendship Twilight Sparkle and her friends: the honest, hard-working Applejack, the awesomely-arrogant Rainbow Dash, the soft-spoken Fluttershy, the fabulous fashionista Rarity, and the ever-excitable Pinky Pie, as well as Twilight’s gem-eating dragon sidekick Spike. Episodes vary from day-to-day misadventures in their provincial town of Ponyville to epic battles with villains where the fate of Equestria hangs in the balance.
The film opens in Canterlot, Equestria’s capital city and home to her royal majesty Princess Celestia. Twilight is overseeing preparations for the inaugural Friendship Festival, with the aid of her friends, when they are interrupted by the arrival of Tempest Shadow, a mysterious unicorn with a broken horn who commands a fleet of monsters that quickly invade the city and capture Celestia and fellow princesses Luna and Cadence. The Mane 6 manage to escape and embark on a journey for help so they can stop Tempest and rescue their beloved home. Along the way they encounter new lands, new friends and enemies, and test the boundaries of their own friendships with each other.
Despite its episodic origins, My Little Pony: The Movie never feels like an extended episode. While the girls have had epic clashes with evil monsters before, the scope is bigger, the stakes are higher and the production values are greater. It feels like a real movie, which it is, of course, but it feels like the animated films of old. And by old, I mean the ’80s and ’90s. The film isn’t necessarily dark but it has a tone that’s evocative of many other animated classics of that era. The attack on Canterlot is reminiscent of the opening battle in Transformers: The Movie, though far less violent and depressing. Don’t worry, Pony-Fans, none of your beloved characters go the way of Optimus Prime, though the capture of the princesses may be a bit intense for more sensitive fans.
Thematically, the film takes many cues from Don Bluth films as well. With the characters are cast out of their home, go on an incredible journey of self-discovery, and encounter new characters and inevitable musical numbers, My Little Pony: The Movie follows a similar formula to that of An American Tail, or The Land Before Time. While the tone is pretty light-hearted, there are plenty of dramatic moments throughout, including an intense argument between Twilight and Pinkie Pie that very much reminded me of Littlefoot and Cera’s “break-up scene” in The Land Before Time.
However, while those films featured truly terrifying villains (try and tell me Sharptooth didn’t give you nightmares), Tempest is somewhat… bland. Voiced by Emily Blunt, this bitter unicorn follows the TV series’ trend of characters who are slighted and seduced by the dark side. Even the angry sparks of her broken horn are not unlike that of equally angst-ridden Kylo Ren’s lighstaber. Tragic backstory notwithstanding, there’s just not much there we haven’t already seen before. However, the film’s other villain, the Storm King (voiced by Liev Schreiber) is a wise-cracking, malevolent nut-job whose personality is all over the place. Think Discord meets Loki from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yeah, he’s pretty great.
The rest of the “special guest stars” include Taye Diggs as a shifty cat hustler, Zoe Saldana as a pirate parrot (oh hey, I just got that), Michael Pena as Tempest’s irritating sidekick and Kristin Chenoweth as Princess Skystar, a lonely yet excitable seapony. While Diggs and Chenowith are perfectly cast (and get to sing), the break-out performance would probably be pop-star Sia, who performs the speaking and singing voice for new character Songbird Serenade.
With many new faces, there wasn’t much room for the show’s supporting cast, though many fan favorites do appear in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos. Which is fine because, at an hour and thirty-nine minutes, the film does drag a bit during the third act. While it’s nice to see an animated film break the 90-minute mark, it could have flowed better with a slightly shorter runtime.
See it! Whether you’re an old-school fan, a Friendship is Magic-devotee, or just someone who enjoys colorful animation and/or talking equestrians, there’s plenty to enjoy in My Little Pony: The Movie. While this movie’s probably not going to do much to recruit new fans, let’s face it, if you’re reading this, you more than likely enjoy MLP. Which you should, because it’s great.