My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) Review

FOR BRONIES ONLY


 

During the 80s, several comics and / or popular toy-based products evolved from their physical form and became cartoon television series, including Transformers, He-Man and the Masters of the Universes, The Adventures of Teddy Ruxpin, and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. One such byproduct soon emerged from this era, with the creation of My Little Pony. Created by Hasbro, My Little Pony was a toy line for girls, which became popular and eventually spawned a cartoon series titled My Little Pony. In a nutshell, the show followed adventures of the “Little Ponies” in Ponyland, a mystical land that plays home to all kinds of magical creatures. My Little Pony, which originally ran from 1984 to 1987, lasted for two seasons (65 episodes) and was even popular enough for a movie titled My Little Pony: The Movie to be theatrical released in 1986. Several years later, My Little Pony returned to the animated small screen with My Little Pony Tales, a new iteration of the popular toy horse-based brand. Originally airing on Disney Channel in 1992, the show, which lasted one season (26 episodes), showed its various cast of ponies in a more contemporary environment, seeing the pones characters (more anthropomorphized than the previous series) live in a town and doing daily things (i.e. going to school, run businesses, taking vacations, etc.). After that, while there were a few more animated installments (most of which were direct-to-video releases between 2003 to 2009), a new My Little Pony cartoon iteration eventually formed in 2010 with the series titled My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The show, which is set in the fictional land of Equestria, follows the adventures of the unicorn pony Twilight Sparkle and her friends (Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy) as the help others around Equestria while working out problems that arise within their own friendship. Surprisingly, the show was a massive success, with the show currently (as of 2017) in its seventh season (166 episodes) and cultivating a large fanbase, with some being adult fans of the show who have been officially dubbed as “Bronies”.  Now, Lionsgate films (as well as Allspark Pictures and DHX Media) and director Jayson Thiessen present the theatrical movie to the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series, which is simply titled My Little Pony: The Movie (not to be confused with 1986 movie of the same name). Does this full length animated feature find its “friendship is magic” on the big screen or is it only for its “Bronies” fan base?

THE STORY


In the land of Equestria, the time for the first ever Friendship Festival is fast approaching and Princess Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong) is struggling to deal with the particulars of overseeing the festivals preparations, which is meant to dazzle her pony community and impress her fellow Alcorn Princesses. Unfortunately, the pre-party celebration is suddenly disrupted by the appearance of Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt), a unicorn with a broken who’s been sent to claim the land by the evil Storm King (Live Schreiber), capturing the three Alcorn Princesses to harness their special magic capable of conquering the all of Equestria and beyond. Escaping Tempest’s forces, Twilight is joined by her faithful friends Applekjack (Ashleigh Ball), Rainbow Dash (Ashleigh Ball), Pinkie Pie (Andrea Libman), Fluttershy (Andrea Libman), Rarity (Tabitha St. Germain), and Spike (Cathy Weseluck), who enter unknown realms in Equestria in search of a special destination to find the legendary Hippogriffs (or “hippos”). Along the way, Twilight Sparkle’s leadership is tested as she and her fellow companions face challenges as well as new faces, including the feline Capper (Taye Diggs) and the pirate Captain Celaeno (Zoe Saldana), while Tempest Shadow is hot on their trail, seeking to secure the last Alcorn princess for her master.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Being born in 1985, I grew up watching several 80s cartoon TV shows (various channels showing reruns of them), including Transformers, Thundercats, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, and many others. I remember hearing about My Little Pony (the toy, not the cartoon show), but never really got into it. However, I do remember watching the My Little Pony Tales on Disney Channel, which was aired a mixture of the My Little Pony Tales episodes as well as episodes from 80s My Little Pony series. So, I got a since of both. Again, I just thought it was just okay. Flash forward to a few years ago and I remember hearing about a new My Little Pony cartoon series (aka My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic), but actually never watched it or paid attention to it…until later (more on that below).

This bring me back around to my review for My Little Pony: The Movie. Since I’ve seen several kid-friendly 2017 movies (in theaters) this year, I remember seeing the trailer for My Little Pony: The Movie and thought to myself “Wow, this show is still on and there actually making a movie?”. However (and I’ll admit this), I was somewhat taken by the movie’s trailer and was slightly curious to see this movie. Maybe it was the animation style or various celebrity voice talents or maybe it was the usage of the song “Off to See the World” by Lukas Graham in the trailer, but I was interested in seeing the movie. Granted, I never saw any episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic prior to see the movie. However, after seeing the movie, I did actually watch (via Netflix) a few of the episodes of the show. This includes the episodes “Friendship is Magic” (Part 1 The Mare in the Moon and Part 2 The Elements of Harmony), “The Return of Harmony” (Part 1 & 2), MMMystery on the Friendship Express, “A Canterlot Wedding” (Part 1 & 2), “The Crystal Empire” (Part 1 & 2), Too Many Pinkie Pies, “Princess Twilight Sparkle” (Part 1 & 2), and “Twilight’s Kingdom” (Part 1 & 2). So, after viewing them, I have to say that the show is pretty good. I won’t go and say that part of the “Bronies” fanbase of the show, but I think My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is probably the best cartoon iteration of the My Little Pony brand. So, with that being said, what did I think of the movie? Well, I liked My Little Pony: The Movie. It wasn’t incredibly awesome, but it held its own (at least in my opinion). It definitely for its fans and maybe that’s all as the title of my review states…for bronies only.

My Little Pony: The Movie is directed by Jayson Thiessen, whose previous works includes working on the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series as a supervisor director. This, of course, means that Thiessen is well-versed in the Friendship is Magic universe and is capable of handling a My Little Pony adventure on the big screen. As a whole, Thiessen keeps the feature very much like the show; making its 99-minute runtime light, whimsical, and breezy. Also, the film’s script, which was penned by Meghan McCarthy, Rita Hsiao, and Michael Vogel, also carries the necessary bravado from the show, including the themes of friendship, compassion, and love, with touch more action-oriented scenes to big with the story’s big-screen adventure. The end result is something that’s very similar to the show (light, cute, and pure fluff), but presented on much large format, which can be both good or bad (depending on how you look at it).

The movie’s animation is also another interesting point to talk about as its somewhat of a double-edge sword to discuss. In comparison to the TV show, it’s definitely an upgrade with the 2D animation (or at least looking to assimilate 2D animation style) much more fluid looking and much more detailed from locations to characters. Additionally, the movie also utilizes a few sequences that look 3D-ish that do help flesh out certain aspects of the movie as well as this cartoon universe. I wish the movie’s animation was just like the TV series (that would be awesome!). On the other hand, in comparison to recent animated feature films, it’s a bit underdeveloped, especially with movies like Moana, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, and the upcoming Pixar film Coco producing far superior animation. Personally, I like the movie’s animation, despite being a bit of downgrade from the standard animated movies out there, as its unique and is actually better than the TV show’s animation.

Similar to the TV show, My Little Pony: The Movie is a musical adventure; peppered several songs throughout the movie from start to finish. Like the show, the songs presented in the film, which are generally short, are hit or miss at being memorable. That being said, there are a few that are catchy musical numbers that are sung in the movie like “Open Your Eyes”, which is sung by Emily Blunt. Other noteworthy songs in the movie include “I’m the Friend You Need” and “Rainbow”, which is sung by Sia. And yes, the song used in the movie’s trailer “Off to See the World” by Lukas Graham is featured in the movie (during the end credits) and yes…i did by the song on iTunes as well “Rainbow”. Love both of them.

Unfortunately, despite its fanbase and its overall friendship cutesy-ness, My Little Pony: The Movie does have its fair share of problems. Perhaps the most prevalent one that immediate comes to my mind is that its main for its targeted audience…. its fans. While it’s mostly for them (and even some of the non-My Little Pony younger crowd) will enjoy the film’s final product, majority of the rest of the moviegoing crowd will be probably be befuddled by this larger Friendship is Magic episode that was meant for the big screen. Basically, My Little Pony: The Movie doesn’t have that broad family crossover appeal that other animated features can pull off (i.e. anything produced by Disney / Pixar or Illumination Entertainment) as its squarely for its fans and nothing more. So, while it may not be as good as Despicable Me 3 or Moana, the film does carry itself better than other recent animated endeavors such as The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature or Leap!. Also, the movie is a bit formulaic, even for a kid’s animated film, as well as being the plot being a bit busy, especially with Twilight Sparkle and her friends going about their quest and meeting new characters in new places. In short, My Little Pony: The Movie really caters towards its fans as some non-fan viewers might say (borrowing the lines from the character of the Storm King from the movie): “Friendship and flowers and ponies! Bleh! I’m so totally over the cute pony thing!”

Additionally, if a viewer hasn’t seeing any episodes from the TV show, they might be a little bit loss on what’s going on. While the immediate story narrative is pretty streamlined (i.e. a classic hero’s journey and the lessons to be learned along the way) and easy to digest, it’s mostly the background history and lore from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic universe is what I’m talking about. With over sevens season (so far) of the series (presuming that the movie takes place towards the latter half of the series), the film quickly drops us (the viewer) right smack dab in the heart in the world of Equestria as Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends are preparing for the Friendship Festival in Canterlot. To its fans, who are already well-versed in the Friendship is Magic world. However, to the non-initiated, it is a bit confusing on who’s who and what is what. Take it from me who didn’t watch a single episode of the show until after I’ve saw the movie. Things like the various ponies in the Friendship is Magic universe (Earth Ponies, Pegasi, Unicorn, etc.), Alcorn magic, the importance of the four Alcorn Princesses (Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, Princess Cadance, and Princess Twilight Sparkle), and the importance of the Mane Six. Thiessen (and the writers) would’ve benefited from a somewhat basic rudimentary understanding of this universe at the beginning of the movie, especially to help those non-Friendship is Magic viewers out there.

With the film being part of the same universe as that of the TV series, My Little Pony: The Movie features the main characters (Twilight Sparkle and her friends) as the film’s lead protagonists. Interestingly, all the original voices from the TV series have also returned to reprise their roles in the movie. This includes Tara Strong (Teen Titans Go! And The Fairly Oddparents) as the intelligent leader Princess Twilight Sparkle (the true main heroine of the show / movie), Ashleigh Ball (Dinotrux and Johnny Test) as both the honest Applejack and the adventurous Rainbow Dash, Tabitha St. Germain (Nina’s World and Lolirock) as the generous / fashion-forward Rarity, Andrea Libman (Strawberry Shortcake’s Berry Bitty Adventures and Mobile Suit Gundam 00) as both the hyper-joyful Pinkie Pie and timid / kindhearted Fluttershy, and Cathy Weseluck (Dragon Ball Z and Kids vs. Kat) at Twilight Sparkle’s faithful dragon assistant Spike. These main characters bring the same characteristics from the show into the movie and are quickly to figure out their personas to the non-initiated to the TV series. Additionally, the several of the side characters from the Friendship is Magic TV series, including three Alcorn Princesses (Celestia, Luna, and Cadance) and many others, are present in the movie and are played by their original voice actors, filling in small roles here and there and / or in the background for continuity purposes.

While the original characters from the Friendship is Magic TV show play a major role in the movie, all of the film’s new characters are new to the franchise and are played by celebrity voice actors. Perhaps the best one (of the entire bunch) has to be actress Emily Blunt who provides the voice for the battle-hardened Tempest Shadow. Blunt, known for her roles in Sicario, Into the Woods, and The Devil Wears Prada, definitely gets part down as the film’s antagonist, filling in the role nicely as well as even up to the task of singing (singing the song “Open Your Eyes”). Similarly, actor Michael Pena (Ant-Man and The Martian) provides enough comedic timing and dialogue lines to make his character Grubber, Tempest’s lackey, a memorable one. While Blunt’s Tempest and Pena’s Grubber shine as the movie’s villains, actor Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan and Salt) fares less as the voice for the Storm King, the evil ruler who wants to take over Equestria. The character isn’t that quite memorable, in comparison to Tempest, and it just comes off as a goofy baddie. However, it is kind of funny to hear Schreiber’s voice in a My Little Pony movie. Other noteworthy celebrity voice actors that lend their vocals to the movie includes Uzo Aduba (Orange is the New Black and American Pastoral) as the monarch rule of the hippogriffs Queen Novo, Kristin Chenoweth (Glee and Rio 2) as Novo’s daughter Princess Skystar (it wouldn’t be a musical film without Chenoweth performing a song in the feature titled “One Small Thing”), Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy and Avatar) as the pirate leader Captain Celaeno, Taye Diggs (Private Practice and Murder in the First) as the sly feline Capper, and pop singer Sia as the Equestria pop star Pegasus pony Songbird Serenade.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Princess Twilight Sparkle and the rest of the Mane Six team venture across Equestria to prevent the coming danger from the Storm King and the ruthlessness of Tempest Shadow in the movie My Little Pony: The Movie. Director Jayson Thiessen newest film brings the popular characters from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to the big screen, delivering a large feature narrative for its fans (both young and Bronies) to appreciate. Despite the movie catering almost solely to its fan base (a bit confusing to the uninitiated) and a bit behind to some of the other recent animated feature films out there (in both animation and storytelling), the film is harmless and fun; a colorful adventure that keeps in-line with series’ overall tone (love, friendship, magic, etc.) as well as the voice talents (both from the TV show and the celebrity selection for the movie), despite some being more prominent than others. Personally, I kind of liked it. No, this won’t make me a certified member of the My Little Pony “Bronies”, but I think the movie was cute, lighthearted, and fun to watch. That being said, the appeal to see My Little Pony: The Movie depends on your love for the Friendship is Magic TV show and / or of the My Little Pony brand. Because of this, I would give this movie an “iffy-choice” as its fans will definitely like it, while non-fans might overlook it and / or pass on partaking this big-screen adventure of the popular kids show. In the end, however, My Little Pony: The Movie is a fluff piece and surely will delight those who are willing to accept the journey to Equestria, meeting its cute inhabitants and learning that friendship is indeed magic.

3.5 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice)

 

Released On: October 6th, 2017
Reviewed On: October 27th, 2017

My Little Pony: The Movie  is 99 minutes long and is rated PG for mild action

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