Cinematic Releases: My Little Pony: The Movie (2017) Reviewed

The My Little Pony franchise has been around since 1981, and as such, it’s undergone a fair number of evolutions and changes. Originally designed as a line of toy ponies with brushable manes and tails in myriad rainbow colors and silly designs on their flanks to identify them, MLP has branched out into a number of animated television specials, series, and now, two full-length feature films.

Lauren Faust’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a loving reimagining of the Pony universe which began life in 2010 as a new generation of MLP, centering on the unicorn Twilight Sparkle (voiced by Tara Strong) and her adventures discovering the wonders of friendship as she embarks on various quests to keep the pony home country, Equestria, safe from anything threatening it. By her side through it all are a huge cast of characters which include Twilight’s best friends – together, they are generally referred to as the “Mane Six” – and her young dragon pal, Spike. The television series has become massively popular, with fans of all ages and genders, so a theatrical full-length feature film was an inevitability for Equestria’s intrepid equine heroes.

Hasbro’s Allspark Studios upped the ante with the movie’s design, animating with ToonBoom rather than the Adobe Flash of the series; this made for gorgeous, lushly dimensional animation, but was a little bit distracting at first, particularly because the characters’ designs looked so out of the ordinary. Seeing such ultra-detailed bodies and enormous faceted eyes on characters designed originally to be simple yet expressive is a bit jarring, although the added breadth – especially with facial and ear movements – does make for a wider berth of expression. The familiar characters of the Mane Six, and many other denizens of Equestria serving cameos throughout the film, are joined by a host of new characters, expanding the series’ universe and deepening the well for its lore.

Alright! Which one of you ponies brought the hallucinogenics?!!!!

The movie story is a typical one for MLP: Equestria’s most powerful princesses are endangered by a power-hungry foe after their magic, Twilight Sparkle and her friends must stick together and find a way to brave the elements and save their home, learning valuable friendship lessons along the way and encountering strange and colorful characters all the while. It’s nothing new to anyone who has seen the show, but in a franchise that started as a toy line, it’s really marketing these new characters that matters most – so it’s more interesting to focus on them than on the formulaic narrative. People are not, at this point, going to expect too much originality in an MLP movie – although a cameo character called Songbird Serenade (voiced by Sia), and her award-bait song to close the film, is a nice enough touch.

The most unique, and compelling, of the characters introduced in the movie is Tempest Shadow, a unicorn who sports a facial scar and broken horn who plays second-banana to the main villain, the Storm King. Tempest, voiced by Emily Blunt, is a hell of a lot more interesting than her boss – who, really, seems unnecessary as a character. He hardly makes any real kind of impression, being altogether sillier than any other MLP villain – he doesn’t even seem to understand what the magic he so covets actually does, or how to use it once he’s attained it, and it is Tempest who seems more like an actual opposition to the Mane Six, especially because she is, herself, a pony. It is her dark and troubled past that fuels her desire to serve any dark magic that might make her whole again, making her far more complex and fascinating. The film would have done better to focus on her as a villain, and step away from the ridiculous power-hungry wizard-with-dopey-sidekicks tropes, especially since anyone coming to the film without having read the prequel comic books don’t really get a sense of the magnitude of the Storm King’s brutality. If the lands outside Equestria have been suffering under his reign prior to Tempest’s invasion of Canterlot, for most viewers, that knowledge comes out of nowhere.

As far as animated features based on Saturday-morning cartoons go, MLP could be a lot worse. It is gorgeously and lovingly animated, peppered with the kinds of songs one expects, and there is a surprising element to its ending that keeps it from being too saccharine – which is quite a feat for a film starring adorable, Technicolor ponies with enormous doe eyes whose greatest power is the magic of friendship. 


Dana Culling