Review: My Little Pony The Movie

Today is the day! Everyone's favorite unicorn princesses are finally out on the big screen. Based on the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic reboot series that began in 2010, Hasbro has finally released its biggest franchise to theaters. Does it live up to the cartoon? I have to say I was a little concerned when I noticed that the movie's trailer and promos seemed to focus more on star power than plot. Now that I've seen it, I can safely say that my concerns were justified. The movie introduced a ton of new characters voiced by big-name actors with very little time to get to know them. It was a whirlwind of magic, morals, and songs, with very little meaningful or memorable content.

Let's start with the positive. The movie looked gorgeous. It brought together everything great about traditional animation and computer animation. Everypony was consistently on model, and the shading was gorgeous. It looked like the colors were going to be eye-piercingly bright based on the trailer, but it had enough dark locations and scenes to prevent the casual moviegoer from being blinded by rainbows. It also had a lot of overhead shots and closeups that only look good on a big screen. The animators were very aware of the change in aspect ratio and were determined to make this movie look as cinematic as possible.  Between the extra detail in the ponies' eyes and faces and the gorgeous stained glass designs of the princesses on the castle windows, Equestria has never looked this good. What little imagery they showed of the underwater world was equally gorgeous. There were visible scales on the ponies when they had their fins, which was a nice touch. The sea castle reminded me of the descriptions in The Sea Fairies novella by L. Frank Baum.

Tempest Shadow was a fantastic character. Voiced by Emily Blunt (who didn't have any British accent in this), Tempest was a unicorn with a broken horn. Because of her disability, her powers were explosive and unstable. She shamelessly served the Storm King with the understandable motivation of earning back her horn. Tempest had the best song by far along with a cool stylized flashback sequence revealing her backstory. If she had been the main villain or got more screen time, the movie would have been a lot more enjoyable. Unfortunately, we were stuck with the extremely flat Storm King as the main villain, who barely got any screen time and had a pretty gruesome demise that nobody seemed particularly upset about because he was so uninteresting.

 That brings us to the film's many flaws. I was looking forward to more screen time for the majestic Princess Celestia, Luna, and Cadence. Unfortunately, what little screen time they did have fell shy of their inspiring princess qualities. As usual, the fate of Equestria was left in the hands of Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends. They set off on a quest to find a mysterious queen that Celestia barely had a chance to tell them about before getting captured. It was pretty convenient that the Storm King needed the power of the four established princesses from the show to invoke his evil plan. He had a huge army of followers at his command, but he did very little to actually justify their fear or loyalty toward. His dialogue sounded like it was written by a five-year-old. Also, I have no idea what species he was supposed to be. It was as if someone decided that the easiest way to make us hate him was to have him go after everyone's favorite princesses, and that would be the end of it.

Between finding Queen Novo and introducing all the new characters, the movie spent very little time further developing the "mane six," the ponies that most people would be attending the movie to see. Granted, we already learned a lot about them from the seven seasons of the show, but a movie would have been a fantastic opportunity to learn more. Instead, this opportunity was wasted on the new one-shot characters. What little roles the six did play felt uneven. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie led big musical numbers, while Fluttershy and Applejack did very little. Rarity's generosity gained them a new friend in one scene, but that was the only thing she did. There were some tongue-in-cheek references to episodes of the show, such as a photo Pinkie Pie's sister, Maude, but these were all brief one-offs that were meant to wink at fans in the audience and little else.

Then there was Twilight Sparkle. Ugh. Voiced by Tara Strong, who is one of my favorite princesses, Twilight earned her tiara a few years ago and is widely considered the series protagonist. She has gone through an endless amount of growth before becoming the Princess of Friendship. As an intellectual character, Twilight has shelves of notebooks she's written about the friendship lessons she's learned in the past. That's why it is absolutely unforgivable for her to backstab a new friend this late in the game. About halfway through the movie, Twilight does something that sends her character several years backward in growth and goes completely against her established personality. Sure, she regrets it later, but that doesn't make up for the fact that it is simply not something that Twilight would do. For me, it was that moment that killed the movie.

I'm not saying that My Little Pony: The Movie isn't worth seeing at all. The animation is gorgeous, and the songs are entertaining enough, though not particularly memorable. It's fast-paced and never boring. Kristin Chenoweth's role as the rebellious Princess Skystar is amusing at best. Tempest Shadow was a fantastic character who I would love to see more of in the future. What I wanted from a My Little Pony movie was to learn more about the main characters that I had grown to love in the TV show and to see my favorite alicorn princesses demonstrate how awesome they are. I did not get either of those things, which is why I left feeling a bit unfulfilled.


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