Aug 31, 2013

Review: My Little Pony: Equestria Girls

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls title/logoIt’s the “Mane Six”, only in… human form? Early leaks and promotional info was met with great suspicion and doubt within the MLP community — and still is, since many in the fandom are waiting until it premiers on The Hub in September. Equestria Girls is perhaps the black sheep (black pony? is that too racist?) of the series so far in that while it purports to exist within the same continuity (in fact, it picks up right where season three ends), it remains to be seen if the humanized stuff will be used again, incorporated into later seasons, or if this really was just a one-trick pony of a spin-off. Either way, it is the theatrical debut of the latest generation and that comes with a certain amount of extra scrutiny, regardless of any humanoid gimmicks. Does it hold up on its own? Is the humanoid stuff too weird? Is it, well… good?

The short answer is yes. It’s not the big cinematic experience a lot of fans were probably hoping for (and so will continue hoping) but it’s far from the disaster some thought it might be after first hearing that it was going to take place in a high school with humanized teen versions of the cast. It looks good (mostly) and it sounds good (mostly) and it’s funny and enjoyable enough. It is good. Not great, not terrible, just good.

A three panel composite of Sunset Shimmer looking mischeviously over her shoulder, giving a cocky wave as she prepares to escape, and jumping through the mirror-portal to the human world.

The entire crux of the plot is that Twilight Sparkle’s super special “princess crown” that she got at the end of season three is stolen by Sunset Shimmer (oh ho ho, that naming symbolism!), a pony that has previously only been seen in toy form and some box/promotional art (presumably she will show up in season four but that has yet to be seen). She takes the crown through a mirror-portal-thing to an alternate dimension where, yes, everyone is a human. Sorta. Their skin is still white, yellow, purple, etc., just like their respective pony coats. Hilarity ensues as Twilight must go after Sunset in a fish-out-of-water first act. Second act involves her plan to become the school’s crowned princess at some homecoming-like event because her crown is now being used as the prize. The finale is her inevitably getting it back and saving the day in a showdown with Sunset Shimmer (surprise!).

The humor is pretty good, though easy, in that it’s mostly just watching Twilight and Spike have no idea what they’re doing as a human and dog, respectively. This dynamic has always worked well because the master and attendant relationship they share is comfortable and easy to follow. The rest of the cast don’t follow her through the portal, though, but are still “in the movie” because this alternate world has human versions of them all (though not Twilight herself? Well, it is hinted she may exist in that world too but just go to a different school perhaps, conveniently). So a lot of time is spent getting to know the cast all over again, which I suppose is not a terrible choice considering some may be coming at this movie in the theaters without having seen much or any of the TV series. In fact, the movie, by taking place in an alternate world, manages to dodge all of the problems of necessitating three seasons worth of foreknowledge required of the viewer.

A three panel composite of Twilight Sparkle in human form shocked at her new hands, galloping on all fours with Spike riding on top as usual, and having balance issues going up stairs with her new human legs.

While it is true you needn’t have to have seen any of the series already, longtime fans won’t be stuck twiddling their thumbs while the movie gets everyone else up to speed. The high school and humans setting means that fans get to spend most of the time noticing all of the references, usually in the form humanized secondary/background characters like Lyra, Vinyl Scratch, Big Macintosh, or the ever spunky Cutie Mark Crusaders three. (I’m just gonna go on the record now and say I would be tickled pinkie-pie-pink to see a humanized CMC bonus featurette or something released.)

The problems of the movie are mostly to do with its existence both in the show and out of it. Within the world, the whole endeavor ends up feeling like a huge diversion for nothing. There’s no big moral, Twilight and the others don’t learn anything new, and the end merely manages to get the status quo back to where it was at the beginning of the movie (i.e., she has her crown back). I suppose you could argue that Sunset is now primed for a still-kind-of-a-bitch-but-now-not-evil comeback in the future, or that Twilight is now more comfortable being a princess than she was at first, but these are not really highlighted all that strongly by the dialogue. Everything flows smoothly enough and doesn’t feel like it ever drags too much but there are plenty of times you’ll be taken aback by how dumb some of the characters are (the forged photographs scene in particular, you’ll know what I mean when you see it). Sunset spends too much of the movie doing nothing but effectively twirling her villain mustache without really trying to stop Twilight from fixing everything. Thankfully it is lacking in a lot of the high school drama fans feared but it isn’t without its awkward forced romance moments and that it takes Twilight hardly any effort at all to fix the feud the human girls have to restore their friendship. Makes you wonder why they hadn’t done so already… are they that dumb/petty?

And if the whole ordeal feels a bit unnecessary within the series, it definitely does outside of it in the real world. I mentioned this was the theatrical debut of the series and its existence is kind of a big question mark really. It may not be as bad as some feared but that just means the movie barely avoided being panned by the fandom. Why was it even made? Who was asking for it? The whole thing seems to have come out of nowhere. Humanized ponies exists as a minor niche within the larger bronydom (admittedly more so in the seedy rule 34 part). This first official venture is, like the first season, a bit rough in places (Celestia and Luna look a little too Daria for me) but overall it is easy to get used to and can even occasionally look pretty good.

The mane six in human form with their fancy new dresses right before going to the school dance

Honestly, the entire movie feels like a giant fanfic. I mean, come on… humanized, high school, and with a little minor romance thrown in, all firsts for MLP, but all mainstays of a lot of fimfiction. The movie is absolutely riddled with little nods to the older fans that must have been intentional, but also are the sort of things the fans typically explore in fan art and stories. Let’s look at some glaring examples I noticed off the top of my head (minor spoilers):

  • The fact that they are exploring humanoid forms at all
  • Twilight Sparkle and Flash Sentry shipping, both in the human and pony worlds
  • DJ Pon3 singled out during a song and has her shades pulled off
  • Pinkie’s “Pinkamina” hair during her dressing up montage
  • Spike trying on fake moustaches during that same montage
  • No joke: extended anthro-pony “magical girl” transformations during final fight with Sunset Shimmer's demon form
  • Rainbow Dash lifting up and saddling Scootaloo during finale dance party
  • Derpy with muffin during credits

I mean, come on. Come the fuck on. It’s not that any of these are bad. Some can be a little confusing to non-fans but most go by without notice unless you get the reference. Even if they are kinda funny or pleasing in different ways they feel like such deliberate pandering. To the point that the whole movie feels like it was a fanfic that someone at DHX Media did some minor rewrites on and green-lit for release. Which, I mean, I guess that’s fine, but… yeah.

Anyway, I liked it just fine, especially considering I was in the “this might end up being pretty bad” camp several months ago. I’d even re-watch it, too (already did, in fact).

Though I’m usually a Twilight Sparkle fan (Rarity is a very close second these days), I gotta say Fluttershy ended up making the best pony-to-human transfer.

A human Fluttershy brushes her hair in front of a vanity while a bird holds up a length and her rabbit, Angel, helps brush


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