Yeah, I loved the G5 movie so much more than I expected, a brief summary of my thoughts in the review thread wasn't enough for me. This is my full review. Spoilers are ahead, but I do my best to only spoil what I need to.
My Little Pony: A New Generation, the movie that has recently been released as an introduction to Generation 5 and a promotion for the upcoming Generation 5 series, is so much better than it should be. If you’ve seen most other reviews of this movie so far, you will hear similar remarks about this movie’s unexpectedly high quality, some MLP fans even going so far to regard it as better than the theatrically released Friendship is Magic film.
What went right here? How did discussion of this upcoming generation go from being dominated by skepticism to being dominated by optimism overnight? In this review of the film, I’m going to try to find the answer by breaking down exactly why this movie worked and why you should at least give it a chance if you are still undecided on your feelings about this new generation.
Art and Animation
I’m starting by going over the film’s aesthetic, since this is the part of the movie that even those who used to be skeptics like myself were pleasantly surprised by upon viewing the early animation reveals and art teasers. The 3D animation in this movie is gorgeous for a children’s cartoon flick not even being theatrically released worldwide. With fluid motion, impressively detailed character designs, and vivid, realistic backgrounds that blend well with the characters in their environments, helping everything appear even more vibrant and colorful than it already is, little is left to be desired.
Pixar quality? I would not go that far. However, even as someone who prefers 2D animation, I refuse to let that bias sully my appreciation for the time and effort that went into the visuals for this movie. In fact, whether or not they downgrade from 3D to 2D for the show is something I hold no strong opinion of one way or the other regardless of outcome because of this film’s animation. It even boasts a beautiful 2D animated short of FiM’s main characters at the start that, in my opinion, showcases the best 2D MLP animation we’ve seen yet.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to overrate the animation, but I can’t laugh at it either, especially with some of the 3D animation horrors I have seen on major children’s networks recently. This is definitely as good as animation for a children’s movie not produced by a renowned-name studio and skipping theaters gets.
Next thing I will discuss is the music, more specifically, the songs in this movie that is technically, like many MLP specials and movies, a musical. In my personal opinion, none of the songs in this movie were bad, not even my least favorite song of the movie, It’s Alright. It’s a generic party pop music song with simple lyrics, and it had me worried that the music in this movie would be lacking variety once I heard the early release of the song following the early release of Glowin’ Up, also a pop song. Thankfully, that proved to not be the case.
Even what many call their least favorite song of the movie, Danger, Danger (Angry Mob), displays variety with a rock theme, albeit one I can almost swear is ripped off from The Offspring’s Self-Esteem. The lyrics of said song, I enjoy regardless as lyrics that are not meant to be taken seriously, a humorous take on an antagonistic character’s descent into greater evil. The change in the upbeat, lighthearted tone of the music from early in the film, with the aspiring, cheerful main character’s theme song, Gonna Be My Day, is welcome for the turning point of the movie that sets the stage for the climax. That’s the strength of this movie’s music in a nutshell, always fitting for its characters and themes.
My opinion of It’s Alright even improved once I heard how well it fit with the dance competition scene it accompanied, and while I always enjoyed Glowin’ Up and Gonna Be My Day, they, like all the songs, would not be the same songs to me now without keeping in mind the scenes they are made for. And yes, that also includes the relatively infamous “cringe rap” scene from Fit Right In. Come on people, you compare Izzy Moonbow to Pinkie Pie all the time, a character who also did a “cringe rap”. You know pulling something goofy like that suits her.
All in all, the soundtrack for this movie is not on par with Daniel Ingram’s work for the generation prior, but it still shines for what it’s worth, even without a big name like Sia. Sia’s Rainbow from the G4 theatrical film is still timeless, but it stands best on its own to me. And even without Sofia Carson’s Glowin’ Up, the feature presentation celebrity song, I won’t be forgetting how well the events of this movie blend with the music any time soon.
The humor in this movie, unlike the music, is not something I was ever really concerned wouldn’t appeal to me after watching the trailers. Outside of some blatant pop culture references, there are no real juvenile, cheap laughs. I even liked the Terminator reference in the background, Judgment Neigh sadly looks like it would be a better watch than some of the more recent Terminator films. And on the subject of references and background gags, there are some very clever jokes referencing FiM that were fun to catch. My favorite is the one in Zephyr Heights, where on one of the TV screens displayed by a building, you can see an advertisement for Moon Pies with Princess Luna’s cutie mark. Priceless.
The flow of the comedy in this movie, I adored. No joke was obnoxiously repeated or drawn out for too long, the only real running gag of the film I recall is one I remember because it was genuinely funny, a gag about an earth pony being carried away by balloons. You see him in the background screaming later, and then at the end, when he finally lands after being out of the loop of everything that’s transpired in the film…it’s brilliant.
Character interactions, although I will save discussion of the characters for later, were my favorite part of the humor of this movie. I love it when I see jokes that would not have worked for characters if they did not have the personality they did. The rap scene I mentioned from earlier could have only worked with Izzy’s song the same way a joke Izzy makes with Zipp Storm couldn’t have worked without her. It’s when Zipp says, “Don’t tell them you saw me!”, before leaving and Izzy replies…
“There's no way we could, we don’t even know your nnnaaammmeee!”
The reason that line is so funny is not just because of the way she says it to try and match Zipp descending a gorge, it’s also because she’s the only one who would do such a thing. In addition, it’s also not just a case of, “HA HA, A CHARACTER IS BEING DUMB, LAUGH!”, no. It’s also a clever mockery of their current situation, how could they rat Zipp out if they didn’t even know who she was? It puts me in mind of FiM’s self-aware jokes. The humor in this movie isn’t just good in its own right, it captures the spirit of FiM’s humor beautifully too.
This is the big one, the main reason why this movie ended up being surprisingly good. This is the part that many, including myself, were most hesitant to laud. Interestingly, however, the plot of this movie would have still been the easiest part of this movie to grant some leeway, being that it involves My Little Pony and is a sequel to a series fans of like myself do not expect to be surpassed in quality. I still went into the movie expecting the plot to work for what it was though, and what I got was something that worked much better than that in ways I never expected.
Let’s start with the negatives, of which there are few. The premise of this movie, like the premise of the G4 theatrical movie, plays things simple and safe with a “quest to get a magical item to save the day, wacky hijinks ensue along the way” style plot. Though there’s much more to the plot than just that, the way the movie needs to move this plot along does unfortunately omit some background lore that feels needed up to the viewer’s imagination. The “villain” of this movie, Sprout, is debatably not even the villain at all, not just because of the movie’s implication that the real villain is fear itself, but because he is the son of a Karen and a mama’s boy.
If you think that description sounds crude, trust me, it’s not. There’s even something positive I can say about Sprout, and that’s that I like how he naturally progressed from being a bratty kid, to a cowardly jerk, to a power-hungry maniac from his mother’s influence. That’s sadly more than what can be said for The Storm King from the G4 theatrical film, where you were essentially told that if you wanted to know his backstory, you had to read the comics. Yes, I can even speak positively of the movie’s weakest aspect, note that as a good sign as we move on to the positives…
Even though I previously spoke something negative of the movie’s pace, it’s only a minute flaw I acknowledge, the lack of lore. You know you are watching a good movie if it has you craving lore. I actually really like this movie’s pacing, how no scene is padded and everything that seems like an added touch at first ties in with something crucial later. For example, Sunny’s letter turns out to be what set the entire story of the movie in motion later. Difficult as it is to speak of these kinds of moments without giving away too much, my favorite key moment of the movie that was foreshadowed magnificently is close to the end.
It involves a picture Sunny keeps hanging on the wall as a memento of her late father. Every time it gets knocked out of place in the movie, she puts it right back in place, excluding the point of the movie’s build to the climax, where Sunny leaves it hanging crookedly, disillusioned over what she believes is her father’s ideals being proven wrong. When I first saw this part of the movie, I thought it was simply building to a scene for the happy ending where she would just simply put the picture back up again. However, instead, it ties into this scene showing what the other characters need to do in order to have a happy ending.
Obviously, this came back to the movie’s major theme of rejecting division and embracing unity, which would not have worked if it was forced down the viewer’s throat in a ham-fisted way designed to disparage the viewer for holding contradictory beliefs. The movie is surprisingly written in a way so that it is very difficult to infer that the writer’s intent is to immaturely shame others for not conforming to a “golden standard”. It was done so well that even if I was not familiar with the movie’s theme done similarly in Friendship is Magic, I still would’ve appreciated it. The primary reason why I enjoy this movie’s theme is because of how well we see it exemplified by the movie’s cast of main characters.
I saved discussion of the characters for last, feeling it’s the perfect continuation for the discussion of the story, a story that I was very impressed to see be largely character-driven. This is, believe it or not, the make it or break it category, not the writing of the plot as important as that is too. Why? Simply put, this movie does not stand on its own, it’s the prelude to a TV series. One could forgive the plot of this movie being underwhelming if they were to be captivated enough by the characters introduced to check out what they’re like in the show. I would know, since in spite of how much I’ve praised the plot, I actually like the main character cast of this movie better than the plot.
I’m serious. One criticism I see for this movie is that the plot didn’t give the main characters enough development, a criticism I disagree with. I’ve not seen anyone deny yet that all of them had very endearing traits that made them lovable, but I’ve also not seen anyone go into detail yet about why this movie’s character cast was so well-introduced for a children’s film shorter than ninety minutes, discounting credits.
The reason why the character development in this movie works ties in with the movie’s central theme. Every main character goes through a positive character arc, where a character becomes better through overcoming a lie they believe. The lie in this case is that the ponies in the movie are right to embrace paranoia and division. If the writing of this movie was less intelligent, the characters would have a stupid reason to believe this lie and be strawmen for the main character, Sunny Starscout, to effortlessly tear apart. No such thing happens, and not just because the characters are all given a good reason to be the way they are despite being misguided in their beliefs, that reason being that they’re products of their environment. It’s also because Sunny’s character is flawed.
What I love so much about Sunny’s character is not just the fact that she is flawed, a complete subversion of our worries that she would be a Mary Sue, but the fact that she experiences loss. The golden rule of good character writing is to make your characters suffer, and oh boy, does Sunny suffer. She isn’t liked by any pony in her town, with the exception of Hitch Trailblazer, she endures being humiliated publicly every year for going against the town’s beliefs, she loses her father at a young age, and to embark on her journey, she risks losing her only friend.
Being the only character in the movie besides her father who knew the truth about how the pony tribes were all supposed to be together, a flat character arc, where a character who has no personal lie to overcome changes the world around them, actually could have worked for Sunny. However, it is shown through Sunny’s first interaction with Izzy that she too has been affected by the lie everyone in the movie believes, giving credence to bizarre, insulting misconceptions about unicorns.
Even Izzy, who seems like a pure spirit, is no different. It takes time for her too to see that what she believes about earth ponies is wrong after she meets Sunny. Despite being the movie’s innocent comic relief character for most of the film, she straight-up admits in her song, Fit Right In, that what she now believes about earth ponies and pegasi is wildly different from what she believed at the start. That goes for Zipp too, she’s a rebel who realizes that the lies she’s gone along with are wrong. Her intentions in helping Sunny and Izzy are pure, but she can’t deny the way her role in maintaining a deceitful system has influenced her, leading her to deceive and work against her own family. It’s not a black-and-white conflict.
In most other movies like this made now, there is no way the script would allow characters with flaws like this to be anything more than caricatures of elitist bigots, let alone to star as main characters with likable personalities. That’s why kid’s movies like this are smart to be subtle and use both the world they are set in and their own limitations to their advantage. I know, Zootopia says hi, but that’s a completely different subject. Even the “villains” of this movie who are indeed caricatures, Phyllis of a Karen, Queen Haven of a snooty celebrity, and Sprout of…Kim Jong-un, I suppose, are not just pure evil. Phyllis tries to stop her son once she realizes he’s gone too far, Haven genuinely cares about her daughters, and Sprout genuinely cares about his mother. For the writers to breathe redeeming qualities into characters like that, it makes clear what their intent for the protagonists is, to have them be flawed like real people, not cartoon parodies.
Take Pipp for example. Being the least developed of the main characters, she could have easily just been written as a parody of an internet celebrity. It may seem that way at first glance, but Pipp actually does have a story of development, albeit a short one. She starts off content with her people believing a lie about her because she believes they’re better off that way. Once that lie is exposed, she becomes hated, ruining her life as a star. Initially, she resents her sister for costing her a life of fame, but eventually warms up to the group, realizing that being loved by real friends is better than being loved by strangers.
Or for a better example, look at Hitch. He could’ve easily just been written as a parody of a cop, but not only is he a model police officer, he is also a model citizen. He’s loved by the entire town, has put his life on the line to help others, has his mortgage paid off, is loved by animals, and plays a minor antagonistic role in the first half of the film before joining the group. Not a joke, even his cynicism that justifies his defense of the status quo is understandable. He’s the perfect contrast to the optimistic Sunny, who we are supposed to be rooting for, yet at no point of the movie is he made unlikable to make Sunny look better. Towards the end of the movie, when it seems that Hitch might have been right while Sunny might have been wrong, you feel terrible for Sunny even if Hitch happens to be your favorite character. Oh yeah, and then he risks his life to help Sunny during the movie’s climax. Exactly why he’s my favorite.
I don’t even feel the need to put in a good word for Alphabittle and Argyle, at least not a long one. Alphabittle was a decent “sly schemer” character who I’m glad would’ve defeated Sunny had he not gone easy on her and Argyle was an admirable father figure who I was sad to see go so early. You get the idea, I love this character cast, including the characters I love to not like. Character writing was the strong point of this movie to me, and that’s rightfully so.
My final verdict is going to be straight to the point. This movie deserves a chance at the very least, give it one. The poor promotion and marketing of it preceding its release was certainly misleading. Does that mean I would recommend it to everyone? No. Does that mean I would recommend it to every MLP fan? Again, no. However, I would absolutely recommend it to every MLP fan who is still plagued by G5 anxiety, feeling their hopes for the new generation being good were quashed. Even watching the movie to find out that it’s not for you is better than leaving your emotions unchecked.
I was in the exact same situation. When I was following the early information releases, I was pessimistic and anxious. Even watching the movie now, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s no masterpiece and that it’s even possible for the show to do nothing with lightning in a bottle. However, it’s only not a masterpiece in the traditional sense. As a follow-up to Friendship is Magic, this movie was perfect for accomplishing its purpose. All it was trying to do was set the stage for a show. Just like the show before it though, it’s an accidental masterpiece. In that regard, it’s definitely a worthy successor.
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