Warning: This review contains massive spoilers for the movie. If you don't desire to be spoiled, click the back button.
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls is the semi-blockbuster for the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic franchise. The fourth generation has garnered hype and popularity since its inception on October 10, 2012, with the help of the target audience (families), market audience (families and families of little girls), and periphery demographic (everyone else — the teenager-and-up bronies, for example). However, unlike Friendship Is Magic, Equestria Girls's market audience is adolescent girls — ages ten to fourteen. With the premise revealed and controversy surrounding the spinoff, how does the movie itself hold up?
To answer several questions and thoughts before I write the official commentary:
If you watched the
, you'll notice one segment where Twilight has trouble flying, a retcon from the ending from Magical Mystery Cure. The clip from that commercial came from this movie.
Flash Sentry, who was featured not that much and didn't have much dialogue, was a love interest. In passing, Rarity said Flash Sentry and Sunset were a couple, but were broken up. Twilight gained a crush on him, and the two mutually respect each other.
Derpy is featured at least twice in the movie, once deep in the credits dancing to the tune and the second during Equestria Girls (the song). In the latter, she appears walking in the lower-right-hand corner.
There was a common question about why Twilight not stealing the crown back before retreating as fast as she could to the portal. Spike queried to Twilight about telling Twilight why she didn't ask Principal Celestia where it was, but that was the closest it came to this idea. Twilight didn't bother searching for it at any point in the movie.
In the back of Sunset Shimmer's toy packaging, she's references as a former student for Celestia. She was Celestia's former student.
Twilight Sparkle, while in her human form, didn't attended classes (at least on screen).
At no point is the word "human" even uttered.
If you wish to see the plot summary, head to its wiki page here.
Now to my standard review.
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls markets to female teenagers via the content within, but DHX and Meghan McCarthy are responsible for animate and write the movie. On one hand, there is plenty of material to attract the parents and periphery demographic with the wit and humor. On the other, there is so much, from the little details to the characterization to the overall concept, that is extremely patronizing to the periphery demographic to the point of segregating them from the rest of the audience. It has the potential and shows it occasionally, but on the whole, it's one gigantic clunker.
First, there are strengths:
The animation of the ponies is extremely fluid. To repeat, one element from the series that is often overlooked is the quality and improvement of the animal animation. Instead of using Flash as a cost-cutting measure, DHX uses it as a crucial tool to develop the animation and make it as useful as handdrawing them, akin to a full-length Disney animated picture. The same can be said for Spike as both a dragon and dog. The way bot designs move gathers no noticeable hitches or glitches.
In the alternate world, the environmental graphics are solid. It's school, but it feels like a lively school, with bright colors, land, shadows, and many other nuances. In front of Canterlot High is a horse statue that contains numerous details to make it look polished and beautiful. You can see, pause, and observe the details in that statue.
There are no complaints for the excellent voice work. Whenever they talked, the dialogue, reactions, and exclamations didn't sound fake or poorly acted. When Twilight was anxious, she appeared anxious. When Spike was concerned or snarky, he was exactly that. The tones were believable. Sunset Shimmer was a bully, and her aggressive voice (as a human, pony, and bitchy demon) fit her personality.
Like the episodes themselves, one crucial point in the series is both the background musical score and song score.Once more, William Anderson performed well. Each time his score came into play, the mood resonates and correlates. When the situation was calm, the score captured that feeling of calm. When Twilight was anxious or panicking, Anderson's tunes captured that panic. During the lone fight scene, the score revved up to represent adrenaline and urge, and it matched the scene well. And if you are a Star Wars geek like I am, take a listen to the score once Twilight opens Principal Celestia's door open with her head. You'll notice a tiny bit of a Star Wars-esque tune before it switches into something more fitting to Celestia.
Daniel Ingram is responsible for the song score, and what he did really harnessed the feeling of youth. The songs are teen pop, which tends to be upbeat, young, and urban in its music. According to Ingram, this is something very foreign to him, which he did quite well in three songs: A Strange New World: This is the most unique of the songs in terms of tone. In the other songs, you can really notice the similarities in the drums, symbols, and rhythm. In this one, however, the mood is much more different, which means a change of pace in the music. It's lower and doesn't have as much adrenaline compared to the others. Equestria Girls: The second the song begins to plays, there's a tribute to Queen's We Will Rock You. It's by far the catchiest song in the entire movie, and Ingram's upbeat, high-paced score (akin to a song played at a baseball game during a road team's mound conference) revs up tremendous adrenaline, starting small and then climatically ending on a continuously high note. The instrumental theme for the characters' transformation. If you're going to give this moment any impact, it's important to put in a great score for it. Ingram did exactly that, combining the teen pop genre with the feeling of magic and majesty in the instruments.
[*]The characterization of the humans is rather decent. Twilight's misadventures as a human really fits her, for she transformed from a pony so suddenly. As for the other humans, their dialogue fits their personalities and roles (Principal Celestia, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, etc.).
[*]But there's one human who stole the show in some capacity: Pinkie Pie. If you love Pinkie Pie, you'll love her glorious performance. For almost the entire movie, she was extremely in character and random, but didn't behave like a mindless clone from Too Many Pinkie Pies. Whatever she was going to say, you had no idea when or where. But whenever she did, it fit her so well. She wasn't random for the sake of it nor was she random during very crucial, dire moments. If she was serious, she was. When she was surprised, she was surprised. When she wanted to surprise someone with her hilarious antics, you had no idea how, whether it's her "hunch," breaking the fourth wall, or hanging upside-sown with a megaphone in her hand. She was fantastic here and gave her character so much justice.
[*]A little detail, but Principal Celestia shone early in the movie. Her sassy, snarky expression once Twilight entered her office was funny, and she showed both patience and impatience. In that small clip, she displayed a bigger sense of character than her pony counterpart: her strength of wisdom, but a psychological flaw of greater importance and not wanting to waste time taking needless conversations.
[*]When Spike is well-written, he is a tremendous character, and he was excellent here. The design choice of him being Twilight's dog is still stupid because it relegated him to a pet instead of Twilight's surrogate brother, but he was the level-headed figure of the duo. He was intelligent, witty, and the wiser of the two. He sometimes said something that was hilarious and not as smart as he hoped, but he knew Twilight very well and guided her whenever she got stuck, lost, or anxious. DHX, this is how Spike SHOULD be written: not a comedic butt of jokes, but a character who's worth his screentime and attention to the audience. Suffice it to say, it's his best role since The Crystal Empire.
[*]Twilight Sparkle was adorkable, but not the same Twilight compared to season three. All of the character growth from the pilot to Magical Mystery Cure was retained: nervous, mature, capable of quickly regaining her composure. Her leadership, which isn't highlighted as much as it should, played a role in many parts of the movie, from making her human companions of her friends friends again to being the one who helped clean up the mess in the hall to leading the chase in the end.
That said, there are many issues, some small, some quite big.
One big issue in many of season three's episodes is the pace, either because it's too fast or too slow. This issue is evident here on many occasions. a. Twilight was transformed into a human and had to adapt in order to retrieve her Element of Harmony. In what is a seventy-minute movie, Twilight had to adapt to being a human in only three days. Transformation from one species to another is not as easy to adapt as you logically think. Think about a baby walking. When a baby tries to walk the first time, he or she will stumble and fall down. Eventually, the baby will walk, but it won't happen right away. It takes plenty of time to adjust, and this example applies to Twilight. She's smart, but isn't going to go from acting like a four-legged mammal to a human who's capable of wiggling her fingers and walking on her two feet in a couple of days. Getting used to having different anatomy takes plenty of time to adapt, and it's too quick. b. A common issue in the series: explaining a villain's backstory with as little detail as possible. Sunset Shimmer is the main villain in the entire movie, and Celestia didn't explain her history as thoroughly as she should. If given one or two more minutes to explain her past more, then Shimmer's transformation from a confident student to a dishonest, egotistical bully might've made more sense. Instead, Celestia's explanation was rushed and only opened up more questions regarding her past. Sunset's flimsy excuse following her defeat didn't close the door on these questions, but rather left them just as open, if not more. c. Twilight's crush, Flash Sentry (a.k.a., Brad), is boring and flat. As a character, he has very little personality. Sure, he's supposed to be kind and gentlemanly, but when he spoke, there was so little to demonstrate something from him that stands out and make him thoroughly three-dimensional. Any physical, psychological, and emotional flaws that make the characters thrive are absent, and he had so few roles to make him verbally stand out. Basically, he was a tertiary character. d. The mutual respect for both Flash Sentry and Twilight resorts to three common clichés: Flash helping Twilight to her feet; Flash and Twilight bumping into each other, having a "crush-y" moment, and Flash being Sunset's ex-boyfriend. The latter cliché is such a major copout for two reasons: It creates unnecessary conflict (which never got brought up following the revelation), and it's written as a cheap excuse to hook Twilight and Flash up. If you want to write genuinely good quality cruses and romance, don't fall for these stupid traps that intellectually insult your audience. Furthermore, the family-friendly romantic feelings were implausibly developed. At one point, they met. The next, Twilight developed a crush. The third, Flash and Twilight developed mutual respect for each other. There was so much going on, no time for them to mutually communicate was given. e. The plot, from the beginning to the end, crammed way too much information for it to flow plausibly. This is a seventy-minute movie that featured several plot points, and it's up to McCarthy and the rest of DHX to have everything flow smoothly and plausibly: Twilight learning how to be a human, regain the crown, team up with her Human Five counterparts, defeat Sunset Shimmer, develop a crush on Flash Sentry along the way, and return home all in three days. What was given the ample opportunity to develop everything well was cut for the required time given for the movie. When you're forced to cut corners to cram so much detail, you run the risk of really diminishing the quality of the story. That's exactly the case here, with the plot going, "too much information, too little time." If anything, this movie should've been longer.
While the animation of the ponies and other animals is fluent, the humans are very subpar. With the exception of the twirling during Equestria Girls, the humans don't appear fluid at all. For one, the squash and stretch (an important principle in animation) are missing most of the time. When they walk and run, it doesn't have that organic motor of their legs. When the characters walk, run, pose, or throw, it's as if I turned on a machine. Instead of using Flash as a crucial tool to produce high-quality animation, it comes across as a crutch to cut corners. While a nitpick, Snails carried that wheelbarrow full of bricks as if it was empty. One brick alone is extremely heavy, and he's pushing at least a dozen. That's about two hundred pounds of bricks. For a team that takes its physics very seriously, DHX slipped up here.
The cause of the division of the Human Five is out of character. While teens are extremely naïve, the Human Five are extremely intelligent, and they were all friends when they went to High School as freshmen. When Sunset Shimmer sabotaged their friendship with questionable messages, in-character beings of themselves would've gone to the supposed messengers and ask if they genuinely sent them. If they weren't friends to begin with, then that's not a problem, but it's very problematic and didn't make sense.
While the callback to the pilot with Fluttershy being shy to Twilight is fine as a concept, it doesn't make sense as she communicated with Sunset Shimmer. Following the confrontation, Fluttershy wouldn't have been as shy to talk with Twilight, who helped her and saved her from getting any more verbal abuse. If Fluttershy was quiet and meek while communicating with Sunset Shimmer, then the correlation wouldn't have been a problem.
The periphery demographic is segregated from both the market and target audiences, relying on constant current pop culture and brony references to retain attention. While it's fine to reference the brony fandom in the form of Vinyl Scratch (with and without her shades), Trixie, Photo Finish, and Derpy, it's important to balance everything out with well-written plotlines, intelligent dialogue, and thorough characterization; this movie forced itself to divide the demographics.
I called this out way too many times, particularly in my editorial. The human character designs are extremely formulaic, both male and female (with very few exceptions [i.e., Snips, Snails, Celestia, Granny Smith]). What makes the ponies stand out is how individual they all look even from either a basic silhouette. The pony base design is so strong, a mane and tail are all needed to create a character in a basic shape. With the humans, however, the hair immediately recognizes who the characters are, but that isn't enough, especially if going by a basic template (and to replicate well-recognized characters). Here, you need to really make the clothing varied to make the characters individual, and altering clothing like the skirts or boots just a little bit isn't enough. You need extreme variations in the height, anatomy, clothing, and so on to make them recognizable in a basic outline. For the Mane Six, besides Rainbow Dash's athletic pants, they're so similar; you can swap the completed designs from one to another, and they'll still fit. I repeated this in my editorial, so I'll copy and paste it:
While Equestria Girls is both well-sung and well-composed, the other songs' lyrics are extremely repetitive. A Strange New World used the same message over and over again, while This Is Our Big Night (both the original and reprise) continued the same lyrics and tune. The latter is short, but it could've used much more variety to make the lyrics much more interesting. The creative genius that we normally see in the lyrics and song score is lost in its repetition and lack of necessity. The song played during the credits, A Friend for Life, albeit interesting and brings back the implied message My Little Pony: Equestria Girls sends, is very forgettable. It doesn't have catchy lyrics nor the bouncy rhythm that makes Equestria Girls intriguing to listen and see.
Although the Human Six are in character, with the exception of Pinkie Pie, Spike, and Rarity (to an extent), the dialogue comes across as stilted. What makes great, three-dimensional characterization isn't merely having them be in character, but also not being able to predict somewhat what they're going to say. Whenever Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Twilight, and Applejack spoke, I honestly expected what they were saying. It doesn't have to be an exact match, as long as the message correlates. Pinkie's characterization was great because you didn't expect what she was saying, but you can here with almost everyone else. It isn't only the Human Six, either. Sunset Shimmer, Snips, Snails, Vice Principal Luna, and Flash Sentry have the same issue, too. As they each spoke, I could predict what they were about to say. Rainbow Dash, despite being in character, had the worst dialogue. Her lines are not only way too stilted, but also too simple and limited in her vocabulary. Review the movie and see how much she says the word, "awesome." There's a big difference between in character and a combination of in character and three-dimensional. Most of the characterizations leaned on the former rather than the ladder.
For a character who was supposed to replicate wisdom and intelligence, Vice Principal Luna showed none in her brief appearances, especially while interrogating Twilight in her office. Instead, we got someone who couldn't recognize a blatant cutout. The picture of Twilight causing the mess in the gym isn't a photoshop. It's an image with Twilight cut out and glued on the front to make it look like she caused the mess. Any vice principal with an ounce of intelligence would immediately recognize the ploy. Paper has texture, and you can feel the image being cut out immediately. The real Vice Principal Luna would notice this immediately, find Sunset Shimmer, and interrogate her rather than rely on a semi-Deus Ex Machina to get Twilight out of trouble. Simply put, Vice Principal Luna is an atrociously, out-of-character idiot.
The story's extremely predictable, playing it way too safe. While Friendship Is Magic mostly developed the characters conservatively, the writers aren't afraid to throw a curveball to make the plot interesting and accessible, sending a message to families (of little girls/teens) that good quality, fresh entertainment is available out there. But instead of throwing a great curveball that makes the audience whistle by how nasty it broke, Uncle Charlie lazily hung in the middle of the strike zone. This movie doesn't play fresh one iota. Instead, it sticks to the common clichés in high school with nothing genuinely interesting or faithful to the main series to keep things interesting. It's the typical "newcomer-arrives-at-High-School-meets-new-friends-gains-her-bully's-ex-as-a-crush-kicks-bully's-ass-and-the-story-ends-happily" plot, only with My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic slapped on the front to make it appear related. It's extremely formulaic; I felt like I honestly saw or read the same plot in another book or show.
Snips and Sails are extremely unrecognizable as characters. Sure, their faces, bodies, and voices exist, but there's a difference in seeing them visually and seeing, hearing, and identifying them. Snips and Snails spoke, but they're not them. In Equestria, Snips and Snails are innocent-minded characters. While they tend to say and do stupid things, they're not evil. In the alternate world, they're evil! They're villains, and that's NOT them! They're a dumber version of Diamond Diara and Silver Spoon, but as males instead of females. "Alternate Universe" is no excuse for disrespecting the original characterization and making them different characters with "Snips" and "Snails" slapped on the obverse.
Sunset Shimmer is a TERRIBLE character. There was so much criticism for King Sombra for being flat and boring, with nearly nothing to make him a full-fledged, developed character. However, Sombra still has plenty of potential to become such a dastardly villain that Discord would squirm. Sunset Shimmer is just bland and uninteresting. As a personality, she is the typical, high-school-clichéd, one-dimensional bitch. What could've been a highly manipulative, calculative, cocky, greedy, proud villain is relegated into a cardboard with the typical bully, with bright colors and a black jacket dressing her. Swap the shared "personality" Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon had from One Bad Apple into Sunset Shimmer, and you have the same character with only a different character design and voice to separate them. Also, if she was interested in obtaining magical genius while studying under Celestia's tutelage, then why would she decide to venture into Canterlot High, a place where magic is much more obscure and difficult to conjure, in the first place? Instead, wouldn't she venture to another area to study harder, like a restricted section in the school library or another school where she feels she can study to her very best? Celestia describes Shimmer as hardworking to a huge fault, greedy, and thirsty to be the best sage. Greed and pride can describe Shimmer fantastically, but it wasn't used properly for her because the concept of the alternate world shuts down magic, and she behaved dimwittedly. Instead of shutting down her perceived intelligence to make Twilight and the rest of the characters better, use her intelligence to make both Twilight and Sunset equal rivals, and use Twilight's intelligence to problem-solve. Then there's her excuse why she became cruel and dishonest: Her reason for becoming so evil is flimsy and shallow, making her a flatter, dumber character, and inorganically shoehorning the Magic of Friendship in the canon. Her cruelty needs to have much more basis than this. If she's going to be evil, don't throw in a rushed two-liner. Give her evil a basis to make her evil solid, logical, and empathetic. In the ending, Sunset is at her most vulnerable. Show us why we should feel sympathy for her. That throwaway line doesn't give her character justice. Instead, bullshit is delivered, stomping on any integrity her concept once had.
The ending makes no sense. a. Like the rest of the plot, the climax was way too quick. There was so much to deliver, explain, show, and tell, but the whole battle was crammed into five minutes. b. A second Deus Ex Machina bloomed. Flash showing up to get Twilight out of trouble was the first. The second came here when Twilight and her human friends harnessed the power of the Elements of Harmony. While the Elements of Harmony were definitely going to impact the movie somehow, Twilight was able to activate its power without the tools necessary to activate the Magic of Friendship. If the physical tools were unnecessary, then why did Discord steal them in Return of Harmony, and why did Twilight have to safeguard them from Keep Calm and Flutter On to Magical Mystery Cure? The DEM handwaves the purpose of having the tangible objects to begin with (using that "intangible tangibles" cliché) and creates a big plothole that the universe didn't need having. c. As funny as Twilight was in the dance, her going to the Fall Formal at the end is completely out of character of her. She's running on time, and she barely entered through the portal before the clock ran out. What if she went into the Formal and didn't make it on time? She would really regret doing it. It would've been best for the plot if Twilight went on to say, "no," say goodbye to her friends, and leave for home. d. The fact that Twilight went back to her world this quickly is just plain stupid! This event is a very big change for her to adapt. High School and the Fall Formal are completely foreign environments, and it's up for her to adapt as well as she plausibly can. Furthermore, it's up to her to survive. But to be there from the beginning of the movie to returning to her own world makes no sense. 1. It shows right from the get-go that this movie's primary purpose is to sell toys. The plot is second-nature, and it shows how much how DHX has to try to cram such a dumb concept into the plot in order for the alternate dimension to make sense professionally and canonically. 2. It's such a huge mea culpa and exemplifies why converting Twilight from an alicorn back to a unicorn is such a stupid idea. It tells the audience that DHX spits on the concept and wants to do whatever it can to "rectify" an idea that's so unfaithful to Friendship Is Magic's roots. But this plot point is so cheap and admits to the audience that the movie shouldn't have been made, period. DHX and Meghan McCarthy are implying, "This movie conceptually sucks, and we'll do whatever it takes to get out of it." It's as if McCarthy ran into Writer's Block and sifted through The Generic Book of Generic Clichés just to escape. It have It takes whatever "soul" — or lack thereof — Equestria Girls already "had" and destroys it. If DHX wanted to disguise the blatant toy promotion more convincingly, have Twilight not be able to return during the movie. As in, the only way to get back to Equestria is to wait for the next thirty moons or have Twilight adapt in High School, better expand the Magic of Friendship to Sunset Shimmer, battle through rough times in High School, become triumphant, and graduate. But this canonical method is cheap and lame: It tells the audience that DHX and Hasbro don't desire to explain and expand this world further.
Finally, this movie as a whole has absolutely no soul. Just because there are patches of great work doesn't mean the passion is exactly there. It's very possible to churn high-quality work just for the sake of it. The movie's concept is extremely typical, but McCarthy and the rest of the crew didn't do something to make it stand out and make it not only differentiate from the rest of the typical High School plotlines, but also faithful to the roots of Friendship Is Magic. The concept is old to the core, but McCarthy could've still done something to make My Little Pony: Equestria Girls refreshing and not fall into the samey plotlines that have killed many movies (both blockbuster features and home videos). But Equestria Girls didn't dare to take chances and slapped in many brony references to capture the periphery demographic's attention. Too much was crammed in simultaneously, forcing the movie to hold its breath until the credits rolled. Like a furious and impatient conductor rolling through his or her notes, Equestria Girls speeds through one page after another and cuts corners to fit everything into one package. It's completely different to Magical Mystery Cure, where the path wasn't linear. Here, it was very linear with no thoroughly great characterization, poorly done character development, and the overall impression that DHX and Hasbro didn't care for the overall quality and performance of the movie at all. Executive meddling is no excuse for giving My Little Pony: Equestria Girls a Dementor's Kiss.
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls is a spinoff with the ability to expand the universe into more uncharted, interesting territories. Despite a concept that doesn't stay faithful to the core of the main series, the Next Big Thing for Friendship Is Magic provided ample opportunity for Hasbro and DHX to take it and make something fresh and good out of it. There are patches of high-quality characterization (primarily in Pinkie Pie and Spike), music, character backstories, and overall potential. Instead, the story is safe; the humans' animation is inorganic; the lyrics are often repetitive or forgettable; and the overall script quality is sacrificed for time. In what could have been a great way to sidestep executive meddling and send a message to families, adolescent girls, and the overall periphery demographic that the High School concept can show a breath of fresh air, the clichés deliver the opposite, disappointing message and further prove that the concept just doesn't work. Although the potential is there, what is executed instead is mostly a convoluted, lazy, soulless mess. Overall, My Little Pony: Equestria Girls is a terrible movie.