Jump up, make a sound! Hey! Stomp your hooves, turn around! And with a word of warning for spoilers, let's review “My Little Pony: Equestria Girls”.
This first feature-length movie to be based on the immensely popular “Friendship is Magic” series was granted a limited cinema release earlier this year, just a few weeks after it was unveiled to an incredibly polarised reaction. As if the idea of transforming our main protagonist, Twilight Sparkle, into an alicorn princess at the end of the third season wasn't enough to upset a large amount of the fanbase, much has been said about Hasbro's equally controversial decision to produce a feature with a premise involving all the pony characters being portrayed as humans. And after seeing the movie for myself, it most definitely exceeds all high or low expectations, especially given its severe initial backlash, but it's also not without its problems. Picking up where the Season 3 finale, “Magical Mystery Cure” left off, the story centres on Twilight Sparkle, who still has great concerns over how she will take to her new royal responsibilities. The bitterly envious Sunset Shimmer, a former student of Twilight's mentor Princess Celestia, breaks into the castle one night, stealing Twilight's crown and taking it with her through a magical mirror. Without it, the Elements of Harmony are powerless, leaving the fate of Equestria hanging in the balance. Unable to be accompanied by her closest friends (although quickly joined by faithful dragon Spike), Twilight must venture through the mirror alone, where she is transported to an alternate universe where she is a human teenager, and Spike is her talking puppy companion. Whilst adjusting to her new body and lack of magical abilities, she must track down Sunset Shimmer and reclaim her crown by entering and surviving three days of high school, where she will soon find herself accompanied by a group of girls reminiscent of her Ponyville friends.
The first element that is immediately admirable is the same one that is consistently praiseworthy in the show: the visual appearances of the characters and the world that surrounds them. Once again, DHX Media lovingly uses Flash to produce a bold, colourful, and superbly animated film with exceptional detail and motion. This is not an easy style of animation to make look attractive, but this studio always does a splendid job at bringing this generation of “My Little Pony” to life, and the outstanding visuals presented here show no exception of their skills. The entirely recognisable voice cast including Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, Ashleigh Ball, Cathy Weseluck, Nicole Oliver, and the always-impeccable Tara Strong, are all on top-notch form once again, providing great vocal performances for this group of memorable and very likeable characters, even if Ashleigh Ball is unfortunately handed the short straw here. Her characters Applejack and Rainbow Dash are disappointingly underused in contrast to the others. Rarity is also a little downplayed, but her screen time is used to memorable effect as she provides many of the movie's funniest moments, particularly with a scene where she bursts out “I've got it!” in the middle of a quiet café, attracting the attention of everyone inside. In her first non-singing role in the entire series, Rebecca Shiochet excels in the antagonist role, assisting in making Sunset Shimmer a fun villain to watch throughout.
Many references to the parent series and its immense “brony” fanbase are featured here, including a scene where Apple Bloom, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle watch their Cutie Mark Crusaders song online and observe the comments. Fun fact: if you search “cutie mark crusaders song” on YouTube and click the first result, the comments that Apple Bloom reads out in the movie are actually the two top comments on the video. There's also plenty of fun to be found throughout solely through finding dozens of additional cameos as we see most of the familiar characters in humanized forms. These include the mandatory walk-on cameo from fan favourite Derpy, and a hilarious scene featuring “the great and powerful Trixie”, and her new-found affection for peanut butter crackers. Apparently, this is one of the scenes that The Hub cuts for commercials, so therefore I would recommend opting to watch this on Blu-ray or DVD rather than a televised broadcast. One of my favourite characters in the show is Princess Cadance (yes, you read that right), and as such I was a bit disappointed that she was one of the few who didn't have a human counterpart, but understandably, it would be difficult to fit her into this alternate universe. To appropriately accompany the high school setting, the soundtrack takes on a different style than is usually seen in the series, with the songs leaning closer to a pop chart music style as opposed to the Disney or Broadway musical style that is often used in the show. However, the soundtrack is mostly still an impressive one, with numbers such as “This is Our Big Night” and “Helping Twilight Win The Crown” retaining the catchy, upbeat, and good-spirited nature frequently present and admired in the music featured in the show.
The weakest elements of “Equestria Girls” reside in the screenplay and the pacing. Although not intended to branch out beyond its intended audiences, those being the existing fanbases, the first flaw is the absence of a recap of the complete story so far, and re-introduction of the characters. Instead the film just assumes that you know who everyone is and are up-to-date with the main series, meaning that knowledge of previous events is essential before viewing. The biggest problem I found with the movie is its tendency to overstuff its narrative. Twilight's re-introductions to the main characters in the human world are mostly skimmed through briefly, save for a re-introduction to Fluttershy that is almost near-identical to Twilight's original encounter with her in the very first episode. And with Twilight adjusting to and discovering this alternate dimension and meeting its inhabitants, including a relatively weak love interest named Flash Sentry, trying to reclaim her crown, preparing for the high school's ball, the musical numbers, a final conflict between Twilight and Sunset, as well as dozens of references and cameos, this movie tries to cram a great amount of numerous plot points and details into a running time of just 76 minutes, but it's far too rushed to allow many of them to properly develop. Ultimately, through whatever missteps it takes, “Equestria Girls” still manages to be a fun and enjoyable feature that should be given a chance, and which can also effectively stand on its own feet as a one-off special. Whether you consider it canon to “Friendship is Magic” or not is up to you as it works both ways.
There's only one way for me for properly conclude this review, and here it is...
Dear Princess Celestia,
Today I was reminded of a lesson that I learned long ago: that it is wrong to judge something on its initial appearance without giving it a proper chance. Sometimes a brief trailer for a certain movie or television show can result in enthusiastic, low, or uncertain expectations, but that does not mean it should be immediately dismissed without a full viewing. We all have those films that we were surprised by after fearing the worst, the same as we all have films that we were left disappointed by after our hopes were raised. What I received with “Equestria Girls” was a movie that impressed and entertained me with its animation, characters, humour and music. The main series is vastly superior, and not every single fan is going to be pleased with this, but it still deserves to be given a chance, and I am glad I did so. Though it has its flaws, it is still a largely fun, well animated, and enjoyable film that makes for a great stopgap until November 2013, when we'll see the arrival of “Friendship is Magic's” fourth season.
Your faithful film critic,