Thanks to a series of incredibly bizarre events, earlier this evening I found myself in a screening of My Little Pony: The Movie, along with my partner and our daughter, a friend of ours and her son, and what seemed like every pre-teen child in the northern hemisphere. There are surely worse environments to watch a movie in, but none that spring to mind. Then again, though, who’s the idiot here? This film isn’t aimed at me. It’s for the kids; a sugary, shrieking slice of animated adventuring that’s intended to be a revelatory first movie-going experience for the nippers. I’m pleased to report that my daughter, elbow-deep in a seemingly bottomless pick-n’-mix bag, thought it was wonderful.
Unfortunately, she’s not writing the review. And I’m still a little pissed off that I had to pay for all those sweets, so if you’re one of those insufferable maniacs who have made it their mission over the last few days to personally attack any critic who didn’t enjoy 100 minutes of glittery equine frolicking as much as you wanted them to, maybe cut me some slack here. I’m trying. I went in there with an open mind, and I left with one, too. It was just suddenly full of complete bullshit.
I’ll admit that I know very little about My Little Pony, and have never seen any episodes of Friendship is Magic, which is the series that the feature-film is a continuation of, but here are some things I picked up during this tortuous experience. The ponies live in Ponyville, a pastel paradise situated in the rainbow-hued kingdom of friendship and wonder known as Equestria. They speak Ponyish, which is just English, and they say things like, “everypony” instead of “everyone”, in a manner almost scientifically designed to get on my nerves. Our heroes are “The Mane 6”: Princess Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong), Rainbow Dash and the countrified Applejack (both voiced by Ashleigh Ball), the sickeningly upbeat Pinkie Pie and the timid Fluttershy (both voiced by Andrea Libman), the glamorous Rarity (Tabitha St. Germain), and a wisecracking dragon sidekick, Spike (Cathy Weseluck), who as far as I can work out is Twilight’s PA.
As I understand it, all this voice talent has been lifted directly from the show, along with long-time director, Jayson Thiessen, and lead writer, Meghan McCarthy. This probably explains why My Little Pony: The Movie is structured and paced very much like four episodes of a TV show stapled together, although admittedly they’ve included a Sia music video at the end for good measure. And I mean that literally – Sia is in this, with a wig and everything.
Even that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. You can mostly tell what you’re in for as soon as the film’s title is slapped onscreen with a pinkish-purplish sparkly outline, and especially as the camera zooms through fluffy clouds to a version of The Go-Go’s “We Got The Beat” that has been rewritten so all the lyrics are about ponies. We’re introduced to Equestria as a kind of matriarchal utopia, albeit one ruled by a council of unicorns, so I can’t say I was particularly displeased when Emily Blunt turned up as Tempest Shadow, a villainous unicorn with a broken horn who’s doing the bidding of the evil Storm King (Liev Schreiber). These two have a sort of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader vibe going on, which I suppose might constitute a spoiler, but a healthy chunk of the movie is really about the potential for good to exist in evil, illustrated by a rather lengthy flashback sequence in which Emily Blunt earns her wages by singing out some backstory. (This is the best part by quite a margin.)
The quest of the Mane 6 – which eventually includes a fair helping of whimsical action that I pretended was a lot more violent – has them run into a crew of one-time pirates (led by Zoe Saldana), a mother-daughter duo of seahorses (Uzo Aduba and Kristin Chenoweth), and a sly cat (Taye Diggs) with questionable intentions. (He’s a cat – they’re all pricks.) Written down this is quite difficult to follow, but on the big screen it’s just a plodding, formulaic hero’s journey dotted with the occasional recognisable star. The template is applied with a dogged lack of verve and enthusiasm, and the visuals seem just as indifferently executed. The traditional 2D animation feels quite fresh in the midst of 3D-dominated contemporary kids’ movies, and it occasionally wrings out a few vivid facial expressions, but the bulk of the imagery is generic, stale, oddly cheap-looking, and sparsely detailed.
I don’t know what I was expecting from a My Little Pony movie. I suppose it was mostly this, but perhaps a version of it that was more worthy of the manic adoration this brand seems to encourage in its fans – a curious swathe of humanity that includes a lot of kids, but also significantly more adults than I realised. There are some attempts made here to placate an older audience – including an array of nostalgia-stirring pop culture references and a famous quote from Pretty Woman – but I suppose its underlying themes of trust, teamwork, and the transformative power of friendship are pretty universal. Suitable for all ages, you might say. Which might be the issue.
While I know I’m not the target audience for My Little Pony: The Movie, I write about films for a living, and I’m not opposed to those aimed at kids. (Captain Underpants is a kids’ movie and I loved it.) I can put my personal preferences and biases to one side. But this is a movie aimed at children that doesn’t aspire to do anything other than elongate what you can already see on television; it doesn’t use its “for kids” sensibility as a mission statement, but as an excuse to lazily adapt a property with a rabid, already-existing fanbase that’ll defend it regardless. It’s lazy, uninspired, generic, overstuffed and unfunny, and it’s proud of that. Maybe it’s just me, but I think kids deserve better.
Enjoyed reading this review? Then you will probably like listening to us too, so check out our podcast.