July 7th, 2013

Peter G

And, In Conclusion -- My Little Pony -- Friendship Is Magic: Equestria Girls

Equestria_Girls_second_movie_posterWith the success of Transformers in theaters and joint ownership of a cable channel prompting Hasbro to try to develop more properties, odd results have emerged.  Some have borne fruit (Littlest Pet Shop, which seems to have a very nice fandom), some have wiped out (Battleship).  Of all the properties they have that seem like a license to print money, My Little Pony -- Friendship Is Magic was curiously absent.  Initial DVD releases were collections of episodes from various seasons, including some episodes that had only run on TV a few weeks earlier.

Now, Hasbro sort of moves forward with an FiM movie, Equestria Girls, but biffs its release.  Premiering at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 15, it started a series of limited engagements the following day.  For those keeping track at home, that means the film started touring on a Sunday.  The Aqua Teen Hunger Force Movie got a better release than that (it actually ran at a theater in my neighborhood for two weeks.  I don't think anyone was more surprised they could see it twice in the theater than me).  The only theater in my area that I know of showing it is the Marcus in Orland Park.  It is scheduled for worldwide DVD and BluRay release on August 6.  Longtime movie watchers understand there is a correlation between how good a movie is and how quickly it appears on home video (when I saw Steel in the theaters, I was mentally wagering it'd be on video by the time I got home).  So, does it bear out in this case?  The answer is, depends on why you like the show. Equestria Girls has a major hurdle to its general acceptance, which I will get to anon.

The movie picks up shortly after the season 3 finale, where Twilight Sparkle has become an alicorn and a full blown princess (and to those of you asking for spoiler warnings, if you haven't seen the season finale by now, you don't deserve a surprise ending).  Twilight has been summoned to Canterlot for royal business, and the rest of the central cast accompany her.  While resting up for the next day's activities, another pony called Sunset Shimmer breaks into Twilight's room and steals her magic crown.  Sunset bolts through a magic mirror, and Twilight and Spike chase after her.  But on the other side of the mirror is our world.  Twilight is transformed into a human, and Spike into a dog.  The portal only stays open for a few days every month, and if Twilight doesn't book it, she's stuck in a world beyond her understanding until it opens again.  Fortunately, while her friends can't come with her, there are analogs of them in our world, and they all unite behind her to help her get the crown.

I mentioned a hurdle to acceptance, and it can be a big one for certain people. FiM is a show with enough in there for lots of people to enjoy it, but the fandom that sprung up is a happy accident.  The fact is, the show is for tween girls, and the movie aims its plot and characterization there with laser-like precision.  On the show, the cast is a group of mature adults with jobs, businesses, and adult responsibilities.  In our world, they are high schoolers just starting to figure out what their directions are.  Twilight is socially awkward, a totally new student, concerned about her appearance, and completely unsure how to fit into a world no one else has trouble falling into.  There's an awkward crush in the form of Flash Sentry.  There's the school queen bee/total bitch.  Much like other similarly targeted movies (like, off the top of my head, the live action Bratz film), it is every tween girl's anxiety, element, and event writ large.  The climax even takes place at the big school dance.

Needless to say, tween girls will have a much easier time projecting through the characters than other audience members.  But that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining.  Rather than falling into traditional archetypes (once again, Bratz), the characters remain what they are, and if you're like me, it's the characters that make it work.  Twilight retains her determination and the sometimes barely concealed irritation when those around her lose their focus.  Pinkie Pie continues to defy physics, the fourth wall, and anything that gets in her way, using an ordinary latex balloon as a hippity hop in one scene just for the hell of it and somehow keeping a clipboard hidden in her hair.  Rainbow Dash continues to be an asshole, challenging Twilight to a soccer game in exchange for her help (and even scoring a starting point on her before the match proper begins.  On the bright side, Twilight doesn't demonstrate sudden mastery of athletics in the scene).  Other background characters have analogs as well, from Granny Smith to the G&P Trixie to the instantly recognizable Snips and Snails as Sunset's Thing 1 and Thing 2.  Everything continues to fit, just in different packaging.

The movie itself moves at a very brisk pace.  While lots of 72 minuters put in a lot of padding, this actually has a lot of activity, as Twilight is also trying to patch the fractured friendships between the other five as well as trying to locate the crown.  There is always something happening instead of huge chunks of dead space.  The comedy bits work well, too.  It keeps the tired old "fish out of water" gags to a minimum to focus more on other events. When Spike first becomes a dog, he scratches his ear with his hind leg, then looks around as if to think, "What made me do that?"  Even if you are just in the audience to accompany a kid and are completely unfamiliar with everything, the movie won't try your patience.

Equestria Girls is an entertaining Elseworlds-type story.  It isn't grand cinema, it won't have you anxious to watch it over and over and over again.  In fact, a set-up like this could have been a complete misfire, but it somehow manages to keep aloft instead of crashing into the ground like a lawn dart.  It's comfortable and familiar, like a new pair of your old shoes.  Not a bad way to spend an hour and change.