Saturday, October 7, 2017

Movie Review: My Little Pony: The Movie

The new big-screen adaptation of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic feels familiar to me, but not in the way I expected. I suspect the makers looked to another Hasbro property, the 1986 Transformers movie, for inspiration. If so, they learned the right lessons.

There's often a temptation when adapting a running TV series into a film to slow down and use the larger canvas to tell a more thorough version of the sort of story the show is known for. Look at the '98 X-Files or the 2002 Powerpuff Girls movies - both tried to enlarge the show into something cinematic, and both are pretty forgettable.

The Transformers movie, on the other hand, took the franchise in a wildly new direction, heading off into space to explore bizarre worlds and threats. My Little Pony takes a similar path - the majority of the movie is set in new lands filled with new creatures. It also shares a similar spastic, adventurous energy. Both movies leave you a bit frustrated you didn't get to spend more time with the new concepts, but that's better than the alternative.

Not surprisingly, this is also willing to get a touch darker than the series. There's nothing here as traumatic as the death of Optimus Prime, but I heard a few frightened gasps from kids in the audience when the movie shifted to dark places. Plus the ending crosses a line the series has never stepped over.

Despite that, the story isn't actually all that different from multi-part adventures that have opened or closed seasons of the show. This is hardly the first time we've seen Equestria invaded, nor is this the most powerful threat the ponies have faced. That was another wise choice, incidentally - it allows the movie to culminate in a struggle where the heroes need to rely on themselves and each other, rather than activating a McGuffin to magically solve everything.*

They also found a good solution to ensure the villain, who's not as powerful as Queen Chrysalis, let alone Tirek, still feels threatening: they made her dangerous. Tempest Shadow might not be able to blow up mountains, but she's by far the most competent adversary the franchise has provided. She's ruthless, driven, and - above all - effective. Plus, she has a fleet of airships at her back.

She's not the only good addition. The movie introduces a number of new anthropomorphic characters, including parrot pirates, ape warriors, and a cat con-artist. I'm hoping the show finds ways to return to these characters and their homes going forward, even if it means recasting a few voices.

This movie had issues and inconsistencies, sure, but provided you're a fan of the series, you'll find a lot to like. It's not 'best of year' material, but personally I found it far less pandering than the other big-budget toy commercial I paid to see this year.

*Just to head this off in advance... I realize there technically was a magical device that sort of fixed everything, but it didn't play into the same tropes structurally as a McGuffin. The movie even set up a false McGuffin in order to subvert the cliche and force its heroes to find a more responsible way to confront their problems.

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