Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Movie Review: My Little Pony: A New Generation

It feels like it's been longer, but My Little Pony: The Movie came out four years ago. It says a lot about the state of the industry that it was the 2D tie-in that made it into theaters, while the more professional-looking CG installment wound up on Netflix. That's not intended as a slight against the 2017 movie - I liked it quite a bit - but I can't imagine anyone comparing the two and concluding that one was "more theatrical."

A little background for those of you who don't follow nerd stuff: the 2017 movie functioned as an extension of the television series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. That series recently wrapped up its tenth and final season, which is an astonishing run in kid's media. Without going into too much detail, the series' success upended entrenched ideas about the value of animation aimed at a female audience, to say nothing of the impact it had on studios' willingness to gamble on female showrunners. Sadly, it also became a trailblazer in accidentally cultivating a toxic fanbase. The "Brony" thing may have started cute, but it sure as hell didn't stay that way.

Regardless, A New Generation represents a fairly ambitious attempt to reboot the franchise with new characters. There's a brief intro sequence tying this to the last iteration, though it's a tad ambiguous on whether Friendship is Magic should be regarded as a precursor or as myths that survived about that era. Either way, that's all the distant past.

Compared with Friendship is Magic, A New Generation is far more grounded. Part of this is due to the story, which is built around a generic "magic has left the world" premise, but even beyond that everything is significantly smaller in scope. The threats are political, rather than existential, and the power levels are more in line with other animated films, as opposed to the superheroics of Friendship is Magic.

Those "political threats" aren't subtle, either: this is My Little Pony for a divided world. The dangers are fear, xenophobia, and lies, and it's hard not to draw parallels between the villain and the guy we just tossed out of the White House. To be fair, that character's arc also works as a reference to season 3 of Community (they hired Ken Jeong for a reason, after all).

Of course, this is all going to go over the heads of the movie's target demographic. I assume the animation will keep them happy, though. This is more or less on par visually with most other non-Pixar CG films, which is to say it looks good, but isn't a visual masterpiece or anything. Same goes for the musical numbers: they're solid pop numbers that do the trick.

The humor mostly works, too, both for kids and adults. They maintained the tradition of interspersing references grown-ups will pick up on but kids will miss (the Community connection being one example).

Overall, I enjoyed this. It's cute, fun, and entertaining. I do think there was at least one plot point they could have smoothed over towards the end (they repeat a story beat they could probably have streamlined), but that's a minor quibble. Likewise, it's worth noting I found this effective and at times impressive, but not particularly moving. This is pretty good - it's not great or anything.

Lastly, I want to mention one aspect I find a little disheartening. Looking over the team of directors and producers driving this incarnation, it looks like the majority are men. Friendship is Magic was headed by women, and - while the new team did solid work - I think it's a misstep to move backwards on that front.

At any rate, if you've got Netflix, you've already got access to this. If you're a fan of the last show, this is worth a watch. And if you've got a kid the right age, they'll probably love it.

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