My Little Pony: The Movie Review

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On October 10, 2010, the world of pop culture was forever changed when a show called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic premiered on The Hub/Discovery Family. This show began the fourth generation of the My Little Pony franchise. It was different than previous incarnations. The character designs were unique and it attracted a fan-base of both men and women of all ages. Seven years later, and that fan-base has grown to amazing proportions. The series has aired over a hundred episodes and shows no signs of finishing anytime soon. Essays can be written on why the show is appealing, but I’ll sum it up in one sentence: In a time when animated shows are devoid of substance, My Little Pony offers genuinely good writing, developed characters, and moral-filled messages. The show must obviously be doing something right, because this year marks its first wide release theatrical film.

Granted, the series had a couple of spin-off films (Equestria Girls) appear in the theater, but those were limited releases. The Movie is the first “true” theatrical experience. Director Jayson Thiessen has been with the series for awhile. He does the show justice with the film. It’s an exciting adventure for both longtime fans and those looking to see for the first time why Pony is a pop culture phenomenon. Though it’s not perfect (a weak climax for one thing), The Movie is well worth the price of admission.

The opening scene features a beautiful overview of Canterlot. The show has been known for its sharp animation, and the movie multiplies its unique look: the animation is gorgeous. Soon we’re shown our main character: Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship. In typical Twilight fashion, we’re shown a character whom easily becomes a nervous wreck when it comes to planning something big. The Friendship Festival is a solid way to start the film, as it introduces viewers to each of the main ponies. Rarity’s attention to detail when designing the ribbons for the stage, and Rainbow Dash’s brashness in decorating the place in the blink of an eye (with no attention to detail) much to Rarity’s dismay was classic. Right before the festival can kick off with a song from Songbird Serenade, the conflict makes itself known.

The arrival of the Storm King’s ship was handled brilliantly. The sky grows dark and the music changes as the ship draws closer to the ground. We’re not introduced to the eponymous villain yet however. Instead, a little creature named Grubber announces they’re here by order of the Storm King and proceeds to introduce Commander Tempest. Voiced by Emily Blunt, Tempest makes herself known by requesting the immediate surrender of all four princesses. Blunt does a fantastic job here and the rest of the film as Tempest. There’s a genuine menace to her voice, and also gives the impression that Tempest genuinely hates friendship. Back to the raid, naturally the princesses don’t surrender and this leads to an exciting sequence as Tempest turns Princess Celestia, Luna, and Cadance all to stone. It’s mayhem as the Storm King’s troops attack as the pony civilians run in fear. There is however something that needs to be noted about the entire sequence.

Viewers of the show know that Twilight Sparkle is one of the most powerful magic users in Equestria. However, she’s useless during the raid. She doesn’t teleport away as the orb approaches her. She almost doesn’t fight back at all when really she could easily beat Tempest. That’s a problem for almost the rest of the movie: Twilight seems to be genuinely scared of Tempest, despite the fact that she (Twilight) battled a demonic overlord all by herself in the past. That’s why the raid sequence was a little hard to believe. If someone however has never seen the show, this wouldn’t be a big deal.

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Next, the core part of the movie begins: Twilight and her friends’ journey to finding the Queen of the “Hippos.” It’s an adventure story at its finest; the ponies travel to a shady western-like town, a pirate airship, a mermaid-like place, and finally back to the castle. The new settings have memorable characters. Capper is a charismatic cat brilliantly voiced by Taye Diggs. Captain Celaeno is a great pirate character. This is one case though where the film could have benefited from being a bit longer. We’re shown that she and her band of pirates are forced to do the Storm King’s bidding. Rainbow Dash gives her a speech on being awesome again: she doesn’t have to follow the Storm King. Dash’s speech is well done, but some additional minutes would have been useful in developing Celaeno’s character progression. In the mermaid, or rather seapony place, Princess Skystar is another great character. We’re shown her genuine longing for friends, especially with not having interacted with the outside world for awhile.

Before we move on to the climax, let’s discuss the main ponies themselves. Each of their diverse personalities are nicely displayed. It’s fun seeing their different reactions, from Rarity saying how her mane is worth more than a character was willing to pay for it, to Pinkie’s bubbly reaction to a certain character’s real name. Now, unfortunately some of the ponies don’t technically get to do much. Fluttershy, Applejack, and Rarity have few notable scenes. At least Fluttershy had one memorable scene when she “battled” a Storm King trooper – I can’t say the same for Applejack or Rarity. Other than Twilight, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie seem to be the show’s most popular characters. That’s probably the reason why those two were given more prominence in the film.

Pinkie Pie was one of the highlights. The show can have a hard time balancing her comedic relief persona and being an engaging character. The film balances that perfectly, and even goes further toward the climax when she and Twilight discuss a controversial matter. It was one of the most emotional scenes in the entire franchise. It’s amazing how much emotion can be shown in the characters’ eyes. This was also helped by the superb voices of Tara Strong and Andrea Libman. Spike is given a good role as well. His fire-breathing is put to excellent use.

Now we come to the climax and the Storm King. Storm King steals the show in the few scenes he’s in. Liev Schreiber does a fantastic job voicing the villain with comedic flare. Storm King is a character whom likes to have fun as he’s ruling over the masses, and it shows. Unfortunately, the climax doesn’t do him full justice. Now, him mainly appearing in the climax as build-up can be a good thing  – if the film delivers something exciting. We do get some good dialogue from the King, and the obligatory ponies-uniting scene to put an end to his reign. But there’s no real battle. There’s virtually no showdown with the antagonist. The show has had better climaxes. In “Twilight’s Kingdom – Part 2,” Twilight battles Tirek; magical beams are shot and Twilight is thrown into a mountain. Keep in mind, that “Twilight’s Kingdom” was aired as TV-Y. The Movie has a film budget and a PG rating, and yet has a mediocre climax in comparison. It’s not terrible, but with how little the Storm King appears, more was needed. (I recommend reading the prequel graphic novel; it shows more of Storm King’s character and motivation which you won’t really find in the film.)

One of the greatest aspects of the show is its emphasis on quality music. You’ll find many amazingly written tunes in the film as well. As an example, part of the lyrics of the song, “We Got This Together” is: “I am the princess of friendship – But that is more than just a crown.” This speaks volumes on the type of character Twilight is, and the responsibly she carries. Daniel Ingram has been composing heartfelt songs for the show for years. He continues that quality work in the film, along with every other artist who worked on the soundtrack. Tempest also has a song as she explains her emotional backstory on how her horn became broken. The background themes are also great. The soundtrack overall is an A+.

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Overall, My Little Pony: The Movie does the show justice. It features all the great characters longtime fans have come to love throughout the years. The story is a classic adventure filled with memorable new characters. Tempest is a highlight, and no one will soon be forgetting the laughs they had while watching Capper. Like the show, the film  deals with different themes. It deals with the power of friendship, losing faith in friendship, broken friendships, and of course the fight against evil. Quality writing is abound. There are a few gripes. Twilight is portrayed as severely weak throughout the film. The climax was more on the mediocre side, and the Storm King, though a great character, was given too little screen time and not enough payoff. These things shouldn’t wreck your enjoyment of the film however. My Little Pony has become a brand associated with quality. The Movie is a story filled with the quality message of friendship.

8.5/10

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “P.P.O.V. (Pony Point of View)” Review

My Little Pony returns with an episode featuring a well known gimmick. This season in particular has been trying a couple of new formats. The early/mid Season 6 episode “The Saddle Row” is the biggest example. In today’s episode, the “Rashomond Effect” is used. “P.P.O.V.” is one of the funniest episodes of the season. That’s really the only good thing that can be said about it sadly, aside from the ending message.

Official Synopsis: When Applejack, Rarity and Pinkie Pie all return from a boat trip angry at each other, Twilight, after hearing three very different versions of the events, must discern the truth to save their friendships.

One of the reasons why MLP is such a great show is that a new viewer can jump in at any point during the series. For example, my first episode wasn’t the opening two-parter; it was “The Show Stoppers,” which was in the middle of the first season. Some episodes are of course better than others but almost every single one would be a solid way to introduce a new viewer. Sadly P.P.O.V. cannot be counted among these. If for example this episode was someone’s first exposure to the show, they wouldn’t see true friendship at play. Instead they would be witnessing unreasonable characters and then a poorly written conclusion.

The main reason why this episode falters is the portrayal of Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie. They appeared unreasonable throughout and when they finally realized what each was of them was trying to do, the veiwer is left shaking his/her head. It’s just incredibly hard to believe none of the three understood what was really happening. This is not to say this is the worst written portrayal of some of the ponies. (That honor belongs to “The Cart Before the Ponies.”)

Even the best of friends can get into arguments, but the episode needed better writing to showcase that. The overall concept is pretty good. Often people will have biased versions of an event to recollect. The exaggerated versions are entertaining and made me laugh a few times. It doesn’t excuse the three ponies’ portrayals, but at least one can have fun with the story. One of the best aspects is actually Spike. He’s written as a fun sidekick to Twilight. The greatest part was Twilight nailing the delivery of the message at the end. Best friends should never take communication for granted. Misunderstandings can happen if people don’t communicate properly, even among the closest friends.  It’s an excellent message that needed a better middle act leading up to it.

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Overall, P.P.O.V. is an entertaining episode, but not a greatly written one. Yes, even longtime friends like Applejack, Pinkie, and Rarity can get angry with one another; but what is shown here seemed unrealistic and hard to believe. The message is fantastic, which is the main well-written aspect.

5.5/10

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Legend of Everfree Review

Equestria Girls returns with its fourth installment. This one introduces a few new things for the spin-off franchise. The first thing is of course that it released on Netflix. (In the US anyway, it was broadcast in Brazil about a week ago on TV.) The first two films had theatrical releases while the third went straight to TV. It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for MLP on Netflix. (Who knows, if the show for some reason goes off Discovery Family we could see new seasons on Netflix.) The biggest new story aspect is the debut of this world’s version of the Everfree Forest. Legend of Everfree is another solid entry. It’s not as strong as the last film, but fans will definitely find a lot to like.

Official synopsis: When Canterlot Highschool goes on a trip to Camp Everfree, they’re surprised to find a magical force is causing strange things to happen around camp. With the help of the Mane 6 and especially Sunset Shimmer, Twilight Sparkle must confront the dark “Midnight Sparkle” within herself  and embrace her newfound magical abilities to save the camp.

Legend opens up with a strong dream sequence: Twilight being taunted by her darker self Midnight Sparkle from the previous film. This is a continuing element of the story until the climax. Even though the concept of keeping an evil version of one’s self at bay is nothing new, it will always be an engaging character arc. The viewer can see the terror on Twilight’s face in the final act as she’s forced to use her magic. As the one thing she’s been fearing is coming true: Midnight Sparkle taking over, her friends jump in and throw her some encouragement. Quotes such as “You are a light Twilight!”and “We’ll be here, no matter what!” were powerful and showed what kind of positive impact good friends can have. MLP never fails to showcase what friendship is supposed to look like in the real world.

As the title states, the core story takes place in the Everfree Forest as Canterlot High goes on a camping trip. The previous three films took place completely at school, so the green was a nice change of scenery. The plot moves at an okay pace. There are a few aspects of the writing that bring down the score a bit. For one thing, Filthy Rich is painfully generic. His pony counterpart didn’t seem to be that pretentious. Yes, the idea is to portray the person who only cares about profit. But, there are better ways to do that than the unrealistic portrayal here.

The bigger negative is that the writing decided to add another romance. Twilight (pony) liking Flash Sentry in the first Equestria Girls was incredibly forced, but even that was better than what is seen here. Timber Spruce isn’t a bad character, but the viewer has to question him right away flirting with Twilight. (Camp seems like a scary place if the counselor goes ahead and decides to flirt with one of the students almost instantly.) The writing attempts to develop this romance subplot throughout the duration, but it never works. All this happens over the course of just two/three days; by that night Twilight and Timber are just about to kiss before being interrupted. Again, all that happens in such a short amount of time. The romance aspect wasn’t needed and brought the story down every time it appeared. The only clever parts about it were the friends’ reactions.

The only other main negative with the writing is that there’s a missed opportunity. Everfree Forest is where Zecora lives in the pony world, so it would have made sense to introduce her here. Sadly, she’s nowhere to be seen. Moving on to the positive aspects, the writing aside from what was previously listed contains the quality viewers have come to expect from the franchise. From excellent humor (Rarity’s campfire story on “same color family” was ingenious) to iconic friendship speeches, there are a lot of great things to find here. The best part is the portrayal of Sunset Shimmer.

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Sunset Shimmer has come a long way from being the magic-obsessed villain from the first film. Interestingly, in many ways she’s at the moment the Twilight of the group. This is because the Twilight of this world is still new to friendship while Sunset is portrayed as a veteran when it comes to understanding how friendship works. Sunset throughout the story demonstrates how kind and caring she is. She’s just all around a sweet character and one of the best in the entire franchise. If you have a friend like Sunset, give her/him a hug (or at least a handshake) and let them know that you appreciate them. Friends like that are rare, and a blessing.

In some ways, the story is about Sunset and Twilight. The other friends don’t really do much aside from talking. This could be a major negative if the viewer was hoping for a more group-centric focus. Pinkie Pie is the biggest disappointment. She has no notable scenes and ended up just being comic relief. The antagonist this time around features a tragic backstory, a nice change of pace from previous films. Her dialogue was excellent with subtle comedy added in. Her character arc demonstrates the unfortunate happening when one wants too much power, even if it’s for seemingly noble reasons. The ending has her get off a little too easy however. By now we know the pony world and its human counterpart are very forgiving of crimes, but there were literally no consequences for what she did. It just subsided right after it was over.

One of the greatest parts of the film is the soundtrack. Legend might have the best songs from the series yet. The two main highlights are Twilight’s emotional “The Midnight in Me” and Sunset’s “Embrace the Magic.” These two are a couple of the best songs in the entire MLP franchise. Even if a person is not interested in the film, the music is worth listening to.

Overall, Legend of Everfree is another enjoyable film in the Equestria Girls series. Sunset Shimmer is the biggest highlight, showing that she’s just as a fantastic character as any of the Mane 6. (Depending on how you look at it though, the writing leaves the other friends in the dust while giving Sunset all the best dialogue and screen-time.) Twilight’s journey to fighting off her dark self was an engaging plot element. The climax features a great battle and hints at what’s to come for the series. There are some things holding back the film from being truly great, such as the poorly developed romance, but there’s a lot to appreciate despite any negatives.

7.5/10

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Dungeons & Discords Review

Another Saturday equals another installment in the ongoing My Little Pony saga. Despite Season 6 being more on the mediocre side when compared to the previous five, every episode always bring some kind of entertainment. Still, for awhile I was concerned because quite a few episodes this season were either just okay or average. This finally changed last week with “The Times They Are A Changeling,” a much needed emotional entry. Today’s installment has a unique backdrop for the plot. Plus, Discord always makes things extra interesting. “Dungeons & Discords” is definitely better than Discord’s last starring role in “What About Discord?” It isn’t a particularity great episode, but some parts were a lot of fun.

When the Mane 6 leave town, Discord decides to join Spike and Big Mac’s “top secret” Guys’ Night. Much to Discord’s dismay, it turns out to be an evening of fantasy role-playing.

At this point one has either wholeheartedly accepted Discord as a reformed antagonist or still openly against it. I personally think the decision is still a mistake, but for the sake of reviewing I’ve done my best look at his new status quo from the show’s standpoint. Some of his subsequent adventures have been effective, mainly in  “Twilight’s Kingdom.” It is however easy to notice that he’s been more on the lackluster side thanks to incredibly mediocre/average episodes “Make New Friends But Keep Discord” and “What About Discord?” Today’s entry definitely rises above those. How is the writing overall? It’s more on the mixed side, but never outright bad.

A tabletop game isn’t a bad idea for a slice of life story. If the episode had put more of a focus on the game’s inner workings it could have been better. The most fun parts are when Spike and Big Mac are actually in the game. Instead of the story going the route it took, Discord making the game “real” for the entire duration would have made for an immensely entertaining tale. The middle act isn’t a chore to get through, but at the same time some parts were just grating because the story at the time didn’t seem to have much of a point. While seeing Discord continually growing more annoyed with the game the viewer is wondering what the Mane 6 are up to in Yakyakistan.

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The final act brings things full circle with a solid message. It’s definitely a good thing to invite somebody whom is alone to come play. That’s part one of the message, the second is that no one is better than another. Discord drives the latter home. Of course, if one is still against Discord being reformed, this message will be painful to watch. Some notable aspects of the episode include the sequence with Discord showing Spike and Big Mac what he considers to be a real “guys night out.” Another is perhaps the most clever line from the show yet, (hats off to writer Nick Confalone) which was said by Rainbow Dash: “If he messes with us I’ll turn that Yeti into confetti!”

Overall, “Dungeons & Discords” is an entertaining episode. The middle act is sometimes grating because the viewer just wants the story to get to the point. The gaming parts are a lot of fun, and at least half of Discord’s lines were very good. The message was definitely solid. While not a 5 star episode, this one was pretty good, and if you’ve gotten past Discord being a good guy, it’ll be even better.

7/10

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “The Times They Are A Changeling” Review

“The Times They Are A Changeling” (try saying that in one gulp) is finally an “important” episode. Now, this is not to say that every episode of My Little Pony has to be “important” in the sense that it furthers certain plot developments or establishes a new status quo. Slice of life stories is the show’s strong suit, and something the first two seasons in particular excelled at. The reason why I used the word ‘finally’ is because the last few episodes have been more on the mediocre side. The writing just hasn’t been quite up to the usual standard. The latest installment fixes this. It’s not a perfect episode but it’s definitely leagues ahead of what we’ve been seeing.

Spike travels with Twilight and Sunburst back to the Crystal Empire to visit Flurry Heart, only to discover that the entire Empire is in a panic due to the reported presence of Changling spy.

Maybe the comics have spoiled me, but I couldn’t help but think how cool it would have been if the lone Changeling had been the prelude to a grand invasion. The first act with the Crystal Empire being worried that the Changeling could be anyone was greatly effective. Of course, the overall point of the story isn’t one of grandeur. It’s meant to convey yet another message of friendship, though this time with a different backdrop.

The main idea of the story is lineage, or one’s association. The Changelings in their appearance way back in the epic “A Canterlot Wedding” appeared almost as mindless drones. When one thinks of a Changeling, it’s associated with the sinister Queen Chrysalis. Therefore, if one of them were to appear, everyone would think the worst. But what the episode conveys is that one shouldn’t be judged on lineage or a stereotype. The son of a killer for example shouldn’t be judged on association. Just because he’s related to a criminal doesn’t mean he has to be a criminal as well. Thorax’s (the lone Changeling) plot was engaging. The flashback to ‘Wedding’ was very effective since we got to see things from his perspective.

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Spike’s role this season has been his finest. All of his prior development finally transformed him into one of the show’s most engaging characters. He was pretty solid here mostly. The inhabitants adoring him and his giving orders to the royal guards was a bit on the silly side. Also, instead of approaching Shining Armor about Thorax, why didn’t he confide in Twilight about the situation? Some of the happenings in the middle act could have been avoided. With that said, there’s some very powerful moments. The viewer can see the sadness on Thorax’s face when the only friend he’s ever had doesn’t stick up for him. Spike going back and making it right was excellent & great character development for him. The climax song was fantastic. Cathy Weseluck had never gotten a full-length song to herself before, so hopefully starting here we’ll hear more with her.

Overall, “The Times They Are A Changeling” is a very solid episode. It packs fantastic emotion and a quality message which unlike the last couple weren’t at the expense of character development. Aside from a few annoying moments here, Spike continues to be a great product of the latest season. The writing duo of Kevin Burke and Chris Wyatt deliver a winner.

8/10

 

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic “Gauntlet of Fire” Review

Spike-centered stories are usually on the lower tier of MLP episodes. It’s not because they’re all bad of course. (Though a good chunk of them are mediocre.) Very few are listed in anyone’s top ten because he just isn’t written as a great focus. As the main supporting character he’s usually fine, but when he takes center stage we long for scenes with the ponies. (Such as in “Spike at Your Service” and “Princess Spike.”) This season however started off strong with the little dragon. In “The Crystalling,” Spike was written extremely well, almost abnormally good. If the writing there could translate into his own starring adventure we would have a winner. “Gauntlet of Fire” is perhaps his biggest episode yet, and a fantastic culmination of all his prior character development. With this episode the show has succeeded in making Spike just about a great a focus as any of the Mane 6.

Here’s the official episode description from Discovery Family:

Spike is forced to compete in a dangerous Gauntlet for the title of Dragon Lord in order to save his friends.

This episode serves as a sequel to the Season 2 installment, “Dragon Quest.” That story was more on the mediocre side, but it did bring up one interesting plot element in Spike’s character: struggling with his dragon heritage when he was brought up with ponies. It’s definitely a complex aspect that episode does a pretty good job exploring. So in today’s episode we have Spike returning to the land of the dragons. First, the scenery is a nice change of pace. It’s been said that Season 6 is looking to explore areas outside the normal Ponyville and Canterlot. We have a Lord of the Rings-like setting, giving the story a rather dangerous, exciting look.

The Dragon Lord Torch is a great character, so it’s a little disappointing in retrospect that after this episode he probably won’t be doing anything. (With a design like that, he would have made for a great antagonist.) Princess Ember is another new character, being the daughter of Torch. She is a lot of fun to watch, for quite a few reasons. For one thing, she seems to be the only really reasonable and competent dragon. (I hope in the future there’s a better portrayal of the creatures because most of them act pretty much the same.) Her character arc was interesting to get through because an aspect of dragon culture is put at the focus: dragons don’t do friendships. Spike in all his years of living with Twilight and joining with her friends’ adventures has of course a great handle of friendship. So to have him and Ember team up means the latter gets to see what friendship means. Her slowly starting to open up, and then finally realizing what it means was fantastic and easily a highlight of the entire show.

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Like in “Dragon Quest,” Twilight and Rarity are in the background carefully following Spike, whether it be in grass or inside a tree. It’s still a funny concept to watch be played out. Most of the writing is great, although Garble is still an annoying character to watch. (But I suppose that’s the point.) I particularly liked Rarity’s snappy dialogue in defense of Spike: “Only saving your ungrateful scales!” when Ember rebukes him for rescuing her. Speaking of the princess, I find it bizarre that no one, not even Garble, makes mention when seeing her in the contest. Torch told her specifically not to enter, yet no dragon seems to be surprised when she’s there. (Unless they didn’t know Torch said that, the episode isn’t clear.) Later in the story we see Garble confronting Twilight and Rarity while smirking. The problem with this scene is that Twilight is backing away in fear. This doesn’t make any sense when she could literally obliterate probably a hundred Garbles at once.

Overall, “Gauntlet of Fire” was an excellent surprise. Spike has another stellar portrayal, so hats off to writers Joanna Lewis and Kristine Songco. The story is exciting and always on the move given the “race to the finish” nature. (The background music, which has been absolutely fantastic this season, also adds to the excitement.) Princess Ember is a great character. Her arc with Spike was perhaps the episode’s best part. (Not to mention another part of her arc was showcasing that being small doesn’t equal weakness.)  Hopefully the two get to team up again in the future.

9/10