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

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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

Batman: The Killing Joke (Film) Review

The Killing Joke by Alan Moore is called by many the greatest Joker story of them all. It also has the honor of being known as one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. It has influenced portrayals of the Clown Prince of Crime, such as in The Dark Knight. An animated adaption was always highly wanted, and finally this year it has seen release. There are a few things stopping this from being the masterpiece the comic was. Still, while not being a perfect adaption, it’s a very good watch starting after the 30 minute mark.

Apparently, the content in the graphic novel would have translated to a very short film. To compensate for this, the movie added a 31 minute intro starring Batgirl. This unfortunately was the film’s biggest mistake. The intro adds absolutely nothing to the story. About 15 minutes in and the viewer is wondering if he/she is seeing the wrong film. It would have been far better and more powerful for it to start just like how the comic began: with Batman arriving at Arkham Asylum only to discover that his adversary had escaped. By the time we get to that scene the viewer has grown tired of the proceedings.

The main problem is that the intro feels completely disjointed with the rest of the film. (Not to mention it lasts almost half the run-time in a story that’s supposed to be about the Joker.) Paris Franz, a made up character, is given a lot to do and made out to be someone important. After the intro he’s never seen again. What’s worst is the controversial romance between Batman and Batgirl. This comes right out of the blue and is truly unnecessary. They have never been a couple in the comics, (not to mention that Batman’s relationship with her there has always been one of mentor/parental) so I’m not sure why it was added here. Really, most of Batgirl/Barbara’s scenes in the first 30 minutes were painful to get through.

After the beginning is when the story finally starts to adapt the graphic novel. From here the viewer starts to become focused and engaged as Mark Hamill steals the show as Joker. Just about all his lines are lifted straight from the comic, and translate well onto the silver screen. If you’ve read the story, then you know exactly what to expect. The plot here is about the Joker attempting “to prove a point,” and that’s that anyone can go insane like him because of “one bad day.” The dialogue is excellent and provides a nice look into the head of the madman.

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Of course, perhaps the most well known aspect of the graphic novel is that it served as an origin story for the Joker. (Or at the very least, a possible origin.) The flashbacks in the film are lifted straight from the pages. It’s surreal seeing them come to life. They are fascinating to watch, because very few pieces of media have provided a look at the Clown’s past. Most of Batman’s dialogue is lifted straight from the comic as well, so there aren’t really any negatives to be stated here. Like I said earlier, after the intro the story adapts the graphic novel almost word-for-word. Batman’s encounter with Joker in the climax was epically engaging as the two go back and fourth in blows & dialogue. It’s tempting to call this their best encounter in animation, but it very well might be. The soundtrack is pretty standard. There are no qualms about it, nor does it stand out. Maybe that was the point, to make sure the music is in the background so it doesn’t distract from the film.

Overall, The Killing Joke adaption isn’t fantastic, but still very good. The beginning sadly takes the viewer out of it with a lot of bad dialogue and a jarring romance between Batman and Batgirl. This wasn’t needed, and I would personally say a shorter movie cutting that out would have been better. The actual adaption of the story is very solid. It isn’t quite as powerful as the source material, but does an admirable job bringing it to life. Unfortunately, the controversial ending is even more confusing than the comic’s and leaves the viewer feeling slightly unfulfilled.

7/10