After gaining unprecedented amounts of renown, Hasbro uses a portion of that Street Cred to launch their answer to Monster High. Does the Equestria Girls movie prove to be the beginning of a worthwhile investment, or does it needlessly sacrifice a portion of the reputation Friendship is Magic has earned for their long-running My Little Pony Franchise?
For as long as the Brony Fandom has existed, it has produced a massive amount of fan art portraying the characters of the series that spawned it, as humans. With “Friendship is Magic” taking place in a world where various Equines are the dominant species, the curiosity of what its characters would end up looking and being like as humans has been too great to ignore, producing many impressive pieces of work in a community that has several to its’ name. Despite such massive exploration of this scenario, there were many who had hoped that such things would remain off limits at Hasbro, due to the high possibility of them producing something that could damage a brand that has had an expansive history with creative blunders.
Fast forward to 2013, and the “unthinkable” has actually come to pass. In an effort to compete with Monster High, Hasbro is leveraging the massive brand credibility that Friendship is Magic has gained for “My Little Pony” in the hopes that “Equestria Girls” will rise to a comparable level of success. Can “My Little Pony: Equestria Girls” prove itself to be a worthy entry into the franchise? From my point of view, it’s a question whose answer is more complex than it should be.
What Worked in Equestria Girls
Before I get into the actual meat of my review, I should make it known that my initial expectations for “Equestria Girls” were low at best. Besides the signs of the entire project being nothing more than a shameless cash grab, the character designs still reek of missed opportunity and as such, I don’t ever see myself ever getting over the chance of having interesting character designs instead of the Bratz/Monster High inspired motif they went with. As the lights went down and the movie began, I couldn’t help but think that the worst case scenario was going to unfold. Thankfully, the movie is not the soul-crushing disaster I originally feared that it was going to be.
Without question, the overall discussion about “Friendship is Magic” is one that garners a lot of opinions from those who have decided to form one, but the one aspect of the 4th Generation of the My Little Pony that seems to be most prevalent is the acknowledgement of the effort that put into the creation of overall package. From the characterization, to the dialogue, the pre-instilled desire to create something that wasn’t insulting to its target audience definitely shines through most of what DHX Media/Hasbro decides to do with the show.
As for “Equestria Girls”, there are several ways this intangible quality of the creative team really shines through. The general dialogue is on par with the rest of the series, the remix of the nearly-iconic intro theme is excellent, and there are a number of genuine character moments with Spike and Rarity that are truly admirable. However, the one thing that I found myself liking more than anything else was how the creative team tried their hardest to make the setting an appealing place to visit. One of the biggest hang ups that most Crystal Empire detractors have is the overall lifelessness of the setting and its’ inhabitants. By using “Friendship is Magic’s” already deep and rich mythos, fans of the parent show are given an immediate hook to get invested in this movie. However, by doing this, it can be hard for non-fans to understand, and this is where issues with the work began.
What Didn’t Work with Equestria Girls
After critically reviewing work for quite some time, one of the things I’ve discovered is that not all aspects of a work (both good and bad) are created equally. While a flaw could end up being annoying to some, their presence doesn’t automatically mean a piece of work is irrevocably marred, a train of thought that could be applied if the situation was completely reversed. As a whole “Equestria Girls” carries a number of flaws, but these flaws have to ultimately be separated into how they affect the work as a whole, with some mattering much more than others. With that being said, here are the main issues with the work from least to most debilitating.
The first of these issues that I want to point out is rooted in the direction “Friendship is Magic” took after the Canterlot Wedding episodes. Since the 2nd Season Finale, the story of Twilight Sparkle has taken center stage as she moves closer to realizing her destiny of becoming an Alicorn Princess. However, this transition has resulted in a significant number of fans accusing the show of sidelining the rest of the main cast in terms of their importance to the overall story of the series. Unfortunately, “Equestria Girls” continues this current trend as Twilight Sparkle has to go the Human World by herself. Besides the fact that they have directly seen counterparts in the human world, the rest of the Mane 6 are held back due to reasons that end up becoming weaker than they should have been in the first place, a move that will help to take some viewers out of the story. Despite this aspect nearly killing the movie for me on its’ own, there are much bigger problems with the movie than this one.
Beyond that unfortunate occurrence, “Equestria Girls” less forgivable sins begin with the music. Without going into the subject extraneously, one of the biggest draws of the “Friendship is Magic” franchise is definitely the music. Over the past 2 and half years, Daniel Ingram has presided over some of the best music created for a Television Show in years. His influence has been so great, that he has inspired many fans to create music on their own based off the show. Unfortunately, the musician that created such classics as “Art of the Dress” and “Smile, Smile, Smile” doesn’t capture the same magic here. As it was noted previously in this review, things start off well in the musical department with the opening remix, but things end up going downhill from that point. The fully-original soundtrack takes its’ cues from current pop and carries a bunch of the negatives that come with the style, including the lack of distinguishable sound. With “Friendship is Magic”, even the less heralded songs like “The Failure Song” and “Raise This Barn” have a distinctive sound that sets them apart from their sister songs. With “Equestria Girls”, if you couldn’t tell the difference between “This Strange World” and “Help Twilight win the Crown”, then trust me, you are not alone in that regard. For a series that prides itself on its soundtrack and score, the spin-off is definitely off to a dubious start.
Despite the grave disappointment music wise, that sin and the others could be forgiven if the story and the execution of the narrative were at a level that is on par with the best of “Friendship is Magic”, which is tragically not the case here. Now this isn’t to say that they completely fall short here, because one of the things that I did appreciate is that they did do their best to make sure that Twilight Sparkle didn’t lose the parts of her character that made her so endearing in the first place. However, when your story’s foundation is based on threadbare premise, the execution issues on this level are far too great to ignore. The narrative is both far too dependent on the “just so happens” clause to get rolling, and (as noted earlier) using references to what’s been established in its parent series to keep things moving. Depending on how you’re watching this movie, the former can get annoying and the latter could make things unbearable.
As for the villain, Sunset Shimmer continues what’s become a trend of underwhelming villains since Discord’s legendary romp in “The Return of Harmony” saga. While she starts out as a potentially interesting and engaging character, she ends up losing much of her impact as she becomes mired in both the quagmire of the high school setting and a script that feels hobbled whenever she speaks. What should be decent psychological warfare ends up coming across as insipid, even for a high school. The biggest disappointment in all of this has to be how Shimmer sees the light. In absence of character development that indicates she can turn a corner; she’s blasted by a Friendship Ray that makes her see the light, bringing her ultimately disappointing character arc in this movie to a close. Out of all of the let downs that came out of this movie, Sunset Shimmer's characterization (along with a few others) definitely tops the list.
My Final 22 Cents:
When I left the theater on Sunday Afternoon, the most prevalent thought that went through my mind was the fact that I enjoyed myself a lot more than I thought I was going to. As I said earlier, I did not find this movie to be as terrible as it could’ve been, and I even sincerely laughed and smiled at some parts. However, as I began to make my way home and thought about what I saw, I couldn’t ignore the issues that kept creeping up in my mind, presenting me with the question of whether to ignore those issues, or to make those issues the reason why I thought “Equestria Girls” was worse than it really was. The ultimate answer came when I reread my “A Canterlot Wedding” review, and realized that I had overrated those episodes due to the glow they gave me after watching them. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve never given it 5 Stars.
To put an exclamation point on this lengthy review, “Equestria Girls” is sum of both its’ good and bad parts, and even if I expound on the bad parts, it’s only because I need my readers to understand where I come from. For some “Equestria Girls” will be another in the series of a long line of success that have been born out of taking very little and making it into something epically substantial. For others, this movie will be just another piece of evidence to the gradual decline of what was once a great series due to forces that didn’t understand why “Friendship is Magic” became big in the first place. For me, “Equestria Girls” is an overall adequate addition to a mythos that has seen and done far better in the two and a half years it has existed. While that is a huge step up from being certifiable “piece of crap”, it is not something that should be hailed as the second coming. If you have the patience, wait till you can see it for free legally, you will not be disappointed you did.
Final Judgment as a Movie you have to pay to see: **1/4 (out of *****) (Barely Adequate)
Final Judgment as a 66-Minute Episode you’d watch for free: **3/4 (Above Average)