I mostly follow the Hub’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on DVD, so I can’t say I had 100% understanding of the events leading up to last year’s special episode “Magical Mystery Cure,” which made a fundamental change to the show’s status quo. I was a little disappointed by the episode, which felt a bit too rushed and not as well thought-out or sublimely executed as the average episodes on the season 1 DVD set. Unfortunately, I must say the same about Equestria Girls, a feature-length My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic movie now available on DVD and Blu-ray. It doesn’t do anything horrifically wrong, but at the same time it doesn’t manage to execute itself as flawlessly right as the best episodes of the TV show. At best, the change in scenery leads up to some slightly overdone plot twists and one somewhat unwelcome change before an ending that mostly succeeds on its own terms.
Those living under a pop culture rock vaguely interested in the My Little Pony phenomenon are strongly suggested to start with the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic season 1 DVD set and then to the Princess Twilight Sparkle DVD before picking up Equestria Girls, since Equestria Girls starts immediately from where “Magical Mystery Cure” left off. Twilight Sparkle and her Ponyville friends Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Spike the Dragon head to the Crystal Kingdom for her first Princess Summit, though Twilight is still getting accustomed to her transformation into an alicorn (a pony with a unicorn’s horn and a pegasus’ wings) and her promotion to Princess. That night, her crown is stolen by a mysterious pony named Sunset Shimmer, who disappears with the crown through a portal in a magic mirror.
The next morning, Princess Celestia reveals that Sunset Shimmer was a former apprentice who went rogue years earlier to the strange, unknown world on the other side of the mirror. Twilight Sparkle is sent on a mission through the portal to find the crown (and the Element of Harmony embedded in it), with only three days before the portal closes behind her for 30 months. Spike leaps through with her, and the pair find themselves in “our” world, with Twilight Sparkle transformed into a teenage girl and Spike turned into her dog outside the doors of Canterlot High School. A few plot twists and complications later, Twilight Sparkle finds herself in a competition with Sunset Shimmer to become Princess of the Fall Formal, with the lost crown as the prize after it gets accidentally substituted for the non-magical one. To succeed, Twilight Sparkle and Spike will need the help of a few familiar looking friends: the human girl counterparts of her five Ponyville friends, whose friendship in this strange new world seems to have sundered.
The best My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episodes are predictable, but their execution is so fun-filled and enjoyable that it doesn’t matter that an average grown up can see the conclusion almost from the pre-credits teaser segment. Unfortunately, later episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have lost a little bit of that spark, becoming disappointingly predictable instead of enjoyably so, and that trend continues with Equestria Girls. In this case, the problem is that the main plot of the movie ends up relying a bit too heavily on mixing fish-out-of-water gags with tried-and-true high school tropes, as Twilight Sparkle attempts to navigate the hazards of high school while getting accustomed to her new body. While the execution of these tropes is largely successful, it’s also very by-the-numbers, leading to few surprises and not many laughs.
It also takes just a bit too long for the movie to introduce all five of Twilight Sparkle’s friends (especially Rainbow Dash). The fact that the movie has to re-introduce Twilight Sparkle to her friends also makes the early parts of the movie feel too much like a rehash of the series premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which was good but definitely not among my favorite episodes of season 1. There is some enjoyment from seeing the human version of a Pony and how they differ (or don’t) from their equestrian counterpart, but that makes the process of introducing characters to Twilight Sparkle feel extremely redundant. If the enjoyment is to come from seeing human versions of the Ponies we already know and love, it seems to be working at cross-purposes to have to sit through introductions all over again. It also turns out that these characters don’t add much to the typical high school shenanigans that drive the first two-thirds of the movie, which tend towards the tried and true and relatively safe. If you’ve never encountered a high school movie before, I suppose Equestria Girls is a good way to be introduced to high school cliques, the awfulness of mean girls, the pitfalls of jumping to unwarranted conclusions, and the first pangs of puppy love. In the last case, Equestria Girls also adds something that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has so far managed to avoid entirely: sub-plots centering on awkwardness over a boy. On the one hand, I suppose working through those first feelings of affection are part and parcel of being a girl; on the other hand, too many other girl-centric shows revolve around boy-obsessiveness to their detriment, and Friendship is Magic definitely never suffered for its absence. It’s a minor subplot, at best, and it’s handled well (if too predictably), but I’m hoping it’s not a harbinger of things to come on the TV show.
All that said, the movie picks up quite a bit in its third act, partially because it starts flouting conventions and partially because it hits a lot of the same emotional notes that the best episodes of the show do. A lot of the early plot twists don’t really make a lot of sense, seeming to exist only because “that’s how these things are done.” In contrast, the back third happily upends a lot of the usual conventions of the sci-fi/alternate universe and the high school story, blowing raspberries at obstacles that would otherwise chew up a lot more time. The climactic confrontation between the Mane Six and Sunset Shimmer plays out almost exactly as you’d expect it to, but even if it feels a bit too much like an echo of the series premiere, it’s hard to deny that it still works, and is entirely in keeping with the general philosophies of the show.
While the running time is extended, the animation for Equestria Girls doesn’t seem appreciably better than an average episode of the show. The biggest differences are in the splashy opening credits sequence and in much larger crowd scenes, which have far more activity than the busiest scenes in Ponyville. These big crowd scenes are also fun for picking out the human equivalents of your favorite background Ponies. I can’t say I’m terribly fond of the human designs for the Ponies, since they just aren’t as appealing as the equine versions, but at the very least, it’s always easy to tell who the counterpart Pony is from a human design. I also have to admit that there are a few really nice little animated scenes in the film, like a mid-movie confrontation between Applejack and Rainbow Dash that’s staged off in the distance as the other Ponies watch in the bleachers in the foreground. I’m greatly impressed by how well the animators use nothing but body language to communicate how Applejack and Rainbow Dash approach each other with apprehension, if not hostility, that progresses to confusion, explanation, and finally reconciliation. Little needs be said of the performances of show’s normal voice cast, other than that they are as delightful as ever. I’m also impressed at the catchy soundtrack, which yields five songs equal or better to anything they’ve done on the show so far.
Equestria Girls is the first My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic video to arrive on Blu-ray, and the results are as impressive as you’d expect. The video and audio are excellent, though the 5.1 Dolby soundtrack feels a little under-utilized. Sound is kept mostly in the front channels, with the extra speakers and subwoofer kicking in for the musical numbers and the big climactic scene at the end of the film. The Blu-ray also comes with a small slate of bonuses, the best of which are the three behind-the-scenes featurettes about the movie in general, the visual design, and the music. These are generally short (the longest runs about 12 minutes), so there isn’t a whole lot of depth, but there’s just enough to sate my curiosity about the behind-the-curtain questions. There is also a “Ponify Yourself” video, whose point escapes me completely. I think it’s meant to inspire girls to adopt the looks of their favorite pony…maybe? Or maybe it’s just a really terrible music video. Skip it. There are also two karaoke tracks and one bizarre preview for Hanazuki that does little but drive you to a minimal web site. I’m not sure if it’s a show or a merchandise line or both, but I’m also not sure what it’s doing on this disc or whether I’m really that interested to find out. The Blu-ray combo pack also comes with a DVD that the same set of the bonuses, and a code for a downloadable digital copy, which is compatible with all desktop computing platforms as well as Android and iOS devices.
As mentioned, I didn’t dislike Equestria Girls, but I can’t say that I liked it as much as I like the better episodes of the show, either. It’s an interesting choice for a change of pace, but ultimately relies a bit too much on the familiar and the conventional, when the best My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic episodes manage to inject more idiosyncratic character into familiar and conventional proceedings. Fans can take it or leave it, depending on their level of fandom, but I’d definitely steer newcomers clear of this title.
NOTE: Stills are taken from the DVD and do not represent the Blu-ray image quality.
The latest Chuck and Friends DVD, Bumpers Up!, is 10 more episodes of the Hub show, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Chuck and Friends is still a charming show with plenty of energy and appeal for the kids, along with enough entertainment value for the adults. If there is a problem with it, it’s that it’s getting more difficult to say the same thing in a different way after having reviewed several other Chuck and Friends DVDs before. I can say for sure that my son is very happy that we have more Chuck available on demand, and that Daddy and Mommy still don’t mind watching the antics of the little red dump truck along with him, especially with episodes like “Lights, Camera, Trucks!” that is chock-full of inside jokes about making movies, and the plot twists as Chuck turns into a tyrant of a director no doubt ring true to many on the show’s crew.