Longevity in a franchise is a mixed blessing. When it’s done well, plot and character arcs can build on what’s been done before and expand in new and interesting directions. However, even if the franchise is successful at this, it’s all too easy to repeat yourself while becoming accessible to newcomers. The mixed blessings of a long-running franchise are on display in My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Legend of Everfree, the latest My Little Pony Equestria Girls movie, which translates the characters of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic into a movie series that depicts them all as teenagers in an otherwise ordinary world. This fourth movie in the series continues the interesting character arc for former-villain Sunset Shimmer and transfers the Equestria Girls to summer camp for a change of pace from their usual high school venue.
My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Legend of Everfree sends the Equestria Girls gang — Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Sunset Shimmer, and the relatively new Equestria Girls world Twilight Sparkle (introduced in the last Equestria Girls movie) — off to the wilds of Camp Everfree. Not everything is what it seems, with Sunset Shimmer detecting something odd going on involving the camp counselor siblings Gloriosa Daisy (who seems slightly unhinged) and Timber Spruce (whose hunky good looks soon attract the eye of Twilight Sparkle). Their secretive evasions may or may not be related to the manifestation of magical powers in the main cast, which are a source of confusion to all but Twilight Sparkle, whose suffers from fear-driven nightmares that she will revert back to Midnight Sparkle, the evil mirror version of herself that drove the climactic battle at the end of the last movie. It all gets tied up with the class’ public service project to rebuild the camp’s dock and the mysterious legend of Gaia Everfree, a strange forest spirit who promised Gloriosa and Timber’s great-grandparents that some day she would “reclaim the forest as her own.”
On strictly objective, technical levels, Legend of Everfree does everything right, contributing strong animation and the charm of the modern My Little Pony franchise to a new(-ish) story. Even then, it doesn’t take a lot to see that the same “realize the magic you have inside you” theme that has run through all the Equestria Girls movies to varying degrees, and it’s wearing a little thin. Animation-wise, Legend of Everfree stretches its budget surprisingly far, with the change in venue allowing for numerous new designs that are brought to life vividly. Like all the other Equestria Girls movies, this one contains several original songs, almost all of which are compulsively hummable; the one exception might be deliberately dissonant to match the mindset of the character singing it, though I have to admit the song still didn’t quite work for me. Finally, the Equestria Girls series benefits greatly from the presence of Sunset Shimmer, who became the most consistently interesting and surprising character in this movie series starting with Rainbow Rocks. Also, (minor spoiler alert), while the rest of the Equestria Girls’ magical powers align with their Friendship is Magic counterparts, I was rather tickled that Sunset Shimmer’s new magical power is a hyper-charged sense of empathy, letting her see the world through another character’s eyes and truly understand the motives behind their actions. It’s a perfectly fitting magical power considering her character’s history of being the most empathetic character in the movie series. Sunset Shimmer’s magical power also sets up one of the funniest gags in the movie, which I won’t spoil.
Legend of Everfree certainly doesn’t lack for ambition in its storyline, running many more concurrent plot threads than any of its predecessors, including several loose ends from earlier movies. The most prominent loose end is hunky Flash Sentry’s unrequited crush on Twilight Sparkle, since the one that liked him was actually the Pony-turned-to-Girl who went back to Equestria where she belonged. This brings up the biggest nit I have to pick with this movie and the development of the Equestria Girls franchise in general: to make any sense at all, this relatively small plot point requires a surprisingly long explanation and a fairly deep understanding of backstory in both the Friendship is Magic and Equestria Girls series. I recognize that the modern media landscape makes it possible to do long-running movie franchises that are still reliant on continuity (as opposed to something like James Bond, where the majority of the movies were entirely independent of each other until relatively recently). The problem is that Legend of Everfree is the first movie in the Equestria Girls series that really feels like it would be more suited for television than a movie. The first two Equestria Girls were more-or-less self-contained, even if they do combine to become a stronger whole. Legend of Everfree (and, in hindsight, even the preceeding Friendship Games) has more of the sensibility of a TV series, sustaining some plot lines while throwing out more instead of giving them any sense of closure. Legend of Everfree feel slike movies that really wants to be a TV show, which contributes to a certain lack of satisfaction by the time the end-credits roll (speaking of which, you will want to stay through all the way through the credits for a very worthwhile post-credits gag).
My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Legend of Everfree has been out on digital and Netflix for a few weeks, and is now available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack (with the Blu-ray being the obvious preferred choice for its higher definition video image and generally brighter colors that nicely bring out the slightly saturated world). Bonus features are rather slim, however, with the major one being a commentary track featuring co-executive producer Meghan McCarthy, co-director Ishi Rudell, assistant director Katrina Hadley, art director Jeremy Tin, and songwriter Daniel Ingram. It’s one of the better commentaries on an Equestria Girls movie, with the least dead air or “repeat what’s on the screen”-type commentary. There is also a short “gag reel,” some of which feels like genuine voiceover bloopers that were set to animation and some of which feel like they were deliberately scripted and animated specifically for the occasion. There are also a few karaoke-style sing-along music videos if you’re so inclined. The Blu-ray we got for review also came with a Camp Everfree patch which is quite nicely made.
Equestria Girls is a one-off experiment that proved successful enough to launch a franchise of its own, to the point where the last two movies have deliberately set up the one to follow. There’s a strong hint dropped at the end of this one suggesting another Equestria Girls sequel on the way, which I suppose is the way of these things go these days. However, it might not be the worst idea to let Equestria Girls lay fallow for a little longer and let the next story percolate a bit more. Legend of Everfree shows the franchise beginning to buckle under the weight.