If you’ve been bit by the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic bug, then you’re always up for more adventures starring the ponies. DHX and Hasbro haven’t let this call go unheeded: a few years ago, they started a spin-off video series called Equestria Girls, which put the ponies, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and Rarity, in the “real world.” Gone were the hooves, the manes, the tails, the muzzle, and other horse features; instead, humanoid versions of the girls attended Canterlot High in an alternate reality of Equestria. It would’ve been very easy for the crew to just leave it at that and not do much with the premise, but thankfully these direct-to-video movies (especially the second one, Rainbow Rocks) had a lot of effort put into them, with engaging stories that had just as many fantastic situations as the main My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series despite being in a more grounded setting. Now we have “Magical Movie Night,” the start of a new “series” of short stories, in lieu of a new Equestria Girls movie this year (hey, I don’t blame them; they’re working hard on the theatrical My Little Pony movie!).
The 65-minute feature is comprised of three stories, so think of it like a best-of DVD of three regular length episodes. Interestingly, the latter two stories are a two-parter, making the first story, “Dance Magic,” an outlier in the storytelling sense. In a sort-of sequel to the third direct-to-video feature Friendship Games, the rival school team Crystal Prep is back, and competing against the seven girls from Canterlot High (the aforementioned six, plus Sunset Shimmer, an Equestria Girls-exclusive character) in a dance music video competition. This story is also, interestingly, a semi-sequel to Legend of Everfree, in that the impetus for the plot is that the Canterlot girls want to enter the competition to win the grand prize money to pay for the damages done to the titular camp in that movie. However, after that bit of expository dialogue, Everfree isn’t really referenced anymore, so those who haven’t seen that film can still appreciate “Dance Magic.” As if facing off against Crystal Prep wasn’t hard enough, the girls realize they have to spend money to make money, as fashion expert Rarity wants to outdo the rivals in costumes. The conclusion is fairly predictable, but ties in with the whole “friendship” theme. It’s a slight but fun story.
Things switch gears in the second and third stories. “Movie Magic” has the Canterlot gang getting a coveted backstage pass to the production of the latest Daring Do flick (think the Pony version of Indiana Jones). Drama ensues when the movie’s relic prop goes missing, followed by various sets suddenly breaking. It’s up to the seven to find out who’s sabotaging the movie, and why. There’s a cloaked stranger lurking the studio and causing these incidents: could it be Miss Magnifico, who plays Daring Do’s sidekick and isn’t very thrilled to be there? Could it be Juniper Montage, director Mr. Zoom’s niece who has the keys to many parts of the set? Or is there somebody else who wants this movie canned?
As mentioned earlier, “Mirror Magic” picks up where “Movie Magic” left off, with the theatrical premiere of the new Daring Do movie. As I prepare to write this, I realize this is the hardest summary to write, not because it’s a complicated story, but because it’s hard to mention specifics without revealing how the second story wrapped up. Instead, I will say it involves a magic mirror that has great powers, which includes trapping the Canterlot girls inside it. It’s also the most noteworthy short on the disc, because of two major happenings: Sunset Shimmer visits Ponyville for the first time (on request from Ponyville Twilight Sparkle), and conversely, Starlight Glimmer visits Canterlot High, being bored while pony-version Twilight Sparkle is away and wanting to finally set foot in the human realm. So we finally get to see what Sunset looks like in pony form, and what Starlight looks like in humanoid form. It’s not just empty fanservice, though, since Starlight’s crossing-over factors into the story.
Of the three stories, the third is my favorite, for the unexpected surprise of Starlight factoring into the plot, and because of the nice cause-and-effect feel that results by directly following up with the second story. It’s also the only one to have a true “villain” that they have to overcome, whereas the rival team in the first story isn’t all they seem, and the second story is more of a detective story where the villain isn’t revealed until the very end. It’s always engaging to see main characters in a seemingly hopeless situation — in this case, stuck inside the magic mirror — and then wonder how they’ll get out of it.
How does Equestria Girls stack up to the regular Friendship is Magic series in terms of animation? Surprisingly well. There aren’t as many pre-made walk cycles for the characters, so there aren’t as many buttery smooth bits of animation as in the pony realm. There are also more specific poses in this universe, since the characters have limbs and a wider range of motions. It’s a lot of visual fun to see Starlight’s initial entry onto the Canterlot campus, recalling the moment in the first Equestria Girls movie when Twilight awkwardly had trouble adjusting to her humanoid body. I also dig the character designs, which give each character a new look but just enough unique features from their pony forms so you know who everybody is (i.e. skin color, hair color, unique facial features). And, of course, being human means they have to have a wardrobe, unlike in Ponyville when they’re all merely coated in fur most of the time. The variety in their outfits keeps things fresh throughout the movies and these shorts as well.
There is only one special feature on the disc: A sing-along for “Dance Magic,” which is the only of the three shorts to have a musical number. This means the disc is over before you know it; a far cry from the complete season sets that Shout! Factory was kind enough to release. Good thing the MSRP is fairly low.
Despite being really brief, “Magical Movie Night” was enjoyable and whetted my appetite for more in this “short series” in the Equestria Girls line. There are clearly more stories to be told in this universe, and I welcome them, especially since more Ponyville characters are being added all the time. It comes recommended, especially if you’ve been enjoying the Equestria Girls movies so far.