My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was a phenomenon unlike what anyone, including the show’s creators, expected upon the first season’s release in 2010. As a blatant tie-in to Hasbro’s relaunch of the My Little Pony brand, Friendship is Magic surprised animation fans with its surprisingly strong characterization, witty writing, and a shocking amount of commitment to lore and world-building. This led to an adult fanbase for the show that would come to be known as “bronies,” reflecting the shocking number of adult male support for a show targeted at young girls. This groundswell of support has, for better or worse, propelled the series into being a pop culture phenomenon that has thus far supported seven seasons of the TV show (with an eighth on the way), a spinoff series of TV movies called Equestria Girls, and a merchandising line that dwarfs what Hasbro could have initially anticipated. It is of course inevitable, then, that a big screen adaptation would manifest itself, which sees the Friendship is Magic moniker dropped to simply be known as My Little Pony: The Movie. As a fan of the show who fully acknowledges both the absurdity of their adult fandom and that the show has suffered precipitously diminishing returns as the years drag on, this writer is obliged to point out that, while a perfectly adequate bit of children’s movie fluff, there just isn’t much to recommend about this cinematic exploit.
My Little Pony: The Movie finds princess of friendship Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong)—just roll with it, the names are all silly—preparing for a massive celebration in the capitol city of Canterlot. However, just as the preparations are about to give way to festivities, an ominous airship lands in the city bearing Tempest Shadow, a unicorn with a broken horn (played by a showstealing Emily Blunt) who acts as harbinger for the Storm King (Liev Schrieber), a satyr-esque creature bent on using the magical power of the pony princesses to rule the world. As Tempest subjugates the city and incapacitates the other three pony princesses, Twilight and her six friends escape so as to seek out help from a kingdom to the south, meeting friends and foes along the way.
The plot’s outline is a fairly basic series of vignettes that introduce characters for the dual purposes of providing celebrity cameos and pushing new character designs for Hasbro to capitalize upon. Taye Diggs makes an appearance as an anthropomorphic cat, whose con artist characterization seems only too reflective of how the character’s design belongs on an amateur DeviantArt account rather than in a feature film; Zoe Saldana makes an appearance as a birdlike pirate captain who is as underdeveloped as she is visually uninspired; and Kristin Chenoweth and Uzo Aduba appear as the royalty of a society of finned sea ponies… or griffin ponies. Look, it’s complicated.
The film moves at a decent clip and never lingers long enough on one self-advertising setpiece for too long, and it is surprisingly light on referential fan service to the point where it almost seems as if bronies weren’t taken into consideration as an audience of primary appeal. While that’s a good thing in theory, it just doesn’t seem as if the film’s writing is up to the task of carrying the new adventure otherwise. Constructively the narrative is about Twilight learning to place trust in her friends while the villainous Tempest reveals herself to have been influenced by a tragic past, which is all well and good but is also territory the show has traversed multiple times already. The show’s trademark wit and humor are only wispily present, providing occasional chuckles and knowing nods to how the dynamics of characters like Rarity or Rainbow Dash have grown over the course of the series, but it also completely lacks the depth and nuance those characters exhibit when they aren’t competing for screen time with new characters or flashy spectacle.
The blunt fact of the matter is that My Little Pony: The Movie is a pretty shallow experience, which is functionally fine for distracting a small child for over an hour but somewhat disappointing for adults and fans hoping to get something out of the experience too. The appeal of Friendship is Magic has always been in the creative allure of its fantastical world and the evolving dynamics between the characters who inhabit it. My Little Pony: The Movie is much more authentic to the franchise’s cynical, toy advertising roots, dancing supposedly appealing new characters in front of the kids with the hopes that the parents know just what to buy come Christmas. As a critic, this writer is relatively unsurprised by the lack of inspiration. As a fan, I’m just sad to see this film as part of a continuing downward trend for a franchise I grew to love.