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Thursday, July 4, 2013

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls (2013) animated movie review

Overall verdict: 6.5/10

The Good: Retains the captivating personalities of the original characters, top notch voice acting, seamless animation despite technical limitations, catchy teen pop music,  
The Bad: trivialises its themes and core morals, lacks a credible story villain, much wasted potential, plays 'safe' with the status quo

3D Readiness: none
IMax-ability: none
For years, fans of the weirdly popular "My Little Pony Friendship is Magic" series have been flooding the Internet with fan art of the main characters in human form. In perhaps the biggest piece of fan service ever, the creators of the original TV series have produced a whole new movie with the very premise of your favorite characters in human form and going to high school. Yes, we all want to see our favorite characters go to high school (or turn human if they aren't already). Greek Legends go to high school in Class of the Titans, Rugrats go to school in All Grown Up,Transformers became humans at one point. Heck there was even a "Gotham High" cartoon series planned which recasts Batman and his villains as high school students..

Our story follows Twilight Sparkle as she pursues a previously unheard of rival named Sunset Shimmer through a magic portal in order to recover her magic crown that was stolen. Twilight ends up in another world where she is a human, there are human equivalents of every pony she has known in Ponyville and they all go to the same Canterlot High school. Once again the fish out of water, Twilight must start from scratch to try and fit in with this new world and make friends with these familiar characters all over again. Now here comes the stinker. Sunset shimmer has apparently been manipulating students against each other through social media. an embarrassing youtube video, photoshopped pictures and anonymous text messages are enough to break up a group of girls who have been best of friends since grade school. So Twilight would help to mend friendships that were torn because the most gullible girls in the world believed some fake phone messages over actually talking to each other and ascertaining the truth. Heck even the vice principle is fooled by some badly photocropped (as in physically cut and paste) pictures. Is this the most gullible school or what. fine. Now we have the big prom, which is one huge popularity contest. instead of showing twilight winning over the hearts and minds of her school mates through her honesty, sincerity and helpfulness, she wins them over through the magic of song and dance.

Yes, the synopsis sure does sound shallow. Alas, the movie itself is shallow and that is its main sin here. But before harping on that, one must acknowledge how true to the original series this movie is. Other than cosmetic changes, all your favorite characters are exactly the same as they were when they were ponies. Fluttershy is still the little shrinking violet with an obsession for cute little animals, Applejack is still the country bumpkin, Rarity still the glamor queen, Pinky Pie still the wacko psycho and Rainbow Dash the tomboy sporty one. Their new designs as human beings take bit of getting used to with the whole quasi-japanese-anime look with their oversized heads, tiny bodies and weird skin colour (including purple, green, pale blue etc) but once you do, they do have a certain adorable quality to them. The animation is smooth and surprisingly good considering it was animated in adobe flash. This pushes the envelope on what can be done with the over-the-counter animation software.

Now compliments aside, Equestria girls is still a disappointment because it has so much wasted potential. When twilight first steps into high school, her culture shock and the montage that accompanies the inner monologue song she sings seems to paint the premise as a clever metaphor for growing up and transitioning from the magical innocence of early years (ala ponyville where all kinds of wonders exist) to the harsher reality of school politics, competition and boy/girl relationships. That is never developed any further. Also as mentioned before, the story has many lessons to teach but glosses over them in the short 70 odd minutes run time. Trivial lessons at that. If you realise, all she did was bring the 5 main friends back together by showing them how stupid they've been in believing anonymous text messages instead of talking things out like sensible people. Or how Twilight won over Rainbow Dash by stroking her ego and losing in a soccer game.

 A much greater impact would be felt if the main 5 friends were never friends to begin with and Twilight helped bring them together despite their differences (this is hinted in one of the songs where it speaks about how twilight sparkle helped them look deeper and find the qualities that united them instead of those that separated them).  If it were not for the top notch voice acting, the characters would come across as bland and just, once again, shallow.

Then we have the silly side plots that make no impact on our main storyline. First off, twilights new romantic interest is Flash Sentry who is apparently Sunset Shimmer's ex boyfriend. That's it. No love triangle rivalry, no elaboration other than a few awkward stares and stammers. A much greater impact would be felt if Flash Sentry came to like twilight for her sincere personality or kind innocence and not just her looks. Twilight goes from odd ball outcast to most popular girl in school in a single day just because she can get her friends to put on a rousing musical number? How shallow. Then there is the hint that bringing the magical crown to the human world would have a certain effect on the magic. Never elaborated.
Thus, wasted potential all around.  we get good animation likable characters who are easy to relate to, and catchy tunes by composer Daniel Ingram which hardens back to the best of Disney animated musicals but that's about it. the movie had so much potential yet ended up trivializing many potentially deep themes on growing up, making friends and settling differences. With an all new premise the creators do nothing new with the story.Here we have an opportunity to do something different, to take the franchise one step further. Sadly there is nothing other than the premise to justify a full length feature film. Other movies based on ongoing TV series feature pivotal moments in a character's journey or a irreversible change to the status quo of that show. Nothing changes here. If not for the fact that the ponies are now human, the story would serve well enough as a 3 episode arc in the tv series. 
*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: B-
Story: C-
Characters: A-
Animation: A-
Art: B
Music: A
Voice work: A
Replay Value: B-
"Brains": D+

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