(Spoilers obviously follow, so you’ve been warned.)
The first Festival of Friendship, a new event proposed by Princess Twilight Sparkle, is upon Equestria, and she is heading up the festivities in Canterlot by getting pop singer Songbird Serenade to perform; but, true to her normal neurotic form, is fearful that her own “magic of friendship” isn’t good enough to highlight the event as much as it deserves. As the rest of the Mane Six and Spike try to reassure her that they’re all there to help her, a dark cloud bearing a fleet of airships descends on Canterlot. They reveal themselves to be the armies of the Storm King, a monster obsessed with world conquest, and are led by his greatest minion: a scarred unicorn with a broken horn named Commander Tempest Shadow. After Princess Celestia refuses her ultimatum for an unconditional surrender and all four princesses giving up their magic to her, she shows off her astonishing power even with a broken horn by easily defeating and imprisoning her, Luna, and Cadance with special gem bombs that immobilize the victims in crystal statues. She nearly does the same to Twilight when Rainbow Dash saves her (freezing Derpy instead), and she, Spike, and the Mane Six manage to escape in the chaos by falling into a river. On learning of this, Tempest goes off in pursuit, revealing that in exchange for giving the Storm King all the magic in Equestria she’ll get her own broken horn restored.
On reaching solid ground, Twilight directs the Mane Six follow a direction Celestia attempted to call out to Luna before she was imprisoned and find the “Queen of the Hippos” past the Badlands beyond the borders of Equestria. After crossing a barren desert and arriving in a run down city full of scavengers only interested in making money, they are nearly accosted by a group of locals wanting to capture and sell them until they are bailed out by a local anthropomorphic cat named Capper. In spite of Twilight not trusting him, the Mane Six go with him back to his place, and while inside she finds a map in his possession that indicates what they really need to find is the “Queen of the Hippogriffs”, creatures that are part eagle and part pony. They are about to leave for their kingdom on Mount Eris when debt collectors for Capper arrive, revealing he only helped them because he intended to sell them to pay a debt of his own, along with Tempest and her own minions. As a result of the confusion the Mane Six and Spike escape aboard a departing airship. Tempest demands that Capper tell her where they were headed, but Capper, on thinking of how Rarity repaired his coat and wanted nothing in return, lies about their destination; yet is dragged along by Tempest until they’re found.
On board the airship, which is crewed by anthropomorphic birds in the service of the Storm King, the girls are discovered. On being confronted, their captain, Celaeno, reveals they used to be sky pirates but were impressed into menial cargo labor by him. Rainbow Dash and the others, except Twilight who feels it is a waste of time, encourage and convince the pirates to get their old spirit back and resume their former lifestyles in rebellion against the Storm King, and in the process take them to their destination. Unfortunately, Rainbow decides to cap things off by performing a Sonic Rainboom for them, and as a result the blast leads Tempest’s own airship right to them. While Celaeno stalls, refusing to tell Tempest about the girls in spite of her threats, the rest of the Mane Six escape. In retribution, Tempest blows up their airship with the bird pirates and Capper on board, although the group manages to survive.
The girls and Spike arrive on Mount Eris only to find the kingdom long abandoned, but are attracted by a voice to a pond in the middle of the kingdom where they see a mysterious glowing figure vanish in the water. On jumping in after her, the pond sucks them into a sealed underwater cavern, but the figure rescues them from drowning and reveals herself to be Princess Skystar, seemingly a merpony. She shows the girls to the rest of their kingdom and introduces them to her mother, Queen Novo. It is revealed that the merponies were once the hippogriffs, but when the Storm King attacked them years ago they used the power of a magic pearl to transform the entire kingdom into merponies, and they made a new kingdom under the ocean. She does the same to the Mane Six and Spike, which prompts Twilight Sparkle to ask for the pearl to use it to transform the citizens of Equestria into creatures powerful enough to defeat the Storm King’s minions. Novo refuses, both due to mistrust as well as fears the pearl would be lost to the Storm King, although Skystar extends an offer to the girls to live in the safety of the kingdom instead. When they move to leave and Skystar looks unhappy that she’s lost a chance to have anyone to play with, Twilight suggests the girls have fun with her for a few minutes. As a result, Pinkie Pie and the girls end up enthusing the whole kingdom, Novo included, and persuades her to let the girls use the pearl after all–only to find out soon after that Twilight used the whole thing as a diversion to try and steal the pearl. Furious, Novo returns them to their former forms and banishes them from their kingdom. The girls angrily confront Twilight and her behavior; pointing out that since she left Equestria she’s constantly been refusing to give friendship a chance in helping them on their journey as she doesn’t believe that’s “good enough” to help them succeed/survive; and Twilight, bitter at both her failure and how she’s just ruined Equestria, ends up lashing back at the girls for not going along with her and calling them friends she doesn’t need. The rest of the Mane Six, hurt by the comments, leave Twilight and Spike on their own; and while Twilight begins to sink into depression over how she treated them on top of everything else, the Storm King’s minions come upon her and capture her.
Caged on board Tempest’s airship, the unicorn mocks Twilight at having no friends to help her now and boasting that by rejecting friendship and making herself into who she is today she’s superior to her. She reveals that as a filly her friendship with two other young unicorns caused her to get into an accident with an Ursa Minor that left her scarred and without a horn, and that they ended up abandoning her on seeing her unable to do magic; leading her to believe the only individual she could ever rely on was herself. On hearing this, Twilight realizes she’s been making the same mistakes Tempest made in not having faith in friendship with others and doing whatever she could to succeed, and, in spite of the unicorn’s heartless and self-interested demeanor, feels sympathy for her. Meanwhile, the girls learn of Twilight’s capture but feel unable to do anything, until they’re joined by Capper, Captain Celaeno, the rest of the pirates, and even Princess Skystar (transformed back into a hippogriff), who agree to help effect a rescue.
Twilight is taken back to the Canterlot Palace, now the domain of the Storm King himself who has gone about destroying the rest of Equestria in her absence. She and the rest of the princesses have their magic forcefully removed and put into his staff. The Mane Six and their new friends attack soon after and manage to clear a path through the Storm King’s army all the way to the palace, at which point he summons a massive tornado with his new power to block them from getting any closer. Tempest tells the Storm King to honor his half of the deal and pledges to continue to serve him with her restored power, yet he simply says he has no more use for her power and never intended to give her back her horn at all. After a failed attempt to do away with her blasts the Storm King and the staff to one side while Tempest is nearly knocked into the tornado itself, Twilight ignores her chance to get the staff and instead, much to Tempest’s own surprise, rescues her; telling her this is what friendship is really like. The Mane Six use Pinkie Pie’s massive cake cannon to fire themselves into the Storm King before he can finish both Twilight and Tempest, and with their help Twilight grabs the staff before both she and the Storm King are sucked into the tornado. Twilight is able to stop it using the staff’s magic and goes back to the others, but the Storm King also survives and has one last gem bomb to try and trap Twilight and the girls. Seeing him about to throw it, Tempest jumps into the path of the gem bomb to intercept the blast; imprisoning both her and the Storm King before they fall off a parapet. The Storm King hits the ground and shatters, but Twilight saves Tempest again before she can fall.
Using the staff, Twilight frees Tempest, the three alicorn princesses, and Derpy, and restores everything the Storm King and his army destroyed. Songbird Serenade performs as intended for the new audience, which now includes Capper, Celaeno and her pirates, Skystar, and even Queen Novo and the rest of the hippogriffs. Tempest, ashamed both of her actions as well as the fact she’s still a unicorn without a horn, attempts to leave discretely, but Twilight stops her…assuring her that her horn is just as strong as the pony who owns it and that “the party” could always use more friends. She ends up using her broken horn to make fireworks and, to her own embarrassment, gives out her real name to her new friends (Fizzlepop Berrytwist), which Pinkie Pie declares the best name ever.
Well…here it is.
After months of hype, anticipation, trailers, teasers, and waiting…we got “My Little Pony: The Movie”, an actual full length movie of the characters from Equestria rather than the Equestria Girls spinoff. For weeks the fans had poured over art, announcement of voice actors, clips in trailers, and music from the soundtrack. There were prequels, merchandise, and interviews abound, and all building to this one moment. No one knew exactly what to expect. Would this boldly go in new directions? Armed with a PG rating, would it push the content envelope? Would this be the most epic story of all time? Would it be “Hollywoodized”? Would it have some sort of major event to change the show forever?
Well, finally it came out. And what’s my own verdict?
On a personal level, I was a tad disappointed. All of this hype, work, partnering with Lionsgate, and three years worth of development for a film that is, quite basically, a giant drama-based episode. It had some things that were a little better than average but some things that were a little worse than average, and…well, let’s get into it.
Let’s start with the artwork. It went in a slightly different direction from the show’s art. On one hand, I like a few details. The new animation of perspective of pegasi flying gives a new appreciation for it, as on the show itself they’re usually only flying at a side profile. Rainbow Dash’s Sonic Rainboom looked amazing. And the perspectives used in “Open Up Your Eyes” enhanced the presentation.
Yet…there was some bad stuff too. The “cruder” animation on the show allowed for more cartoonish rapid movement. In this movie, everyone “takes their time” moving. There’s nothing rapid and fast that happens on screen. Even the fight sequences seem to be slowed down.
Also, none of the characters move rapidly anymore as they would on the show either. Body language on the show is such a major part of actions and reactions, along with exaggerated facial expressions. In this movie, they do something bizarre for an animated film…close ups. Lots of close ups. They attempt to suddenly make the characters emote through facial reactions alone. And, to me, it doesn’t work well. Especially since it constantly happens to Twilight Sparkle, and she honestly looks tired, emaciated, and, dare I say, a bit ugly in most of the film.
The thing is most of this new animation seems designed to enhance the new characters and their own way of acting and reacting, which is at odds with the original pony characters. The end result is that they end up standing out while the ponies we know and love are boring. More on that soon…
As for the music, Sia’s “Rainbow” is, naturally, beautiful. Nothing less than I’d expect from the co-writer of Zootopia’s “Try Everything”. If the movie gets any acclaim at all, it might take home a Best Original Song Oscar. As for the rest of the music…it’s there. I think Daniel Ingram is rather talented but his songs on the show usually “average out”. I don’t feel there were any “dud” songs in this film, and I’m so grateful it didn’t include a “Twilight is Unhappy” song. But ironically, I think he shot himself in the foot. Vocals are usually the biggest part of his songs on the show. He mentioned that he was excited to get to work with a full orchestra in this movie, but that ironically drowned out some of the vocal appeal. On the high end I feel “You Need a Friend Like Me” had a quality of charm to it, while “Open Up Your Eyes”, like most of Tempest Shadow’s lines, was monotone and “disinterested-sounding”. I was crossing my fingers for another “Luna’s Future” in this movie, but…nope.
Character-wise… One of the big problems with Megan McCarthy is that she usually tends to focus on Twilight Sparkle and ignore everypony else in the Mane Six except to be used as gags or one-liners. This movie didn’t make that mistake…kind of. Twilight is still the focus but the girls get to contribute…a little. Pinkie Pie is definitely in position number two for getting the most focus, as she easily has more stand-out screen time than any of the other girls. Almost too much. The scene with the confrontation with Twilight seems like Applejack should have been the one to deliver it, but instead it’s Pinkie Pie of all characters–one of the least confrontational out of the set. She’s highlighted with Princess Skystar to boot. Conversely, Rainbow Dash gets highlighted with Captain Celaeno, but aside from a brief cider gag at the beginning of the movie and her Sonic Rainboom she doesn’t really get much that stands out. Rarity doesn’t really get much, although her brief 15 second scene with Capper was important. Yet she suffers the worst for the animation style, because even her drama queen bits seem underplayed when that’s supposed to be over-the-top to a hilarious degree. But Applejack and Fluttershy are just along for the ride, and Fluttershy has so little to do she uses her old “yay” joke twice. Neither are really utilized or even have a reason to be in the film other than they need all six of them. Aside from that, Spike serves his usual role of letting Twilight say her emotional state rather than needing to show it or imply it, and Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and Princess Cadance are only around to be Worf Effect #1, Worf Effect #2, and Worf Effect #3…as usual. The latter really disappoints me. I thought they would have had something for those three to do after all this time. Now…I realize we need more episodes like “A Royal Problem” and “Once Upon a Zeppelin” just to make them stand out as something besides characters to get instantly smacked down by every villain. (I feel really bad for Britt McKillip, who probably was able to come in one day for an hour to do her lines. :/)
The characters who really stand out are the ones for the movie. At first I was wondering why they got billing over the actual show cast, but…on seeing the movie, they deserved it. They had the most energy and interest, although I’m not sure if they were directed or written that way or it came off from their personalities. Taye Diggs’ Capper ended up having more charisma to him than I thought he would. Michael Cena’s Grubber was such a good Olaf imitation that the voice acting managed to make up for much of his lamer jokes. Liev Schreiber’s Storm King ended up having a delightful Adorable Psycho ring to it that reminded me of Lord Dominator from “Wander Over Yonder”. And I loved Kristen Chenowith’s Princess Skystar. She reminded me of kind of a mix of Dory from “Finding Nemo” and Pearl from “Steven Universe”.
Yet even that got ruined a bit by not making effective use of everyone. Kazumi Evans, Rarity’s singing voice, is one of the better vocal talents on the show and yet it was Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie who got songs to themselves. Likewise, Kristen Chenowith is a great singer and yet she only got “half a number”. The Storm King was probably my favorite of the new characters and his childish demeanor could have made for a lot of entertaining bits…and how many scenes did he get? TWO.
And of course the pony of the hour…Fizzlepop Berrytwist AKA Tempest Shadow.
In terms of persona, she definitely managed to pull off an aura of looking dark, cold, and merciless. She sold herself not only as being ruthless but also personally dangerous; a character who not only looked intimidating but was. She had the advantage of being a character not really used on the show yet: a dark, emotionless “dark lord” type. And in the scenes where her eyes go wide and she grins malevolently…whew.
And yet, Emily Blunt’s voice acting “killed” a lot of her persona. I don’t blame her. She tried. Tempest is mostly monotone throughout the whole film, and I know why. Her voice actor was likely trying to make her sound cold and ruthless like a Darth Vader type. The problem is…Emily Blunt’s voice is too pleasant to pull that off. Rather than sound dark, Tempest sounds bored or disinterested.
As a villainous character, I will say I like her better than Starlight Glimmer, and out of all the villains on the show who have done Heel Turn Faces she’s the most complete. Unlike Starlight, Tempest had a real tragedy happen to her. Left scarred and deformed trying to do something for her “friends”, reduced to being a “freak” of a pony, having lost the one thing that made unicorns unique… It’s understandable how she could have gone down a path where she no longer cared about what happened to the rest of Equestria so long as she got what she wanted, or even wanted them to suffer feeling she had been cast out. Furthermore, she’s clearly made a name for herself and learned to survive and even thrive in the world outside of Equestria. Therefore, the real reason she may want her horn back is because, on a deep level, she doesn’t feel like a “real unicorn” unless she has it. Perhaps a part of her emotionally scarred does still long to be accepted like everypony else. She gets a few other subtle moments too. When the Storm King starts abusing the magic he’s stolen for selfish, childish reasons, Tempest is visibly hesitant and uneasy. Earlier she chastised the citizens of Equestria for “wasting” the power on parties, but now she seems to realize the true waste is to make it the plaything of a child-like tyrant. That using this sort of power just to destroy and show yourself off really isn’t as great as she thought it was. Even before the Storm King makes it clear he never planned to live up to his end of the deal, she’s starting to wonder if giving him what he wanted was a good idea to begin with, horn or no horn. And rather than spontaneously turn around, what pushes her “back into the light” is seeing Twilight abandon her chance to save Equestria to rescue her after all of her persecution and taunting.
Finally, the main plot, and the main “lesson” of the movie. To be honest, I didn’t think much of it on the first viewing. I thought it was alright, but basic and unremarkable. Yet on seeing it a second time, as I do often with many MLP episodes, I saw a lot more to it.
The big trend of the series has been to make the villains, especially ones who will be redeemed, “alternate versions of Twilight Sparkle”. Sunset Shimmer was definitely that. Starlight Glimmer was that in a lot of ways. Even Moondancer was a “Twilight that could have been”. This movie did it a bit different. Rather than trying to juxtapose an alternate Twilight Sparkle onto Fizzlepop Berrytwist, they do something more subtle and focus that it’s the choice both of them are making that are bad.
Twilight is no stranger to being neurotic, but her problem in this movie is that once she’s moved out of her “comfort zone” she started to doubt the power of friendship. No longer in the realm of Equestria, she starts feeling like she’s in a sphere where the old rules don’t apply anymore. And, as the film goes on, it progressively gets worse. With Capper, she was just being overly cautious, and she ended up being that way with good reason as he did end up betraying them…although she didn’t have faith that friendship with the girls would win him over. With Celaeno and the pirates, she’s to the point of not even wanting to bother with their help. It’s the other girls who take all the initiative. Finally, with Queen Novo and Princess Skystar, she starts to cross the line. She does something downright dishonest and unethical, feeling it’s the only way to succeed outside of Equestria.
There’s a very interesting detail in the scene where she gets in an argument with the girls. Right when she reaches the zenith of her anger and says she doesn’t need friends like the Mane Six…her horn sparks–just like Fizzlepop Berrytwist’s.
That’s what drove the rest of the plot home for me from there. Twilight, over the course of the film, was gradually “turning into Tempest Shadow”; making the same mistakes she made. The real “punch” to the “Open Up Your Eyes” scene soon after that isn’t supposed to be Fizzlepop oozing her malevolence and power over Twilight, but Twilight realizing what she had been doing and how she was going down the same road she once went down. From that point on in the film, she starts to force herself to turn around in spite of being in the worst situation yet. In spite of the fact Fizzlepop still treats her cruelly and as a fool, she expresses her sympathy to her for what happened to her horn.
Yet the biggest movement happens several minutes later–when Twilight is given the chance to get her magic back and end the invasion of the Storm King if she’ll let Fizzlepop die.
In all honesty, it’s somewhat a condensed version of Season Four, and in particular an alternate version of “Twilight’s Kingdom”. In that one, Twilight had her “virtue” put to the test when Discord betrayed the Mane Six to help Tirek. In terms of the drama, it’s a bit weaker since the rest of the girls making friends had to be emphasized, and because the Storm King, in all honesty, is a subpar villain in terms of raw malevolence to Tirek. Yet nevertheless it still does a bit better in terms of who is redeemed. In Discord’s case, it was a sign of Twilight’s virtue that she was willing to forgive someone who honestly didn’t deserve it and who knew he didn’t deserve it. In this one…even after everything that happened and as cold and ruthless as she was, Twilight honestly felt pity for Fizzlepop–that she “deserved a true friend”. In “Twilight’s Kingdom”, you felt good for Twilight for making that choice in the end. In “My Little Pony: The Movie”, you feel good for Twilight for making that choice and a bit good for Fizzlepop for getting that act of compassion. So even though it’s a bit over old territory, like most plotlines that MLP:FIM uses that are from the old cartoon playbook, they manage to put their own little spin on it.
So to sum up, at it’s core, it had a nice lesson about holding true to your principles even when times get difficult and you’re forced out of your “comfort zone” that I felt was expressed a bit better and more mature than the season-wide moral of Season Four; but for all the colorful animation, the fact that everyone seems to move slower and be more subdued, to say nothing of the fact the villain seemed too childish to be taken too seriously, the climax lacked the dramatic punch that “Twilight’s Kingdom” did. The new characters are a lot of fun, even if they do the old deal of degenerating the rest of the Mane Six into placeholders. It almost feels like an original animated film rather than a “My Little Pony” movie with how little ponies, or even Equestria, even factors into everything. We never even see Ponyville. Nevertheless, the movie did take the bold step of actually killing a character on screen, and Sia’s original song was phenomenal. At the end of the day, you feel good that Twilight Sparkle used the staff in time to keep Fizzlepop Berrytwist from shattering; and since she was such a domineering, cold, and ruthless villain for most of it…that means the plot did its job.
I don’t think this film will end up attracting too many more to “the Herd”, but for the brony community it will be a nice bit of entertainment. Now the only question is where do things go from here. After taking three seasons off to devote himself to this movie, Jayson Theissen is back in the director’s chair for the main series on a show that has changed quite a bit from what it was when this movie began to be conceived. A feature film is normally the “kiss of death” to an animated series. Whether or not the show will continue is as up in the air as if we’ll ever see Capper, Captain Celaeno, Princess Skystar, or Fizzlepop Berrytwist ever again.
Based on the timeline of the movie’s announcement, the film began production around the end of Season Four. This is appropriate, as both Jayson Theissen, the director, and Megan McCarthy, the writer, handed over responsibilities to other newer show staff around this time. Thiessen, along with James Wootton, was the director of all MLP:FIM episodes until “The Cutie Map”, at which point Denny Lu, Tim Stuby, and Mike Myhre took over the reins. McCarthy was one of the show’s original writers and is responsible for the first two Equestria Girls movies, “A Canterlot Wedding”, and “Twilight’s Kingdom”. Considering the fact that Starlight Glimmer appears only as a background character in a few scenes, it’s fair to say that this movie was made only with up-to-Season-Four in mind.
While only a few members of the show’s regular cast have speaking roles, there are a number of odd cameos. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom are in a cage in one scene, and Apple Bloom appears very briefly in the opening. Starlight Glimmer and Trixie Lulamoon appear as background characters and even highlight one of the stills in the credits, but neither have speaking lines or any other actions in the movie. Discord fails to appear, but in the beginning Pinkie Pie makes a balloon Discord, and both his silhouette and him in the background appear in the credits. Very few of these characters get any speaking lines. Ironically, the most infamous “muted” character, Muffins/Derpy, gets both a line as well as a plot relevant device in this movie. When she takes the hit for Twilight Sparkle, she yells: “Twilight!”
Britt McKillip, voice of Princess Cadance, has a grand total of two lines in the entire film.
While never stated directly on the show, it’s canon that Cadance was adopted by Princess Celestia as a filly. Her reaction to Cadance being “crystalized” is one of the few moments that seems to punctuate that relationship.
The movie hints that the alicorns of Equestria are themselves the ultimate source of magic in Equestria. This was vaguely referenced way back in Season Three’s “Magical Mystery Cure” when part of the reason Twilight became an alicorn is because she created new magic, and the book version of “The Journal of the Two Sisters” had the unicorns of Equestria get their magic restored when Celestia and Luna (both alicorns) gained their Cutie Marks.
When Capper suggests that the “illness” the Mane Six have will cause those infected to have their extremities fall off, the fish man grabs for his nether regions off screen.
The sounds made by the spell when Fizzlepop attempts to contact the Storm King resemble old 56K dial-up modems.
In the movie’s official prequel, it is revealed that Fizzlepop Berrytwist was the one who caused Queen Novo to hide herself and her kingdom when she and Grubber first attempted to steal her pearl, by pretending to be homeless and destitute travelers in need of shelter. The queen initially thought she’d make a good playmate for Princess Skystar. The prequel, however, is somewhat at odds with the movie version as well as the show’s timeline. It hints that the reason Fizzlepop joined with the Storm King was partially because he and Grubber appreciated her power in spite of her broken horn, and there was some indication that she thought of Grubber as her only friend. In the movie, however, she treats him like a disposable lackey. On an additional note, the prequel is told entirely from Fizzlepop’s perspective, so that her real name is never mentioned.
Sia is so far the only person ever to play the pony version of themselves. Her Cutie Mark bears some resemblance to that of Countess Coloratura from ‘The Mane Attraction”, indicating extremely musical Equestrians may share similar Cutie Marks.
Fizzlepop Berrytwist shares many similarities with Darth Vader. She abandoned her own identity when she turned to evil, changing her name to Tempest Shadow and becoming “more machine than man”. She’s scarred and unable to use her full potential as a result. The area where she cages Twilight Sparkle is similar to the carbonite pit in “The Empire Strikes Back”. She uses “Force Lightning” as her primary weapon. Finally, she’s seduced by an offer of power by her master, and in the end sacrifices herself for the sake of the protagonist as part of her redemption.
Fizzlepop Berrytwist’s movements and demeanor are very similar to Maud Pie’s, including her way of walking, keeping her head still when talking, and even her Crystal-Pony-like eyelashes.
After being fired out of the Confetti Cake Cannon, when Pinkie Pie crashes into Fluttershy she emits a “squee”.
The show “killed a villain” arguably as early as Season Three with King Sombra (ignoring the IDW Comic), but he was portrayed so subsentient and as such a force of darkness rather than an individual that I don’t feel that counted. To me, the first real death on screen happened in this movie with the Storm King. Way to use the PG rating. 🙂
The actual “Queen of the Hippos” appears in the end credits.
3.5 Stars out of 5