Monday, July 8, 2013

My Litte Pony: Equestria Girls (2013)

Yeah, that's right. I'm a brony. Normally I'd preface that by wording some kind of apology, like I'm ashamed to admit it but my hands are tied since my own rules for this thing require me to write about everything I see. But this time that's not happening, because there's nothing for me to apologize for. I feel no shame. I am a proud brony, and have been since 2011.

Most people have an opinion at this point about "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" whether they've seen the show or not, so allow me to throw my two cents into the ring as well. For me, MLP:FiM is darn near one of the best animated shows I've ever seen in my life. I love basically everything about it. The characters are incredible, the animation is colorful and pleasant to look at, the setting is fun, the levels of cuteness approach mythical proportions, and the stories harken back to the age when children's programming didn't treat kids like idiots, and actually tried to teach them something while being entertaining all at the same time. And the humor is borderline genius, injecting enough innocent G-rated kid friendly jokes with the more advanced humor that ranges from non-sequitur randomness to sneakily inserted PG-13 stuff for the adults to catch.

Seriously. Those little animals are going to straight up eat her. In "My Little Pony." That's awesome.

When I first heard about "Equestria Girls," I have to say I was a bit skeptical. While I was confident that the writing would be as strong as usual given that the script was penned by series powerhouse Meghan McCarthy, the very concept of taking these characters and turning them human seemed almost blasphemous. And honestly, I was just afraid that it would get too...I don't know...shallow somehow.

I really didn't want to see Twilight Sparkle need a date to prom or need to pass chemistry or deal with a bully picking on her in the locker room, you know? There is such an abundance of that kind of material that you can probably hit a show like it at random by just flipping through channels at any given time of day. One of the best things about MLP is that there are some of those aspects, but it's in a whole new setting with characters that aren't people, so it seems unique. It's familiar problems in a fantastical world, and I was afraid that actually turning the characters into girls in school would change that.

And let's not kid ourselves. The internet has already made it FAR too dangerous to humanize ponies. Crom help you if you do a Google image search for the characters with the filters off. Even with the filters on you normally hit some Rule 34 within the first 5 rows of results.

My fears were blissfully placated. "Equestria Girls" may be more like a typical 'awkward tweenger' movie than the more fantasy based TV series is, but the fantastic writing, the strength of the characterization, the endless charm, and most importantly the humor is all still present with the quality fans have come to expect from MLP:FiM.


The story picks up after the finale of season 3, with Twilight getting adjusted to having wings now. While staying in Canterlot, events transpire to send her through a magic mirror into another world, in order to retrieve her stolen Element of Harmony. This other world ends up being a place filled with humans, and Twilight is turned into one herself, and Spike becomes a dog. All of this is understandably a big shock to her, and makes for some great comedy. The scenes where she is acclimating herself to walking on two legs and figuring out how hands work, along with basically acting like a person instead of a pony provided some of the biggest laughs for me. There are some truly hysterical gags to be found here, and it's a constant throughout the film, as she never really gets 100% comfortable with the whole 'human' thing.


For some reason that's never fully explained (actually that's the biggest issue with the story), there are human versions of nearly every pony in Ponyville. Of course that includes the rest of the Mane 6, whom Twilight naturally recognizes. Although that's kind of confusing from a story perspective, part of the fun of "Equestria Girls" is spotting the human versions of all the characters. Even if they only have one scene, "Equestria Girls" does throw in a whole lot of fan favorites like Granny Smith, The Great and Powerful Trixie, Vinyl Scratch, and of course Derpy.

Twilight finds the rest of the Mane 6 at odds with each other, as they used to be friends but have recently drifted apart for reasons that obviously have something to do with the villain's shenanigans. In classic MLP fashion, through the power of friendship and all that good stuff, they learn to work together and become friends again. It's a plot that's very familiar to the show, and plays to its strengths. It's nothing overly special from a plot perspective, but the characters are always what drove MLP in the first place. And little to nothing about them is different besides their looks. The writing on them is still as strong as ever.

The villain of the film is a new character named Sunset Shimmer, a pony who has been hiding in the human world while doing all kinds of nefarious stuff to take over Equestria somehow. In the human world she takes the part of the school bully, and for most of the movie she is kind of a stock villain of the "Mean Girls" variety. That is until the end when it gets certifiably insane and Sunset Shimmer goes (literally) demonic. So while one could call stock on her for most of the movie, that complaint is outright obliterated by the last 10 minutes.

"Please, Twilight. This isn't even my final form."

Some might call the climax out-of-nowhere and bonkers, and they may be right, but I thought it was genius. I mentioned before that one of the reasons I love MLP is because it's a show that reminds me of great cartoons from back in the day which weren't afraid to NOT treat children like idiots. You'd find some really dark stuff in older cartoons, which made them actually memorable. "Equestria Girls" has an ending which is, dare I say, kind of freaky. Like, it gets kind of scary and intense there at the end, and I could see a little kid getting freaked out by that. But that's what makes movies like that memorable.

Like they've consistently done since the show got widely popular, the creators of MLP have kept "Equestria Girls" extremely self-aware of itself and its fanbase. There are forth-wall breaking gags and callbacks to earlier episodes in the series, as well as a slew of shout-outs to the internet community which drives the popularity of the show all throughout "Equestria Girls." This makes sense since MLP is a show that listens to and embraces its fans online, and tosses us little bones all the time like they're constantly saying "Thank you!" I've always really appreciated it.

"If only I had some kind of party cannon that could decorate everything really quickly..."

No discussion of anything related to MLP would be complete without mentioning the unsung hero of the show, composer Daniel Ingram. Ingram is nothing sort of a musical genius, and writes what has to be the most complex, way-more-sophisticated-than-you'd-expect music and songs for a children's TV show since Richard Stone and his team did "Animaniacs." For "Equestria Girls" he has kept the featured songs (of which there's only a couple) sounding like a combination of modern pop a-la Katy Perry and what you'd hear from the vastly popular MLP remix community online. Personally, I liked it. It was no "Becoming Popular" or "Smile" but it was catchy and fit the setting quite nicely.

I don't think I need to say too much about the stellar cast which hasn't been said before, but I feel it necessary to point out that Tara Strong as Twilight Sparkle is probably one of the best voice actresses working today. All of the cast is phenomenal, but she absolutely kills it here, even more so than usual. Tara does "panicked and stressed" better than nearly anyone else I've ever heard, and it's a hilarious delight to listen to her. But I also feel the need to mention that Tabitha St. Germain's performance as Rarity is just as good, and provides some of the film's funniest moments.


The only thing that I found to be slightly distracting was the presence of the pseudo-love interest for Twilight Sparkle, a new character named Flash Sentry, which is an exceedingly stupid name not only to hear but even more so to say. He's one of Celestia's royal guards, but in the human world he's just a normal teenager who happens to be the villain's ex-boyfriend. Why he has a name like Flash Sentry when he's just a kid in school is an utter mystery to me, but then again it's just a byproduct of the premise of the show. But they didn't even go so far as to make him a hall monitor. That would at least have made a little sense given his name. Make him a lifeguard. Heck, make him an offensive tackle on the football team, I don't know. At least he's guarding the quarterback at that point. Actually that would be have pretty clever.

The issue I had with him was that this is the first time Twilight has ever had something close to a love interest. And if you ask me, it's a bit out of line with the rest of the show. While it's fine to explore things like that, because it does happen and it's good for kid's shows to address it, it's just something that feels like it doesn't belong, and it's not even very well handled unfortunately. Even though barely anything of substance ended up happening besides awkward flirting and squeals of "Ooooooo Twilight has a crush!" from her friends, Flash Sentry is a character I'd rather not see make an appearance in season 4. Aside from not being an interesting character because he's boring with no personality while being saddled with a dumb name and the weakest voice actor in the cast, he just doesn't fit the tone of the show.

Wait. Twilight's a pony. But she's attracted to a human? If they become an item, will she have to struggle with the fact that she first fell for him in human form? This is so weird to even contemplate.

I know that there's a very vocal percentage of MLP fans that absolutely, 100% despises the very notion of "Equestria Girls" like it's the animated version of Ebola mixed with root canals and ethnic cleansing. I'm guessing most of those people didn't even watch the dang movie. Knowing the type to instantly write something off like that, they probably never will. But they'll be content with calling it terrible. And that's just a lame thing to do. I hate Michael Bay, but I sat through the "Transformers" movies even though I knew I'd loathe them. Because hey, maybe the next one might surprise me. (It didn't, but still.) Maybe if they un-waded their collective panties they'd discover that "Equestria Girls" is merely MLP in human form. That's it. It's the same show. If you like MLP, there's no reason you wouldn't like this besides firmly making up your mind beforehand that you won't.

Whether or not I'd want to see "Equestria Girls" spin off as its own thing, I've not decided yet. I'd watch it for sure given my positive reaction towards the movie. I'm not sure how well it would work, though. But hey, if it happens I'm going to actually trust the creative forces at work, who so far have given me nothing but an incredible show that leaves a smile on my face and makes me happy. At this point I think they've earned at least that.

This trailer is WAY better than the first one you may have seen. It's still not a great representation of the film, but it's way closer.

THE BOTTOM LINE - My love for MLP meant that I enjoyed the heck out of "Equestria Girls." It is not for the uninitiated by any means, as any non-herd member would be utterly lost and probably bored because they wouldn't get the slew of running gags. But for fans with open minds who didn't immediately write it off based on the mere concept, "Equestria Girls" is a surprisingly solid entry in the annals of MLP. Celestia help me, this might make my Top 10 of 2013 based on my enjoyment of it alone.

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