My Little Pony: Equestria Girls is the Pony Movie We've Got, If Not the One We Want
It's not always a good sign when a cult television show cuts a season short to make time for a feature film. Case in point, my all-time favorite show Mystery Science Theater 3000 did it in 1996; they'd produced 24 episodes a year since 1991, but for their seventh season they only made six episodes to make room in their schedule for Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. I don't dislike the MST3k movie at all -- I saw it more than once in the theater, and ask me sometime to show you my collection of promo merchandise -- but all things being equal, I would have preferred more episodes.
Similarly, the third season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was cut down from 26 episodes to 13, most likely in order to make the feature film My Little Pony: Equestria Girls. And while the movie (which hits video today) is not without its charms, in the long run, I'm not convinced it's a good substitute for a full third season.
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, in which series protagonist Twilight Sparkle steps through a magic mirror into a strange land in which she and her friends are human high school students, got the briefest of theatrical runs this past summer, screening five or six non-consecutive times in San Francisco. My operating theory is that the studio decided its appeal wasn't broad enough to merit full distribution, but they needed it to play in theaters to qualify for Oscar consideration. (Don't laugh. Far sillier animated movies have been submitted for Oscar consideration; just look at last year's list, which included the deeply stupid anime The Mystical Laws.) My girlfriend Marta and I caught the July 9 showing at the Balboa...
Did we buy tickets? Yes we did. This is one of the few tickets I've paid for this year since I began reviewing movies for the Weekly, in fact.
And did we go inside? All the way, baby.
A couple weeks later, I attended a Saturday morning press screening of Turbo at the Metreon, and I was soooo tempted to ditch it and catch the concurrent one-off Equestria Girls showing a few doors down.
I also recapped the first two seasons of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic for the Weekly. Now that my bona fides are unnecessarily established, what of the movie itself? First off, My Little Pony: Equestria Girls is probably a better name for the series than My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic ever was (it's the Cougar Town problem), and it's all the more ironic considering that very little of the film actually takes place in Equestria.
Continuity-wise, My Little Pony: Equestria Girls picks up after the end of the third season, with Twilight having recently discovered her destiny as an Alicorn princess, and getting a pair of wings in the process. None of that comes into play when she crosses over into the human world -- it'll be more fully explored in the fourth season, presumably -- but for me, the real disconnect is that the movie drops the characters in age considerably.
The Mane Six have always come across as post-high school at the youngest; they work, worry about money, and generally have adult responsibilities. For that matter, there doesn't seem to be anything resembling high school per se in Ponyville, and Apple Blossom implied in "Hearts and Hooves Day" that Cheerilee's elementary school is the last bastion against rampant illiteracy (and thus chaos) among ponies.
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls follows the high school-picture template slavishly, to the extent that not only does the climax center around The Big Dance -- and one without any of the emotional resonance of the Grand Galloping Gala in the Season 1 finale "The Best Night Ever" -- but the formula also demands that Twilight be crushed out on a boy. The fact that the boy, Flash Sentry, seems at first to be an analogue for her brother Shining Armor probably could have been easily avoided by giving him not-blue hair, or possibly a name that didn't sound so much like her brother's. The net result is that it feels at times like the Friendship is Witchcraft parody "Foaly Matripony," which takes Twilight's open jealousy at her brother's impending nuptials in Season Two's "A Canterlot Wedding" to its logical conclusion.
But my main issue with My Little Pony: Equestria Girls is that it's essentially a rewrite of the series pilot "Friendship Is Magic". To some degree that's the point, since Twilight's first meetings with her fellow humanized ponies in Equestria Girls are intentional riffs on their introductions in the pilot, but the pilot is also one of the weakest episodes of the series. But that's also endemic of a TV show (or any other property) that gets the feature film treatment: the need to make it accessible to newcomers. As much as you want to please the fans, and there's plenty of fan service in Equestria Girls (including a Derpy cameo in the credits), the goal is to lure in the general public, and that typically requires dumbing it down and/or hitting the reset button to an extent.
My best guess as to why My Little Pony: Equestria Girls exists is that someone's spreadsheet revealed that 72 minutes of a single movie with modified character designs (humanized ponies) and settings (mostly just a high school) would bring in more profit than the combined 286 minutes of 13 more episodes of the existing characters and settings, especially factoring in the new merchandising opportunities from the movie. Hasbro's in this to please their stockholders first and the fans second, and I don't begrudge them that.
Ultimately, as a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan rather than a Hasbro stockholder, I enjoyed the movie. It's far from perfect, or even the best My Little Pony movie it could be -- and tomboy fashion maven Marta was a little miffed that uber-tomboy Rainbow Dash was wearing a skirt -- but it's the one we've got, and I appreciate it for what it is, not what I think it should have been instead (specifically, another 13 episodes). And if my basic fondness for the material means I'm the only person to vote for it as Best Animated Feature in the 2013 Village Voice Film Critics' Poll, well, I'm okay with that.