Even without the pair of stars atop this review it will probably not come as any great surprise for anyone over the age of 7 to learn that My Little Pony: The Movie is a load of old pony. Abandoning all the zeitgeist savvy and gentle morality of Friendship is Magic (and the mild creepiness of the Equestria Girls spin off) director Jayson Thiessen and his writing team have instead gone all in on a Hasbro-pleasing generic good versus evil story with mild blips of peril and great swathes of purple!
Of course this film is not intended for us. Adult cinemagoers have been spoiled in recent years by multifaceted children’s features, jam packed with references we recognise and lines which wink directly at us and acknowledge our importance. My Little Pony: The Movie doesn’t give a hoof for the grownups who have forked out on the price of entry. It speaks directly to their excited charges instead, with bright, approachable 2D animation reminiscent of TV shows past and relentlessly upbeat songs.
Representing the pastel coloured forces of good are the core pony chums who anchor the franchise aka The Mane 6: Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Applejack and Fluttershy. Princess Twilight is in a tizzy from the outset, trying her best to ensure that every detail – from the baked centrepiece to the songbird serenade – will be ready for Equestria’s upcoming festival. Songbird Serenade (Sia) is the headlining star, for pony’s sake, anything less than perfection would let her down
In the past Twilight (Tara Strong) has always got by with a little help from her friends. But just when she needs them most the pony pals lead the poor princess into an utter caketastrophe! Fortunately for Twilight Sparkle, yet not so fortunately for Equestria’s illustrious inhabitants, visitors from the darkside have other plans for the big day. The ominously named Storm King (Liev Schreiber) has sent his Alicorn representative to carry out his dastardly plan and halt the happy occasion in its sparkly tracks.
Tempest (Emily Blunt) is an Alicorn with a broken horn and her own score to settle. Her rage and pain lend an emotional anchor to a baffling plot and allow at least one character the semblance of a story arc. Other introductions to the MLP universe are less successful. One gathers that producers voted for a more is more approach to the species populating the world outside Equestria and thus a plethora of new characters are thrown into the mix this time around. With dubious success.
Taye Diggs gives voice to a feline wide boy (distractingly drawn in a totally different scale to the ponies) whose altruism is both too good to be true and the one attribute which redeems him in the end. He signposts The Mane 6 towards the peak of Mount Aris, where the kingdom of Hippogriffia and its Queen await. The Hippogriffs represent Equestria’s only hope of deflecting The Storm King’s attack and defeating his relentless lieutenant. Pinkie Pie’s boundless enthusiasm and a well timed pirate encounter further complicate Twilight’s mission. And just when things feel quite confusing enough…mermaids appear!
The mermaids are actually an excellent metaphor for this entire film. They make no sense (in the context of the story) and deliver a massive merchandising opportunity. As Monster High has already demonstrated, to those of us who are familiar with its intricacies, an entire range of toys can be marketed anew if you simply whack a tail beneath their belly buttons. So it follows that dunking our intrepid horse cast beneath the waves will be worth the head scratching this tangent inspires once Christmas rolls around and pester power really kicks in.
There is nothing offensive about My Little Pony: The Movie. Nothing to actively dislike. Save perhaps the desperate and comically inappropriate crowbarring in of a line from Pretty Woman. It just feels like a waste of a talented vocal cast and our nostalgic affection for the ponies themselves to seemingly assemble your film from a series of toy line ideas the marketing team scribbled on Post-Its. When your script makes Zoe Saldana (voicing pirate Captain Celaeno) forgettable you are doing something seriously wrong.
My Little Pony: The Movie opens across the UK on 20th October.