You know how kids are good for exposing you to stuff you otherwise never would have touched? This film is a prime example. Hasbro’s burgeoning My Little Pony empire has expanded its screen presence from its long-running TV series to this third film which is set in an alternate universe populated with human-like characters, not horses. Sure, it’s still a blatant marketing ploy to allow the pony franchise to compete with the older-skewing Bratz/Monster High/Ever After High doll lines, but it’s also wildly entertaining for both kids and their reluctant parents.
When last we left the Girls, temporary arrival Twilight Sparkle (the purple one) transformed from human back to pony and returned to the pony world of Equestria through a magic portal outside Canterlot High, leaving her old foe and tenuous friend Sunset Shimmer (the orange one) to continue her quest for redemption and friendship in the “real” world. Taking a cue from Marvel films, the post-credits scene introduced another Twilight Sparkle in human land, revealing that the pony had a human counterpart and setting up the focus of the new film. It also revealed one more telling aspect: this is the first film to stand solely on the merits of its human characters without any crossovers from Ponyville.
The main focus of this film is human Twilight Sparkle’s introduction to Sunset Shimmer and the rest of her Equestria Girls friends. This Twilight is nerdier and more insecure than the pony princess we know, so the film spends time showing her character growth as she comes into her own via her emerging friendship with the Girls. Likewise, Sunset matures as she’s tasked with ensuring that no magic is used to unfair advantage during an annual friendly sports competition between her Canterlot High School and Twilight’s Crystal Prep Academy. That turns out to be an easy job for her, since Twilight is wearing a mysterious amulet that sucks up and stores every wisp of magic and weakens its users. Twilight isn’t evil, she’s just studying and trying to understand the slight presence of magic in her previously magic-free world, but those studies lead to some unexpected consequences as the film moves to its thrilling conclusion.
The new film is a worthy follow-up to the first two, and while the ponies are missed, the Equestria Girls world is strong enough on its own. There’s no real villain here aside from Twilight’s harsh principal and a shocking baddie in the final showdown, thankfully leaving the theme more centered on building friendships than battling evil. Along the way, a couple of fan-favorite royal pony characters make their human debuts, additions sure to delight all pony viewers. One recurring question still remains unanswered though: since Sunset Shimmer was originally from My Little Pony land, does she have a true human counterpart as well?
Music is a major component of every Equestria Girls film and most My Little Pony episodes, and this one is no exception. Series songwriter Daniel Ingram contributes a full soundtrack album of new songs (also available for purchase), and while for the most part I didn’t find them to be as instantly catchy as his past work they keep the story moving, highlighted by Twilight’s plaintive ballad "What More Is Out There" and the sassy cheer song "Acadeca."
The DVD bonus features include a handful of animated shorts produced as promotional material for the film, karaoke sing-along versions of a few of the songs, and a surprisingly revealing set of deleted scenes that were canned early in the production process, meaning that we get to see the real nuts and bolts of cartoon creation via their rough storyboards and animatics. The animated shorts are the best feature for the kids since they’re funny and they expand the experience just a bit longer, but the deleted scenes are the real winner here, a welcome and creative addition to what is otherwise a completely polished package.
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Friendship Games premieres tonight on Discovery Family, and arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on October 13th.