After seven seasons of animated TV adventures, the "mane" six ponies of Hasbro’s current My Little Pony series have finally made the jump to a proper feature-length film. Unlike the prior series of quickie spinoff movies featuring the ponies morphed into animated human form as Equestria Girls, this film is a legitimate movie with an obviously bigger production budget and stars to match. Although the pony character designs have been updated to take advantage of the elevated effects budget, Hasbro wisely kept the primary voice actors, composer Daniel Ingram, and long-time series director Jayson Thiessen in place to ensure continuity for the fanbase.
The first thing fans will notice is that these ponies don’t quite look like their TV-series renditions. The eyes are bigger and more complex, the character lines are somehow rounder, and they’re lit to allow for shadows and the luminance of other effects. It’s a bit of an adjustment, but once the first soaring and immersive aerial-camera shot transports us through the pony’s city of Canterlot to Princess Celestia’s castle, it becomes apparent that we’re in for a much richer visual experience than that allowed by the series.
All of the visual flash is worthless without a solid story, and while this one doesn’t earn any marks for originality, it does take the ponies out of their Canterlot comfort zone and into a grand adventure filled with interesting new lands and non-pony creatures. The setup finds primary pony Twilight Sparkle and her three fellow magical Equestrian princesses targeted by a menacing new baddie appropriately named The Storm King (Liev Schreiber) who is determined to steal their magic for his own nefarious use. After he easily disarms the other three princesses via his second-in-command Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt), Twilight and her five best pony friends and assistant Spike the dragon travel out of their land of Equestria to find the key to reverse his evil. Along the way, they encounter a sly, smooth-talking cat (Taye Diggs), some pirate parrots led by a swashbuckling captain (Zoe Saldana), and a lost society of hippogriffs (including Uzo Aduba and Kristin Chenoweth) who have hidden themselves as seahorses in an underwater kingdom. While there’s never any doubt how the story will turn out, it’s an exhilarating trip highlighted by delightful musical numbers performed by the original pony voice actors and the big-name co-stars.
Putting aside all of the flashy visuals and impressive guest stars, my favorite aspect of the film is that it features all six of the primary ponies working on a grand adventure together, something that practically never happens in the series in its later years. While the series has shifted its focus to stories featuring one or two star ponies per episode for many years now, as well as tracking the arc of newer arrival Starlight Glimmer, the movie returns the spotlight to all six original leads, reminding us once again that friendship is magic.
Special features include a deleted introductory scene that provides a brief Equestrian history lesson about the four pony princesses, a making-of featurette including interviews with the cast and crew, as well as a look at the production process for the lands beyond Equestria. Other bonus features are far less essential, including a music video with Taye Diggs, a cupcake baking lesson by pony Pinkie Pie, an Equestria Girls animated short, and a totally unrelated short from another Hasbro animated series, Hanazuki.
My Little Pony The Movie is now available for purchase via all digital platforms and arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on January 9th.