Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television and games.
Adapting to change is an essential part of life. To remain relevant, we all need to learn how to adapt to a new environment. Over the past few years, media franchises have drawn polarizing responses. Whenever there is a remake, sequel, reboot, whatever, everyone is either open or insistent on not changing. It's especially problematic for those in the latter group who like to waste everyone's time describing what their egos or desire for attention have to do with not changing. From my perspective, all I can say is: "Grow up."
Essentially, I'm talking about franchises that have stayed true to their roots while adapting to the needs of new audiences. The "My Little Pony" toy line is today's case. My Little Pony has been one of Hasbro's most successful toys for girls since the 1980s. Like Transformers and G.I. Joe, newer toys and media would change over time. The results may vary.
One notable and unexpected change to the toy line was the fourth generation. It was primarily the 2010 animated series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic developed by Lauren Faust. The show told the story of Twilight Sparkle and the Mane 6 as they explored Equestria and learned the value of friendship. Not only was the show a hit, but it gathered a huge fanbase, mostly grown men known as “Bronies.” It ran for nine seasons, made two spin-offs, and a series of films, including the 2017 theatrical film.
Based on my experience with this franchise, I found the show to be innovative and enjoyable to watch. With its colorful animation, imaginative world-building, memorable characters, and catchy songs, it was one of the best cartoons of the decade. There are some fans nowadays who criticize the quality of the later seasons, so calling it the "best" might be controversial. Regardless of what others say about this show, I can't speak for them. I enjoyed the 2017 film as well. While it was not the best movie, since it was targeted at fans rather than the average moviegoer, it was refreshing to see 2D animation on the big screen while keeping the elements that made the show unique. If you want a deeper analysis, check out my review here.
Despite the show's end, Hasbro upheld its legacy for future generations by bringing back its legacy characters. This was an attempt to make a series of 2D shorts called My Little Pony: Pony Life. There is no confirmation of the quality of these shorts. Even though most of the original actors returned, it was clear that hardcore fans would either love it or see it as a “Teen Titans GO!” clone. As I said, I cannot speak for others, and claiming certain shows are "rip-offs" is lazy.
As a result, it is best to continue the story of Equestria with a new era, a new animation medium, and new characters. Originally planned for a theater release, the movie was instead released on Netflix with recognizable faces like Vanessa Hudgens and Ken Jeong. Now that the new generation is here, how is it?
When the magic of Equestria has disappeared, an Earth pony (voiced by Vanessa Hudgens) embarks on an adventure with her new friends to restore the power of friendship.
Before I begin, like before, this is will be written from both a general and fan perspective.
Weak Plot, Right Amount of Magic
Although a book should not be judged by its cover, the title of this film is incredibly clear. The tales of Twilight Sparkle and the Mane 6 have long passed. We are now looking at a new period in Equestria and its inhabitants. As long as it stays faithful to its predecessor, I don't mind this type of change. It does to an extent...once you get past its flaws.
The story is about prejudice and social acceptance where the Earth, Unicorn, and Pegasus ponies were separated through fear and social intolerance. On its own, the story is weak where it is easily predictable and full of cliches that you would expect from these family films. Even the message about friendship would sound preachy and become obnoxious after a while. Not to say there's nothing wrong with the message itself; it was handled better in other films.
However, since this is a "My Little Pony” movie we’re talking about, the execution of this idea kind of makes sense since the television series emphasized friendship values and morale. It is an interesting idea where magic has died out over the years and develops social commentary on how each pony would view the other. For example, Earth ponies believe unicorns “mind-control” them, so they build devices to make their citizens “safe”. In fact, this also applies to world-building. The movie reminds us that this is still the same universe as before and each area has its own identity both visually and creatively. It is noticeable that Equestria has evolved into a more contemporary setting (i.e., television and social media) yet acknowledges the pre-existence of the Mane 6 as legendary heroes. In other words, the contemporary environment doesn’t feel awkward or out of place in equivalent to how the Four Nations evolved in Nickelodeon’s Avatar the Last Airbender franchise. On a side note, the adventure across Equestria doesn't feel as big as before since the writing focuses more on the message and characters themselves, making the pacing feeling formulaic at times.
Remember when I said that the execution “kind of” makes sense? There are moments where there were missed opportunities that the movie would've carried over more context from the previous generation to newcomers. Not just to evoke nostalgia, but also strengthening the story and understanding more the history of Equestria as well. It may come off as a surprise that this movie acts more like a television pilot than a standalone film. I have nothing against movies being television show pilots unless they are given in the right hands. My point is that this movie takes place in an already established continuity and would've taken more advantage of it. Lastly, the humor is also a passable barrel of laughs.
As a movie itself, the story isn’t as magical as before. As an MLP movie, there’s some hidden magic that respects the predecessor fairly enough.
Big Leap into Computer Animation
This new generation is transitioning from 2D Adobe Animate (Flash) to 3D computer animation. In place of the now-defunct DHX Vancouver studio, Boulder Media now produces the animation. Although Boulder Media has worked with many companies and produced shorts, including "Pony Life," this is the company's first full-length animated movie, especially computer-animated. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out.
When compared to the original series, fans are likely to be turned off by how different the characters' models are. Many people expect them to look like the 3D models shown in fan YouTube videos. However, when you think about it, that wouldn't work because, ironically enough, they would look like toys. So, the filmmakers took influence from several MLP series to give their anthropomorphic design while simultaneously staying true to the show’s visual style. The textures on the skin, hair, clothing, and jewelry are more detailed, but not into an uncanny valley. The eyes are more expressive to make the ponies look more alive. The character animation is smooth and polished. The animal characters (i.e. birds and dogs) are more rounded, almost giving a plush-like appeal. The visuals get a boost whether it is enhancing a musical number or the movements becoming energetic during an action or chase sequence. The effects animation, such as the magic spells, help give fans some familiarity. Bonus points for the 2D animated prologue featuring Twilight Sparkle and the Mane 6.
The backgrounds are the highlight since they have their own communities and lifestyles. Maritime Bay is a lively seaside town where the main attraction is the science and technology company, Canterlogic. Zephyr Heights is a technologically advanced and urban city filled with lavish and golden architecture. Bridlewood Forest is an organic village that sticks to a more fantasy theme. The only issue I have with these locations is that since the movie focuses more on the story, the pacing hinders them from their full potential. Plus, fans would be disappointed that familiar areas like Ponyville, Canterlot, or Everfree Forest are absent. Then again, it is a pilot. So, anything is possible once the show gets picked up.
The visuals alone show that there is a great amount of talent and effort the animators put in and transitioning into computer animation was an admirable effort.
A New Cast of Okay Characters
If there’s anything that Bronies and Pegasisters would remember from “Friendship is Magic” is the variety of characters. While many are simple or basic, these characters have brought their own charm, in terms of personality, motive. or performance. For this movie, it was quite a risk to make brand-new characters that cater to those streaming in. Personally speaking, these characters are neither good nor bad. They are average at best, with maybe one or two exceptions.
Our main protagonist is the Earth pony Sunny Starscout. Inspired by the tales of the Mane 6, she is eager for adventure and determined to make the world a better place. Her childhood friend is Hitch Trailbrazer, a kind yet dedicated sheriff who sometimes takes his job seriously. The comic relief is the energetic and crafting unicorn Izzy Moonbrow. It is an assumption that people will like her for being a spiritual successor to Pinkie Pie or those that find her behavior annoying. I’m somewhere in the middle. Zipp Storm and Pipp Petals are the twin pegasi sisters of Zephyr Heights where one is rebellious and intellectual while the other is a glamorous pop star.
But then, we have our antagonist and possibly funniest character Sprout. He is the deputy chief of Maretime Bay that is constantly jealous of Hitch’s good-natured duties and later becomes power-hungry when asked to be in charge. His mother and Caterlogic CEO Phyllis Cloverleaf was considered closest to be the secondary antagonist for her prejudice and showcase of anti-social technology. Thankfully, she has her limits when she notices Sprout goes too far. Other characters like Queen Haven or Alphabrittle have their moments but act more like obstacles for the characters to handle on their adventure.
Though these characters are generally tolerable, the voice acting added a layer to their personalities. It is unlikely that they would reprise their roles for follow-up projects, but bu the actors delivered the best of what material was given to them. Some sounded like they were having fun while others left a memorable performance like Ken Jeong and veteran voice actor Phil LaMarr. They left a so-so first impression and over time, fans and newcomers would eventually get used to them.
Adequately Executed Songs
Another component that hardcore fans would listen to whenever they are at karaoke or at conventions are the songs. However, since composer and songwriter Daniel Ingram is unavailable, the music and songs were given to film composer Hector Pereira and songwriters Alan Schmuckler and Mike Mahler. Although they are not memorable as the ones from the show, they are executed reasonably enough through a different number of genres and understanding the fundamentals of being a musical. “Gonna Be My Day” is an optimistic song about Sunny’s motivation in achieving her dream. “Looking Out for You” is a nice duet about Sunny and Izzy overcoming danger, but it is also the weakest song for being short. “Danger, Danger” involves Sprout’s rise to power through rock music and humorous lyrics. “Glowin’ Up” is the typical pop song that you normally hear on the radio, but comes in handy in the movie as a distraction during a heist scene. “Fit Right In” is a techno, energetic and comedic number about Izzy disguising her friends as unicorns. I’ll also throw in “It’s Alright” which is an entertaining and fitting song for a ‘Dance-Dance Revolution' parody scene. In fact, the last song describes how I feel about the songs in general: they’re alright. No doubt kids and families will come out with one or two favorites. The same goes for some fans. It’s also worth mentioning that Vanessa Hudgens and Sofia Carson are decent singers since they had previous experiences working for Disney Channel. The songs are not up there with the classics, but they are enough to earn a passing grade.
As I mentioned before, adapting to change is an essential part of life. For this franchise, it was no easy task. It’s not what anyone would expect, but it was a moderate continuation that came out pleasant. My Little Pony: A New Generation is a welcoming successor to Friendship is Magic. As a movie, it has a weak story, wasted potential, and ordinary characters. As a “My Little Pony” movie, it carries some spirit of the show, great computer animation, serviceable voice acting, and satisfactory songs. Bronies and Pegasisters will definitely find some substance in this film. Newcomers and families will feel right at home for this new generation. As for me, if I choose between this and the 2017 film, I would go with the latter. Yes, they both have their flaws. Yet, the 2017 film understood how to adapt a show into a movie. I am not going as far as saying this is a bad movie, at all. It's a "My Little Pony" movie. Here’s to Generation 5 for a brighter future and hopefully this new generation will carry on the legacy of the Mane 6.