The Little Pony toys have been around for quite a while, and recently they were transformed into an animated TV series that’s proven remarkably popular with young girls (and, we’re told, older dudes who have come to be known as “bronies”). Now that program has—predictably, given the success of other kids’ movies based on toy lines—become a feature. “My Little Pony: The Movie” is colorful, with vibrant pastel animation. Unfortunately, it’s hobbled by a script that treads a path that’s become all too familiar in such kiddie fare.
The star of the picture is Twilight Sparkle (voiced by Tara Strong), the squeaky-voiced Princess of Friendship in Ponyville, who’s in a tizzy preparing the details of a festival in Equestria that pop singer Songbird Serenade (Sia) will be headlining. The planning is abruptly halted when a flotilla of hostile airships appear in the sky, bearing Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt), a unicorn with a broken horn she hopes to get back by serving as the right-hand girl of imperialist bad-guy Storm King (Liev Schreiber). Accompanied by her snarky aide, a hedgehog called Grubber (Michael Pena), she announces her master’s intention to conquer Equestria and combine the powers of its princesses to rule the world.
Twilight Sparkle manages to escape the invasion, along with her pals Applejack (Ashleigh Ball), Rainbow Dash (Ball again), Pinkie Pie (Andrea Libman), Fluttershy (Libman again), Rarity (Tabitha St. Germain) and little dragon Spike (Cathy Weseluck). They take off an odyssey to find the hippogriffs and ask for their help. Along the way Twilight Sparkle’s mettle is tested as, pursued by Tempest Shadow, they meet a series of oddball characters—among them a fast-talking con-cat called Capper (Taye Diggs) and a ship full of pirate birds led by Captain Celaeno (Zoe Saldana)—before reaching their destination and encountering Novo (Uzo Aduba), queen of the hippogriffs, and her seapony daughter Skystar (Kristin Chenoweth). After the princess faces her fears, she and her friends return to Equestria for a showdown with the Storm King.
The subtitle of the television show is “Friendship is Magic,” and that’s the theme of the movie as well—the success of the ponies’ quest is possible only by making friends with those who initially appear to be enemies. It’s a pleasant enough message, but one has to regret that to deliver it, the writers have fallen back on what has become the standard-issue template familiar from superhero movies: pitting the heroes against a maniacal super-villain bent on conquering all. It’s a formula that’s frankly become quite boring, especially when the antagonist is such a comic blowhard as Storm King, whom Schreiber voices far too bombastically to be funny.
The movie is also a musical, with the action stopped periodically for a succession of blandly Disneyesque songs provided by Daniel Ingram, who also scores the series. One of them, assigned as an anthem of bitter justification to Tempest Shadow and sung by Blunt, is titled “Open Up Your Eyes,” and it’s so generic that it might make you want to close up your ears. The others are not appreciably better.
Still, the visuals in the picture—in traditional animation, without 3D—are agreeably old-fashioned, and the colors are bright and sunny. Some curmudgeonly critics—like this one—will have a hard time enduring the saccharine taste of “My Little Pony,” but the series’ legions of fans—and those legendary “bronies”—will probably be enchanted by it.