This year is the 35th anniversary of the My Little Pony franchise, and to celebrate, Hasbro and Lionsgate have released a double feature set of both the 1986 and 2017 versions of My Little Pony: The Movie! If you’re a fan of the franchise who hasn’t seen one or both of these movies, then this is probably a set you’re going to want to check out!
I will preface this review by saying that I did not grow up with these cartoons, and my only exposure to this franchise as a kid was that my cousin had some of the toys, and we played with them once or twice when I visited her. I never saw the show, or owned any toys myself.
I also have not been able to get into the new version of the show, despite its apparently popularity with people of my age and gender. I have tried to watch it, when the show first started blowing up, I heard how great it was, and all about the Brony phenomenon, but I found it to be too geared toward younger viewers for me to fully commit to staying with it long term. However, I have nothing against people who do like it. I get why it’s popular, it’s a colorful, fun show, with great characters, good messages, and great art direction. It’s just that, for the most part, it’s not my cup of tea.
I say all this so you know going into these reviews, that I am coming at this from the point of view of a mostly total outsider to the franchise. I am not biased for or against it, and I had no idea what to expect going into either of these movies. So, with all that being said, let’s get into them.
My Little Pony: The Movie (1986)
Like I said before, I had no idea what to expect going into this, but whatever it was, I don’t think it was this. This movie was straight up strange, but like, you can probably say that about most entertainment of that era. Most cartoons were marketing vehicles design to sell a line of toys, and this was no different.
I think the main thing I was expecting with this one was a candy colored journey through a land specifically designed to appeal to the marketing standards for what a little girl should want to play with. And while parts of it were that, for the most part it was much closer to a stereotypical 80’s animated action adventure movie, which kind of surprised me. Like a lot of movies from that era, it had too many songs, weird, over-the-top villains, and annoying, unnecessary audience surrogates, including three human children for some reason.
Now I will say, right off the bat, that I didn’t love this movie, but I don’t think it was terrible. It definitely wasn’t good by today’s standards, it had way too many songs that did not serve the plot at all, most of the dialogue was terribly cliche, and all of the characters felt like standard fantasy kids’ movie character templates, rather than real, relatable characters. However, for fans of the original My Little Pony toys, or for those looking for a hit of pure 80’s nostalgia, this movie is absolutely perfect. All those movie characteristics that I mentioned as negatives, were pretty much children’s’ entertainment standards for several decades, and for those who grew up with shows and movies like that, this movie is total nostalgia bait.
The basic premise for this film is that the My Little Pony characters all live in harmony in a beautiful castle with adorable woodland creatures. They spend their days putting on shows and having fun parties, but their idyllic life is threatened by a family of witches who live in a volcano, the matriarch of which hates the Ponies for some reason, and tries to drown them all in a sea of sentient purple slime called Smooze. The mother witch is basically your standard movie villain/horrible mother, who manipulates her children with verbal and physical abuse, and is generally a completely heinous person with absolutely no redeeming qualities, because it was the 80’s before nuance had been invented. (Mild playful sarcasm) Which is fine, I have no problem with cartoon villains who are evil for the sake of being evil, but the rest of the story needs to hold up, and this one really didn’t.
The driving force of the plot is that one of the baby ponies goes missing at the same time that the land is threatened by the witches and their Smooze. The rest of the ponies go to find the missing baby, and then team up with a band of other magical creatures and three human children to go on a quest to find the Flutter Ponies, who are the land’s only hope for salvation from the Smooze. I’m not going to spoil any more of the plot for you, but I will say that there’s a fairly good chance that they all live happily ever after.
Putting aside my nitpicks, one thing I did enjoy about this movie was the huge number of recognizable voices it had. Number one was Cloris Leachman as the main witch, Hydia, but I also noticed that Spike, the baby dragon was voiced by Charlie Adler, who voiced Buster Bunny, from one of my favorite childhood shows, Tiny Toons. In addition there was also Minnie Mouse herself, Russie Taylor, as well as Danny Devito, Madeline Kahn, Reah Perlman, and a host of other big names in the voice acting community, including Nancy Cartwrite, Scott Menville, and Frank Welker.
So in the end, while I did find some sections of this film to be a chore to sit through, mainly the seemingly unending, pointless songs, it was an entertaining bit of 80’s cartoon nostalgia, even for someone like me who had never seen any of the My Little Pony cartoons growing up. There is enough of a feel for that era of entertainment that there will be at least some measure of enjoyment to be found for anyone who grew up with shows like this one. Just don’t expect to find a compelling plot that holds up to modern day entertainment standards and writing quality.
My Little Pony: The Movie (2017)
Once again, going into this mostly blind, I only had what little I’d seen of the show to go on, and I was assuming that it would be a lot of what I’d seen before, cute characters, good animation, a fun story, and easily solved, non-threatening conflict. I was hoping the stakes would be raised a bit, because that’s mainly what I feel like is missing from the show, so I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were some actual stakes for this movie. And beyond the stakes being a lot higher, everything was miles better than the original film in pretty much every way. The animation was kind of the same, but still somehow better, more detailed, the writing was better, the characters were more defined, definitely more memorable and more relatable, and even the music was great! The original film had a lot of pointless fluff for its musical numbers, but this one had songs that fit the story, and had actual emotion to them. Plus Sia was there, so, bonus points.
Aside from the great writing and animation, this movie also has a great cast. I was glad to find out that they brought back the cast of the show, as some animated shows which make the leap to the big screen, jettison their (mostly) unknown voice actors in favor of big stars so they can sell the movie. That was not the case here, and instead they chose to supplement their already great cast of voice actors, with big names to play the villains and side characters.
On the side of the heroes, we had characters voiced by Taye Diggs, Kristen Chenowyth, Uzo Aduba, and Zoe Saldana, just to name a few, and I thought everyone was perfectly cast. For the villains we had Liev Shriber as the Storm King and Emily Blunt as Tempest Shadow, along with Micheal Peña as her minion, Grubber. (Who was hilarious, by the way, and according to the bonus material, actually ad-libbed a good portion of his dialogue.)
The basic premise for this story is that Equestria, the land of the ponies, is invaded by the military forces of The Storm King, who is some kind of unnamed, mythological hybrid creature, which to me looked to be a combination of a goat and a colobus monkey. I wasn’t sure what the military creatures were supposed to be, but there was one little badger thing, Micheal Peña’s Grubber, who wasn’t wearing the masks and armor, so I guess I’m assuming that the Storm King’s army was a bunch of mutant armored badgers. The army is also led by a unicorn with a broken horn, Emily Blunt’s Tempest, who is working for the Storm King because he has promised to restore her broken horn once he has the power of the four unicorn princesses.
The army pretty easily defeats the pony kingdom, all except for one of the four princesses, Twilight Sparkle, and her friends, who barely escape the onslaught. During the mayhem, the leader of Equestria, Princess Celestia, had started to say that they needed to find, “The Queen of the Hippo-” but had been turned to stone before finishing her sentence. This leads the ponies to believe that they need to find the Queen of the Hippos, to help them defeat the Storm King, not realizing that she had been trying to say the Hippogriffs, another race of magical horse creatures, who are part eagle.
This sets them off on a quest to (eventually) find the Hippogriffs, and save Equestria from the Storm King and his army. Along the way they meet a cunning cat creature, a crew of pirate parrot people, and a hidden kingdom of sea ponies who may have more to them than meets the eye.
I won’t get into the greater plot if you haven’t seen this yourself, but suffice it to say, that I think this one is worth watching, both for fans of the show, and animation in general, especially if you have kids. This movie isn’t quite up to the masterpiece quality of many Disney/Pixar/etc. films, but it doesn’t feel (as much) like a just-for-kids show, as most of the episodes I had previously seen. But there’s really nothing wrong with not being a masterpiece. Not every movie needs to be Coco or Wall-E, and there’s nothing wrong with catering to kids. And if that’s what you’re going to do, this is the way to do it, leave out any talking down or moralizing, and make any morals you do include feel natural, and not at all forced.
All in all, this movie was better than the original by leaps and bounds. It was probably not enough to make me a “Brony” but I did enjoy it, and I totally think it’s worth checking out. If you’re a fan of the My Little Pony franchise, or if you’re an animation fan who’s been longing for some well designed 2D animation, or if you’re a parent of kids who wants something to watch with them, that’s aimed at them, but still totally watchable as an adult, then this movie is for you.
There were a few things included in this set for bonus features, but honestly, not enough. The disks almost felt like recycled versions of previous releases and they didn’t bother to include anything relevant to the 35th anniversary celebration that you might have expected, given that that’s literally the entire point of this release. Even just a retrospective on the franchise, or a look into the making of the toys, or their origins, anything like that would have sufficed, but instead we get a few sing-along songs on the original movie, and a smattering of (admittedly interesting) extras related to the making of the 2017 film.
There were a few of the normal things, trailers, a deleted scene, 2 making-of features, one about the voice actors, one focusing on the art, (both interesting, and worth watching) and a behind the scenes music video featuring Taye Diggs.
There were also some very odd inclusions, like an animated short featuring bizarrely humanoid versions of the ponies, which was very short, but still amusing, however, I was just totally confused as to why and how they were all humans. Maybe it was like an elseworlds thing? Another dimension?
There was also a weird, Baking With Pinky Pie segment, that featured human hands with Pinky Pie’s voiceover, so maybe this was the human version of the character from the short, just in live action? Either way, it was strange, and didn’t seem like a natural inclusion. I’m sure kids will find it amusing though.
The DVD also included an animated short that had been included in the theatrical release of the film, called Hanazuki: Full of Treasures which was an interesting, cute, sci-fi short about a little girl. a slug-rabbit-creature, and some other strange characters. It was weird, but I enjoyed it.
Overall, this set is fine, but if you were looking for a set to celebrate the My Little Pony franchise, then maybe look elsewhere. This release was completely devoid of any meaningful historical materials about either the toys, or the original film, so beyond the movies themselves, there’s really no incentive for fans to grab this set. However, if you’re just a fan of the characters, and you want to own these movies, then pick up this set. It may not be the greatest thing for serious collectors, but for casual fans, I think it’s totally worth it.
- My Little Pony: The Movie Blu-ray/DVD set | Amazon