She might be your little pony, but My Little Pony is one big brand for Hasbro. With retail sales of over $1bn annually, is it any wonder that this seemingly immortal marshmallow of a franchise has landed in cinemas for the first time since Michael Joens’ 1986 box office bomb? While the latest My Little Pony feature sure ain’t going to win over any new fans, it’s hard to imagine that it needs too. It’s not even…that bad.
Fourth generation My Little Pony (a nineties attempt failed to ignite, whilst a 2003 reboot preceded this revival) seems to be driven by the affectionate love of those who grew up with the toys and TV series and it’s surprising just how much of that actually comes through the new film. Whereas The Emoji Movie might have been a boardroom curse on humanity, that’s only half true here. The film continues the effervescently chirpy adventures of the rainbow e-numbers from the brand’s latest TV outing: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, with the cast and crew largely – and admirably on the part of the studio – brought along for the ride. Running like an extraordinarily long episode from the series (four and a half of them, to be precise), what’s clear from the off is that the boosted budget has been pumped entirely into securing the vocal talents of Emily Blunt, Zoe Saldana and Kristen Chenoweth. Credit where it’s due, each of the A-listers throws themselves into the fun with a heady glee.
In the Kingdom of Equestria – as in a lot of similar ‘kingdoms’ in a lot of similar films – the ponies (all with cutesie names like Pinkie Pie or Rainbow Dash) are about to throw a big party when storm clouds (literally) cast a shadow on the day and see an army of storm monsters invade. The attack comes under the watchful eye, and broken horn, of rogue unicorn Tempest Storm (Blunt), who is herself working for the Storm King himself (Liev Schreiber). As all of her fellow royals are turned to stone, Princess Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong – also the voice of a Powerpuff Girl in another twinkle of her CV) and friends flee the scene and embark on a quest through ‘the badlands’ to find the Queen of the Hippogryphs, who ‘might be our only hope’.
Along the way the ponies encounter a con-artist cat (Taye Diggs) and a gang of pirate parrots who’ve lost the ‘arrr’ from the arrrsome, spreading the magic of friendship as they go, often in song form. No, the lyrics aren’t inspired: ‘Inside and out, beautiful inside and out; generosity is what we’re all about’ but they’re buoyant enough to pass the time. As do a succession of random references to the show’s pre-millennium heydays, from dial-up modems to Hungry Hippos and even The Shining – just one of many subtly inappropriate gags for the grownups, who have little else on offer so need to take what they can.
Occasionally charming, sometimes funny and often deeply bemusing, My Little Pony wields plenty enough bright colours and plot to please it’s core audience, whilst providing satisfyingly positive morals. Everything that’s being done here has been done better elsewhere but it’s heart is undeniably in the right place. This is a film that has young female protagonists, albeit interchangeable ones, dealing with real and fanciful issues independently and in a way free of violence. Well intentioned and very pink.