Thursday, June 20, 2024

‘My Little Pony: A New Generation’ Fails to Rein Itself In

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My Little Pony: A New Generation is a slight improvement over My Little Pony: The Movie, which came out four years ago. Granted, I have very little memory of that one, so who knows, maybe it’s not that much better. However, I can confidently say that MLP: ANG movie does not contain a character’s shocking death that will undoubtedly traumatize the kids in the audience.

Robert Cullen and Jose Ucha do their best to try and build a world while also making sure the film has the requisite number of songs about how important friendship and love are. On the one hand, there’s nothing all that surprising about MLP: ANG, the subplot involving a deputy, a pony rising to the ranks of a fascist dictator, notwithstanding. On the other hand, however, I have to imagine for the target audience this is all new, or if it isn’t, it probably doesn’t matter much.

my little pony
Left to Right: Hitch (voiced by James Marsden) and Sunny (voiced by Vanessa Hudgens)

If you’re watching a My Little Pony movie, chances are you’ve already decided how you feel about watching a My Little Pony movie. Still, regardless of what you might expect, I was a little shocked by how much was going on. Usually, films aimed at young kids tend to be sparse, but MLP: ANG is carving out a mythology.

The script by Gillian Berbow, Tim Sullivan, and Urcha does quite a bit of globe-trotting around the land of Equestria, the home of the My Little Ponies. From Maritime Bay, home of the Earth Ponies, a middle-class suburban town, to Zephyr Heights, where the Pegasus Ponies live in the lap of luxury, until finally coming to Bridlewood, where the rustic unicorns reside. The ponies trot over a lot of ground for such a short runtime.

Along the way, we meet the Earth Pony Sunny Starscout (Vanessa Hudgens), Izzy Moonbow (Kimiko Glen), a unicorn, Zipp (Liza Koshy) and Pipp (Sofia Carson) pegasuses, and Hitch Trailblazer (James Marsden), Sunny’s best friend and sheriff of Maritime Bay. Though how they come to meet is the crux of MLP: ANG

my little pony
Left to Right: Pipp (Sofia Carson), Zipp (Liza Koshy), Sunny (Hudgens), Hitch (Marsden), and Izzy (Kimiko Glenn)

The three lands are, while not at war, certainly not speaking to each other. So much so that each part of Equestria holds wildly xenophobic beliefs about the others. For example, Earthbound Ponies- just regular ponies, think unicorns can read and control minds and shoot lasers from their horns. So Phyllis Cloverleaf (Elizabeth Perkins), the town busybody and local manufacturer mogul has dedicated her life and factory to developing ways for the ponies to protect themselves.

Underneath all the shiny colors and 3d animation, and easily digestible platitudes, MLP: ANG seems to understand better than superhero movies the motives for authoritarianism until it doesn’t. Phyllis’s son is Sprout (Ken Jeong), the lazy and cowardly deputy to the handsome and upright Hitch. While his mother is nothing but supportive, she inadvertently instills the belief in Sprout that he and he alone can save Maritime from the rest of Equestria. But by the time she realizes what Sprout has become, it is a tad too late.

MLP: ANG isn’t subtle about this messaging either. At the unveiling of a secret weapon, he has used his mother’s factory to build, which he commandeered after becoming Sheriff in Hitch’s absence. The animators show him dressed in dictator garb. He’s gone from a cute red pony to sporting the fashion sense of Muammar Gaddafi.

Hitch has gone after Sunny, who has fled Maritime with Izzy since they are both wanted by the law. Sunny for aiding the enemy and Izzy for having the wherewithal to enter the land of the Earth Ponies. Sadly, the duo doesn’t fare much better when they reach Zephyr Heights. Izzy and Sunny soon stumble upon a conspiracy perpetrated by the royal pegasus that only Royals can fly. But that’s not true as they lost the ability to fly eons ago.

The magic is gone in Equestria, and Sunny, Izzy, Zipp, and the others have to go on a journey to find it ala National Treasure. In addition, you have the requisite auto-tuned songs that range from mildly amusing to I-tuned out after a few bars. None of it is terrible, but none of it is all that good either.

my little pony
Izzy (voiced by Kimiko Glenn) and Sunny (Hudgens) find themselves under guard in Zephyr Heights

The animation is shiny but, unlike previous MLP, lacks any characterful imagination. Instead, Cullen, Ucha, and the company focus on the several moving parts of the story. In a way, the movie is a symptom of its time-it wants to build a world that people can live in and have adventures. But they spend so much time building the mythology they forget to give us characters with distinct personalities. 

None of this is helped by the voices. While previously the ponies were played by talented and beloved voice actors, MLP: ANG has gone the all too Hollywood traditional route and hired actors and personalities who don’t add that much to their characters. The stand out being Glenn, an actress who has done an immense amount of voice work.

Her Izzy feels the most fleshed even though, arguably, the script gives her the least to work with. Pipp and Zipp have a mother, and we see Sunny’s father in the beginning. Poor Izzy has no family that we see, yet much of her character comes through Glenn’s perormance doing the work the script failed to do.

Aside from Glenn, Koshy and Jeong are the only others who find little ways to add flavor to their characters. For a long time now, Hollywood has seemingly been campaigning to convince the general public that movie stars can do the same thing that voice actors can do. 

There are movie stars that are also good voice actors, but those are few and far between. A great voice actor is worth their weight in gold. Even a merely decent voice actor is worth a salary of a big-name celebrity. The price we pay in the end is bigger paychecks for low-quality work.

Sprout slowly gives in to fear and paranoia as he is given more and more power because everyone else is afraid to do anything. Honestly, this aspect of the movie is the most important because it teaches kids, not about love and friendship but that some people have no interest in fostering either. The only flaw is what happens to Sprout-which is nothing.

Allowing an incompetent authoritarian dictator who cultivates a cult of personality while having the whole town work towards creating weapons and an army for a war no one is fighting to walk away without any consequence whatsoever is entirely too honest for this reviewer’s taste. Honestly, if you have flying ponies and pop-synth songs, the least you could do is have someone give the bad guy a lecture. I get wanting to be believable and being honest, but good gravy give the kids some hope, sheesh. 

Images courtesy of Netflix

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