My Little Pony: The Movie has surely been a test and a crisis for the franchise and its creators. Has it succumbed to the enormous pressure to cuck out, and dilute its themes and formula with “poz”? Or have the show and the Mane Six retained their integrity through the quantum leap to the big screen?
Thankfully, there is little here to complain about. Unlike previous spin-offs of the Equestria Girls movies set in the relative narrative isolation of an American high school, My Little Pony: The Movie is set in Equestria with a capital E, stars Twilight Sparkle and associates, and carries the full weight and momentum of the franchise built up since Friendship is Magic first aired in 2010.
The marketing machine has gone into overdrive, and Hasbro is clearly treading carefully lest they upset the hegemony their horses have established in the toy market. With this in mind, The Movie cleverly meets expectations of both reviewers and regular viewers. Ever the barometer for appeasement of the Tinseltown Jews, MLP:TM scores a healthy 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning it is safely uncucked.
Whilst not the most enthralling or ground-breaking film out there by a long shot, Ponies: The Movie is certainly entertaining, requires no former knowledge of the show, and manages to package lively animation, witty, self-aware scripting, and clever dialogue together smoothly. It’s well paced, energetic, and studded with enjoyable set pieces, dramatic cinematography, and rich, carefully crafted visuals, both in the rendering of the characters and rolling landscapes. If there are any parts that fall flat, it’s a lot of Daniel Ingram’s not particularly memorable score, which lacks the wallop and instant memorability of the numbers he jotted for earlier seasons of the show; there are also odd casting choices that don’t fully gel with the story or set. Whilst it never sags or lets up, the emotional and entertainment pitch of the movie never quite attains the heights it aspires to — but it doesn’t need to. It’s a film you can enjoy with or without family, depending on your circumstances and predispositions, and won’t have you rolling your eyes too hard, unless you are allergic to any form of contemporary Hollywood, ethnocentric or not.
The Movie has the feel of an extend series finale or premiere, and it’s not difficult to discern why. All the major ideals and aspirations of the show are here and unapologetically so: Self-acceptance and self-betterment, humility, heroism and “above all friendship, which is, as everyone knows an eminently fascist sentiment .” These bonds of friendship are the strongest and most meaningful in the context of an ingroup of similar creatures, be they cartoon ponies, buffalo or birds, and so it is unsurprising the film opens with preparations for the Friendship Celebration, a fixture of pony society.
The opening gracefully introduces the Mane Six adventurers familiar to previous viewers, using the sparse time available to it as a movie to riff on their trademarks: Rainbow Dash being fast and impulsive, Fluttershy saying “Yay”, and Twilight Sparkle, now a Princess (just how many Princesses does one monarchy need?) being a neurotic wreck whose entire sense of self revolves around not messing up. It all feels so wonderfully wholesome and normal. Care has been taken to cast minor and background characters (Applejack) well and paint them into the pastel portrait of Equestrian (European?) life. True to the show’s building blocks, there is inherently the “us” of pony folk, and a “them” of invading others. Ethnocentrism is unavoidably inherent in this pony escapade to save Equestria.
The celebrations are brought to a crashing halt by darkening skies and assault by lumbering, faceless minions of the principal antagonist, Stormcloak. He joins King Sombre & Tirek in the growing cast of deceitful Friendship is Magic villains with pointy teeth and oversized jaws, and like true monsters does not seek to destroy goodness to satisfy and personal vendetta or hatred, he is simply oblivious to it in his personal pursuit of greater wealth and power. His main gripe is that the assault didn’t have enough lightning or stormclouds to suit his “rebrand.” Again, bizarrely for an international corporation, Hasbro takes direct aim at levelling globalism in favour of local heroism; following up similar cautionary tales about the dominance of finance over national self-determination in both the TV series and even more explicitly in comics written and illustrated by Andy Price. Evil emanates from Stormcloak’s thuggish, materialist masculinity; greed and avarice are shown to corrupt völkish societies and bring them under the dominion of the debt collector.
Canterlot and the Friendship Festival are brutally occupied, and the Mane Six are propelled into a quest for a magic powerful enough to defeat their invaders. They are dogged and pursued by another pony — a unicorn with a broken horn, Commander Tempest, who has been living in self-imposed exile from Equestria and working as a mercenary for Stormcloak. Like most pony episodes, the quest revolves to finish where it began, achieving resolution as the characters learn more about themselves and their friends. Friendship, as they say, is Magic, with mutual affection and understanding enabling us to overcome our physical limitations. Tempest, the pursuing villian and pony with the most problems and screen time, is showcased as making personal transformation and regaining ethnic loyalty.
She is introduced as a bored functionary of evil, putting the hours on the punch card in an attempt to buy restoration of her broken horn and sense of self. Driven by personal frustration and incompleteness, she pursues the ponies into the next city along: a market populated by weird and misshapen creaturesm a far cry from the show’s usual menagerie. Pigs, rats, voles, and other indescribables haggle and barter; the first words the viewer hears in this new place are “We’ll let you go to the highest bidder!!” and the first thing asked of the ponies is, “Hey, you selling?” The rabble of this Libertarian paradise is about to set upon the ponies and strip them of their possessions to sell on, before they are saved momentarily by a smooth talking, wisecracking cat (voiced by the African-American Taye Diggs). A fish lady yells “I want all seven for my collection!” Me too, my darling, me too. Another yells “I’ll give you two Stormbucks for your hair!!,” referring to Stormcloaks ruinous mercantile empire, but my brain heard “ZOGbucks.” No prizes for recognising that without the common bond of ancestry, a cosmopolitan society collapses under the weight of the freeloaders, parasites, and charlatans it inevitably produces. Capper the cat whisks the ponies out of danger, and clearly resents double crossing them, but only aims to sell them on (into slavery!) anyway — to settle a debt, no less. His eyes are a jealous green, the show’s visual tipoff for characters motivated by mania and selfishness. Whilst he eventually comes around to support the ponies, he remains an outsider, even if he assists with Jewish moral ambiguity and tricksterism.
The ponies get out of dodge and escape Capper’s clutches by boarding an airship. This time, staffed by parrots! The birds are about to make them walk the plank, but the lunch bell chimes, and everyone stops for break. Bowls of birdseed are plonked in front of the ponies, and Rainbow Dash, insulted by the lack of fighting spirit left in them, breaks into a rowdy and catchy song and dance about being ethnonationalistically “Awesome again.” This being My Little Pony, the song is about these delivery birds regaining their ethnic pride and returning to being “swashbuckling treasure hunters,” and would it be delivered by anyone other than Rainbow Dash, the destructive, narcissistic, and fearless avatar of loyalty? Rainbow insists “You birds have a choice to make.” You can’t let them rob you of who you are, so take the ZOG’s orders and just toss ’em — It’s time to be, Awesome.
However, Rainbow’s Rainboom signals to Tempest where they are — well, to the runt accompanying her, a porcupine-esque analogy for a suburban brat, constantly shoving pies and cakes into his face and trying to appear tougher than he is. They give chase, and the ponies have to improvise an escape; the bird’s ship is destroyed by Tempest as an executive punishment.
The ponies’ improvised balloon manages to safely land them on the mountain of the Hippogriths, whom they hope to enlist in rebellion against Stormcloak. But the whole place is disturbingly deserted. They are sucked in a vortex and emerge into an underwater realm populated by what were the Hippogriths; who have now transformed themselves into Sea Horses to escape Stormcloak’s wrath.
Now immersed in the subconscious of Seaquestria, they meet two characters: Princess Skystar and Queen Novo. Princess Skystar is desperately lonely and longs to leave Seaquestria, and is reduced to playing make-believe friendships with two clams (Shelly and Sheldon). Her mother, Novo, is furious that surface dwellers would enter the realm of fantasy escapism and wants them gone. Interestingly, Skystar is voiced and sung by the European and partly Native American Kristin Chenoweth, whereas Novo is voiced to maximum sassy blackness by the Nigerian Uzo Adubo. Chenoweth’s voice is completely neutral in comparison to Adubo’s, making it a jarring casting choice. Queen Novo, doing her part to reinforce accurate racial stereotyping, wants to remain in a dreamworld of decadence — after flatly refusing to help the ponies, she disappears off for dinner and a massage.
Twilight, in desperation to save both Equestria and her sense of self, uses her friends as pawns and attempts to steal the magic amulet guarded by Queen Novo, and fails. They are all promptly ejected from the subconcious refuge of Seaquestria. Twilight’s betrayal drives a wedge between them and separates the group, allowing Tempest to swoop in and capture her, leaving the remainder of the Mane Six to abort their outward quest and stage a rescue mission.
Imprisoned by Tempest, Twilight is treated to a musical number by the mercenary. She launches into an autobiographical tirade of self-justification, that Twilight ought to “get wise” to the seeming inevitability of globalisation, the futility of friendship, the pointlessnness of being emotionally open. After all, you’ll just get hurt! The words ring clearly to those with ears to hear: Twilight questions: “Why are you doing this? You’re a pony, just like me!” and Tempest cuts to the twisted, nihilistic root of her resentment: “I once hoped for friendship . . . to find a place amongst my kind.”
Tempest describes the loss of her horn as a child when she is mauled by a bear (one of the show’s recurring creatures, an Ursa Minor). Thus disfigured she is ostracised by the other kids (colts & fillies?) and decides to walk her own path — which instead of leading to her independence, simply propels her from the genteel, reciprocal Equestrian society into servitude of an altogether ungrateful master. Even as she berates Twilight for remaining loyal to her friends, her eventual aim in imprisoning her is to re-attain her unicorn horn through Stormcloak, a token of attachment to once being accepted as a pony.
With all four Princesses under his control, Stormcloak steals their magic and starts turning day to night and back again moment to moment for novelty’s sake. Of course, this is how invaders who are totally unlike us are bound to behave; with total disregard for the established order of harmony and tradition, doing whatever they can to refute, subvert, and flout settled, natural orders. Stormcloak is an allusion back to the rampant, reckless Discord before Discord was brought to heel by Fluttershy. Like Starlight Glimmer and her Staff of Sameness, Stormcloak ensnares the ponies of Equestria into a pattern of life that goes against who they are and the fundamental grain of their character — this time they are subjected to the misery of being under alien occupation. With all the ponies enslaved, then, it is no surprise that he double crosses Tempest.
Having enlisted all the allies they can get their hooves on, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, Applejack, and Pinkie storm the castle. Stormcloak is battered and deprived of the magical staff. Tempest is saved by Twilight as she is about to be whisked to her death by howling winds and for the first time we see her expression soften with compassion; the warmth of friendship finally thawing her icy shell of embittered mistrust. As the Mane Six join together for a predictable Big Hug, the not-quite-defeated Stormcloak returns to finish them off – and Tempest saves them, still being the outsider to the group and yet still sacrificing herself for them. She is rescued by Twilight yet again from death by falling, a fate that nonetheless claims Stormcloak.
Tempest, whilst still physically apart, becomes emotionally whole as she regains the respect of the Mane Six, and by extension, pony society. She realises the folly of turning her back on her true nature and returns to the completeness of belonging to a whole nation she is inherently a part of. She reveals her true name to her compatriots: Fizzlepop, a moniker that fits the bursts and bubbles of magic her broken horn makes. Whilst different to other ponies, she is still one of their kind.
In order to belong, Fizzlepop has to accept what she is and also what she has experienced, and come to terms with past trauma in order to understand that others can do the same. Twilight, by accepting her history and including her in a circle of friendship, brings the lost Tempest back into the fold of solidarity and love for one another as different threads in the same tapestry. In this, Ponies: The Movie offers a message of hope to White Nationalists: That if we remain loyal to who we are and by extension our cause, and offer the hand of friendship to those who are still hiding in a shell of cynicism, we can turn even our adversaries to allies by lending them the courage to leave their self-deception behind.
When we accept and invite others, we can change their perceptions of both us and themselves, and through this, we can change the world.