In the lead up to Equestria Girls, I did what I could to try and remain neutral about most of the controversies that occurred in the fandom. The high school setting, the apparent presence of a love-interest in the trailers, the humanization, and other things had a lot of people worried. And in a sense, I could understand where they were coming from; the high school drama genre is generally not viewed in a positive light. Many consider it to be filled with clichés, unnecessary drama and plotlines, and forced love interests. But I remained generally optimistic about it, considering the work the team behind Friendship is Magic had done with a series that was also mocked for producing cliché, overly saccharine shows. So, how well do I think they did? Let’s find out.
Oh, and I tend to accidentally be spoilerific so expect there to be quite a bit. I have a tendency to forget that some people don’t like spoilers as I personally don’t get bothered by it. Heck, I had pretty much read the entire plot of the movie before I saw it from the reviews, discussions, and plot summaries I read before deciding to watch it myself.
Animation and Music
I’m going to just go through this very briefly as animation quality is not something I’m particularly good at judging. Unless it’s a very obvious mistake, I tend to not notice things that people more familiar with animation work would. So from my perspective, the movie was pretty good. Everything seemed to flow well as the characters moved, which was quite often. In particular, Twilight’s attempt to act pony-like while in her human body were quite entertaining to watch while still being plausible for actual human motion.
Character designs were pretty good. At first glance the multi-colored skin tones raised an eyebrow, but the promo art and trailers (and childhood watching of Doug) had prepared me enough it was of no bother. I am particularly glad about how cutie marks were incorporated into the designs. While early promo images had shown them as being little facial tattoos, the actual movie had them designed straight into the clothes. And while the basic template for the characters were pretty much the same (long-legged, skinny, skirts-boots, which I’ll admit is a flaw and I do wish they had a little more variety in body types), they did a great job at individualizing them and making them identifiable. I was particularly happy about how easy it was to recognize the rather large cast of background ponies simply due to the clothing and accessory choices.
As for the music, admittedly I didn’t find them particularly rememberable, but I’m also usually not into the sort of pop-ish music that was used. However, I tended to enjoy the animation that was present during the songs. My favorites being probably the opening animation during the MLP theme remix, Twilight’s awkwardness during “This Strange World”, and the flash mob choreography in “Time to Come Together” (had to look up the song names). Basically, okay songs, good music videos.
The basic plot of the movie is simple enough; Twilight Sparkle’s crown is stolen, she goes to the human world to get it back, and is forced by circumstances to win what basically amounts to prom queen to get it. Oh, and defeat the former student of her mentor who plans to use the crown to invade Equestria and apparently gets turned into a demonic being due to the warping of the Element of Magic due to being in the wrong dimension.
Okay, maybe not that simple. Most of the movie is just the “win the prom queen” part, with the demon fighting the climax. In a sense, then, it sort of fits maybe a cliché high school drama plot, but I do think it was handled okay enough.
I’ll admit that the “reuniting of friends” could have been a bit longer as it was resolved rather quickly. Some think the reasons for them not being friends was kind of contrived (Sunset Shimmer broke them apart with lies and misdirection easily resolved by just talking to one another) but considering how strong a grudge can be and how people act when hurt and mad, I could see it happening. The main reason I think it could have been longer and more focused on was that the main point of the film seemed to be Twilight learning and demonstrating her leadership skills and teaching others the lessons she learned on friendship. If the conflict had been a little harder to resolve, Twilight could have had a little more time to demonstrate it. Still, as it was, it was okay.
The most interesting part of the plot for me, however, was how Sunset Shimmer attempted to ruin Twilight’s reputation. Her use of social media, Youtube, photoshop, etc. is in itself not a particularly conniving plan. The fact that it was a major plot point now, when the media has put a particular emphasis on the effects of cyber-bullying, is what made it interesting. Obviously, the movie didn’t go too much into the effects of it and resolved it pretty quickly with flash-mob music, but it’s still interesting to see it addressed to some level in a movie directed towards kids.
The rest of my comments on the plot, however, can be broken down into a discussion on two characters in particular; Flash Sentry, and Sunset Shimmer.
A.k.a “Love Interest.” Now, I do recall when the first trailer coming out chastising a few people for automatically assuming that just because Twilight hugged a male character it meant they were a love interest. Of course it turned out it was, but still, never assume.
In terms of his character, I was disappointed. I wasn’t disappointed by his existence; I didn’t care either way whether a love interest existed. In fact, if done properly, a plotline focusing on one of the characters developing a crush could have been interesting. As he is in the movie, however, this didn’t happen. In fact, it seemed his role as a love interest was primarily an excuse to have him have a reason to help Twilight when Sunset Shimmer photoshopped some images of her destroying the gym. Honestly, I find that worse than him having been a love interest. If you’re going to have a plot-line, use the dang plotline! By being so tepid about it, it does make Flash Sentry seem more shoe-horned in than an actual character.
In fact, I’m a little disappointed to hear he is not supposed to appear in Season 4; my dislike of plot lines going nowhere is just that big. On the other hand, when Faust developed the show she specifically wanted to avoid stereotypical plots like dating and boyfriends and instead focus on other aspects of the character’s lives. And from a feminist perspective, having media aimed towards a female audience that doesn’t have an emphasis on romance and dating is important to helping improve media representations of girls. So I’ll just channel my disappointment into enjoying fanworks that explore a possible Twilight x Flash Sentry relationship.
Sunset Shimmer is introduced as having been the pupil of Celestia before Twilight Sparkle. Feeling she wasn’t getting where she wanted fast enough, she became cruel and ran away into another world where she was able to get what she wanted I guess. This relationship isn’t explored that much, but it’s done to a level that satisfies me. My favorite scene related to this was when Celestia mentioned she had kept the mirror in Canterlot with the hope that one day Sunset Shimmer would return seeking her help. The fact that the portal was now in the Crystal Empire is a subtle way of showing just how disappointed Celestia must have been that Sunset Shimmer never returned. Combine that with how one of the first thing Celestia asks of Twilight returns is how Shimmer was doing, this movie actually does a good job of expanding on Celestia’s character in a manner only bested by “Celestia’s Ballad”.
In the movie itself, Sunset Shimmer proves to be a relatively competent villain, if not particularly imaginative in terms of goals or personality. The ending of the movie leaves some possibilities that I hope could be explored.
1) Prior to trying to steal the crown back from Twilight, Sunset Shimmer said “She’s so very special,” in an angry tone. Considering we were told that Sunset Shimmer’s turn to cruelty was due to not getting where she wanted fast enough, this gives us a potential motivation for her; jealousy. It is possible Sunset Shimmer, for all her bragging, wasn’t as good a student as Twilight. Twilight not only was a better student, but she became the Element of Magic and an alicorn. Now I may be off, but that one line was enough for me to consider the possibility that there might be a lot more to Sunset than we are giving credit for.
2) There’s the possibility of another Alicorn Amulet situation here. Several times Sunset Shimmer makes a point that she thought Snips and Snails were going too far in their tasks. Granted, their destruction of the gym to the point of delaying the dance did hurt her plans so there is an excuse there, when they kidnapped Spike she made a point to let him go once Twilight arrived. Why? Because she states “she’s not a monster.” Yet once wearing the corrupted Element of Magic, she goes all demon zombie-invasion leader and starts blasting the Main 6. When she transformed, however, she had a look of pain on her face that reminded me a bit of the transformation scenes in Majora’s Mask. All of this leaves the possibility that Sunset Shimmer may have bitten more than she could chew and, like Trixie, found herself corrupted by a magical artifact.
3) After Sunset Shimmer is defeated and makes her quick turn to “good” (which, admittedly, is par for the course for MLP villains so I don’t mind), Twilight mentions she could learn about friendship from the Main 6 (er, 5 with Twilight leaving). This could actually work as the basis of a potential Equestria Girls spinoff by having Sunset Shimmer as the protagonist who, with the help of the others, starts turning from a jerk to someone with a clear understanding of friendship. Seriously, that sounds like a pretty good series to me.
Overall, I have to say I enjoyed Equestria Girls. While yeah, it was not perfect, there is some pretty good stuff in there. The comedy of watching Twilight trying to adjust to the human world was fun, especially since she never quite got the hang of it (even her notorious dancing returned). All the characters acted like, well, the characters to the point it was kind of easy to forget sometimes that they weren’t the Equestrian Mane 6. Animation was good, even if I didn’t find the songs all that memorable. Most importantly, when looked at closer, there is some pretty good stuff there that could be a source of some truly great fanworks or official material.
Seriously, can someone get started on an Equestria Girls spinoff starring Sunset Shimmer?