Another year, another teenage horse-girl adventure. A spin-off of the warmly received My Little Pony:Friendship is Magic and its accompanying toyline, Equestria Girls is Hasbro’s answer to the hugely popular Monster High franchise, because doing something unique and working with a well-liked franchise you already have going on is for losers. The basic premise finds Twilight Sparkle, the main character of Friendship is Magic, traveling to a alternate world where all her pony friends are humans attending Canterlot High School, where she encounters new dangers, new experiences, and new friends, though that last one is questionable because it’s technically the same people she knew before but with fingers.
The first movie, Equestria Girls, saw release in 2013 and was uniformly bad. Awkward character design and animation, a meandering plot that lacks any interest or sense, cringe-worthy writing, and a nonsensical climax rolled up into a 70 minute facepalm of a flick. It probably did perfectly fine by its target audience, but it didn’t do much to show off what made Friendship is Magic appealing to older viewers.
The 2014 follow-up, Rainbow Rocks, was a huge improvement over the first movie, but that’s not exactly an achievement. The plot was a lot more focused, the villainous sirens and their songs were a hoot, and formerly terrible villain Sunset Shimmer was reworked as a reformed protagonist who became a favorite among fans. It was still awkward and the script is not exactly the sharpest, but it seems like the writers and crew had fun making this one, and it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Not great, but it’s occasionally fun.
And now we have Friendship Games, the High School Musical-tinged third movie that continues to distance itself from Friendship is Magic as its own thing. Rewatching the first film before this one helped keep my expectations low, but I’ll admit that I was slightly hopeful Friendship Games would continue the seeming upward swing that Rainbow Rocks started.
It was…dull. Boring, actually. And then it was just uninspired like the first one was.
It takes a while for the plot to get going and even then it becomes uninteresting really fast. For whatever reason, they decided to step away from the supernatural conflict that people liked in Rainbow Rocks and instead went with a generic plot about rivalry between high schools and then heaped confusing, bland magical stuff on top of that. It’s predictable fare that leaves one wanting to watch something else, and it left me searching for anything really significant to say about this movie. But as I gave more thought to Friendship Games than is warranted, I began to notice some troubling implications created by the underwritten script. For instance…
[SPOILERS from here on out]
The film’s conflict is set off by the reappearance of Twilight Sparkle at Canterlot High, or so we think. This Twilight is in fact Pony Twilight’s human counterpart, a bespectacled science whiz investigating the strange magic happenings around Canterlot High.
Human Twilight’s existence was joked about in the first movie and served as the after-credits tease in Rainbow Rocks, so the movie treats this as the answer to some long-held question the audience has always wanted to know, but it just makes me wonder what’s the deal with Sunset Shimmer, who is actually a pony who traveled to this human world and stuck around. The first movie implied she’s been there long enough to see four fall formals, and that’s a long time for no one to notice there’s two versions of the same person walking around. Did Sunset Shimmer, who was presented as being a rather villainous sort when she first came to Canterlot High, have to take steps to make sure her doppelgänger never made things awkward for her, along with anyone who would have noticed Human Sunset Shimmer’s sudden transformation into Discount Regina George?
And we never see what Shimmer’s living situation is. Does she even have a house? Has none of the faculty at the high school questioned her about this? Did she also have to take care of the teachers who did ask questions? Did we miss a really bizarre horror movie in which a body-snatching freshman conspired and killed to have this small town ready to fall into the palm of her newly dehooved hands?
Either way, I refuse to believe these movies unfolded the way they did and nobody ended up in a ditch, dead or alive.
2. Half the Kids in This Town Are Evil.
So it turns out Human Twilight attends Crystal Prep, Canterlot High’s undefeated rivals in the titular Friendship Games. Crystal Prep is what would happen if Slytherin House broke off to form its own school of belligerent assholes, and its headmaster was Ayn Rand. Everyone is expected to care only for their own personal achievement and to regard anyone else’s with barely-masked contempt and disinterest. Their sports team is called “The Shadowbolts,” because “The Antagonists” was too on the nose. The members of this team range from “thuggish” to “apathetic to the pain and misery of others.”
They’re lead by the cool and callous Principal Cinch, who looks like Missy from Doctor Who after being deprived of oxygen for too long. She insists that winning the Friendship Games isn’t that important before going on a spiel about how it totally is important that they beat this one high school in an unofficial competition that doesn’t conform to any real standards to uphold…The Reputation. It’s to the point that the Shadowbolts later sing about how their “only interest in this business is seeing Canterlot High School fall.”
This school is so casually nefarious that they installed spikes on the roof just to screw with the birds…
…and I’m pretty sure Principal Cinch’s office contains components for a death laser.
But Human Twilight (who shall henceforth be referred to as HuTwi) doesn’t yearn for the utter destruction of teenagers all in the name of…The Reputation like the others. She just wants to stay cooped up in her makeshift lab and collect data on magic occurrences using a device which looks like an Arc Reactor one would get at Party City. But Mean Ol’ Principal Cinch would much rather have HuTwi, the top student at Crystal Prep, represent the school in the Friendship Games, under threat of tearing up HuTwi’s application for an independent study program. Why is it so important that she compete in these games? No idea. The first round of the games deals with academics, but after that it’s sporty stuff that HuTwi wouldn’t be able to help with. It’s not worth having a locked-in victory over a school who’d probably be easy to beat in the academic round anyway. They have Derpy Hooves on their team, for god’s sake.
On a semi-related note, it’s said early on in the movie that Cinch is terribly allergic to HuTwi’s dog, but there’s no payoff to that, at least in the version that aired. C’mon, if you’re gonna set up tired tropes that every children’s film villain seems to follow, at least follow through with it. What is this, Amateur Hour?
3. Whoever Designed the Friendship Games Clearly Has Problems and Needs Help.
Despite what the trailers or the proceeding 40 minutes may have led you to believe, the Friendship Games isn’t exactly the straight sports competition one might expect. No, that would be too sane. The competitors go into the games blind and just have to hope that they are prepared for whatever awaits them. So after the first round of the games, as seen above in a admittedly neat little montage, the students go outside to find this abysmal collection of death traps awaiting them:
Yes, that is a motocross track. I feel like that in and of itself needs its own list.
Why would this be part of a high school competition? Again, the students don’t know what they’re in for, but they probably thought it was gonna be shot put or long division or something, not a sport where a set of skills developed over time is the only thing standing between success and lying in a ditch with a broken neck – possibly the same ditch as Human Sunset Shimmer. At least the Triwizard Tournament was intended to be exclusively accessible to older students who would conceivably have all the knowledge they need to survive anything that comes their way. You’re making Goblet of Fire look logical, Friendship Games, and you don’t even have a Edward Cullen-looking motherfucker get killed by the end.
This round doesn’t make much sense at all, really. First we’ve got an archery section, where a team has to land two bulls-eyes on moving targets (again, very fair). Once that’s done, the next section of the team swings around a roller derby ring three times. There are points involved in this section, but it’s pointless considering it’s a race and whoever gets first place wins anyway. The points totally don’t mean anything. After that, we head to the motocross section, where I guess who ever still has all their organs inside their body by the end is the victor. Archery, roller derby, and motocross: they just go together, don’t they?
Come to think of it, the fact that there are only three rounds in this whole thing strikes me as odd. Is it best two out three? In that case, Crystal Prep winning by a landslide every year means they’ve never had a third round before, which probably explains why the third round is so crap. “Wait, what, Canterlot High won the second round? That, like, never happens! Okay, um, let’s see, uhhhhhh…Capture the Flag? Capture the Flag. Sorry, the guy in charge of designing the games is in the hospital. Kidney failure after drinking too much.”
4. These People Are Unbelievably Jaded.
But the real conflict being developed throughout the film (What, you thought it’d be the Friendship Games?!) is the mystery of how magic works in the human world. Even after evil has been defeated and Pony Twilight has returned to Equestria, the remaining HuMane Six are still able to “Pony Up™,” which involves sprouting pony ears and tails and glowing magic sparkles all over the dang place. This happens whenever they’re “showing the truest part of themselves,” so: when Rarity is making dresses, or Pinkie Pie is throwing a bodacious party, or Rainbow Dash is overusing the word “awesome,” and so on.
It’s this magical activity that’s attracted HuTwi and her Arc Reactor scanner thing-y. But upon arriving at Canterlot High for the games, things take an unexpected turn when HuTwi’s scanner starts draining any magical energy nearby, including the magic that emanates from the HuMane Six and the portal to Equestria still located super inconveniently in the Canterlot High statue. She’s unable to control the device, and eventually the stored magic begins to overflow at the worst possible times, including the already insane motocross leg of the second round.
Portals start randomly appearing around the field, unleashing carnivorous plants that ensnare the competitors and threatens the live of anyone in the general area. And no one does anything. Creatures from an alien world eating people would be reason enough to call off literally any event, but not at Canterlot High. The faculty looks concerned, but they don’t act on it. After everything else they’ve had to deal with? What’s one or two or twelve more dead teenagers in a ditch? Come to think of it, this competition might just be a plot to take out the problem students, so this works perfectly well for the teachers.
Plus, this kind of stuff happens all the time and never once has it ended up on the news. Crystal Prep is situated nearby but has never heard anything about magical horse children until the problem makes itself clear at the games. But not one teenager who goes to Canterlot High has ever found any of that interesting enough to share with friends or family? You think one kid would have mentioned that one time a giant horse made out of light killed acoustic sea creatures at the Battle of the Bands.
It’s only afterwards that Principal Celestia suggests that maybe they should hold off on the games and call it a day, but Principal Cinch demands that the games continue on for the sake of…The Reputation. Meanwhile, a furious Sunset Shimmer gives HuTwi a verbal walloping for not being able to control her crap, which is presented as a heartbreaking scene when it actually is a totally fair reaction to the day’s events. Most people would have smashed the scanner by the time it drained the fourth person of their energy, but not HuTwi! She just wants to understand how magic works in this world!
She never will. Neither will the audience. “Magic comes out when ourselves be true, dawg,” which was already pretty evident, is the best answer we will probably get in this series. It’d be the biggest non-answer of 2015 cinema if it wasn’t for that scene in Terminator:Genisys where the evil John Connor outright told the other characters that the timeline means absolutely nothing anymore and we should just stop caring. Way ahead of you on that one.
5. Friendship And Genocidal Rage Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin, apparently.
As the two teams prepare to start the final round, Cinch and the Shadowbolts pull HuTwi aside and tell her that she should totally unleash her stored magic all at once. No one has any idea what will happen if she does, but Cinch has come too far to not unleash an untold amount of arcane and possibly lethal power upon a group of teenagers so they can win a competition literally no one else in the world cares about. After all, she must protect…The Reputation. After a rather intense song sequence…
…HuTwi is convinced that unleashing the magic will allow her to unlock the secrets of the universe or something. She opens it up, resulting in her being consumed by the ball of energy from the end of Akira.
She emerges a few seconds later as a dimension-shattering demon goddess hellbent on tearing apart both this world and Equestria so she can access unlimited magical power.
Keep in mind, the magic in the scanner was all collected from the HuMane Six, magic born out of friendship and good vibes. Why would it transform anyone into a dimension-shattering demon god hellbent on tearing apart both this world and Equestria so they can access unlimited magical power, let alone someone as (mostly) good-natured as HuTwi? The exact same thing happened in the first movie, with Sunset Shimmer wearing Twilight’s Element of Magic and somehow gaining the power to turn people into zombies. Can the magic of friendship do that all the time, and if so, why doesn’t this come up more often? You think Fluttershy would be so wishy-washy if she knew she had the power to turn into a dimension-shattering demon goddess hellbent on tearing apart both this world and Equestria so she can access unlimited magical power?
It makes even less sense than it did the first time around, and introducing Evil Twilight Sparkle only to have her exit a few minutes later feels like a wasted opportunity. Almost as wasted as I feel when I’m watching these friggin’ pictures. And if you’re wondering how they defeat HuTwi, Sunset Shimmer turns into an anime character and they hug. And then they convince Cinch that telling anyone about the madness she witnessed today would make her look crazy, further cementing an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Eeyup.
6. There Were No Ponies. I Was Told There Would Be Ponies.
This spin-off makes less sense all the time. The series seems to be trying to move farther and farther away from Friendship is Magic to the point that it’s not even necessary to bring Twilight over to the human world anymore, and the best elements of the series has been stuff invented for Equestria Girls. The non-Twilight HuMane Six barely have anything to do in these movies anyway, so you could have invented new characters instead of forcing characters who don’t really fit in a high school setting into a high school setting.
And with only the slightest appearance of candy-colored talking ponies at this point, I find myself caring even less than I already did. The real Twilight Sparkle finally makes an appearance in a ending stinger, saying she would have come sooner but she was stuck in a timeloop. What’s that about? Is that something happening later in Season 5? You mean ponies were in the middle of some Back to the Future shenanigans and we were instead watching Equestria Girls: Motocross Mischief?
7. I’ve Wasted Way Too Much Time Hating on This. Where Is My Mind?
After Friendship Games, I find it hard to care one way or the other. It’s not as wretched as that first one, but it’s a definite step back from Rainbow Rocks. The writing definitely has problems, and you get the feeling that the crew isn’t reviewing these scripts as much as they should, but it’s slightly elevated by the always talented voice cast, a decent music score and animation that’s steadily been getting better with each new movie.
At worst, Equestria Games is harmlessly mediocre. If you enjoyed the other ones, I imagine you’ll find something to like here, though some might be disappointed after the series high of Rainbow Rocks‘s adequateness. If you have a kid who really, really wants to watch it, they should enjoy it just fine. Otherwise, all of Friendship is Magic is on Netflix; there’s no real need to settle for magical teenagers with skin conditions.
Or let them watch House of Cards. I don’t care about your kids.