When I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I was writing a review of My Little Pony, her first, knee-jerk reaction was, “Why?”
This struck me as a surprising question because, as a person born in the 1980s, of course I have a certain fond nostalgia for the brightly colored, animated ponies. And like many 1980s babies, I’m now a parent myself, meaning that the newest reboot can capitalize on my nostalgia while selling their toy lines to the newest crop of consumers: my children.
I don’t think it’s disingenuous to say that My Little Pony has almost always existed to sell toys. After all, the parent company is Hasbro, a toy company, and certainly, the first and second generations (those that brought us My Little Pony movie of 1986) featured so many ponies that I struggle to name them. (My favorite My Little Pony series, from the early ‘90s, My Little Pony Tales, had a run of 26 episodes and introduced 77 different ponies.)
Reboots were always inevitable. G1 and G2 were beloved classics and did well enough. The less said about generation 3, the better; in the early naughts, My Little Pony was rebooted with a terrible CGI version that looked like a Lisa Frank fever dream. This probably helped lead to G4, which is the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series, which was done in 2D flash animation and had a very crisp, simple visual design. This generation exploded in popularity, particularly among adult men, spawning conventions and fan creations of such fabulous quality that it boggles the mind.
But the popularity of G4 is a different conversation entirely, and for that, I’ll point you to Jenny Nicholson’s “fandom autopsy”. This article is about G5: the reboot that follows on the heels (hoofs?) of G4 and has a lot to live up to. Does it? Let’s dive in!
Released to Netflix as My Little Pony: A New Generation, even the title is unambiguous for this franchise’s target audience. “Hey, parents. This one’s for the kids,” it neighs emphatically.
Knowing this, I went in expecting a simplistic, childish plot. I was not disappointed. The central plot is that earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns all live separately and have for a long time, and one plucky little pony, Sunny, wants them all to desegregate and be friends again.
In order to do this, Sunny the earth pony and her diverse group of friends must find and unite three magical macguffins (crystals), each representing one of the three types of pony.
The plot was fine and easy to follow. I thought the character dynamics were decent; there was a fair amount of comedic timing and plenty of humorous quips. (One of my favorites is when Zipp is on the red carpet, and among the clamoring reporters, one can be heard shouting, “Where’s the bathroom?”)
One thing I disliked, though, in terms of the resolution (spoiler: they reunite the crystals and become friends) was that Sunny the earth pony becomes an alicorn at the end. Aside from being contrived, this really undercuts the “we’re all unique and special in our own way” message. Every child already knows that earth ponies get the short end of the stick; having your main character, an earth pony, have wings and a horn bestowed on her as a reward really implies that the earth ponies have no inherent magic or specialties of their own.
Another failure of the resolution was that there’s no real comeuppance for Sprout. Sprout is a bad guy pony, or at least, as much of a bad guy as he can be in a world without bad guys. Sprout is a deputy earth pony who, when Hitch the sheriff leaves him in charge, immediately goes mad with power and radicalizes all the earth ponies into an army that wants to defeat and subdue the unicorn and pegasi. They de-radicalize about as quickly as they radicalized in the first place, and no one ever holds Sprout accountable for his para-genocidal ideations.
Aside from these issues, though, I thought the story as a whole was well-realized, if not very formulaic. It was more or less what I expected, and no one really watches My Little Pony for the plot (Brony Editor Note: Uhh, how dare?), which is why I took notes based on other metrics, such as messaging.
I think we all understand that the three pony types are a metaphor for race. There’s three races of ponies who are “not so different after all!” and the message of the movie, ultimately, is that you should not be afraid of people (or ponies) who are different from you, but try to be friends with them. Seems palatable enough, right?
I suppose, but saying “be friends with people from other demographics” feels shallow and a little out-dated. If this message was being delivered to us in, say, the 1980s or 1990s, I might be more inclined to think it was a good one, but nowadays it just fell flat.
A better message might have been that people let their own insecurities keep them from being friends. After all, the unicorns are hiding their lack of magic and the pegasi are hiding their inability to fly. They’ve isolated themselves out of a sense of insecurity. Look at Sprout, whose insecurities lead to corruption. Maybe a more complex message would be, “People hold themselves back; check yourself,” or, “Insecure people may come across as hostile but have their own internal things going on.”
If different pony types are an allegory for race (or other demographics, like ethnicity, religion, or nationality), then things get more problematic when you consider the opening sequence, in which Sunny and Argyle are actively fetishizing making friends with unicorns, to the point of wearing fake horns, which… I don’t know, felt a little uncomfortable to me. Speaking of uncomfortable, we need to talk about the soundtrack.
I took notes on every song in the series. There are five. Most My Little Pony movies are musicals, and this one was no exception. What was exceptional was how bad the songs were. The first My Little Pony movie had at least one song I can remember to this day, Nothing Can Stop the Smooze, which is a “funky, gunky” song that, despite its simplistic lyrics, feels pretty natural for the movie. I compared all new My Little Pony songs to the smooze song in terms of how natural they feel, and here are the results:
The first, opening song, “Be My Day,” was fairly boring. It was set to a fun getting-ready montage with Sunny and shows her roller-skating around town, and I appreciated the roller-skating action and a good look at her environment, but the song and lyrics were thoroughly flat.
Also, Sunny’s color palette and her roller-skating gives off such an intense Scootaloo vibe that anyone who is familiar with previous My Little Pony generations might feel an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu from this sequence.
The next song, “I’m Looking Out for You,” likewise has painfully trite lyrics that were probably written by AI. That being said, there’s more lovely scenery and one of my favorite montages of the show, showing Izzy and Sunny running through various environments. I think this song was useful as a “characters traveling a long distance” montage, and I’d rank it as my second favorite, which isn’t saying much, since I can’t recall a single lyric despite listening to it three times.
The third song is the “Angry Mob” song. Honestly this song was my favorite, perhaps because of its own self-awareness. The lyrics of the chorus are “mob, mob, m-m-m-mob, angry angry,” and at one point they rhyme mob with “corn on the cob.” The writers just gave up and had fun and this song is honestly a banger. The montage of the earth ponies radicalizing falls apart into an actual music video. It’s not trying, and it’s not even pretending to, and I loved that about it.
The fourth song, “We Don’t Fly Like We Used To,” offered a musical backdrop to the heist but was ultimately soulless and unnecessary.
Similarly, the final song, “You’re Gonna Fit Right In,” acted as unnecessary filler for the make-over scene.
The final two songs were the most egregiously commercial. They were boring, uninspired, and lazy, and their only saving grace was the visuals attached to them. Honestly, visuals were the strongest point of this movie, especially character design.
THE CHARACTER DESIGN
I really like G5’s character design. While a lot of the animation was a bit lazy (up close, the texture of the pony’s bodies is similar to that of a tennis ball), I found the ponies themselves to be lovingly made, from the subtle ombré in Izzy’s mane to the delicately feathered fetlocks, many of which were a lighter color that the main coat, giving many ponies a “sock” pattern. Hitch has a “star” on the bridge of his nose, and two of the male ponies, Argyle and Alphabittle, have sideburns. There’s a few sequences where ponies are frazzled and their manes are a big, poofy mess, and seeing the frizzy, curly manes on these ponies was certainly an animation highlight.
I also think the pony accessories are fun and make sense. For example, Izzy has a beaded bracelet and tiara, and Sunny has some button pins on her saddle bag. These accoutrements are cute and true-to-character without being excessive.
That being said, I strongly disliked the pegasi sisters. Usually, pegasus ponies are my favorite, but Zipp and Pipp were about as bland as their names suggest. Pipp’s entire personality was that she’s famous, has a large social media following, and is a little bit addicted to social media. There’s no commentary on this from the movie (for example, if they wanted to imply she’s too obsessed, we could have her tripping frequently as she texts). Pipp simply… is. Sunny and Izzy have such vibrant personalities that Zipp and Pipp add nothing to it.
The fifth pony of the Mane Five, after Sunny, Izzy, Zipp, and Pipp, is Hitch. I loved Hitch. It was immensely satisfying to me to see a male pony with an attractive color palette (often, males are simply plain brown or dark blue), an interesting backstory, and a full personality. Hitch is designed to be likeable. As Sprout points out, he has “a perfect mane, shredded abs, and a paid-off mortgage.”
I’d also like to give a tip of the hat to the writers for (probably unintentionally) offering some commentary on law enforcement. Hitch is the sheriff and Sprout is the deputy, and we see them take very different approaches to their job. Hitch, ultimately, goes on a journey of discovery and reaches logical conclusions through careful detective work, while Sprout leans on militarization, fear-mongering, and a shoot-first-ask-questions-later policy to get his job done. This bit of social commentary was refreshing, especially considering the theme they were actually angling for was so shallow. Also, Sprout was a great villain; he was whiny and annoying and, right from the get-go, you dislike him a lot; his despicable actions are really nicely mirrored by his unpleasant, nasal voice and his unpleasant, deep red color palette.
A final note about character design: The two birds and crab that followed Sheriff Hitch around were annoying. You can’t add cute to cute. It’s like drizzling syrup over cotton candy; it collapses in on its own sweetness. Likewise the bunnies and the pegasus queen’s fluffy dog and Alphabittle’s armadillos were all needless filler, and I hated to see them. Bet they’ll sell a lot of toys, though; marketed as accessories to playsets, these little shits will undoubtedly perform their function, which is to sell toys. Speaking of playsets…
THE SET DESIGN
The world occupied by the ponies was enjoyable to me, perhaps because it reminded me of My Little Pony Tales. The ponies live in a contemporary setting that looks like ours; they have cell phones and Instagram, and most of the furniture and utensils seems oddly designed for humans. (Seeing Argyle holding a paintbrush in his hoof haunts my dreams.) But I’m okay with that because the human world background is relatable to me as a human, and, like in My Little Pony Tales, makes the series more easily imagined and played by a younger audience.
Both Sunny’s and Izzy’s houses had a creative, crazy inventor vibe to them, like Belle’s house in Beauty and the Beast. There were a lot of little G4 Easter eggs in the background of Sunny’s house, which was fun for the eagle-eyed viewer.
I appreciated that all three pony types had very different set designs. Earth ponies live in a seaside town called Maretime Bay; Unicorns live in a forest called Bridlewood; Pegasi live in an ultra-urban mountain city called Zephyr Heights. This allowed the story’s plot to be followed because each act transitioned to a new location; Between crystals, we saw new locations, and this made the story’s pacing simple and easy to follow, with the scenery breaking up the acts as would happen in live theater.
Taking into account the character and set design, this was a colorful and generally pretty lovely movie. However, ultimately, I can’t say it was good, as it suffered from a terminal case of “Sing syndrome.”
What Is Sing Syndrome?
Sing is a movie produced by Illumination Studios and it has a sequel coming out this year. You probably know Illumination Studios as the people who brought us the Minions. I loathe the Minions with indescribable levels of vitriol. I hate their cheap design, I hate their overly-cutesy babiness, and I hate the way they’ve saturated the market of both social media and physical luxury products. Minions are the worst and I hate Minions.
But I saw Sing and, generally, thought it was okay. I liked it.
Then I saw the reviews.
People hated Sing. Despite its “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, most of the “good” reviews say things like, “not all that memorable,” “uninspired fluff,” and “too concerned with being a crowd pleaser to be about much of anything.”
In short, Sing really isn’t anything. There’s no real message or stakes. The animation and background character design is cheap. The ensemble of the characters is more important than the individuals themselves, and you could remove any one of them without disrupting the plot. Sing was a movie made to appeal to children, to be bright and loud and fun and colorful, to distract little Timmy for a couple of hours while Mom desperately slams Chardonnay in the kitchen pantry.
I saw one review in which the movie was summed up with the following phrase: “Aw. That’s nice.” That’s it, though. There’s no thought required. The songs are covers of popular songs, the characters are animals for the sole purpose of being cute, there’s no actual stakes, and problems arise and resolve readily without major character agency or intervention. Sing is cute for the sake of being cute, for the sake of making money. If cinema is art, then Sing is an insult to that, because Sing exists to sell you Sing and for absolutely no other purpose whatsoever.
On my rewatch of My Little Pony: The Next Generation, I could not shake the feeling that I was watching Sing. That, at the end of it, all I really had to say was, “Aw. That’s nice.” And it left no real mark, offered no real lesson, made no challenge or point. It was a simple film designed to appeal to children. Which brings me to the final say in the matter.
I Interviewed a Five-Year-Old
My niece is five years old and her Netflix account profile picture is Izzy the unicorn, so I know she loves this movie. I sat down with her to ask her a few questions about the movie. This movie was for her, the Next Generation, so I thought she might be able to offer some insight.
I had only four or five questions, and our conversation took place while she was running around a playground, but I think I got a good idea of her impressions.
Who is your favorite pony?
My niece immediately said Izzy, as I expected, because, “she’s funny.” I whole-heartedly agree that Izzy was the most fun pony and had the best lines. I still love Hitch a little but Izzy really stole the show. No argument there.
What do you think the movie was about?
This question prompted an intense, detailed explanation of the entire plot that somehow lasted longer than the movie itself.
Were there any parts of the movie you didn’t like?
Surprisingly, my niece did not like the Angry Mob song, which, you’ll recall, was my favorite. She thought it was a little scary and she also really doesn’t like Sprout, who sings it. (Understandable not to like Sprout the villain.) When I asked her what her favorite song was, she couldn’t name any of them but could sort of vaguely hum them. The other four songs sound so alike that I couldn’t discern if she was humming one specifically or just a mish-mash of all of them.
Do you think this was a good movie?
Emphatically, yes. This was my niece’s favorite movie ever and the best movie ever made, period.
So there you have it, folks. If you’re five years old, this is a good movie, and if you’re a parent, I can at least inform you that it’s amusing enough not to drive you completely insane if your child insists on watching it 600 times in a row, as children are wont to do. It may not have aspired to win an Oscar, but at the very least, enough care was taken not to make it unbearable for an adult audience, which cannot be said for a lot of kids’ movies. “Not unbearable” is a low bar to clear but this movie clears it. It doesn’t do much else, though.