There is nothing worse than a shamelessly lazy kid’s movie and, for the most part, My Little Pony: The Movie meets the criteria. The songs are, at best, lazy rip-offs of better songs from better kid’s movies. The plot is appropriately low stakes and doesn’t make much sense. The characters are painted with aggressively broad strokes, as each member of the “Mane 6” has one defining characteristic from which they dare not wander (The leader! The sweet, but simple one! The spunky, country one that’s like an off-brand Reba McEntire! And the rest of them!). And the entire thing features a very obvious lesson about the importance of friendship that is explicitly stated at least 15 times over the course of this equestrian adventure.
Add all of this together and the film feels like nothing more than another passably mediocre kid’s movie that does the bare minimum needed to keep a child entertained for 98 minutes. It’s bright, fun, and kids will probably enjoy it. But they deserve better.
There is, however, one saving grace that might make you not regret having to spend your Saturday watching a movie about singing ponies: My Little Pony: The Movie features the best kid’s movie villain in years. Tempest Shadow (voiced by the fantastic Emily Blunt), a former unicorn who is out for revenge and redemption after a freak accident left her without a horn, causing her so-called friends to reject her.
Every moment Tempest is on screen acts as a brief glimpse of a far more compelling movie, where a jilted unicorn has made it her personal mission to force every pony to realize that, in the end, we all are alone in this world. Shadow is cold and calculating, consistently rising above the antics of her idiot henchmen and aggressively bland partner-in-crime Storm King to strike genuine fear in the hearts of all the naive ponies who believe every problem in life can be solved with friendship and hugs. Shadow has no friends and wants none. Her goal is simple: do whatever it takes to get her horn restored. Anything else is just a waste of time.
There was a time when iconic villains were an essential staple to creating great kids’ movies. Memorable troublemakers like Scar, Gaston, and Ursula were charismatic and charming, yes, but the reason they’re ingrained in people’s minds decades later is because their cunning and cruelty made them genuinely scary. They were great villains because they didn’t see themselves as villainous.
But recently, villains have felt like underdeveloped afterthoughts pushed into the background so that protagonists and their wacky sidekicks can get as much screentime as possible. And worst of all, they’re almost never actually villainous. The Lego Movie is fantastic but, honestly, Will Ferrell as a slightly moronic madman doesn’t make the most compelling bad guy. The evil form of Moana‘s Te Kā is on screen for a total of about 12 minutes.
Ultimately, you know that My Little Pony: The Movie is not for you. It’s for your kid. And if they like everything else in the Ponyverse, there’s no reason to think they won’t love this, too. But since you are going to be there anyway, enjoy watching Tempest Shadow gleefully wreak havoc in the magical, sparkly world of Equestria. In an age of middling, forgettable kid’s movie villains, Shadow stands out as a throwback to the days where magnetic malefactors ruled.