Thursday, 10 September 2015

Review: The Equestria Girls: Friendship Games shorts

Over the course of August 2015, Hasbro has been releasing shorts to promote its upcoming feature film, Equestria Girls: Friendship Games. This is similar to what they did with Rainbow Rocks, with the primary difference being that the Rainbow Rocks shorts had more focus. Here, I'm going to review all five of them.

Unlike the Rainbow Rocks shorts, those of Friendship Games don't have any particular unifying theme. Each one is wildly different from the others, and unfortunately they're not very consistent in quality. While a slight majority is entertaining, only one is truly on par with the shorts of the previous film, and 2/5 aren't very good at all. Initially, I had considered reviewing each one individually, but they're under 10 minutes each and as such there's comparatively little to discuss.

The first short, "The Science of Magic", stands out as the best, giving us more of the franchise's breakout character, Sunset Shimmer. More of Sunset is always a delight, and having her explore the science behind the magic which has been prevalent in the previous two movies is interesting. From as early as the first season, it's been made clear that magic in Equestria is a science, but although Sunset tries to understand how it works in the human world, it all blows up in her face. In a way, this is fitting with the films' internal logic, or more accurately its lack of such. On a purely superficial level, this universe doesn't contain any major challenges to suspension of disbelief, but when its relationship to Equestria is considered, it's clear that the world of Equestria Girls is slapped together without much thought, and ultimately the benefit of a setting that makes little sense is that the writers can have it work however they want it to work. Thus, machines exploding in Sunset Shimmer's face. Another interesting touch is that she still says "hooves" instead of "hands", a mistake that calls back to her origin as a pony. Having lived a considerable portion of her life as a pony, it's possible that she'll never fully be rid of the occasional slip up. Ultimately, "The Science of Magic" is a fun little bit of slapstick that continues the series' great character work and builds excitement for the movie.

The same can't be said of "Pinkie Spy", the second short. This one, more than any of the others, ties into the movie, but whereas "The Science of Magic" made sense independently of the film, the simple fact that we haven't seen "Friendship Games" yet renders "Pinkie Spy" hard to be invested in. The advertisements have prominently featured the titular Games, but without seeing the movie, we don't even know what they are yet. The stakes aren't high enough to breed mystery, and it doesn't help that the short is utterly obnoxious as well. Rainbow Dash is spying on the opposing team, trying to gain any insight that might give Canterlot High an advantage. She's interrupted by Pinkie Pie, who proceeds to loudly speak to her while showing off disguise ideas in a random, drawn-out, and laugh free sequence. And of course they're found out, because the writers decided that making Pinkie humorous was more important than making her competent, which might have been forgiveable had she simply been even the slightest bit funny. Instead, the entire sequence is awkward, featuring Pinkie embarrassing herself in various ways with her inept and bizarre attempts at espionage. Unfortunately, random isn't funny.

That lesson is not learned by the third short, "All's Fair in Love and Friendship Games". This one is interesting, because instead of starring any of the established characters, it focuses on fan favourites Lyra and Bon Bon. For whatever reason, their personalities appear completely different from their appearances in "Slice of Life", which is irritating, because that episode laid a really good foundation for these characters. Their interplay from "Slice of Life" is retained, but the execution is completely different, perhaps in an attempt to better suit the setting. Now, the two characters have "valley girl" voices, and their chemistry, while still close, has taken a turn for the obnoxious and vapid. Why this short felt the need to fix what wasn't broken, especially when most of the characters act more or less like their pony versions, is a mystery, though not as much of one as how anyone thought a single idea in this short was at all funny. Most of the short consists of a vague competition between Lyra and Bon Bon, and as soon as the challenge starts, the two burst into a series of completely random, context-free actions. Not a single one has a clear reason for why it's supposed to be humorous, rendering the short painful to watch as a result of watching idea after idea fall flat. Worst of all, the short continues to push the winking "best friends" angle, adding more superficial hints towards the two being a couple (right down to the title) while continuing to cravenly shy away from actually confirming the two as a couple in an undeniable manner. There's just so much wrong with "All's Fair in Love and Friendship Games" that it's utterly infuriating.

The fourth short, "Photo Finished", is thankfully much more entertaining, starring Photo Finish as a high school student for some reason. As said, the rules of how pony characters appear in Equestria Girls are incoherent at best and nonexistent at worst, but simply making Photo Finish a student is disappointingly uncreative. Thankfully, her entertaining personality from the show is intact, and as she spontaneously photographs her fellow students without preparing them at all, it's amusing to see how they're each inconvenienced or disappointed by the experience. Of all the shorts, this one is perhaps the most lightweight, having very little of consequence occur. All the same, it's more fun than the previous two.

The fifth and (until further notice) final short, "A Banner Day", doesn't have the relevance to the film of the second or third, but it still has some fun moments, largely due to the enjoyable personalities of its focus characters. All three are two-dimensional stereotypes, although the hippie character has a fun interplay between his meditative posturing and his apparent meathead personality. Flash Sentry is a poorly-defined "musician" type, with his music being his only defining characteristic, and yet it's still more personality traits than either of the films gave him, and he shows the potential to become interesting. The third character is a nasally nerd stereotype, though he's never considerably more awkward than the other two. All three are sorted into different cliques, and yet they behave similarly when push comes to shove and their task of designing a banner becomes a shouting match. In a way, it's kind of an inspiring example of people with such different interests maybe not being so different after all, which is punctuated by how the banner turns out to be a really neat blend of their different aesthetics. I kinda want to see these guys' friendship grow, and even if the short itself isn't truly brilliant, that does make it a success in at least one way.

It's a shame that some of the shorts were so uninspiring, because the strengths of the first and the last really suggest that these could have been a lot more than they were. Unfortunately, at least compared to the Rainbow Rocks shorts, they're disappointing, and two in particular-"Pinkie Spy" and "All's Fair in Love and Friendship Games"-aren't very good at all. This franchise is still bursting with potential, and I still think the movie's going to be great, but on average, these shorts are a disappointment. Oh well, better luck next time.

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