Saturday, 24 June 2017

Equestria Girls special review: "Movie Magic"

Okay, so "Dance Magic" was a fluke. This second short, "Movie Magic," is still low-stakes and impersonal, but it's a lot funnier than the first short, and makes much better use of both the Rainbooms' character traits and some of their magical powers as well. While I may dream of nuanced character arcs and satisfying narrative payoff, all I really ask of My Little Pony in all forms is that it's entertaining. I always felt that "Movie Magic" had the most potential of these shorts, and although it would benefit from being a bit snappier story-wise, the pacing is still brisk enough, and there's enough fun jokes and neat character moments this time around to entertain. Nice!

When Rainbow Dash & friends are invited to the set of the new Daring Do movie, some carefully-selected props approved by Daring Do author A.K. Yearling are stolen, and the Canterlot High girls immediately set out to find the props and save the movie.

That's about it, really, and the mystery is both too obvious and too easily resolved to excite. For the most part, the characters are simply running after shadows, and while there's a little bit of sleuthing, most of it is inconclusive, and when the Rainbooms actually find the culprit, it's largely by accident, and primarily based on a single piece of evidence. Narratively, that's not especially satisfying, and like "Dance Magic," the plot stops dead in its tracks for a comedic digression, this time featuring those old Power Ponies costumes. Still, in the context of Equestria Girls's increased focus on superpowers, that's a fairly apt reference, and at one point we even get to see Twilight using her power to pick a lock while in full costume. It's a pretty cute reference even if I'm not super impressed by such callbacks, and thankfully it's accompanied by some relatively fun use of the mane seven's powers. I'm not super excited about that permanent magical element to begin with, but if it's here to stay, I'm glad it's used in fun ways.

Pinkie Pie gets more lines this time around, and that does a lot to make the special more entertaining. At one point, she reveals there's a cupcake mountain on-set, and in another scene, she chugs chocolate pudding straight from the bucket, which might have been less amusing were it anyone else but feels perfectly in-character for Pinkie. Rainbow Dash and Twilight Sparkle also stand out, as their enthusiasm for Daring Do brings a lot of energy to the episode and allows for a few solid gags. Twilight in particular seems to be rapidly improving with each special, and while she doesn't quite take command yet, she's noticeably more confident here, which helps a lot with making her feel like her pony counterpart. While those three are the highlights, everyone gets their fair share of good lines, and even Sunset displays a little more personality than usual.

All the new characters around the movie set are fun as well. The role of Daring is being played by Chestnut Magnifico, a stereotypically demanding movie star who is revealed to have environmentalist leanings, and whom both Rarity and Fluttershy want badly to meet. While Chestnut isn't a particularly deep or unique character, she has a commanding screen presence, and it's fun to watch her stomp around the set grumpily when things aren't going well. Film director Canter Zoom is even less distinctive, but he's amiable and has some solid lines, so it's fun to watch him dealing with all the chaos on-set. Both of these characters are used sparingly enough that they don't outstay their welcome, which is especially good because neither is especially well-developed.

The most significant new character is Canter's niece Jupiter Montage, who is adorably enthusiastic in her few scenes, and who turns out to be the ultimate culpript. Her reasons for sabotaging the movie set are petty, but the special never suggests we're supposed to sympathize with her. The scene where she's caught seems to exist partially to set up the next episode, and the motivation dump doesn't add much to her character, but it serves its purpose well enough. In any case, she too is used sparingly here, and she's charming enough in her early roles even if it's pretty obvious that she's the villain.

On top of all the solid lines, there's also some nice visual gags, and the episode does a lot more with its improved animation than "Dance Magic." I've already mentioned Pinkie's gluttonous pudding consumption, as well as the Power Ponies costumes, but there's also a lot of enjoyable facial expressions, and some fun moments of slapstick like Rarity getting hit by Chestnut's trailer door. Furthermore, the actual area of the Daring Do set is nicely designed, even if certain cuts make the geography unclear, and the scenes which represent the movie itself are energetic, filled with detail, and generally a lot of fun to watch. Finally, a couple brief scenes near the middle feature the Rainbooms chasing after Juniper, and while they maintain the pace, they're not really imaginative or tense enough to be satisfying. That mostly comes down to the mystery not being very compelling, however.

With a better storyline to tie it all together, this could have been the epitome of what Equestria Girls could be, but even as is, it's a fun step in the right direction which checks most of the boxes for what I want from this show. It has hints of what the girls are interested in, it's frequently funny, and it demonstrates what familiar stuff from the show looks like in the human world. I still crave more personal stories and character development from this series, but for now this is a very entertaining addition which I hope leads to better things in the future, maybe even in series form. All I really ask of My Little Pony is to entertain me. "Movie Magic" delivers on that front, and for now that's enough.

Entertainment: 8/10
Characters: 9/10
Themes: 5/10 (honestly, I'm not sure if this even counts; Equestria Girls has never cared about moralizing.)
Story: 6/10
Overall: 70/100

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