Retrospective review: Shady is best pony in ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’
During the early eighties, the FCC began to back off on restrictions on advertisements in children’s television, despite pressure from parents’ groups to apply more. The upshot was a series of Saturday morning cartoons (as well as other children’s shows) that were nothing but glorified commercials for various toy lines.
Hasbro was one of the companies involved in selling chunks of plastic to kids who could then nag their parents via the magic of animation. To be entirely fair, their products were probably the most artistically valid at the time, which I should stress was not saying much. Most of their shows have had a remarkable shelf life, long after the need to sell toys have gone.
In 1986, Hasbro had two movies hitting theaters based on their toylines; Transformers: The Movie and My Little Pony: The Movie, with a G.I. Joe: The Movie planned for 1987. However, both became massive box office flops, and G.I. Joe was sent direct to video. While Transformers quietly went on to become an animated cult hit, My Little Pony, well, didn’t.
The reason for this is simple; it’s not a very good movie. But looking at it today, it offers insights into why the newest incarnation of the property, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, has followed in Transformers: The Movie footsteps to become its own animated cult hit, as well as why bad movies are bad in general.
Plot: Don’t watch it for this, and stop giggling
The story begins with a bunch of brightly colored talking ponies preparing for a spring celebration. A witch and her two daughters see this and decide to ruin the ponies’ fun. We’ll get into why they decide to do this later; for now, suffice it to say the two daughter’s first attempts at ruining the ponies’ day don’t go so well.
However, the baby pony Lickety Split is doing a very good job of ruining the ponies’ day all by herself. She is going to be in the baby pony dance recital, and she decides to choreograph her own dance moves. Spike the baby dragon advises her this is a bad idea, but she ignores his advice and knocks all the other baby ponies off the stage performing a violent spinkick. She gets chewed out by the adult ponies, and decides to run away from home with Spike in tow, thus setting up the B plot (giggle, snort).
By the way, she is wearing a costume (ridiculous to begin with for a pony) during all this which includes leg warmers and a headband that are so eighties I had to remind myself that this movie actually is from the eighties and this isn’t a parody.
A group of ponies set off to bring the little brat back, including Shady and her Bushwoolie, the best things in this movie. We’ll talk about her more later, but suffice it to say Shady is a pink pony who the other ponies don’t like because she is a “jinx.” She is called Shady because she has sunglasses on her butt, which is not where you normally find sunglasses. Shady never actually wears shades the right way. That would have been cool. Also, she has a Bushwoolie.
The younger witches return to their mother, who is disappointed that they ruined everything by not ruining everything. So, she brings out the big gun: a giant grey blob called the Smooze, guaranteed to ruin your day. The giant blob first runs into the Lickety Split search party; Lickety Split and Spike escape into a cave while the searchers flee. One of them is covered in grey goo, and we are told that it has turned her personality sour. I’m glad they tell us, as her dialogue up to this point had consisted entirely of berating Shady for daring to exist, so I just thought she was a word-we-don’t-use-in-My-Little-Pony-reviews to begin with.
The search party decides to head back to the magic pony castle to warn about the impending grey ooze pony apocalypse, leaving Shady and her Bushwoolie to continue the search for Lickety Split. The Smooze reaches the magic pony castle and buries everything, and the ponies decide Megan, a human girl with a magical, weaponized rainbow can save them. What is it with My Little Pony and weaponizing the most innocuous things? Seriously, in the Friendship is Magic series, they have succeeded in weaponizing friendship, love and birthday parties. That’s disturbing.
Oh, and since this is the Internet, I am required by law to point out minor plotholes (ha!) with disturbing implications; the Smooze covers a stream that is home to two Sea Ponies. They are seen early on annoying the witches. Once the stream is covered, they are never seen again. The Smooze occupies this area a long time, and the question of its oxygen-permeability is never brought up…
Anyway, Megan is summoned, and brings along two friends, a brother and sister. The brother is named Danny, and I’ll just say he is a bit more excited about this whole talking pink pony thing than I would have been at his age. I am guessing his entire point is to convince the poor boys in the audience who were dragged along that they can enjoy this thing too. Fast forward a couple of decades, and it turns out you don’t need a Danny, you just need a better show.
Megan, not being familiar with anime, unleashes the Ultimate Rainbow Attack immediately, which is … not very effective. The Smooze eats the rainbow. Well, crap. So, Megan, her friends and a few random ponies go see the Moochick to see what they can do for a new home for the displaced ponies, as well as maybe a cure for the Smooze.
The Moochick takes the opportunity to sell two toys at once, giving the ponies a new playset to live in, and telling Megan her only hope is to find the Flutter Ponies. So, Megan and friends set out to find the Flutter Ponies and holy crap I am a thousand words into this review and am just now getting to the A plot! Even taking into consideration tangents about drowning Sea Ponies, Lickety Split’s leg warmers and Shady’s butt, that’s ridiculous. This movie has more filler than a Twinkie, and I don’t even plan to bring up the songs!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t get more streamlined from here; Lickety Split is still off in her own B plot, trying to find her way home with Spike and eventually a group of creatures called the Grundles. Shady and her Bushwoolie have their own little C plot going on for a while before eventually teaming up with Megan’s A plot, and we’ve got a D plot going on at the home front as the ponies who were left behind deal with the Smooze. Meanwhile, the villains get their own E plot as they search for a final ingredient to make their Smooze even better.
That’s a lot of plot, folks!
Eventually, Megan finds the Flutter Ponies, and is taken to their leader. She’s a real word-we-don’t-use-in-My-Little-Pony-reviews. If this were a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, the after-credits stinger would be replaying Megan’s heartfelt appeal for help followed by Flutter Queen’s cold-as-ice “No.”
Luckily, Lickety Split has rescued a stray Flutter Pony from a well in the course of her rambling B plot, so this melts the Ice Queen’s cold heart. Credit where credit is due, that’s how a B plot is supposed to tie in to the A plot, though in this case it’s a bit ruined by there being no real reason for the Flutter Ponies to refuse to help other than they’re just being jerks.
So, anyway, everything is fixed, and in a tacked-on moral, Spike asks the Flutter Ponies to unSmooze the ugly Grundles until the Flutter Queen points out they haven’t been Smoozed, they’re just ugly. This is supposed to teach the young audience that just because someone is ugly doesn’t mean they are terrible – an odd moral for a toyline most often called “My Pretty Pony” in lawyer-friendly parodies – but it just makes Spike look like a jerk instead.
Characters: Nobody cares
A lot of Internet criticism of movies seems to revolve around nitpicking plot inconsistencies; if we can unravel the logic of the movie’s logic, we can unravel the movie. However, this is a bit beside the point; My Little Pony: The Movie suffers from an excess of plot, but there is little inconsistency within the internal logic of the story, mostly because the plot is purposely absurd to begin with.
The three witches who start up the plot and serve as the villains do not have a realistic motive for what they are doing. The mother of the two younger witches explains early on that they are doing it simply because they are evil; that’s their job, and she is good at it, if they perhaps need a little practice. She even refuses to be called “Mother,” because in her worldview, mothers are good, and being good is a bad thing for her. No, her motive does not make any sense; she is a cartoon caricature of an evil witch, in case her being drawn as such didn’t clue you in.
You cannot expect an overly logical story from such an obviously illogical starting point. Let me be clear, this is not a negative critique of the movie; it is a movie about talking magical ponies going on an adventure. Any audience for this movie should not only expect, but probably appreciate, absurdity. The movie’s plot suffers from the slowness of the starting up of the main plot, plus a large amount of unnecessary sideplots, which are obviously mostly filler. But the movie’s main problem – why it fails (and why Friendship is Magic works) – is characters.
You may have noticed that I failed to name any pony except Lickety Split and Shady in my plot synopses. There is a reason; I don’t remember the single name of any particular pony other than those two, and I don’t care enough for any of them to look it up. It’s not like it would be particularly hard to Google this stuff, either. But the point is, I just don’t care for any of them.
Admittedly, the movie suffers from its own obvious commercial goals; they crammed in as many ponies as they could in as many color combinations, horn and wing configurations and magic butt marks in the hope that one of them would strike some little girl as the perfect mixture of all the ingredients without actually having to make them interesting. But the new Friendship is Magic series is no less about selling pony dolls. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the characters in Friendship is Magic are very good at making us like them.
Setting aside what the characters do in the movie or television show, there is an obvious difference between the character designs. Look for a minute at the hair/manes of the so-called Mane Six from Friendship is Magic. Compare Rainbow Dash’s butch spikes to Fluttershy’s peekaboo emodoo. Compare Applejack’s workaday ponytail to Pinkie Pie’s unruly mop. Compare Rarity’s glamorous locks to Twilight Sparkle’s business bangs. These things inform character; just looking at the character, we can guess a lot about them.
Every single pony in "My Little Pony: The Movie" has the exact same style hair/mane.
It’s not just the way characters in Friendship are Magic are consistent; it’s also the way they are inconsistent. Character consistency is overrated; real people are not consistent. They do things out of character; this is how people learn. In fiction, when a character changes over the course of a story, this is called an arc. The characters in Friendship is Magic arc consistently; they learn things, they change, and (and this is rare in television show of any type, much less a talking animal cartoon) later episodes give us evidence that they remember these lessons. Despite being brightly colored talking ponies, they seem more like real people this way.
In My Little Pony: The Movie, only two characters arc; they are Lickety Split and Shady. That’s why I remember them. Now, Lickety Split is an annoying brat who learns that she is an annoying brat, so she is not very likeable to begin with. But Shady has a real problem; she has confidence issues after being constantly berated as the “jinx,” whatever that means.
There are only two scenes I liked in this movie; one is when Lickety Split sings a song to a well. The final words of each line are ironically echoed back to her; it’s really the only good song in the entire movie. It’s an important arc moment because it’s the moment she realizes she really is a spoiled brat, and important plot wise because the echo turns out to be a lost Flutter Pony. This is the moment the B plot finally connects to the A plot. From the writing standpoint, this is the best moment of the movie. That confluence of character moment and plot moment is actually how this sort of thing is supposed to work; if Lickety Split wasn’t an annoying brat, this would be the best moment of the movie.
Shady’s moment is a bit messier; she has been wondering around aimlessly with her Bushwoolie, when she says in despair that she is a failure. The Bushwoolie hilariously agrees with her; Shady is shocked, and replies he didn’t have to agree. Here’s another great arc moment; Shady spells out her basic character need (she believes she is a “jinx,” herself), but when confronted with the Bushwoolie’s response, she defends herself for the first time. As the movie progresses, she becomes more confident as she rejoins the A plot, and then … doesn’t actually do much. I told you it was messier, and this wasn’t a very good movie.
But Shady was always more likable than Lickety Split, and she’s a pony named Shady who has sunglasses on her butt. So, she’s best pony.
The truth of the matter is My Little Pony: The Movie is more interesting as a historical footnote than an actual movie. It gives us a glimpse of a dark time in the history of American animation, and it provides insights into how later versions of the My Little Pony concepts worked by providing an example of how earlier ones didn’t. Not very compelling reasons to watch it in and of itself, however.