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Family Movie Review: My Little Pony: The Movie (PG)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal (3.5 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG          Length: 99 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 7+. A few playful insults between friends; some bathroom humor; some extremely light flirting/romantic undertones between a member of the Mane 6 ponies and a smooth-talking cat; and some action violence caused by the two villains, one of whom was a Pony who was bullied in her childhood, shown in flashback. The action violence includes baddies with skull-like faces who attack, round up, and enslave the ponies; they might be frightening for very young viewers.

Pleasantly self-aware and consistently amusing, ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ enjoyably transports the bright pastels and sunny disposition of Equestria to the big screen. It’s another win for female-focused animated features this year.

By Roxana Hadadi

MyLittlePonyTheMovie ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewMovies based on TV shows based on toys are having a moment right now, with last month’s “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” and the new offering this week of “My Little Pony: The Movie.” But where “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” took a misstep with a story that veered too closely to what the LEGO franchise has already delivered, “My Little Pony” reinforces the themes of its TV show/toy source material—friendship, honesty, and individuality—while still delivering chuckle-worthy jokes and a distinctive look. In a year of strong animated offerings for young female viewers, “My Little Pony: The Movie” continues the trend.

You can be forgiven for thinking “My Little Pony: The Movie” is an aggressive riot of irritatingly cutesy jokes and absurd toy-themed puns. Honestly, there is a lot of that! But while the marketing campaign has overly stressed the bright colors and musical elements, the actual film balances both, not veering too much into caricature.

The movie isn’t as spastic as “LEGO Ninjago,” which suffered from those random viral-video-themed interludes; in contrast, in “My Little Pony,” musical performances from pop star Sia and actor Taye Diggs are particularly well-done. In practically every way, “My Little Pony” is honestly more enjoyable than those forcefully on-theme commercials suggest.

“My Little Pony: The Movie” is set in the same universe as the children’s television show “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” and uses the same characters, voice actors, and visual design: Equestria is a beautiful kingdom rendered in shades of purple, pink, and gold and is ruled by four princesses, who bring together the ponies, unicorns, Pegasuses, dragons, and other creatures in this realm. (There are a few male characters who pop up here and there, but this is clearly a matriarchal society, and the vast majority of main characters are female.)

Of the four princesses, Princess Twilight (voiced by Tara Strong, of “The Emoji Movie”) is the Princess of Friendship, and her primary responsibility is planning the inaugural Friendship Festival, an event that will unite everyone in Equestria with fun activities, baked goods, and a concert. (Insert obligatory references to other Hasbro products, like toy ovens and hungry hippos, here.) Stressed out and unsure of herself, Princess Twilight is concerned that the event won’t go well, and is disappointed when the other three princesses don’t agree to a complicated plan to improve the concert lighting (“You’re saying you want us to move the sun and the moon for your party?” one of them asks her incredulously.) But with the help of her friends, the other members of the Mane 6 group, she realizes “We’ve got this—together.”

They’ll need that sense of camaraderie and support when a bunch of foreboding-looking thunder clouds and ships appear out of nowhere and literally crash into the Friendship Festival, delivering hulking minions and Tempest (voiced by Emily Blunt, of “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”), a unicorn with a broken horn that sparks who demands Equestria’s “complete and total surrender.” On behalf of a villain named the Storm King (voiced by Liev Schreiber, of “The 5th Wave”), Tempest wants the magic of all four princesses—and when Princess Twilight and the Mane 6 escape, she decides to chase them down herself.

On their quest for help, Princess Twilight and the Mane 6 encounter a number of characters who they attempt to befriend, including the con-artist cat Capper (voiced by Diggs, of “Baggage Claim”) and a fleet of bird pirates turned package-delivery people. Of course, as is the “My Little Pony” way, the Mane 6 always encourage these characters to be their true selves, and that leads to great results when the birds break out their pirate gear and leap back into swashbuckling. And the Mane 6 themselves are mostly adorable, especially the literally boisterous Pinkie Pie (voiced by Andrea Libman), whose obsession with having fun veers into mania. Her overzealous pep is the kind that sweeps you up while also being a little bit frightening.

There are other surprises, too, like Uzo Aduba’s (of “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip”) winning performance as a no-nonsense queen (she’s a pony-mermaid-hybrid thing) who is wary of Twilight’s request for help, and some eye-catching animation sequences that vary between the neon rainbows you would expect from “My Little Pony” and some darker, more muted imagery that provides welcome contrast.

Not everything is perfect: The film feels about 10 minutes too long, and Tempest’s motive, although it may resonate with young viewers who have been bullied before, feels pretty obvious for the children’s genre at this point. But ultimately, “My Little Pony: The Movie” will defy your expectations, with a combination of cuteness and energy that will hold your attention.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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