Perhaps it's unfair, but one has to wonder for whom the animated feature film "My Little Pony: The Movie" has been made. Ostensibly, it's for young kids, who count for double the ticket money with their parents in tow. But there's also a large market to be found in the "bronies" and "pegasisters," young adults who have developed a cultish fandom around the animated series "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic." No matter who you might encounter in the theater, "My Little Pony: The Movie" signals that the unrelentingly positive pastel ponies have hit the big time.
My Little Pony is a brand that has been seemingly ubiquitous since the 1980s. A toy line from Hasbro, My Little Pony was the more popular younger sibling of the hard plastic full-grown My Pretty Pony. Girls of the '80s will remember the soft, rubbery My Little Pony dolls for their resplendent and colorful manes and rump tattoos, a.k.a. "cutie marks." Like most kids' merchandise, there was an accompanying animated series. And though a revival of the brand in 1997 was unsuccessful, the relaunch in 2010 has proved to be wildly popular, thanks to the bronies and pegasisters, and there's a whole dissertation to be written about the cultural factors that may be at play in the brand's contemporary success. But who can resist pretty pink ponies?
"My Little Pony: The Movie," directed by Jayson Thiessen, has a remarkably retro vibe. The film is done in the classic 2-D animation style and embraces the flat, colorful, Saturday-morning cartoon look and feel. If part of the appeal of the My Little Pony renaissance is the nostalgic warm-fuzzies about childhood cartoons, then this film fully delivers. All we'd need is a bowl of sugary cereal to complete the experience.
Storywise, the stakes start out quite low. Princess Twilight (Tara Strong) wants to throw the best Friendship Festival in Equestria, and her pony friends support her by singing about it. But all too soon their happy kingdom is invaded by the Storm King (Liev Schreiber), an ape/ox hybrid, and his army led by fallen pony Tempest (Emily Blunt), a unicorn who lost her horn many years ago.
The Storm King is essentially a corporate fascist overlord, and he wants to steal the ponies' magic so he can control the weather, and everything else. Little Princess Twilight is the only one to escape, so she sets off with her pals to ask for help from the Queen of the Hippogriffs (Uzo Aduba).
It's a classic children's story — parental figures in peril, a misfit group of pals, a hero's journey, and lots of songs along the way to underscore the pertinent message and pad out the running time. Truthfully, this film feels like four episodes of a cartoon strung together, and there are times, especially during some of the latter musical numbers, where it truly drags.
The approach to animated features these days is to create technological spectacle, line up an all-star cast of voice talent and pack the script with jokes for the accompanying parents to enjoy. But "My Little Pony: The Movie" zigs where others zag, going old school with its traditional animation and musical structure. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those who already love it, it'll be just right.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
‘My Little Pony: The Movie'
Rated: PG for mild action
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Playing: In general release