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Riding high on a new generation of aficionados, the My Little Pony animation franchise continues its expansion with a big-screen episode that’s certain to delight devotees. The second installment in the Equestria Girls spinoff, which began with a 2013 feature, is a candy-colored fantasy that uses tween-friendly comedy and tunes to teach lessons in friendship and collaboration. Girls, their mothers who grew up on the ’80s TV series, and the unlikely fan contingent known as “bronies” — the teen boys and young men who are loud and proud enthusiasts — will swoon for Rainbow Rocks. The movie’s limited theatrical run, consisting chiefly of matinees, will lure the faithful until they can scoop up the DVD from Shout Factory in October.
With most of the same personnel as the TV series Friendship Is Magic — including the voice cast, writer Meghan McCarthy and director Jayson Thiessen — the film assumes a certain grounding in all things Pony. In-jokes and references to previous events in the saga abound, and though it’s easy enough for the uninitiated to suss out who’s who and what’s what, the intended ripples of recognition will leave them on the outside looking in.
The story pits good against evil in a school setting. Preparing for Canterlot High’s inaugural music showcase, a quintet of rocker girls who call themselves the Rainbooms (voiced by Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman and Tabitha St. Germain) are challenged by the Dazzlings, a trio of mean-girl newcomers (Kazumi Evans, Marÿke Hendrikse, Diana Kaarina). The interlopers are possessed of a dark power that feeds off “negativity.” They stir up suspicion and distrust by turning the performance night into a cutthroat battle of the bands. In song lyrics that are clearly begging for comeuppance, the threesome diss cooperation: “Why pretend we’re all the same / When some of us shine brighter? … It doesn’t matter who you hurt / If you’re just proving you’re the best.”
A running joke that starts as an insider reference and steadily runs out of steam involves the past transgressions of reformed Canterlot villain Sunset Shimmer (Rebecca Shoichet). Diminishing laughs aside, McCarthy’s subplot makes its points about forgiveness and second chances without a drop of mawkishness or self-congratulation. Similarly, when Princess Twilight (Tara Strong) arrives from the parallel universe of Equestria, she faces relatable down-to-earth predicaments, one involving a dreamboat boy (Vincent Tong). But the film’s magical world is largely female, and girl power is a given, celebrated in the Rainbooms song “Awesome as I Wanna Be.”
Living up to its title, the movie rocks out, within limits, and offers plenty of rainbow in its brightly hued, clear-line style of illustration. The girls, with their long legs and anime eyes, are stylized creations. They’re essentially sweet, with none of the age-inappropriate acquisitiveness of the Bratz franchise. From spunky to shy, they have distinct personalities, the actors’ spirited work a sure fit for the animation.
Thiessen and co-director Ishi Rudell keep the action brisk and light, and cap the story with a glimpse of — what else? — the next Equestria Girls movie.
Production company: Hasbro Studios
Voice cast: Tara Strong, Ashleigh Ball, Andrea Libman, Tabitha St. Germain, Cathy Weseluck, Rebecca Shoichet, Kazumi Evans, Marÿke Hendrikse, Diana Kaarina, Vincent Tong
Director: Jayson Thiessen
Co-director: Ishi Rudell
Screenwriter: Meghan McCarthy
Producers: Devon Cody, Sarah Wall
Executive producers: Stephen Davis, Kirsten Newlands
Music: William Anderson
Songs: Daniel Ingram
Rated G, 73 minutes
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