Analyzing “Equestria Girls”

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That’s right! Equestria Girls finally came out on blu-ray, and I watched it, and I thought it was totally awesome, so let’s take the next forty minutes or so to explain why. Pinkie, please approximate audience state of mind.

…by which you mean ambivalent–

I’ve decided the best way to cover everything I want to talk about with this movie is to go through it chronologically and dissect it moment-to-moment. As I go along, there are a few core points that I’m going to focus on, so I’d like for you to keep them in mind.

1. Equestria Girls is primarily a reminiscence on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic as a whole.

2. Equestria Girls is NOT a REAL high school movie, but uses the meta of high school to inform its setup.

and 3. This movie is drop. dead. gorgeous.

Keep these things in mind as I guide you through this mammoth of a video, and you’ll start to see the threads come together as we go along.

Before we get started for real, though, I’d like to clarify something. Equestria Girls is deifnitely a mess. I’d argue that Friendship Is Magic itself is a pretty big mess in terms of narrative, but EQG is a pretty big mess. I’m not going to stand here and attempt to justify the plot conceits from a narrative standpoint, nor am I going to bother contemplating the motives behind making this movie, which you already well know about.

I’m not just doing this in the name of defending the movie or making a positive review to contrast all the videos that consider the movie mediocre or even terrible. I’m doing it this way because it’s more interesting for me. The fact that the movie is narratively questionable doesn’t bother me as much as it probably should, and it’s definitely not what I’m thinking about while I’m watching it. The purpose of this video, as is the purpose of all of my videos, is to explain what I think about when I watch this movie, and why I enjoy it so much.

So to start with, the movie opens with the cover of Acid Rap, and then we get our first scenes of the newly appointed Alicorn Princess walking around in nature, as well as an awesome Transformers reference.

Twilight Sparkle shows us she can’t seem to fly just yet, proving that she was mostly gliding during her coronation, and likely meant to be a subtle retcon for the sake of a future episode about Twilight learning to fly, which I’m pretty sure Meghan McCarthy said would happen at some point.

Why is Flash Sentry in the Crystal Empire? Or in this movie? I don’t know. I don’t even care. Do you care? I don’t care. I’m surprised everyone who accuses this movie of demographic pandering doesn’t bring up how a “princess sumit” sounds like the kind of thing little girls with a distinct slant for political fantasy daydream about.
Twilight immediately starts addressing the very questions that every MLP fan was asking after the season 3 finale, even sharing their concerns. And then we get something that struck me as very meta off the bat: the opening song.

When I rewatched this movie with my brother, he said exactly what I’d thought the first time: the opening video looks and sounds like the stuff the fans make. An electronic remix of the opening song with heavy use of sample loops? A minimalist presentation with focus on striking colors and lots of neat transitions? If you want a perfect example of what came to mind, watch the intro to The Brony Chronicles.

So, why does this opening video look fanmade? Because, as much as people like to deny it, and whether or not you think it was a success, this movie WAS made with the brony fandom in mind. I think Meghan McCarthy was the first one to point this out, but no one believed her. Later, at their bronycon panel, the team that makes the MLP comics bluntly stated that the fandom caused the movie to be made because of all the humanized fanart that we produce. Just watch the clip.

Again, whether you think Hasbro was in their right minds making this movie (which, given the fact that they had theaters packed with bronies across the country, and record-setting numbers for all demographics when they debuted it on TV, THEY WERE), when you look at the thing, it makes perfect sense that this was their intention. There’s no other way of explaining the sheer number of callbacks, fan-centric references, and meta-text otherwise.
So moving along, we’ve got the whole break-in scene, with a badass memorable reveal of our main villain, whose design I at least approve of. Then there’s exposition and, we step through the magic mirrooooor!!!

…That went well!

So, Twilight gets turned into a human. Everyone always asks how she comes through with clothes on, and my theory is that the saddlebags became her clothes. After all, Sunset Shimmer had saddlebags too, and Twi’s don’t seen to translate into the real world. Doesn’t explain Spike’s collar, but oh well.

The scene where Twilight discovers her new body is a lot of fun, as it almost looks like the animators were just toying around with their new flash puppet by making it perform every movement it realistically could. We also get this piece of hilarity (Twi hitting door).

By the way, just to clarify up front, I have NO INTENTION of pointing out every single background character or clear reference to the main show. I’m saying this now, because I KNOW I’ll get twenty comments about how I forgot Derpy or something otherwise. I’ve put a video in the description where someone else took painstaking effort to find nearly every reference to the show in the movie, so go watch that if it interests you. There were actually some things in the video which I hadn’t noticed in my own three viewings of the movie and constant saturated exposure to everything the fandom ever does at all times. All that said, shout-outs to Normal Norman, and the ever-amazing Vinyl Scratch design.

Back to the movie, next we have uh—

Okay, so, just to speak a bit about my personal experience watching this movie for the first time, the exact moment I was completely sold on the EQG designs was in this scene. Fluttershy is SO. GOD. DAMN. ADORABLE. LOOK AT HER!

Seriously though, if you didn’t catch on alraedy, I really like the character designs in this movie. Like, I love them. If they had actually made toys that looked like the movie, I probably would have bought some, and I was spamming tumblr with gifs from the movie for days after first watching it.

The reason I’m putting so much emphasis on this is that, well, it’s kind of a big deal. A huge part of why I, and many others, love Friendship Is Magic, is because we adore the cute little ponies and the spectacular way that they’re animated. However, even though bronies can all agree that the ponies look great, the movie’s designs are hugely devisive, and the fact that I love them so much has a lot to do with why I’m able to enjoy this movie while others find it falls flat. The simple act of WATCHING these characters move and be adorable on-screen is enjoyable to me, so there’s already a pretty high baseline for enjoying the movie on my part.

So, Twilight and Fluttershy recreate their scene from the opening episode, and then Twi does some more ridiculous shit and uh. Oh. Ah. Okay. Well. Let me just… take back what I said. About the designs. At least in this case.

The next exposition scene sets up the premise of how the Twilight is eventually going to get everyone to vote for her, by presenting the segmented social order of the high school. This serves an obvious purpose as a trope in referencing pretty much every high school movie cliche, but one of the things that makes me sad about this movie is how it goes underexplored. We never see any more of these cliques or how they interact, until Twilight’s already uniting them with her song, so there’s no real sense of tension between the groups.

Which isn’t THAT problematic, and it didn’t need to have a whole subplot dedicated to it, but even a few lines of dialog about how the different cliques didn’t realize how much they really had in common, or how they’re not really sure how they got so segregated in the first place might have added more weight to this plot element.

Then we meet Pinkie, and my favorite thing about this scene is how Pinkie doesn’t even flinch when Twilight puts the pen in her mouth. I also love the big meet-the-villain scene, and how it takes place in a fucked-up secluded part of the school.

This scene also sets up the interesting way that this movie utilizes the meta and tropes of a high school movie to tell a story about something else entirely. You see, in a real high school movie, Twilight’s inability to fit in, the school’s segregated nature, and Sunset Shimmer being a bitch, would all be melodrama, relatable for nerdy teens and meant to send a message about accepting people and all that good stuff.

But in this movie, all of it is recontextualized into a sort of high-stakes game being played by Sunset and Twilight. Sunset Shimmer doesn’t care about being popular in the context of high school, she cares about literally holding power over others. Her motivation for winning the fall formal is that she can win the crown and use it to rule over Equestria. Twilight Sparkle isn’t worried about fitting in for emotional reasons, but because she needs to win the crown to protect this world. Rather than being a petty teenage conflict, the players are recast as strategists studying the tropes of our world in order to best take control of it, and the battle is a good ol’ Empire vs. Rebellion political fantasy in a high school setting.

And no, this isn’t the first story to basically do this, nor does it do nearly as much with the concept as it could, but in my opinion it makes the movie a lot more interesting, and definitely marks it as way more self-aware than anyone seemed to have expected it to be. I mean, if this scene didn’t make that evident enough.

Another thing about this movie that I love is the idea of using modern technology to trip up Twilight. Even if Twi understands emotions and friendship just as well in both worlds, one thing that outright doesn’t exist in her world is computer technology. I love the idea that Sunset Shimmer, who we know to be studious and knowledgeable from her backstory, would have come to this world, immediately outed technology as the most powerful weapon she could utlize, and learned how to do so immediately. She also knows that Twilight is oblivious to this technological power, and seeks to strike a decisive blow against her with it.


I also love the ways this movie continues to call back to the first episode, only with Twilight now being the character that she’s become as of season three. Twilight is concerned that the parallels of her friends seemed to have been friends in the past, but aren’t anymore. She starts worrying about them, and in a role reversal of the first episode, Spike essentially reassures Twilight that she didn’t come here to make friends. Of course, what Twi quickly remember is that making friends has pretty much always been the best way to solve problems. It’s a shame that this whole subplot wraps up in like five minutes, though.

So anyways, this brings us to perhaps the most legendary scene in the movie, which has this fucking awesome lead-in moment, before breaking out into an epic dance sequence. I. LOVE. THIS. SCENE. Why? Because giant synchornized dance numbers are awesome. Especially when they basically turn the movie into a sudden music video, and especially in animation.

Dancing is one of the few things other than fights and chase scenes which can really bust animation chops in terms of fluidity and complexity of motion, and they also cary an infectious meta aspect. I got big into otaku fandom right around the time that The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was a big smash hit, and the show was most famous for the amazing dance sequence ending theme, the Hare Hare Yukai, which would be performed en masse at anime conventions for years. For a while, dance sequences were becoming frequent in mainstream anime and the surrounding culture, possibly as a reflection of the ever-growing popularity of idol groups in Japan and Korea basically being the superpowered badass versions of the American boy and girl bands that were powerhouses on the pop charts during the turn of the century.

Equestria Girls utterly owns it with a gorgeous, colorful sequence and a dance that I’m going to be PISSED if I don’t start seeing group videos of more often. The song has also been pretty popular, and while I didn’t really get into it at first, there was a definitive moment where this song clicked with me. That moment was at Bronycon 2013, wherein the musiquestria band all took the stage together just to do a rock cover of this song; and it. was. amazing. It made me realize how anthemic the song was for the themes of group participation, and it really needs to be heard in a context like that of the show, with a group performing before a huge audience.

And then… we have some kinda pointless scenes and… oh fine, let’s address this.
Look, I really want to like Flash Sentry, or at least his place in the meta context. I appreciate that he mostly exists to give Twilight a date for the Fall Formal, in keeping with the tropic traditions of high school movies, but… his one important plot moment is SO phoned in that it makes no impact whatsoever. It just comes up, and then it’s resolved instantly, just so Flash has something to actually do in the movie, but it’s not interesting and it doesn’t work. I don’t hate Flash Sentry, and if anything I’d love it if he was actually awesome, but he’s not, and this scene is dumb.

This scene, meanwhile, is weird, but the way it plays out is so perfect that I love it. If I hadn’t been convinced that these characters were the ones I knew and loved, this scene proved it.

The next song is the one I like most from this movie, and the scene accompanying it reminded me a lot of THE GREATEST STORY ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL EVER, Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight. In that show, the energetic new leader of the school council tries to interest a small student populace (in a future where schools have gone by the wayside in favor of specialist training), to embrace friendship and school spirit so that they can have an epic school festival before trekking into adulthood. That show is amazing and you should go watch it. Yes, I totally just took time out of this review to advertise one of my favorite shows just because it has a kinda similar theme.

The fall formal dresses look fantastic, and the reveals are superbly done, sort of like The Best Night Ever without the subversion and more genuinely embracing the event as kinda epic.

Then, we’re lead into the big finale. And, it’s weird. Really weird. To the point that honestly, I can’t claim that I “get it.” Now, I don’t think that this whole plot about the element of harmony turning into some weird machine of evil in another world, or Sunset Shimmer’s convuluted plan to lead an army of zombie teenagers in a siege of Equestria, is intrinsically broken. If I wanted to sit around making logical leaps and trying to justify it, I probably could, mostly by pointing out that there’s just a lot about this we don’t know, and we know that Sunset Shimmer isn’t an idiot, so we kind of count on her to know what she’s doing.

But… to be honest, I’m not that interested in justifying it, because some of the people who’ve criticized this plan have a good point. Bronycurious has pointed out a number of times that we saw how difficult it was for Twilight to learn to use a human body, yet somehow Sunset thinks she’s going to turn this entire human army into ponies and it’s all gonna work out fine. No mention of how Twilight and company could run through the portal first and give warning, or how the portal’s just gonna lead into the crystal empire basement and the invasion force is gonna be met with Equestria’s princess trifecta and an army of armed guards right on the other side. And like, Sunset’s army is pretty small, and she thinks she can take over the world with them, even though these are just normal teenagers, and Equestria is full of magical ponies… it’s a mess. Just because it leaves enough up to the imagination that I can try and make up my own logic for it, doesn’t mean I care to, nor that the flaws in logic don’t seem more glaring and obvious.

However, everything that comes with this ending sequence, is totally awesome. I can’t even tell you how brilliant it was to see an MLP magical girl transformation. Several times, I’ve credited my love of magical girl anime as the reason I got into MLP, so seeing this obvious callback to that genre was especially appreciable from this movie. And it happens in glorious form.

I also adore Sunset Shimmer’s reformation scene, because I think it simultaneously reveals, and ties up a character arc that was almost hidden in the movie’s subtext all along.

Let’s have a look at Sunset’s dialog and motivations. Throughout the movie, it is made clear that the only thing Sunset cares about is power. Her backstory is that she quit being Princess Celestia’s student when she saw Celestia as refusing to teach her about the more powerful magics that she’d discovered in her studies. But perhaps the most telling line about Sunset’s character is when, after threatening Spike, and Twilight telling her not to hurt him, Sunset says, “of course. I’m not a monster, Twilight.”

The irony behind this line is that Sunset transforms into a monster mere minutes later, but what this suggests is that Sunset Shimmer really doesn’t see herself as a bad guy. She doesn’t quite realize that her lust for power has, in fact, made her a monster.

I noticed on my latest watching of the movie that Sunset frequently gives snarky apologies to Twilight throughout the movie, such as, “sorry it had to be this way,” when she first takes the crown. It seems as though Sunset’s worldview is that she must do anything she can to achieve power, even if it means knowingly making others miserable, and she sees her own selfish progress as a justification of her actions. She knows that she’s fucking people over, but she thinks that as long as it’s in the name of gaining more power, then it’s all okay.

In the end, Sunset Shimmer is crushed by a far greater power that she never knew existed. All at once, she realizes that the real reason Celestia wouldn’t teach her about these evil powers, is because those powers were weaker to begin with. In the face of the untold power of Harmony, Sunset not only realizes that her knowledge has betrayed her, but that all the terrible things which she’d justified to herself as necessary to her personal progress, were actually unnecessary, and she would’ve been infinitely more powerful had she been a good friend instead of a bitch.

Upon this realization, she immediately seeks to turn her life around, and become friends with everyone again. I love to imagine that after Twilight Sparkle leaves, sunset Shimmer is taken in as the new sixth member of the group. Once the others have educated her in the way of harmony, just as Twilight’s friends did back home, Sunset’s natural skills as a leader and tactitian would lead her to become president of the united states, or whatever.
Anyways, Twilight goes back home, (transform), Cadence makes an awesome face, and the movie ends. Good times are had by all.

You know what I hope? I hope this world goes beyond this movie. I want more exploration of Sunset Shimmer’s character before and after the movie. I want to know more about what the EQG versions of Twilight’s friends and their school were like before the movie. And yeah, I’d like to have some kind of exposition ass-pull to try and retcon that ending into making sense. There’s just too much potential in this movie for cool and interesting stuff for it to just pop in and out in 70 minutes.

A longer movie would’ve been nice, a TV show would be excessive, but you know where this would be perfect? The comics. There’s already a 44-page Equestria Girls comic set to come out soon, which could very well do some of what I just mentioned, and I’d love to get a Sunset Shimmer micro comic at some point. The comics have done an amazing job expanding on the series lore and filling in plot holes already, so if they could do that for this movie, I think we’d be left with an ultimately well-rounded and enjoyable experience.

PHEW! God damn, that video came out long! But I’m glad it’s finally done, and I’ll never get another PM or comment or tweet or tumblr ask or deviantart comment or PM, or email, or blog comment, or EQD comment about it EVER AGAIN. Though if you want to reach me about something else, I’m linking all those profiles in the description. If you enjoyed this video and want to support my channel, considering becoming a patron, by following the Patreon link in the desciption. It may take me a while to answer any comments or concerns about this video, since I’ll be out of town the week that it goes up, but I’ll try to keep up. See you back in season two!

(ending theme)

AnyPony ranting in German, and Antony going “that’s all folks”

6 thoughts on “Analyzing “Equestria Girls”

  1. When I rewatched this movie with my brother, he said exactly what I’d thought the first time: the opening video looks and sounds like the stuff the fans make. An electronic remix of the opening song with heavy use of sample loops? A minimalist presentation with focus on striking colors and lots of neat transitions? If you want a perfect example of what came to mind, watch the intro to The Brony Chronicles.
    So, why does this opening video look fanmade? Because, as much as people like to deny it, and whether or not you think it was a success, this movie WAS made with the brony fandom in mind. I think Meghan McCarthy was the first one to point this out, but no one believed her. Later, at their bronycon panel, the team that makes the MLP comics bluntly stated that the fandom caused the movie to be made because of all the humanized fanart that we produce. Just watch the clip.

    A writer is supposed to lift the audience at his/her/the author level not grovel at the audience level to grab cheap sympathy point

  2. The three points? Neh.

    1. It’s less a reminiscence than a clunky rewrite of the first episode, combined with dozens of cheap callbacks to placate potential detractors. It’s MARKETING, and you can’t whitewash that.

    2. It’s set in a high school, it deals with a high school event, it has the cliche high school cliques, montages, and characters. It’s a high school movie with ponies pasted on either end and the main characters plugged into the slot the mostly sort-of resemble. It’s a high school movie, because they want to sell it to kids who think being IN high school is cool.

    3. No, just… no. The rest of it would be subjective, but to call it gorgeous is really, really taking the cheerleading thing too far.

    I’m a bit disappointed- you had a chance to do a GOOD review, and we ended up with a squee-tastic fangasm assortment of jsutifications and excuses. We disagree, that’s obvious, and while I’m glad you liked it, I have to say it got old with the repeated “I loved it SO MUCH!” This wasn’t an analysis; it was an exculpatory walkthrough with cursory nods to legitimate criticisms.

    You can do better than this.

    • I have no idea what you are trying to say in your first point. None of the marketing materials even mentioned it being similar to the pilots, only that Twi would meet alternate versions of her friends. Besides, the second half is very different, with the focus being Twilight making her friends become friends with each other, and not making friends with them all like in the pilot.

      The second point also isn’t fair – You are essentially judging the movie for the kind of tropes it adhere to, and not how it uses those tropes. It would be like saying that Back to the Future was bad because it is a High School movie with Time Travel pasted on either end.

      In the end, it was a fair review, with Digi focusing on the things he liked about the movie instead of the well known criticisms that have been voiced again and again and explained in more detail elsewhere. In the end the flaws shouldn’t really stop you from enjoying the good parts, even if they prevent it from becoming truly great.

      • Easy. In my first point, I am disputing the suggestion that the movie is any sort of ‘reminiscing.’ It was not done as an art piece, a paean to the series, or a tribute to the characters. It was designed to sell a new line of dolls to a slightly different market, and taht limitation drove the use of a series of cliches, tropes, and clumsy references to the show.

        And I absolutely am judging the movie for the kind of tropes it adheres to, and it is entirely fair. What made the SERIES good was that it consciously avoided many of the tropes and cliches that form the core of the movie! Faust set out to create a show that would give girls strong role models and show them that there was more than the traditional cubby-holes popular media tends to stuff them into.

        In contrast, the movie took the well-rounded pegs she created and proceeded to roughly jam them into square holes. And before you counter, “look how they came together, look how Twilight was a strong leader.” But that in itself is a trope- it’s the basic plot of three decades’ worth of after-school specials. The only thing to differentiate this movie was the tacking-on of ponies at the beginning and end, which itself is rather problematic and dissatisfying.

        I don’t think the example you chose, Back to the Future, works. BttF was not derived from an ensemble show that sought to break down stereotypical roles. BttF was a story about time travel, set in an absolutely human world. The differences in teen life highlight both what changes and what stays the same, but in the end the central characters are NOT transformed, do NOT go to a world they cannot understand, and do NOT face… a demon who somehow can use a magical device that’s supposed to wreak havoc on the world, but then does exactly what it does in Equestria PLUS replacing the missing elements. *ahem* Excuse me, that’s more detailed than necessary. Anyway, BttF would be a better example if Marty McFly became a wizard who suddenly had to contend with magic-wielding enemies while trying to learn how to harness that power himself.

        In the end, I think it’s charitable to call this a review- for an entry titled “Overanalyzing” there was little analysis. Were it titled “Why Digibrony LOVES EqG,” I’d have less of a quarrel with it. Any analysis is overshadowed by his breezy dismissal of the problems in favor of enthusiastic gushing. He liked it, we get it. Then we get it again. And again, and again, all while saying “How in the hell do you LIKE that particular chunk? It made me grit my teeth watching it!”

        Don’t get me wrong, I think Digibrony is mostly a nice guy and he’s certainly entitled to like what he likes. Any disagreement I have is with what he says or how he says it, not with him. I have other friends with whom I’ve had stronger disagreements about this, and it’s not hurt our friendship. Digibrony doesn’t take any really mean shots at the people he disagrees with, but as I’ve said there’s an undercurrent of disdain that is irksome.

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