The sparkling My Little Pony: The Movie gallops to theaters this month.
My Little Pony has come a long since it was first introduced By Hasbro as a colorful toyline in the early 1980s. After inspiring several TV projects, direct to DVD specials and movies, the property made a huge comeback in 2010 with the series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which was developed for Hasbro’s The Hub by Lauren Faust. The colorful and optimistic toon has inspired a passionate, expressive fan base in the seven seasons that it has been on the air. The property’s action figures, play sets and cosplay costumes are everywhere. It certainly seemed that the time was right for a new theatrical movie.
With conventions happening to celebrate the show in major cities across the U.S., the filmmakers knew a movie based on the series would have to take a new step.
In My Little Pony: The Movie, the “Mane 6”—Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy and Rarity—must take a journey beyond their beloved Equestria to save the home they know and love. Along the way, the Ponies must meet unexpected challenges and test the most vital truth in all of Ponydom—which is after all, Friendship is Magic.
We’re Not in Equestria Anymore
“A big part of the movie is that for the first time we have them leaving their home of Equestria,” says screenwriter Meghan McCarthy. “It was a great starting point for us that they’ve always kind of lived in this idyllic world. (In the outside world) everyone doesn’t see the cute little pony and say, ‘Great! We’re glad you’re here! You’re adorable!’ It was about taking goodness and kindness and all these wonderful qualities of these characters out in to the world and see if will emerge as victorious? So. we pushed the characters in ways that we haven’t quite seen on the show.”
As they ponies venture out their childlike innocence and belief in the power of good and friendship is tested in the “real world” where things are not as simple as what they’re used to in the TV series. The themes seem to have resonated since an impressive list of accomplished actors and singers signed on to voice characters for the movie. The film’s voice cast includes Sia as Songbird Serenade, Live Schreiber as The Storm King, Kristin Chenoweth as Princess Skystar, Emily Blunt as Tempest Shadow, Taye Diggs as Capper, Michael Pena as Grubber and Zoe Saldana as Captain Celaeno. Sia also sings an original composition for the film.
Many of the show’s voice performers are also part of the movie. Tara Strong returns as Twilight Sparkle, Tabitha St. Germain is Rarity, Ashleigh Ball performs as Applejack and Rainbow Dash and Andrea Libman voices both Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy.
All the ponies that populate Equestria have a distinct look which markings and characteristics that reflect their journey on the TV series. These details give each character their iconography and personality. When the filmmakers started work on the film they realized they wanted a look for the story that would be more cinematic and take the Mane 5 further visually much in the same way the story takes the characters on new adventures.
“The animation style on the show lends itself to TV,” says director Jayson Thiessen. “It’s a little simpler, more graphic. Everything is done in Vector with (Adobe) Flash. For a feature, we took the essence of what made the character designs their designs and rebuilt them all in a program called Harmony and really gave them a lot more dimension so that they felt more detailed and feel more real. It’s a 2D film but we wanted to go more cinematic. There’s a lot more detail in their faces and expression, and we also added in more 3D sets. So we brought in a director of photography who did previz in 3D and then we translated that back to 2D. That really gave it a uniqueness that you don’t really see in most 2D films. We did that to give it a 3D animation feeling shot-wise while still using a 2D animation style. It’s been a dream of mine for a while to be able to do that.”
As they increased dimension, resolution and refined the animation style for the movie, other possibilities presented themselves.
“Because of the resolution of the animation we could do there’s a lot more subtlety, a lot more acting. We wanted to really feel their emotions. On TV we go a lot more broad,” says Thiessen. “But for the movie, we wanted to get the micro-expressions of acting and involuntary expressions of them reacting to things. So, I really challenged my animators that way, and it took a while to get because subtle animation is harder than broad animation.”
Both the story and the style of animation take the audience in a new direction with the characters they’ve come to know through the TV series. While DXH in Vancouver Canada was the main animation studio behind the movie, other shops including
Top Draw in the Philippines, Feitong Cartoon in China and Copa Studio in Brazil all pitched in to bring the colorful equine characters to animated life. All together, it took about 24 months to complete the project.
While pushing boundaries what important to create a new experience that would play well on a big screen, Theissen and McCarthy also held on to the ideas that attracted a huge audience to the Ponies in the first place.
“The message that we were able to convey was not to let go of the childlike qualities that are really positive—being willing to reach out to others, being kind and generous and all of these things we equate with naïveté,” says McCarthy. “You can go out into a harsher world, but that doesn’t mean you should let go of these things that are good and made you who you are.”
Adds Thiessen: “Friendship is a virtue in any world.”
Lionsgate releases My Little Pony: The Movie in theaters on October 5.