Not horsing around: ‘My Little Pony’ movie overflows with laughs, music, color and joy

Review • Even with stars in the voice cast, the happily perky animated franchise stays true to its TV roots.

(Courtesy Lionsgate) Rainbow Dash (left, voiced by Ashleigh Ball) faces off against Captain Celaeno (voiced by Zoe Saldana) in a scene from "My Little Pony: The Movie."

As someone who wouldn’t know a Fluttershy from a flamingo, I am the last person one would expect would have fun watching “My Little Pony: The Movie.” But I did, so here we are.

Yes, the movie expansion of the world of Equestria — where brightly colored horselike creatures frolic and embody the virtues of friendship — is by turns cute, charming, funny and even a little touching. Little girls, the franchise’s target demographic, will likely love it, as will the “Bronies” and “Pegasisters” who buy the tickets.

Ponyville is preparing for the Friendship Festival, which is drawing ponies from all of Equestria for fun, food and a concert by the music superstar Songbird Serenade (who’s voiced by the pop star Sia, so of course Songbird has blond-and-brunet bangs over her eyes).

Princess Twilight Sparkle (voiced by Tara Strong) is in charge of the event and is nervous about it all coming together. Her pals — fleet-footed Rainbow Dash and country gal Applejack (both voiced by Ashleigh Ball), bubbly Pinkie Pie and bashful Fluttershy (both voiced by Andrea Libman), and style-obsessed Rarity (voiced by Tabitha St. Germain) — reassure her that all will go well. (Strong, Ball, Libman and St. Germain all voiced these roles in the TV series, and their understanding of these characters is evident.)

Then an uninvited guest casts a (literal) dark cloud on the festival: the Storm King (voiced by Liev Schreiber), who has a plan to steal the powers of Equestria’s four princesses and use them to plunge the world into darkness. The Storm King’s forces are led by Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt), a pony who’s gone to the dark side in hopes the king will restore her broken unicorn horn. Three of Equestria’s ruling princesses are captured, but Twilight Sparkle and her friends narrowly escape.

Thus begins an epic journey in which the six ponies must cross the Badlands (there’s always a Badlands) to find the legendary Hippogriffs, who might be persuaded to help save Equestria. Along the way, the six, with their little dragon friend Spike (voiced by Cathy Weseluck), encounter a roguish con-artist cat, Capper (voiced by Taye Diggs), a ship of parrot pirates (whose captain is voiced by Zoe Saldana), and an undersea queen (voiced by Uzo Aduba) and her rebellious daughter, Princess Skystar (voiced by Kristin Chenoweth).

Oh, and I forgot to mention — it’s a musical! The songs are perky and mostly unremarkable, but Blunt (who proved her singing chops in “Into the Woods”) and Broadway stars Diggs and Chenoweth bring some positive energy to them.

Director Jayson Thiessen, who has worked on “My Little Pony” TV projects and shorts for the past four years, knows Equestria and these characters well and keeps the atmosphere light and bouncy. The screenplay, credited to “My Little Pony” veterans Meghan McCarthy and Michael Vogel and “Mulan” screenwriter Rita Hsiao, throws in just enough jokes for the grown-ups without disturbing the breezy tone set for little eyes and ears.

“My Little Pony: The Movie” is a candy-colored chunk of pure escapism that outshines the cynicism one might feel for a franchise run by a toy company. Dealing with the existential questions — like whether liking this bit of silliness means there’s a little Brony inside us all — can wait for later.

* * *<br>My Little Pony: The Movie<br>Put your hooves together for Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash and the rest of the four-legged friends in their first movie adventure.<br>Where • Theaters everywhere.<br>When • Opens Friday, Oct. 6.<br>Rating • PG for mild action.<br>Running time • 99 minutes.

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