Full Disclosure: I demanded this review. I’ve loved My Little Pony since my own girlhood when I swapped them like baseball cards and devoured the animated series that was a glorified toy commercial. I reveled when they were revived, and happily binged My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, finding it a soothing break from a high-stress day of adulting. But My Little Pony: The Movie wasn’t made for me. With humor that’s devotedly silly and sweet but never winking or mature, it’s unabashedly for little kids, the new generation of pony lovers. And they’ll eat it up. It is colorful. It is cute. It is just not made for grown-ups. So, as I watched Twilight Sparkle and her pals fight back against a party-crashing Storm King (Liev Schreiber), I was pretty bored. Nonetheless, I found myself drawn in by the subplot of Storm King’s mean right-hand mare, Tempest Shadow.
Voiced by Emily Blunt with a snarling American accent, Tempest isn’t like the other ponies of the shiny city of Equestria. Rather than painted in vibrant hues that’d be suitable in a kindergarten classroom, she’s a dark purple, the color of a baby goth’s fishnets. Her hair is an edgy, magenta mohawk. Her lips curl not in a smile but a sneer. She wears a black armor body-suit that covers her cutie mark. Her right eye is streaked with a scar. And most important: this unicorn’s horn is broken, sticking out of her forehead like an angry cracked tooth that shoots volatile sparks. Basically, imagine if the Full Metal Bitch of Edge of Tomorrow were a My Little Pony. That’s Tempest. She’s awesome.
The Storm King has promised to restore Tempest’s horn if she helps him snatch the magic of Equestria’s four princesses. But in a stirring song number, Tempest reveals a deeper hurt. Her horn was broken, her face scarred when she was a child and defended her friends against a wild bear. But once she was marred, they shunned her. The real wound is to Tempest’s heart and self-esteem. She feels unworthy not because of her horn, but because of how others regarded her for it.
The film’s mane focus is Twilight’s quest to round up a posse to topple the Storm King. Along the way, they meet a conniving cat (Taye Diggs), a band of “swashbuckling treasure seekers” who don’t like the word “pirate,” a hyper hippogriff (Kristin Chenoweth), and a secretive Sea Pony (Uzo Aduba). Yet Tempest’s story steals focus to score the film’s final beat.
Spoilers for the very end of My Little Pony: The Movie.
Of course Tempest ultimately turns on her malicious master, and just in time to rescue her new friends. After helping save the day, Tempest begins to slink away while Songbird Serenade (Sia as the coolest pony to ever) performs for the freed and once-more giddy pony masses. But she’s stopped by Twilight. Here, I expected the movie’s hopeful heroine to magic Tempest’s horn back to wholeness, a reward for her redemption. But no! Twilight doesn’t give Tempest a superficial makeover that would basically be a plastering over of her inner pain. Instead, Twilight tells Tempest that she’s powerful and important just as she is. Tempest smiles! Then she harnesses the power of that unique horn to create a fireworks display as a climax for Sia’s song. And it’s beautiful. Her self-acceptance is made manifest into a sensational finale.
The central message is one about the value of friendship. But then at the tail end, My Little Pony: The Movie offers a sophisticated message about trauma and self-love. Tempest suffered pain, then rejection and heartbreak. But she does not need to hide her scars, internal or external. Instead, she’s encouraged to accept them and love herself as she is. And the message is clear: any pony pal worth a damn would do the same.