Saturday, September 27, 2014

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls - Rainbow Rocks

As I’ve expressed in my previous review, I’m not really much of a brony at this point, as I’d consider myself more of a collector of Friendship is Magic memorabilia. I’m still really selective, acquiring only specific toys and all of the comics (to stay in the loop), but I have more of a love/hate relationship with the fanbase. There are some good things that come out of it, like good art and sometimes music, but they can also be incredibly relentless about their passion to the point of almost being a complete turn-off; my audience at the screening of Equestria Girls didn’t really do much to help that at all.

Speaking of which, I found Equestria Girls to be an incredibly wasted concept, since the idea of creating a new world was squashed in favor of having the new universe be exactly the same as the original, but with people, and totally came off as the Monster High ripoff that it really is (this coming from someone who doesn’t care at all about Monster High). Furthermore, the plot was really thin, required a lot of contrivances and the new characters were especially bland and one-dimensional. Rainbow Rocks, the inevitable sequel, decided to take a different approach with its marketing by having a series of shorts on YouTube which serve as a lead-in to the film itself. This is a little problematic in itself because there may be some people who don’t regularly look for Rainbow Rocks updates (and for those who care I bet they’ll be on the home video release), but in any case they did give me an idea of what to expect. In the end my expectations were still pretty low, but I decided that, despite not really liking the previous movie, I should see this one in the theater to get a more complete opinion, as well as see a version that isn’t tainted by TV edits.

So now that I’ve seen Rainbow Rocks in the theater, did it manage to fare better than Equestria Girls? In my opinion it did, but only marginally so.

Here we go again.

Continuity Note: Due to the placement of Rainbow Rocks within Friendship is Magic continuity, there may be unmarked spoilers regarding the events of S4E26 Twilight’s Kingdom - Part 2.

The movie opens with the Dazzlings, three girls with otherworldly origins, talking in a café about being trapped in the human world. After they walk outside, they see the ending of Equestria Girls and their leader, Adagio Dazzle (Kazumi Evans) (hence their collective name), realizes that the magic on display means that they have a chance of regaining their original forms and going back to their original dimension. Less than 30 moons (months) later, Canterlot High is going to host their first ever musical showcase. As Sunset Shimmer (Rebecca Shoichet) helps out her new friends, the human counterparts of the “Mane 6” sans Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong), with their act, she laments the fact that no one in the school fully trusts her yet and still sees her as a villain. As her friends try to cheer her up, she is called on to show three new students, the Dazzlings, around the school. With their arrival, it’s also announced that the musical showcase is now a battle of the bands, where only one musical act can win it all. Once the Dazzlings show off their magic, Sunset’s party realizes that in order to fully defeat them, they’ll need Princess Twilight Sparkle to join them. After being contacted through a magic book that Sunset happened to have in her locker, Princess Twilight shows up to help. With her newly added to their band, the Rainbooms, the girls believe that they have the power to defeat the Dazzlings and save both of their worlds.

The Dazzlings (from left): Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze, Sonata Dusk.

From a strictly narrative point of view, I don’t think it was necessary for Twilight Sparkle to be the main character. The beginning of the movie actually did a good job setting up Sunset Shimmer to be the lead and hinted heavily that she would be the one to handle the villains, but she seemed to drift into the background more once Twilight was re-introduced to the world. Speaking of which, the method for contacting Twilight, a magic book, comes right out of nowhere and is given a pretty poor explanation of why and how it got into her locker. She mentions something about having it on her in case she wanted to contact Celestia again (or some odd thing like that), despite the fact that in the official prequel story from the 2013 My Little Pony Annual comic, there is absolutely no evidence of Sunset taking anything with her to the human world, not even a book; to put it simply, the existence of the book introduces more questions than are answered. Furthermore, why did they even need Twilight anyway? I know they said that it’s because of her magic being compatible with the residual magic that the human versions of her friends have, but Sunset wore Twilight’s crown in the last movie, so that means she should have some of the residual magic as well and thus be compatible (none of this is headcanon; I am strictly following the logic of the movie’s narrative). On top of that, it felt like the movie was going to set up a very interesting plot twist for the ending that I started piecing together after a while, but unfortunately the potential was erased at the very last second by a line of dialogue. Also, Flash Sentry (Vincent Tong) is still as flat as a board, existing only to revive an unnecessary plot thread.

This really didn't need to happen for the plot to work.

At this point I should probably talk about the main villains, the Dazzlings, comprised of Adagio Dazzle, Aria Blaze (Diana Kaarina) and Sonata Dusk (Marÿke Hendrikse). Their personalities are easy to identify, as Adagio, who gets the most lines, is the leader who keeps the other two in line, Aria is kind of prickly and Sonata is a ditz. I question the need to have an idiot in the ensemble, but nevertheless I liked that their personalities were at least better developed than Sunset Shimmer in the first movie, as this time it’s the opening conversation that gives us an idea of who they are. Their motivation is also better thought out and their plan is actually a bit more subtle. Plus, their final battle was more visually interesting, even if it touched on the same points, and I didn’t feel as annoyed by them as I did with Sunset from before.

Since music is actually more important to the plot this time, I’m going to start discussing it here instead of at the end like I normally would. This time around there are 12 songs crammed within the film’s 75-minute run time, which is a lot for any movie, and I’m not sure all of them were particularly good. There are a couple of them here and there that are a little catchy and the Dazzlings have admittedly great singing voices, especially in the finale (accompanied by a fantastic guitar solo). However, a couple of them were repetitive and the lyrics aren’t completely the best, plus it feels like every one of the songs from the Rainbooms had a ton of harmony in them and I found Rainbow Dash’s guitar playing to be just all right. Overall the soundtrack is kind of what I’d expect from Friendship is Magic, but also of a higher quality than Equestria Girls. However, I have one small nitpick: whenever the Dazzlings are singing, you can hear additional instruments being played, but none of them are visible. Is this just a shortcut for the animation or do they create an ambiance whenever they sing?

[Background music intensifies]

This time around the animation also seems to have improved, with smoother and more unique character animations despite having the same models. The instruments are also much more technically accurate this time around and it appears that they did actually take some time to make sure that the finger placement on a guitar actually looked like it matched with the music being played; this is a must for any animation related to music if it wants to be more believable. However, there are two background characters that stand out, as they have much more intense detail in their designs, as though they followed a non-standard model. It almost feels like these two were meant to resemble Monster High characters, but I don’t really know for sure. In any case, it shows what the animators are capable of if they try harder.

The two girls on the very far left look pretty non-standard.

As for the fandom nods, they were certainly there, but nowhere near as obnoxious as in the first movie, almost as though they scaled back a bit. Similarly, my theater experience this time was less annoying than before, despite having the exact same group of obnoxious bronies from last time (these guys seemed to embody every stereotype you can think of for the fanbase, which does nothing but give us an even worse reputation). Thankfully nobody shouted “Wingboner” or anything, but because they were in the back and sound travels forward, you could still hear their quiet commentary, which a much louder (male) child right behind me parroted at times. Someone was also visibly trying to record the movie, but fortunately that got nipped in the bud [NOTE: Trophy Unlocked does not condone piracy of any kind]. Apart from that, I enjoyed actually having surround sound this time around and no visible sign of the film being on DVD, but I may still watch it again on TV just to catch some things I might have missed.

Twilight just realized what movie she's in.

Since I mentioned the end of the credits last time, I think I should mention that you really need to stay this time, since it hints at something going forward (oh joy) and answers a question created by the first movie. Also, the credits sequence itself has some drawings of several of the characters from the movie and they look like they are better drawn than the actual animations (though this is just my opinion).

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks is just okay. The plot is a bit tighter and the villains are more developed, although there are a couple of missed opportunities that really bog down the experience. In addition the music and animation are a bit better and more attention was paid to instrument detail during the songs. Despite improvements however, the movie hasn’t completely gotten away from feeling like a Monster High ripoff (based on what little I know) and should there be a third movie, more effort should be put into distancing this sub-series from its rather cliché setting. If you’re a fan, then you’ve probably already seen this or are making plans to, but even then I’d say to err on the side of caution when trying to view this one. However, if you’re a nonfan, there’s nothing here that’ll really sway you. I may watch it again, but I’d be very hesitant to pay money again to do so.

No comments:

Post a Comment