‘My Little Pony’ Movie Will Be the Little Black Sheep of Hasbro’s Hollywood

By  · Published on October 20th, 2014

‘My Little Pony’ Movie Will Be the Little Black Sheep of Hasbro’s Hollywood

Hasbro Studios

It may seem obvious that a My Little Pony movie is being made. The magically friendly horses are very popular and, more importantly, are a part of the Hasbro family of toys. The company has been busy turning as many of their products into movies as they can, such as Transformers, G.I. Joe, Battleship and this month’s Ouija. There’s also Jem and the Holograms due next year and maybe eventually we’ll see the promised features based on Monopoly, Candy Land, Hungry Hungry Hippos and Tonka trucks.

But one of these things is not like the other, and that’s this latest addition to the slate. My Little Pony will be an animated feature, which means it will likely just be a feature-length edition of the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. All the other properties are adaptations of some other medium or directly based off the toys and games.

Hippos and Tonka are the only others listed above that have been optioned for animated films, and both of these are different from the My Little Pony plans in that neither have been turned into narrative entities before. Regardless of what you think of Battleship and Ouija, they’ve required some level of imagination to find inspiration from their respective games for the makings of a movie plot. The same will be the case for animated stories involving marble-craving beasts and construction vehicles.

I don’t want to harp on which are the more original projects (my guide to the levels of unoriginality in Hollywood can be easily referenced if you’re curious), because that’s not necessarily what makes the Pony movie a different animal for the Hasbro moviemaking machine. Movies like Transformers, G.I. Joe and Jem are especially born out of nostalgia for their 1980s cartoon series and toys. Yet they could also target the less-familiar through the normal things that make any movie appealing to large audiences, namely action, special effects, movie stars and, in the case of Jem, soundtrack.

Battleship and Ouija also have had to be appealing movies on their own because aside from name recognition that’s all they really are. All of these play as well to fans and former fans as newcomers and non-fans. That’s why they’ve been able to make hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. Ouija will be much lower due to it being horror, but the aim there is still to deliver a product that will cater to horror fans regardless of their feelings on the brand name title.

My Little Pony has fans of all kinds. The following is a phenomenon, in fact, with viewers ranging from children to adults, the latter being an odd enough situation that there have been two recent documentaries made about them and their conventions. They will go see the My Little Pony movie. So will the many kids who like the show, with parents in tow. It doesn’t have a very good shot of transcending those two sets, however.

It’s difficult to see how a new My Little Pony will even be of a theatrical necessity to the audience it does have. Sure, the Bronies will all go together and have enjoyment in that communal experience. Maybe more than once. What of the actual content in front of them, though? Is it going to be that different than if they’d get to watch the series projected on the big screen? Or than the recent My Little Pony: Equestria Girls films?

The two of those feature-length Equestria spin-offs were mainly meant as direct-to-video titles but also received theatrical releases around the world. In the US, the first one sold out regularly in many locations when it dropped on only 200 screens, prompting surprised theater owners to add showtimes. The second, subtitled Rainbow Rocks and featuring all the Pony characters redone as humans, hit cinemas last month, apparently to less self-congratulatory hype on the part of distributor Screenvision. Each also hit home video soon after the big screen appearance.

They weren’t the first My Little Pony movies, either. Between 2005 and 2009 there were five direct-to-video features, some of them computer-animated. And of course back in 1986 was My Little Pony: The Movie. It was one of many toy-based movies spun from their respective animated series in the mid 1980s, few of which were successful. The Pony movie, which was co-produced by Marvel and had a terribly rushed production time, features a great voice cast (including Madeline Kahn) but a plot that looks similar to that of the hit Care Bears Movie from the year before.

It bombed. And it’s still among the worst wide openings at the box office ever. It’s hard to see what everyone involved was thinking then, making larger-scale versions of cartoons already knocked for being commercials in the guise of entertainment – but with these you had to pay for them and the only clear distinction of its higher value was usually in that the drawings of the characters had more shading. It was a time when video stores and rentals were continuing to be on the rise, and most of us who did see My Little Pony: The Movie and Transformers: The Movie and others like it did so on VHS.

The disappointments of the two Hasbro animated theatrical features hurt Hasbro pretty bad, and their plan to put G.I. Joe: The Movie in cinemas was changed to a direct-to-video dumping. A Jem movie in development was scrapped, too. It’s funny to think about that now with the Pony movie being linked with the Jem movie in a new production banner called Allspark Pictures (named for something in Transformers, too).

Funnier, though, is that Hasbro has had all this new success with its brands in movies thanks to their being live-action, which is how we wanted our Transformers and G.I. Joe movies 30 years ago (never mind that the live-action He-Man movie, Masters of the Universe, wound up being terrible). Not that a Pony movie makes much sense as live-action, but doing an animated feature sure seems like a repeat of old mistakes.

Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong. If it can be done without damaging what Bronies like about it, the Pony movie could turn out a delightful surprise, a la The Lego Movie. It’ll be interesting to see what happens either way when the feature opens in 2017, because this is a black sheep when considered next to Hasbro’s other movies. Also, I wonder if the whole Bronies phenomenon will still exist in another three years.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.