My Little Pony: The Movie starts in the capital city of Equestria, Canterlot, with a short introduction of its main characters; Princess Twilight Sparkle (Tara Strong), Applejack (Ashleigh Ball), Fluttershy (Andrea Libman), Pinkie Pie (Andrea Libman), Rarity (Tabitha St. Germain), Rainbow Dash (Ashleigh Ball) and the dragon Spike (Cathy Weseluck), as well as Equestria's remaining three princesses Celestia (Nicole Oliver), Luna (Tabitha St. Germain) and Cadance (Britt McKillip). Princess Twilight's anxieties about the upcoming Friendship Festival lead into a cheerful song, but soon, a menacing airship emerges from a dark, foreboding cloud.
Out come Commander Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt) and her partner Grubber (Michael Peña), to conquer Equestria and take the magic of its four rulers, including Princess Twilight, on behalf of the Storm King (Liev Schreiber). Utilizing surprisingly strong spells from her broken unicorn horn, Tempest Shadow neutralizes three of the princesses quick. Princess Twilight evades this fate thanks to one of her citizens, a gray pegasus mare named Derpy Hooves, but vastly outnumbered by the Storm King's invading army, she can only flee.
After escaping Canterlot, Princess Twilight and her friends embark on a charmingly-classical hero's journey south to find the mysterious "Queen of the Hippos", last words spoken by Twilight's mentor and co-princess, Celestia. They come through a variety of environments, including a desert town with nefarious citizens and an underwater capital. Mentions of additional locations like the mystical-sounding "Blackskull Island" give the immersive feeling there's more beyond the screen's confines.
Classical is also their enemy, the fearsome Storm King, a yeti-like tyrant determined to increase his power with an old relic able to control storms, once charged with magic. He fits perfectly into the dark villain line-up of the "My Little Pony" TV series.
On their journey, always fleeing from Tempest Shadow, the team of heroines runs into the sly cat Capper (Taye Diggs), who has his very own interests in mind, swashbuckling pirate captain Celaeno (Zoe Saldana) and her crew, who are the Storm King's slaves, and a whole tribe of seaponies whose queen, Novo (Uzo Aduba), refuses to help to protect her own citizens.
Once Capper breaks into song, My Little Pony: The Movie cements itself as half-musical. The songs are memorable musical numbers straight from equestrian (and non-equestrian) mouths, in a quality that puts them on the same level as Disney's best musical repertoire. Offerings range from a happy celebration song to Tempest Shadow's own, dark anthem; a chilling performance that reveals her reason for following the path of ruthless villainy. The latter will be kept a surprise here, but Tempest's motive paints a black picture of the world's potential for mercilessness, in a cynical and realistic tone one would not expect from "My Little Pony". Only Sia's song "Rainbow" feels a bit generic and unfitting to the world of Equestria, but it still provides an enjoyable enough tune that gives the movie's grand finish the right atmosphere.
Although commonly seen as a girls franchise, "My Little Pony"'s movie adaptation still gives great roles to male characters. Seemingly reserved for antagonists at first, Capper becomes a comrade-in-arms later, inspired by Rarity's generosity. Even Grubber seems to be motivated more by the Storm King's meals, he never comes across as truly malicious. His interactions with Tempest Shadow radiate a feeling of mutual understanding, implying a deeper bond between them than it seems at first glance.
As all seems hopeless for the sextet of heroines, Capper makes a surprise return with Captain Celaeno and crew. The aforementioned Queen Novo's daughter, Princess Skystar (Kristin Chenoweth), joins them against the will of her mother and, together, they return to Canterlot to save Equestria from the Storm King's greedy claws.
The king himself finally takes center stage near the end of the movie, going right down to his terrifying business. Illustrating how much Equestria's pony culture disgusts him via quite refined statement ("Deliver the punchline, Tempest, because this is gotta be a joke!"), he charges his staff with the princesses' magic and blasts Princess Twilight through a wall to test his new weapon.
During the, literally, stormy finale of the movie, it shows again that the modern "My Little Pony" is not just kiddy-fare, but well-written and mature all-ages entertainment, as a good amount of (non-bloody) violence is needed to fight the last battle, because the power-hungry Storm King is not one who listens to the "Magic of Friendship". A significant step-up from the flowery past incarnations of the franchise, as well as the more recent, brand-defying "Equestria Girls" spin-off movies that turn the ponies into humans and focus on overdone high-school drama.
My Little Pony: The Movie presents itself as a clever all-ages movie, with sharp dialogues and intelligent, mature jokes. The characters simply being themselves provides more humor, like Rarity's best drama queen performance when the journey gets hard, which is the big strength of the movie's comedy.
My Little Pony: The Movie also received an animation upgrade from the traditional Flash animation of the TV series to a more fancy version called "Toon Boom Harmony". The feats are impressive, rendering Equestria's beautiful landscapes and the architecture of its capital city in good old 2D animation from days long gone, with realistic-looking visuals that invite to scan the backgrounds for neat little details, something that modern, synthetic CGI animations have forgotten how to pull off.
In the end, My Little Pony: The Movie offers a positive message: One of tolerance, inclusion and overcoming one's insecurities, without being cheesy, as the path to these values is long and hard for some. If you seek a worthwhile My Little Pony adventure, then the journey of Princess Twilight and her friends to defeat the Storm King and save their home is the right choice for you.