• My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Shorts—Review

    Today's the day folks! The new My Little Pony: Equestria Girls YouTube series premieres today!

    So just what sort of stories do the Equestria Girls get into when they aren't saving the world from rogue magical elements from Equestria? I'm betting it's typical high school hijinks. Only with a talking dog. And super powers. And the ability to transform into pony girls with wings and pony ears. And…

    I seriously wonder how much of this is going to be inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Well there's only one way to find out. So come and join me after the break as I dive into the first five Equestria Girls shorts!

    …is all that separates genius and madness.

    One Sentence Story Summary: Sunset Shimmer learns how to have fun while waiting in line with the help of her friends.
    Writer: Gillian M. Berrow
    Storyboard Artist: Sam To

    Review: This is the Comic-Con experience presented in a two minute and thirty second short.

    I am not kidding. 99% of Comic-Con for 95% of attendees is standing for hours in line waiting to do stuff. You're stand in line wait for the show to open, to get wristbands to buy exclusive merchandise at a later time, to buy exclusive merchandise, to get vouchers to for celebrity autograph sessions at a later time, to get celebrity autographs, to get a five minute custom mini painting from Katie Cook (her line stretch all the way down Artist Alley). I think you get the picture.

    If you are going solo to a convention, waiting in line is a very boring, very long, and very trying experience. What helps with making this part of the convention experience fun and enjoyable is summed up by Sandalwood at the 40 second mark of the story.

    "It's about the quest with your buds, not the loot." And the remaining time of the short is proving this concept in action. Having been in Sunset's position both prior to and after having friends show up to stand with me at Line-Con, I can say with 100% certainty that Gillian and Sam nailed the experience. Including the standing in one location bit for the duration of eternity (I counted).

    So if you've ever wondered what it's like to go to Comic-Con, and get some entertaining animation, be sure to check it out on youtube!

    Also, Sunset Shimmer is confirmed to be a gamer and Tirek as a video game villain. I wonder how long it's going to be before we get Gamer Sunset and Gamer Luna fan arts of those two playing the game in the submit box.

    And wow. I guess it really is always the quiet ones who you have to watch out for…

    I swear this is the title of a movie starring Jack Black…

    One Sentence Story Summary: Maud Pie's presentation on the history of rocks gets exciting thanks to some magical help from the Equestria Girls.
    Writer: Gillian M. Berrow
    Storyboard Artist: Tori Grant

    Review: "Welcome to Rock Talks with Maud. Are you ready for rocks?" If the first line alone sold you on this short, be sure to check it out on youtube!

    However if it does not sell you on this short, clearly you do not know who Maud Pie is. Furthermore you also do not know who her sister Pinkie Pie is. And you also know generally know nothing about what happens when you have Pinkie Pie, her friends Twilight Sparkle and Rarity, and magic around a deadpan character with animators behind the scenes who are absolutely itching to take this concept and crank it up to 42.

    Uh… yes. For those of you who I just convinced, uh here's the youtube link. Go check it out.

    The previous entry chose to focus on a mundane situation and crank its pain factor up to 11 for comedic effect. For this short, the humor comes from the genuine character interactions and exploring how these characters would react in a specific situation with magic involved. The fact Maud is deadpan in the delivery of everything she says turns this short into a visual Abbott and Costello comedy routine. Which is no small feat to pull off. In comedy, timing is everything. Gillian and Tori prove they are masters of this.

    School of Rock is easily my favorite of the bunch. So if you want to see what I'm talking about, you can check it out on youtube!

    …is a 1974 disco song by KC & The Sunshine Band.

    One Sentence Story Summary: Applejack and Rainbow Dash compete like Plucky Duck and Babs Bunny (Tiny Toons Adventures) for most pictures in the yearbook.
    Writer: Gillian M. Berrow
    Storyboard Artist: Selena Marchetti

    Review: Sunset Shimmer knows how to fence (foil fencing specifically. There is not a single saber or épée sword in the club photo). Ogres and Oubliettes exists in Dougland. EQG Big Mac roleplays as Sir McBiggen. Trixie, Snips, and Snails cosplays are based off of a WeLoveFine print design. Bulk Biceps finally made those pot holders for his mom. Flash Sentry is studying chemistry with Twilight, Rarity, and Muffins. Applejack unexpectedly solos with the triangle. Rainbow Dash proves beyond all doubt why she is not an artist. The Robot Dog Twilight built for Timber makes an unexpected appearance.

    The short is presented as a montage sequence with two really quick one off scenes serving as the end caps to a competently executed premise by Gillian and Selena. The various locations are… well they are typical high school sports teams, clubs, and after school activities. The only one which really raised an eyebrow was fencing, but the sport has been gaining popularity in US high schools over the last decade or so. And Rarity ultimately steals the show from Applejack and Rainbow Dash with one hell of a stinger.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with this short.

    I hate the premise. I do. I really freaking do. The story idea is of two friends getting into a popularity contest, competing against a stupid measuring stick, intruding upon the fun activities of basically everyone else in the school (this short was also the EQG version of Where's Waldo), only to be one upped by a third friend who allowed them to do all of this just to make a point of how stupid they were acting.

    The Tiny Toons Adventures episode The Year Book Star uses the same premise, and was the first place I encountered this story. I hated it then. I hate it less here, because the EQG Short is 5 minutes shorter than the Tiny Toons Adventures episode (those generally had three 7 minute stories in each episode). If you want to see the highlights of the episode, which I pointed out in the first paragraph, you can check out the short on youtube.

    I wonder which character this short is about…

    One Sentence Story Summary: After Rarity gets invited to a fashion designers' gala, Pinkie Pie fills in for her to babysit Lily Pad.
    Writer: Gillian M. Berrow
    Storyboard Artist: Tori Grant

    Review: Where to begin with this one… perhaps with something a little unexpected, which will help to serve a later point I have in this review? Yeah that sounds good.

    There are a grand total of two scene locations in this short. Namely the front door of the House of Pie and the living room of the House of Pie. The fact this short managed to tell a complete story with just these two setting is a testament to G.M. Berrow's and Tori Grant's skills as story tellers. It is no easy feat to tell a story with only a handful of locations. But what is very important about these two shots is the tone and mood it sets for the EQG version of the Pie Family. From what was able to be seen briefly of the House of Pie—I'm calling you HOP from now on—it was very was to tell their home was not of Amish Design. Neither was it of Puritan Design. It wasn't even New England Colonial. And it most definitely wasn't an EQG remaining of the Pie Family Rock farm.

    It has a completely different feel to the the location from its Equestria Counterpart. This different feeling is carried into the interior of the house, where everything about it screams life in the American Suburbs… admittedly from the early 1960s. My grandparents had most of the furniture featured in this short in their own living room. Especially the couch, though that was blue rather than pink.

    And just by looking at the furniture in this short, one can immediately tell the parents of this version of the Pie family, while different in feeling from their Equestria counterparts, have the same key trait that they do in Equestria. They are a couple, and thus a family, which chooses to live their lives in the past while still having to live in the modern world. And thus gives rise to… well Pinkie Pie.

    This two minute short is a character study of Pinkie Pie. It explores how she is both different and yet completely the same to her counterpart from Friendship is Magic.

    Spoiler: Equestria Girls Pinkie Pie walks on two legs and wears clothes all the time. Otherwise, they are the exact same character.

    Also, Tabitha St. Germain is absolutely brilliant in bringing Lily Pad to life in this short. I swear, if she wasn't credited for this role, I never would have known Tabitha voiced both Rarity and Lily. And Andrea Libman is in top form as Pinkie. These two acting together in two very different characters were a true delight to behold.

    Gillian and Tori managed to craft a story while showcases Pinkie Pie at her absolute best (and funniest). If you haven't given it a watch yet, be sure to go check it out on youtube!

    I seriously hope everyone knows which 1986 song by Europe this episode title is directly referencing.

    One Sentence Story Summary: It's finals week at CHS, and Twilight Sparkle helps her friends study to pass their exams by discovering the different ways each of her friends learn.
    Writer: Gillian M. Berrow
    Storyboard Artist: Selena Marchetti
    Song Title: Rise Up!
    Lyrics: Gillian M. Berrow & Daniel Ingram

    Review: Why this short isn't a straight up parody of The Final Countdown, and instead is a power ballad reminiscent of Gonna Fly Now and Eye of the Tiger is something I am going to have to ask Gillian the next time I see her. Yes, thematically I can see why they went for an homage to two of the songs from the Rocky franchise, but this really felt like a missed opportunity. I mean, how much more perfect could this have possibly gotten for a parody?!

    Fine. I'm also well aware of the potential legal pitfalls a parody called The Finals Countdown of The Final Countdown might run into. Doesn't change my feelings about the matter.

    Anyways… if the one sentence summary of The Finals Countdown sounds familiar, there's a very good reason for that. The Season 4 episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is MagicTesting, Testing, 1, 2, 3 written by Amy Keating Rogers—had a very similar premise. Only it was Rainbow Dash, and Rainbow Dash alone, who had to cram to pass an exam, and had problems with traditional methods. The MLP: FIM episode also featured one of the absolute best executed musical numbers of the entire series. So how does this two and a half minutes short compare to the twenty-two minute episode which aired three years earlier?

    This short's strongest point is showcasing how well Sci-Twi knows her CHS friends. And over the course of a short musical montage (which took place over the course of two weeks) we see the Equestria Girls struggle with studying for the exam, and Twilight realizing which methods of learning work best for each of her friends.

    And this short gives a ton of new information about the girls, but starts out by reaffirming something we learned about Rainbow Dash back in Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3. Rainbow Dash still learns best by passively absorbing the information while doing physical activities. In Equestria, Rainbow does this while flying. In Dougland, Rainbow does this while running at supersonic speeds. Rarity and Applejack learn best while working with their respective crafts. Pinkie Pie learns through party games. Fluttershy learns best when her animal friends are around.

    And Sunset Shimmer, who is just as smart as Twilight, already knows this stuff cold and is studying with her friends as a way to hang out and help Twilight destress. One interesting note about the moment between Twilight and Sunset in this short is Sunset legitimately put Twilight into checkmate. I love how the Chess Game was animated correctly.

    The song by Gillian and Daniel is catchy—as I said before it is reminiscent of Gonna Fly Now and Eye of the Tiger—with an enjoyable beat and melody. Rebecca Shoichet gives her usual fantastic performance as the singing voice of Twilight Sparkle. Her performance felt like she was channeling Dave Bickler's from Eye of the Tiger. It was a very controlled, deliberate, and unflinching mantra… which Twilight was apparently singing to herself about her friends study session. The music video sequence boarded by Selena isn't quite up to the visual treat for the eyes Acadeca was from My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Friendship Games, but it is enjoyable and a lot of fun to watch.

    However the short suffers from a problem. There is no tension. There are no stakes (mmmm steaks). There is no sense of drive or urgency for the girls to have intensive cram session. Yes, Cheerilee mentions finals are in two weeks, but finals are a known and normal part of high school life. Are any of the girls in danger of failing their classes? Considering these seven girls were the main participants in The Friendship Games between CHS and Crystal Prep, any of these 7 failing out of school doesn't seem likely. Was there a threat of summer school for anyone? Once again, no.

    The short just covered the study session the Equestria Girls did to prepare for their finals. Which is perfectly fine. It just doesn't offer up a whole lot to chew on from a narrative standpoint.

    That shortcoming does not take away from the fact the short is fun to watch. But you don't have to take my word for it.  You can go check it out for yourself on youtube!

    Overall Review: These Equestria Girls shorts work better when they are taking advantage of the run time and show one scene vignettes over the space of two minutes. Pinkie Sitting and School of Rock are the absolute best shorts in this set for this specific reason. The shorts know exactly what they want to accomplish, and then the shorts proceed to execute it. They don't waste time, and they don't try to cram anything in. These two shorts are, for the most part, told in real time over the course of two minutes. And in doing so, they manage to capture some of the magic from the 1940s & 1950s Loon Toons shorts. These are a gem to watch, and I cannot recommend enough how much everyone should check these out.

    A Fine Line came close to the level of quality the first two shorts have, but suffers from trying to tell a story where the entire point is to illustrate the slow passage of time when you're not having fun vs. time flying when you're having fun with your friends in the space of two minutes. This short really would have benefited from having its run time extended to about 7 minutes. This would have given the animators (and especially Gillian M. Berrow and Sam To) a chance to really showcase their knowledge and love for the golden age of animation. Loony Toons, Merry Melodies, Disney, and other various shorts from that time period played around with showing the different rates at which time passes in a humorous manner. This short would have really benefited from making homages to the work of Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, and their peers. I have a feeling doing so would have knocked this one out of the park.

    Queen of Clubs, in addition to having a concept which I cannot stand, suffers from trying to cram in a twenty two minute story into a two minute episode. There is a ton of comedic potential wasted with this concept from not starting out with a slow burn where Applejack and Rainbow Dash start by joining some unexpected clubs (much to their friends surprise) and as these two try out activities which they are not suited for at all situational comedy happens. From there the pace starts to pick up with more comedy shenanigans, only now the competition between the two of them starts to impact the clubs they actually are a part of, with their appearances becoming more disheveled as their stress levels continue to rise. From there the story could have gone into the montage similar to the one we got in this short, only everything continues to escalate until everything blows up in both of the girls faces, and a wonderful little trip to the principal's office. Once here, the story would have been better served with Applejack and Rainbow Dash realizing just how silly they've been, and a nice resolution would have had the two of them working together to retake the yearbook photos for all the clubs they messed up.

    The Finals Countdown doubled down on the montage sequence bet from Queen of Clubs, excelpt this time it was a gamble which mostly paid off. The music was upbeat. The lyrics catchy. A boatload of continuity was reestablished. And the animation was fun and engaging. The short knew what it wanted to do, and slightly stumbled on the execution. But given the quality of the short is high, and I have a feeling the show runners are only going to improve as more time passes by.

    As for the new character designs, for the most part I love them. Hasbro chose wisely when they partnered with Laura Schuffman for the redesign of the mane characters. Each design is highly reflective of each of the girls personalities, very easy to animate, and yet still all very unique designs from one another. Which is a marked improvement over the previous design of "everyone wears the same thing with minor alternations." The best improvement of the character models is the fact all the girls now have ankles! This is wonderful! Only one character is wearing horse riding boots (which look like properly designed footwear), and it actually fits Applejack's personality! Why she isn't wearing jeans is beyond me, but the increase in design details (just look at Sunset's new design with her off the shoulder top, leather studded vest, leather studded belt, leather studded shoes, and a skirt design I have no idea what is based on) gives the solid impression these girls are wearing clothes which can actually exist at Walmart as opposed to something which is just designed for a toy.

    With the exception of Rarity, who I'm utterly convinced designs and creates her own outfits.

    Aside from one misstep, the new Equestria Girls Digital Series is a lot of fun. I for one am really looking forward to what this series is going to have in the future, and I cannot wait to find out! After all, we could find out Sunset Shimmer also likes to make comics om her spare time, but what are the odds of that happening?

    Till next time folks, this has been The Illustrious Q! See you down in the comments section for the discussion below!