The movie depicts the protagonist of the show, Twilight, who has become an alicorn (a pony with Pegasus wings and a unicorn horn) since being bestowed the title of Princess. Twilight is at an event with the other princesses of Equestria (where the ponies live) when a pony with a broken unicorn horn arrives and starts turning ponies to stone. She is called Tempest Shadow and we discover that she is working for the Storm King, who is a creature somewhat similar in appearance to the character Discord (who appears in the TV show, but not the film). Twilight and her friends escape from Tempest Shadow and try to keep Twilight safe whilst they work out how to stop the Storm King.
My Godchild and I both really enjoyed the film. They really enjoyed the music, and found the story gripping, becoming upset in a scene where Twilight’s friends all abandon her (don’t worry, friendship wins in the end!).
Being bombarded before the film began with overly gendered adverts for children’s toys and films I was looking forward to the more gender-positive My Little Pony universe. Whilst having a strong gender binary and not presenting any ponies outside of the binary, the show has characters who express emotions and personality traits that often fall outside of traditional stereotypes, and gender stereotypes are rarely if ever mentioned. There are female characters who are brave, down to earth, strong, protective, intelligent, prone to anger, and in leadership roles. There are also male characters who show sadness, love, vulnerability, caring and craft skills. The message that friendship and caring for those who are different will solve disputes more than fighting is one that is expressed by male and female characters, and I think is a positive message for everyone. Most episodes end with the antagonist being redeemed and becoming friends with other characters, the biggest of these being the characters of Discord and Luna.
So I found myself being disappointed to see a film set in that universe which expressed a subtly anti-men view. I was aware going into the film that Equestria is a matriarchy, and that most of the characters we see in the show are female, but this has never been a negative thing. In the film we are introduced to two new male characters, the Storm King and Capper. Capper, wonderfully voiced by Taye Diggs, is a cat who is shown initially to be friendly towards the main characters, but then betrays them for his own gain. I don’t need to go deep into analysis to say that this (in a film with few other representations of male characters) suggests that men are not trustworthy and only out for their own gain. Thankfully this character redeems himself by throwing Tempest Shadow off the trail when she asks him to help her catch the ponies. Whilst being a redemptive act, it is also showing Capper being betraying the trust of Tempest Shadow after appearing friendly towards her, so he is only repeating his actions.
The film’s treatment of the Storm King is where we see the strongest anti-male message. He is a very one-dimensional ‘Bad Guy’, as most cartoon antagonists are. But in the My Little Pony universe it is rare to see. Most antagonists in the TV show are shown to have motivation, and trauma in their past that has made them want to hurt others. They are then redeemed by the magic of friendship. This happens in the film with Tempest Storm, who is shown to have been mistreated because of appearing different (her broken horn), having sided with the Storm King after being promised she could be fixed, and eventually convinced that she could be loved the way she is. But the Storm King does not get this treatment. He is shown as having no motivation, and instead of redemption he is killed. This is possibly the first death shown in the My Little Pony universe, and is followed by rejoicing rather than any serious consequence. In a fictional universe where all ‘bad’ characters are shown as being misunderstood and redeemable, it is incredibly ill-fitting for a character to be killed with no consequence. And I find it somewhat worrying that the character that has this unfortunate end is a man in a matriarchal universe. And, let’s face it, this film is aimed at female children, should we really be telling them that men are the enemy?
I understand that a lot of people will point out that this is simply the ‘opposite’ of the treatment of women in many films. Most film companies aim their products at men, with very few female characters who exist only as stereotypical caricatures, who are often killed off for no reason. I would agree, but I would also argue that it does not make it okay. The response to misogyny should not be misandry, but a push for acceptance and positive treatment for all genders. I understand that misogyny is a much bigger issue across the whole world, and is more in need of our time and energy to fight, but that doesn’t mean that misandry is okay or should go by unchallenged- especially when it is expressed to young children.