Saturday, 8 November 2014

Film review: Rainbow Rocks

Rainbow Rocks title screen
I guess they still have to get their heart shapes in there somewhere
It's Rainbow Rocks review time! As was the case with the first Equestria Girls film, I wanted to wait until I'd seen the thing in an official screening before writing this – but having now seen it at the cinema, I can get cracking. The hype before the film came out was much larger (and more brony-targeted) than the first time round, and there was a lot less hostility from the fandom at large. That was a double-edged sword, though: could Rainbow Rocks live up to expectations? Spoilers from here on in!

Yes, it could. Meghan McCarthy wrote us a much better story than the original Equestria Girls, probably in no small part down to her not having to waste the opening chunk of the movie introducing the characters. Pacing certainly felt better. Using the (excellent) title sequence to refresh our memories of the main plot points of the first film was a clever and effective move that meant we could concentrate on the three mysterious "new girls" seen in the film's relatively short cold open.

The Rainbooms play for victory
"I'm Dash and I play the guitar. Sometimes I play the fool."
Those "new girls" were, of course, the Sirens, the villains of this piece. Something I find fascinating about MLP is that, full of bright colours as it may be, it's often a dangerous place. And Sirens done properly (as they were here) are not to be trifled with. You could argue that their seductiveness – seen most obviously at the start of "Battle of the Bands" – was pushing at the boundaries for a U-rated film... but then, we've already had an out-and-out succubus (Chrysalis) in the series itself.

If the first film revolved around Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Rocks unquestionably belonged to Sunset Shimmer. In fact, we didn't even see Twilight until 20 minutes in – and even then it was Sunset who contacted her. I think it was quite a brave move to make someone other than a Mane Sixer the focus of the story, but it paid off in spades: Sunset's movie-long arc of redemption was perhaps the highlight of the entire thing. We may still have been unsure about her at the start: by the end, she was unquestionably "one of us".

Explaining the Sirens' background
From this, you'd think they were basically singing Windigoes...
All right: the songs. They were mostly great, and the Devil (Sirens) certainly had most of the best tunes: "Battle of the Bands" and "Under Our Spell" were both superb. "Welcome to the Show", the musical fight with the Rainbooms, is a special case: the one song that really does rely so heavily on visuals that it loses much of its impact in audio soundtrack form. The best "good guys' song" was without doubt the one saved for the end credits: "Shine Like Rainbows", a truly uplifting ballad of friendship.

A really clever move, and one that required a lot of confidence from Daniel Ingram, was to include several songs that were intentionally less than perfect. "Bad Counter-Spell" was very obviously so, but having "Shake Your Tail" and (in a different way) "Awesome as I Wanna Be" fall a little short was brilliant. Dash, with less friendship experience, is quite rightly still more arrogant than her S4-era pony self. Probably the only track that simply didn't stick in the mind was the early "Better Than Ever", which was reminiscent of some of the first film's lesser numbers.

The Dazzlings
"Hey, Adagio, what does 'Flim Flam Special' mean?"
There was, as I'd hoped, a lot to smile at in this film. Not just Sonata Dusk's (rather deceptive) ditziness, either. The CMC wore their "Show Stoppers" outfits; Bulk Biceps played a tiny (for him) violin; Lyra and Bon Bon got noticeably close during their piano duet; Rainbow and Applejack played a Power Ponies video game; Rarity briefly wore a Daft Punk outfit; Derpy (front and centre now!) played the saw. And, of course, there was Maud's cameo – while the post-credits scene will certainly keep us talking.

Complaints? I have a few. First up, Flash Sentry. I suppose in some ways I should be pleased that he was even more incidental to this film than to the first one – but it was odd. Perhaps McCarthy dislikes him too and minimises his screen time as much as Hasbro will allow! And I thought the other ponies, especially Dash, accepted not going through the mirror with Twi and Spike much too easily. Finally: why did Fluttershy not get to sing solo?! I can understand her not going on stage... but come on, at least a brief rehearsal feature?

Fluttershy drawing from end credits
One of Katrina Hadley's fabulous end-credits drawings
But although it wasn't perfect, for the most part I was very happy with this movie. It was hugely enjoyable, it had an interesting plot, the villains were great and the music was (mostly) fantastic. Sunset Shimmer's character arc was probably the best thing about it, but there was plenty else to think about. I'd certainly suggest that anyone who didn't actually hate the first film – and perhaps even some of those who did – should take a look at Rainbow Rocks. Highly recommended.

  • Sunset Shimmer's wonderfully crafted story of redemption
  • Generally excellent (and sometimes outstanding) music
  • Visuals very nicely matched to the soundtrack
  • Villains who were actually villainous – and fitting for their name
  • Mostly better paced than the first film was
  • Nods and references present throughout, but not intrusively so
  • That fascinating little scene after the end credits
  • The rest of the Mane Six accepted not going to HumanWorld too easily
  • Flash Sentry was even more boring than last time round
  • "Better Than Ever" wasn't quite up to par with the other songs
  • Fluttershy didn't get a single line of solo singing!


  1. I liked that Bulk Biceps actually won a round of the contest with his violin. Don't often see the classic instruments kick ass.

    1. Agreed! Mind you, beating Snips and Snails probably wasn't that hard! Though that was actually another very small disappointment: it's a shame Octavia was knocked out straight away. Not that it would have been easy to rejig the draw to avoid it, seeing as she couldn't be allowed to beat the Rainbooms, the Dazzlings or Trixie, but still.

  2. "I guess they still have to get their heart shapes in there somewhere"
    LOL, I never noticed! My Little Pony being subtle with feminine iconography? What is the world coming to?

    1. The muff on the end of Lyra's hairband (during her duet scene) also looks somewhat heart-shaped. That may just be the film-makers trolling shippers, though. :P