★★

The My Little Pony franchise has inspired a following that has become a world of its own, especially since the popular TV series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic expanded its target demographic from young children and preteens to teenagers and young adult men (known to each other as “bronies”). Only one thing unites this disparate group of fans: a love for the colorful ponies known as the Mane Six and their homeland of Equestria. However, My Little Pony: The Movie often seems to be aimed more at the “bronies” than at the younger fans who originally represented the primary demographic of Friendship Is Magic—particularly in its surprisingly dark story and frequent pop-culture references.

The story focuses on the Mane Six’s attempts to save Equestria from an evil goat-like monster called the Storm King (voice of Liev Schreiber) and restore the light of friendship to the land. To do this, they search for the Hippogriffs—a legendary race of pony-eagle hybrids—with the help of a motley crew that includes a group of benevolent pirates and a conniving cat (Taye Diggs). The main downside to this adventure is that there isn’t much fun to be had along the way. There are a few moments of innocent, playful humor scattered throughout, but otherwise the ponies find themselves in almost constant peril as they are pursued by a fallen unicorn named Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt) and her band of hulking guards and threatening monsters.

The movie is also weighed down by too many musical numbers, which serve little function other than to pad the running time and lighten the mood a bit—and young children are probably just as likely to be bored by these sequences as they are scared by the rest of the film. It’s a strange formula, one that seems to have left behind the franchise’s core fan base in order to reach a wider audience. This might be exactly what older fans had been hoping for all along, but it also means that younger fans would likely be happier rewatching their favorite episodes of Friendship Is Magic and playing with the line of adorable action figures that this movie is sure to spawn.