Since its debut on the Hub Network in 2010, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has become a genuine pop culture phenomenon, spawning a rabid, cross-demographic fanbase and the Equestria Girls spinoff franchise of movies. The third Equestria Girls installment, Friendship Games, has just been released, further advancing the story of the former Pony Sunset Shimmer, who began as the antagonist of the first Equestria Girls movie and redeemed herself in the second.
Shepherding her journey along the way was My Little Pony veteran Ishi Rudell, who began his career with the franchise as art director on Friendship is Magic before moving to the same position on the first Equestria Girls. He stepped up to the director’s chair with My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks. Among his other credits are stints as an animator on Atomic Betty and Pucca; animation supervisor on PBS Kids’ Martha Speaks; and assorted positions on Hasbro’s Pound Puppies and Littlest Pet Shop.
Scriptwriter Josh Haber began his Hollywood career as an actor, with roles in an episode of Gilmore Girls, the 2001 web series Siren, and the 2009 movie The Assistants. His first work for Hasbro Studios was in writing two episodes of Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, after which he wrote four episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and two of the Equestria Girls short films before moving on to be scriptwriter for Friendship Games.
On the eve of My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Friendship Games‘ release on Blu-ray and DVD, Toonzone News was able to talk with Ishi Rudell and Josh Haber via telephone about their work on this latest installment of the Equestria Girls franchise.
Please note that THIS INTERVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS for My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Friendship Games. You have been warned.
TOONZONE NEWS: How did the Equestria Girls franchise evolve? The first movie was a standalone, but it seemed like the second movie was setting up for the third one at the very end.
ISHI RUDELL: Yes. It was quite the evolution. The first DVD was sort of a one-off. We weren’t expecting to do a DVD 2 or a DVD 3, and it’s just one of those things that just kind of evolved as it went on. Sunset Shimmer is a perfect example of a character who started off as this villain, and as we progressed, she ended up being one of the most popular characters in the series. (laughs) It’s been quite the process.
TOONZONE NEWS: I do think Sunset Shimmer was one of the best things about the franchise. From what you’re saying, it doesn’t sound like making Sunset Shimmer the central character was the initial plan.
ISHI RUDELL: No, it certainly wasn’t. In fact, it was kind of a happy accident, I think. When we first read the premise for the second DVD, Sunset Shimmer actually had a very small role in the story, and we kind of saw her as having potential. If she was going to be reformed, we thought, “Hey, this could really be a good story to have Sunset make good for her past mistakes and become an important character amongst the rest of the Mane Six.” So yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a fun road to build this character into a character that everyone loves.
TOONZONE NEWS: Josh, as somebody who’s relatively new to this franchise but being familiar with the original show, how did you approach writing this third movie?
JOSH HABER: I feel like the driving force of the show translates pretty well, which is just the magic of friendship. It translates pretty well into a high school setting. It’s definitely important for younger kids to be familiar with it and encouraged to pursue it, and I feel like that mandate only becomes more and more important as they hit their pre-tween and pre-teen years, and understanding how important friendships and relationships are. That’s what the show and the franchise rest on.
The third part of a trilogy is always kind of the hardest, because in the first movie she was the villain and then she realized the error of her ways. The second movie is all about how this reformed villain proves pivotal in this important issue that our main characters are having, and by the end, she has fully redeemed herself. So, “…what do we do for the third one? I don’t know.” It was sort of a conundrum, and something we had to take several different passes at. We thought we had one way that everyone thought was really good, and then we changed it to another way. I think we ended up landing on something that everybody really responded to and that was well-received. It was definitely something that took some doing, there’s no question about that.
ISHI RUDELL: I definitely agree with Josh. One of the great things about the third movie is how we brought Sunset Shimmer full-circle, from being the villain and being defeated by Twilight who forgave her, and now in the third movie we have Sunset Shimmer doing the same thing with Twilight. Coming around to teaching Twilight the same lesson that was taught to her by the Pony Twilight
JOSH HABER: The only place for her to go was to pass on the knowledge that she gained in the first two movies. It’s just kind of poetic justice that it happened to be this world’s Twilight to have the issue.
TOONZONE NEWS: That was actually something that threw me at the end of the film, how you almost pushed Twilight Sparkle to be the villain of the piece.
JOSH HABER: I think it’s very clear who the real villain of the piece is, though. That villain has music playing under her the entire time (laughter).
ISHI RUDELL: She does take the most valuable character, a wide-eyed lover of science, and manipulates her to her own purposes by the end. But Twilight is definitely sent down the wrong path. Luckily for her, Sunset has been through it already and can kind of guide her out of the darkness.
JOSH HABER: Exactly, and that is why Sunset defeated Twilight, not just with the big blast and “You’re defeated.” She actually showed her the way by the end of the movie.
JOSH HABER: I think there’s no doubt that Sunset and Sci-Twi, as we call her, are the two focuses of this film, but that said, of course we have to service all the other characters. I think we did a pretty good job of weaving in how the loss of their magic affects each of them, and how each of their magic is now manifested. Magic is constantly evolving in Equestria and that’s sort of how we decided to fold in their various storylines and all get their moments so all the fans can get moments about their favorites. “Ah, yes! You’re finally giving us a Pinkie Pie moment!”
ISHI RUDELL: Yeah, I mean, obviously we only have so much time in the DVD. We only had 72 minutes, and it’s tough to fit everyone in. It’s tough to get everyone’s favorite characters in and we really did want to make this Twilight and Sunset’s movie. In order to do that, you can’t give all the characters their moment to shine. We try to fit them in as best we can, but in order to really hit home with the Twilight and Sunset movie, that’s what we did. And we’re happy with the way we turned out.
JOSH HABER: But I feel like for fans that are jonesing for a Rarity dress-up moment, we have that. For fans that want a Pinkie Pie party moment, we have that. Each one of those characters have their moment that fits into the story about Twilight, so I feel like we accomplished that as best we could.
TOONZONE NEWS: You dance around this a little bit in the commentary track, and I’m wondering if I can nail you down a bit more: can you talk about the rules that you’ve imposed for yourself in the Equestria Girls world? How much of hat do you guys set up in advance, and how much of that evolved as you went?
ISHI RUDELL: It’s a constantly evolving process. We start off with some fundamental rules that, and as time goes on, we slowly change those rules. But we try to stay consistent with the world that we’re developing. It’s tricky, though, because we always have to add new elements to the world to keep things exciting, but we try not to break any rules that would make people go, “Whoa whoa whoa, wait a second, there’s no way that THAT could happen.” So we try to keep things consistent within the world, but things are always evolving. I don’t know if that answers your question. Rules are always changing.
JOSH HABER: I guess there’s sort of two ways to look at it. Do you set up rules for yourself as an artist, or are there rules in place for the property you are currently working on? Because every universe has a different set of rules. Take Looney Tunes, where you can pull a giant T-bone steak out of a wall, but then you have Transformers, which is a very hard-and-fast science-y world and you can’t do something that’s off-the-wall like that. So every show and property has built-in set of things that are OK and that aren’t. You always have to be open to that. You always have to obey the rules that are set forth in that world. But then there are other things that you might set for yourself. Specific things that you want to do as an artist. I don’t have any of those, because I want to be able to be employed everywhere (laughs).
ISHI RUDELL: You know what, it’s similar to the way magic itself has evolved in Equestria Girls from DVD 1 to DVD 3. We start off in a world where magic doesn’t exist. Twilight comes over, Sunset yields the crown, and brings magic into this world. And as you’ve seen, the magic has slowly been changing and evolving as it’s spreading throughout this human/pony world. So just like the magic, we have to constantly evolve and change the rules a little bit. Design-wise, a perfect example is how when we started off, all the characters had this bell-bottom shape to their pants and their feet to represent sort of the hoof-like feet of the ponies. But as we’ve evolved throughout the 3 DVDs and the shorts ,we started taking on a new design and going to a more regular human-style foot and ankle. So there’s a rule that we started off with, but we’ve broken it and evolved it and moved on, and now we’re moving to something that we think looks better, as far as the design of their feet and ankles.
JOSH HABER: And the show sort of establishes itself. As a very specific example, it made a whole lot of sense for the particular story in the second movie that their magic was made manifest through music, because it was Rainbow Rocks. It was a story that would culminate in a battle of the bands. It was key that it was intertwined in the storytelling. But in this new telling, in Friendship Games, we had to come up with a new set of rules so that you weren’t limited to only musical stories, because we couldn’t do just another battle of the bands. So if you want to tell the story another way, you go, “OK, how would the magic in this world be changing going forward? What’s a good way of laying that out that is consistent and still makes sense and is explainable in terms of Equestria magic and what it would be moving forward in this world.
TOONZONE NEWS: Can you talk about what else is coming? Is there an Equestria Girls 4 in the works? Or maybe an Equestria Girls/Pony crossover?
ISHI RUDELL: (laughter) Unfortunately, I cannot say anything.
JOSH HABER: Yeah, neither of us can actually say anything at all.
ISHI RUDELL: When the time is right, that information will be dropped on the world, but I can’t answer any of those questions, unfortunately.
JOSH HABER: Well, the funny thing about animation is that anything you’re working on is at least a year away from being seen. So, (laughs) it’s very possible that either one of us is working on stuff right now, but there’s absolutely no way we’d be able to tell you about it, because we’d be a year out from ever seeing it.
ISHI RUDELL: I’m going to have to agree with Josh with that one. I’m working on stuff right now, but unfortunately I can’t give out information on what that is.
JOSH HABER: But if any fans are worried about whether I’m homeless, I can say that I have secured work for myself.
ISHI RUDELL: Yes, if I need to, I have work that looks like it’s never going to end (laughs). I’ll just put that out there.
TOONZONE NEWS: Can you say whether you’re working in the same building as you have been in the past couple of years (laughter).
ISHI RUDELL: I am currently employed by DHX, and we’ve got plenty of projects on the go right now.
Toonzone News would like to thank Ishi Rudell and Josh Haber for taking the time to talk with us,and to the crews at Shout! Factor PR and Mammoth for setting it up. My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Friendship Games is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download services. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is also available in a variety of single-disc and season set DVDs from Shout! Factory, with new episodes airing on the Discovery Family Channel.