Adapting a property into a film can be difficult—especially one that to many is an enigma. There are periods when a property is ripe for an adaptation, and more often than not: that time comes and goes due to studios not taking advantage of it. After that point has passed: the potential box office revenue drops—fast. People move onto the next big thing and only the most devoted stay. Sure, some will remain an unvocal, unengaged member of the fanbase, but the deviation from the series will continue until there's no interest left in it.
Examples of this are Warcraft, which admittedly performed amazingly overseas where the series is still extremely popular. In the US and other territories, however, the series has seen people come and go like seasons. Another example is 2018’s Slender Man. The character, while he still has a fan base, isn't anywhere near as popular as he was in the early 2010s.
Arguably one of the better examples, however, is 2017’s My Little Pony: The Movie, a big screen adaptation of the fourth generation of the series: Friendship is Magic. This movie released at an odd time in the series life—coming out towards the end of it. While not a rarity for a television series, Pony (as it'll be referred to from here on out) is a toy line and like any series based off of toys: the purpose is to sell them. In the case of Pony: that goal was no different, but it had some unused ideas that make it sound more akin to a fanfiction than an actual movie.
As it is now: the Pony movie follows Friendship is Magic's “mane six” characters who are putting on a Friendship Festival. This is because in Equestria, friendship is like Crack. Just go with it. Anyways, all of that changes when the Storm King attacks, turns Equestria's leaders to stone, and wants to do bad things because he's evil. So, the mane six go on an adventure to stop the evil Storm King and his lieutenant, Tempest Shadow, from ruining everything.
Pony is about as complex and nuanced as one would expect from a film based on television series centered on pastel colored equines that can talk. Nevertheless, the film proved that even when going up against a sequel to one of the most highly regarded sci-fi films ever made—Blade Runner—you can still make bank. Unlike Blade Runner 2049, Pony didn't bomb at the box office.
Well, that's embarrassing… anyways: announced back in 2014 in the middle of the series lifespan, Pony went through a number of changes. Many of these within the art book for the film, which showcase such concepts as the villain of Cosmos (who would have been the brother to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna) and alternate concepts for the film's villain: The Storm King. The former of those has been a notorious fanfiction trope so widely despised, it could very well have caused the film to outright bomb.
What isn't showcased there, however, is the film's previous script ideas. Before the Pony was to be produced under Hasbro’s Allspark Productions label, the film was to be handled by Sony Pictures animated division (who you can thank for such classics as The Emoji Movie, The Smurfs and its sequel). It was here that Amy Pascal found herself confused by the complex, multi-layered lore that surrounds the Pony franchise.
Pascal, who was the head of Sony Pictures at the time, also had several suggestions to make the script (which centered on Cosmos at the time), one of which involved bringing Twilight and her friends to the real world, where they'd interact with humans like in The Smurfs. This idea, however, was shot down immediately. Hopefully nobody went on to inform Pascal of Equestria Girls.
As for the script itself: it would've centered on the the return of Celestia and Luna's evil alicorn brother, Cosmos. Amidst what one can only assume was a story edgier than a razor factory inside a blacksmith’s shop, Twilight Sparkle and Princess Celestia’s relationship begins to strain; the latter questioning the former's ability to stop Cosmos. My evidence for this theory mostly comes from fanfiction. Don’t blame me: blame the fandom that has as much talent as Sony Pictures’ animated division. Into the Spiderverse doesn't count by the way as that had Phil Lord attached to it.
Anyways: upon viewing the script, executives immediately noticed numerous issues. Namely the UN-trial worthy crimes against continuity and plot holes the size of Sony Pictures annual losses. This, along with numerous other issues, eventually lead to the talks between Sony and Hasbro imploding. Despite this parting, Sony would still produce the music to the final film. One can only ponder who exactly thought this was a good idea.
Once talks ended with Sony and Hasbro themselves opted to produce the film, production went smoothly. The script took various ideas from previous drafts that worked and evolved them. One key example of this involves Tempest Shadow, who evolved from Cosmos as he was set to have been made from an assortment of various creatures; a Frankenstein's monster of sorts. Once scrapped as the villain, portions of his appearance were taken and used to create the aforementioned Tempest Shadow.
Now if only Liev Schreiber's Storm King wasn't as wasted as Ben Affleck on a weekday.
Ultimately, Pony’s big screen adaptation was met with middling reviews and as stated earlier: a box office grossing that had its would-be sequel was turned into… well, this.
A TV special. How mortifying.
In the end: I think the story behind Pony’s big screen venture serves as something of a lesson to adapting a property that explodes in popularity. Waiting to adapt it can be a very hazardous thing; the fanbase will never stay. I think this'll be no more evident than when the adaptation to Five Nights At Freddy's comes out. Now granted, those loyal will, but to wait is to diminish the chances of tapping an otherwise very profitable well.
I feel Pony could've blossomed into a trilogy of films if it'd been released in 2012 or 2013. The wait until 2017 cemented a fact not many in the Brony fandom want to ever admit to themselves: the series’ popularity isn't anywhere near where it once was.
Nothing lasts forever, and studios should realize this. The wake-up call is crueler the longer one waits to receive it. With Pony, it is but another in a long line of “too little too late" for films of its kind.
One has to wonder how the 2021 CGI film that’s set to serve as the introduction to the series fifth generation will perform now.