Warning — spoilers ahoy!
Basically everyone seems to agree that Rainbow Rocks is a much better movie than the original Equestria Girls. Several reasons have been listed, but here’s the key one; it makes its heroes uncomfortable.
Previously, I discussed the relevance of Pixar’s first rule of storytelling to the problem of Mary Sues. As it turns out, the 6th rule is relevant to understanding why Rainbow Rocks works so much better than its predecessor:
6. What is your hero good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
The first Equestria Girls failed at this, instead throwing Twilight into a situation she could handle with no problem.
In Rainbow Rocks, by contrast, Twi is presented with a challenge — she has to create an entirely new spell, using a component she’s never used before (music), and do it on a very tight deadline. More intriguingly, she’s struggling with her new(-ish) status as a princess. Now that she’s fully accepted her role and it’s become more than just a title (Twilight’s Kingdom), she’s reluctant to rely too heavily on the others, and trying to find a balance between accepting help and shouldering a greater burden than before. And her struggle to do that creates much of the tension and conflict of the film.
Of course, many have argued that Twilight is not actually the protagonist of Rainbow Rocks, instead reserving that title for Sunset Shimmer. But naturally, Hotdog-Head has her own difficulties. Intriguingly, her challenge is very similar to Twilight’s in EqG1; earn the respect and trust of her peers. The reason it works so much better in Rainbow Rocks is that unlike Twilight, Sunset doesn’t know how to work well with others. Just like Twilight and the musical spell, this is something Sunset isn’t used to and isn’t comfortable with — and it’s a much better story as a result.
This is most clear in the “kitchen scene”.
This is one of the most-discussed scenes in the movie, for good reason. It’s a touching character moment for both Twi and Sunny, it cements Sunset’s status as a sympathetic character, and through some very clever dialogue, it makes one conversation into two conversations — but then makes those two conversations ultimately mean the same thing. The two characters are brought closer to each other (and the audience) by sharing their vulnerabilities and insecurities. No such scene could really exist in the first Equestria Girls, because there was (mostly) no vulnerability present; Purple Smart had that shit on lock.
I suppose this just reduces to “conflict is vital to a good story”, and I realize I’ve kind of beaten that particular point to death. It’s a pretty simple principle — but as it turns out, the simplest principles can be the easiest to screw up. I mean, if someone as talented as Meghan McCarthy can get it wrong on occasion, we all should be careful.
Also, I just wanted to post something about Rainbow Rocks while it was still vaguely topical. There’s that, too.
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