My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set and Cartoon Review

We were mistakenly sent this My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Minis Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set.

We have recently discovered the awesomeness of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (FiM). I was keen to check out some of the toys and we were supposed to be reviewing one with the FiM version of Pinkie Pie – however we received this one instead.

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls - Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set packaging

We hadn’t watched the Equestria Girls spin-off yet – and to be honest, I wasn’t keen to. The concept transforms the familiar FiM pony characters into girls at High School, and seems similar to many other tween properties – including issues surrounding the sexualisation of young girls.

But despite communicating my lack of enthusiasm, they were still keen for us to review the toy. Before we did I thought we should at least check out the tie-in cartoon, which – like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – is available on Netflix.

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls review

The My Little Pony: Equestria Girls cartoon is currently a series of feature length TV movies. A direct spin-off from Friendship is Magic, the set-up involves Twilight Sparkle and Spike heading through a mirror portal to another world, to retrieve her stolen crown – or else the elements of harmony that protect Equestria will no longer do so. This will either sound crazy or as expected depending of how much FiM you have watched.

This ‘other world’ is much like ours, with human-like characters and a high school setting. Twilight Sparkle and Spike respectively transform into human and dog versions of themselves and undertake a mission to find the crown. The thief is masquerading as a girl at a local high school, and human Twilight finds it populated with some familiar faces from Equestria – only now they’re human.

This first film (of three) is made and voiced by the same team as Friendship is Magic – and many of the things I love about that show are present: the focus on female friendships; the magic and adventure theme; the individual characters.

But by almost literally humanising the characters, something special has been lost. While fairly true to their pony versions, they now have real-world high school interests. This concept limits the characters, so for instance instead of the colourfully adventurous speed freak Rainbow Dash (our favourite), she becomes simply a sporty type instead.

But most troubling, the look of the characters – while being on the surface coyly cute – seems deliberately sexualised. All the girls have the same combo of short skirts, long bare legs, and tight fitting tops. The relative conformity of their look reminds me of the peer pressure to dress a certain way – which increasingly for young girls can involve a move towards sexualisation and objectification, whether they realise it or not.

As well as what they wear, the plots also include boys, parties, and music. The trappings of modern Tween mass media overwhelm much of what makes Friendship is Magic such a great show for kids. I also can’t help but think that the rise of the Brony – the young males who are enthusiastic MLP fans – has in some way influenced this sexualised schoolgirl look.

It’s fair to say the enthusiasm I had for Friendship is Magic has not been replicated towards Equestria Girls.

So, on to the toy….

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Minis – Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set

The toys are of course the real reason this spin-off line exists. This set is one of the  Equestria Girls Minis – as their name suggests, they are smaller than the standard sized dolls. The sexualised look is not quite as obvious in these smaller versions.

My Little Pony Equestria Girls Minis figures dolls
My Little Pony Equestria Girls Minis from the packaging artwork.

If your kid (or you) is a fan of the Equestria Girls series, and especially the teenage girl version of Pinkie Pie, then this is a fine set to get.

It features a posable figure of Pinkie Pie, the high school party planner. As befits the slumber party scene, she is dressed in PJ’s with slippers. The playset features numerous essential slumber party accessories such as a bed, a laptop, and smartphone…

Who are My Little Pony: Equestria Girls for?

Other than my suspicion of appealing to the Brony market, perhaps this spin-off does serve another purpose?

Obviously, it’s an attempt to sell more My Little Pony toys, probably to an older market. But I can also see it as a way of continuing engagement with the themes and ideals of Friendship is Magic when children get older, and the focus of their lives changes from childhood fantasy to pre-teen high school reality.

So as the trappings of impending teenage life – such as how they dress, forming intimate relationships, and navigating the school hierarchy & cliques – takes over, it could continue to encourage and reinforce the positive messages of Friendship is Magic.

But for now Equestria Girls is not something I will encourage my pre-school daughter to engage with, whether onscreen or through play. We’ll happily stick to life in Equestria and the residents of Ponyville.



We received this toy free of charge (and in error). After watching the cartoon, I decided not to give it to my daughter for the purposes of this review.

I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

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In My Little Pony, Feminism as well as Friendship is Magic

For as long as I’ve been blogging about being a parent raising a daughter in the shadow of princess culture, I’ve had online feedback suggesting I check out the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon (aka MLP:FiM).

At first, I ignored them. What were they thinking? These people clearly didn’t understand I wanted to show my daughter content with themes of female empowerment and self-confidence; to find stories and characters that didn’t patronise young girls; that had imaginative female led tales of action and adventure yet with stimulating and thought provoking scenarios. My Little Pony was surely part of the problem – not the solution. Continue reading In My Little Pony, Feminism as well as Friendship is Magic

Best of Netflix: NZ Films and TV shows

My wife is from there, I lived there with her for 4 years, and our daughter was born there – New Zealand is a big part of our lives.

This month we head back for our first trip to Wellington, NZ since we left in 2013.

Netflix have some great NZ films and TV shows on offer, and I thought now was as good a time as any to share some of our favourites.

Best New Zealand movies and TV shows on Netflix

  1. What We Do In The Shadows

This is top of the list. I probably can’t convey enough just how much I love this movie. The latest in the long comedic line of the mockcumentary (also see Spinal Tap), this stars Jermaine Clement (of Flight of the Concords) and his lesser known collaborator (outside New Zealand at least) Taika Waititi.

The premise is fairly simple – European vampires of varying ages (from decades to centuries) share a house in NZ’s capital of Wellington. Also in the mix are a recently turned Kiwi vampire, a suburban mother who want’s to be turned, and a rival group of supernatural beings – a gang of Werewolves, led by Rhys Darby (another Concords alumni – he played their manager Murray).

What did I love about this movie? Firstly, the setting. Having lived in Wellington for 4 years, while I’m glad to be settled back home in the UK it is a terrific city that I will always have fond memories of. This movie captures a little of what makes it such a fun and distinctive place – from the immense talents of the creative community to the perils of a night out on the main drag of Courtney Place.

But it’s also very funny in its own right, with a wonderfully judged tone of comedy and horror that is so difficult to get right.

Wellington is such a small city (about 200,000) it is practically impossible to avoid anyone for long. This captures that scenario (Vampires and Werewolves have trouble avoiding each other), and in reality I certainly saw all the main cast members of this on the streets of the city a number of times while I lived there.

And true to NZ form, my Wellingtonian wife recognised many people from her days at school and university (including Jermaine Clement).

If you only watch one film from this list, make it this one. And if you don’t like it then we clearly have nothing in common.

2. Short Poppies

In little ol’ NZ fashion, this features a lot connections with What We Do In The Shadows – not least its star Rhys Darby, who created this as a vehicle for himself.

It is also made in the mockcumentary style, but more overtly about New Zealand than ‘Shadows’. Each episode sees Rhys as one (or more) Kiwi character who lives in the fictional ‘bay’, in a series presented by real life journalist David Farrier.

As well as Darby, Conchord Jermaine Clement is one of the directors, and a number of other well-known guest stars appear, including Karl Urban, Sam Neill, and Stephen Merchant.

While I was unsure about it after the first episode, it quickly became binge watch material and we finished the show in a few days. The title of this show is a reference to New Zealand’s Tall Poppy syndrome, whereby anyone who becomes too successful is soon cut down to size by the media and/or public opinion. While we are largely invited to mock the characters Rhys portrays here, there is also a clearly a great love for them too.

3. Top of the Lake

While categorised on Netflix as a British TV show, this is a New Zealand made and set show, from Kiwi filmmaker Jane Campion, famed for The Piano among others.

Originally set to reunite Campion with Anna Paquin – the now adult star of The Piano (who pulled out due to her pregnancy), this instead features another US TV star, Elizabeth Moss – famous for playing Peggy Olsen in Mad Men.

Set in New Zealand’s sparsely populated South Island, this (a little unbelievably) sees Moss as an Aussie police officer who returns to her small NZ town from overseas, and is immersed in a dark tale involving local gangsters, child suicide, and a women’s refuge commune.

The show also stars another actor from The Piano, Holly Hunter, who here plays the enigmatic (in look as well as manner) leader of Paradise, the commune at the heart of the mystery.

This is Campion’s first work for TV since her breakthrough drama Angel at my Table (which many don’t even realise began life as an NZ TV drama).

There is a sequel to this coming later this year, that is being shot entirely in Australia. That seems a real shame as the starkness of the New Zealand location is one of the big drawing points for this engaging drama.

4. Beyond the Edge

Hands up who thought that Edmund Hillary – who along with Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to reach the summit of Everest – was British? Hopefully not just me…

Like many UK children, I was taught (correctly) that it was a British expedition that finally conquered the summit of Everest in 1953. What was less – if at all – covered at my school was the nationality of the climbers. While the fact that ‘Sherpa Tenzing’ was from Nepal was fairly well stated, I had no idea that Edmund Hillary was in fact a New Zealander until I met my Kiwi wife.

Hillary is in fact a national hero in New Zealand, and the lack of knowledge about his nationality in the wider UK populace would likely horrify their rather easily offended national character on these matters.

Anyway, this film puts that ignorance to bed once and for all. A docudrama of sorts, this lays out the narrative of the expedition, and the way that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay earned their place in history ahead of the British mountaineers who were also part of the group.

The film does a great job of conveying the pioneering nature of the expedition, and the other worldly quality of humans walking atop the highest point on Earth. Highly recommended – especially if you’re as ignorant as me about this piece of history.

And finally…

5. Spartacus

I have not seen this infamous TV series, but I am including it as it is an example of the international TV productions created in New Zealand by the US producer Robert Tapert. A childhood friend of Evil Dead and Spider-Man director Sam Raimi, they first made series such as Hercules and Xena in New Zealand in the nineties. Tapert fell in love with the country – as well as the Kiwi who played Xena, Lucy Lawless – and has endeavoured to make TV shows in New Zealand ever since. Spartacus is one of the most recent examples.

The Roman era show is renowned for the explicit depiction of sex and violence, rather than the quality of the drama.

The first series starred Andy Whitfield in the title role, who died in 2011 of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After he was diagnosed, a prequel series, sans the character of Spartacus was made, and then following Andy Whitfield’s passing, the role of Spartacus was taken over by Liam McIntyre.

Not in the UK or Ireland? Check what Netflix NZ movies are available in your territory here.


Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.


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21 Netflix Movies With a Strong Female Lead

Navigating Netflix via genres and categories is a fascinating way to explore what films are on offer. Beyond the usual Action, Rom Coms, Documentaries you can get specific with Superhero & Comicbook, Deep Sea Horror, or Korean TV Shows.

An intriguing one that popped up recently was a section for Films Featuring a Strong Female Lead, and it encompassed an eclectic bunch of movies with strong female characters.

I enjoyed browsing them. I found some movies I love, others that are renowned, and a few I had never heard of that sound awesome!

So, here are twenty one movies that stood out – the first 10 I have seen and the next 11 I want to.

21 Netflix Movies With a Strong Female Lead

1. Vera Drake (2004)
A powerful 1950’s set drama from Mike Leigh, about a woman who unbeknownst to her family helps local women abort unwanted pregnancies. Imelda Staunton gives a fantastic performance in this moving (and depressing) story.

2. Happy Go Lucky (2008)
Also from Mike Leigh, this film couldn’t be any more different than Vera Drake. Set in modern London, it stars Sally Hawkins as an irresistibly cheerful schoolteacher who remains bright and optimistic in the face of many obstacles – not least Eddie Marsan’s creepy driving instructor. Many fans of Leigh’s other work find this film slight in comparison – but I think it is irresistible.

3. Fargo (1996)
The cult Coen brother’s movie that inspired the current TV series, this sees Frances McDormand as the female police chief who tirelessly investigates a botched kidnap scam – despite being heavily pregnant and an amiable citizen. The black deadpan humour is both chilling and hilarious.

4. Winter’s Bone (2010)
Before she hit the big time in X-Men and Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence starred in this powerful low budget drama about a resourceful teen who looks after her two siblings in the face of poverty and questionable parenting.

5. Precious (2009)
Somehow, this tale of an abused, obese, illiterate Harlem teenager, played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, is a dynamic and ultimately uplifting movie. Strong performances all round, but especially Gabourey, Mo’Nique as her mother, and surprisingly Mariah Carey as her social worker.

6. Agora (2009)
Set in 4th-century Roman Egypt (Alexandria), this historical fiction stars Rachel Weisz as a female astronomer and  philosopher, working against a backdrop of religious intolerance towards science from the growing religion of Christianity. A fascinating part of history brought to life in a dramatic and eye catching manner, also look for an early role from Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

7. Anywhere But Here (1999)
This film stars Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, as an impulsive mother and a more down to earth daughter trying to make a new life for themselves in LA. This is a slight but engaging film, with two great actresses carrying the movie.

8. Election (1999)
Reese Witherspoon in an early and much admired performance as a politically ambitious teenager, who comes up against her teacher (Mathew Broderick) who is keen to see her lose the school election. This is a smart and witty comedy from Writer/Director Alexander Payne.

9. Clueless (1995)
This nineties classic sees Jane Austen’s Emma perfectly reimagined as a Beverly Hills High School comedy, starring Alicia Silverstone as ‘Cher’. Her co-stars include Stacy Dash (now an outspoken Fox News pundit), Brittany Murphy (who passed away in 2009), and Paul Rudd (currently Marvel’s Ant-Man). The literary source material gives this story a depth of character, heart, and wit that lifts if above its genre peers.

10. Scream (1996)
A knowing homage to eighties horror flicks, directed by one of the genre’s best filmmakers (the late Wes Craven) this stars Neve Campbell as a high schooler terrorised by an unknown killer, who is picking off people she knows one by one. Tense, clever, and witty, the film co-stars Drew Barrymore and Courtney Cox. There is also a Netflix Original sequel.


Next up, here are movies with strong female characters that I haven’t seen. These are either ones I’ve wanted to for a while, or came across while browsing this section on Netflix.

11. Still Alice (2014)

Jullianne Moore is a brilliant actress, and in this film – based on a novel – she plays a college professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 50. Moore won a slew of awards for the role, including an Oscar.

12. Harold & Maude (1971)
As a film buff since I was a teen, it is pretty shameful I’ve still never seen this one. From renowned director Hal Ashby, this dark rom com stars Ruth Gordon as a 79-year-old widow who ends up in a relationship with a young man (who’s obsessed with death). The premise may sound unappealing, but this has been an acclaimed movie for as long as I can remember, so I really need to check it out.

13. The Babadook (2014)
An acclaimed movie of a different sort, this modern psychological horror has been lauded for it’s story, characters, and creepiness. The plot revolves around a mother, her son, and a mysterious children’s book. This is normally the kind of movie I unsuccessfully suggest we watch, but this time my wife was the one who wanted to see it – though we haven’t had the courage to as yet.

14. Two Days, One Night (2014)
This Belgian drama stars Marion Cotillard as a worker about to lose her job, who tries to get her colleagues to agree to a pay cut so she doesn’t get the chop. Marion has shown she is an engaging actress in her many English language roles, and I have no doubt she would be as good if not better in her native french. I also interviewed her once and she was lovely 🙂

15. White God (2014)
I had never heard of this Hungarian drama, but the premise sounds amazing – an abandoned dog musters up a pack of 250 fellow stray mongrels to rise up against their human oppressors – but also so he can be reunited with his beloved 13-year old human guardian Lili. Sounds like a must watch.

16. Dear White People (2014)
This satirical drama, set on a US college campus, that takes a swipe at US race relations, with particular reference to the notions of cultural appropriation and white privilege. The leading character is the clearly ironic Sam White, a female student who causes a stir by publicising all the racial transgressions she comes across. I’m always keen to check out a good drama about race.

17. Come Drink With Me (1966)
Another film I had never heard of, and it sounds awesome. A sixties Hong Kong martial arts movie, it stars the then 20-year-old Cheng Pei-pei (who at 69 is still working today) as Golden Swallow, the daughter of a general who is sent to rescue her brother from bandits. It is widely revered, and I love a good martial arts movie. Can’t wait to check it out.

18. Tracks (2013)
Based on a true story, this Australian film stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) as a young woman who travels 1,700 miles across Australian deserts, with her dog and four camels. Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) also stars, as a photographer documenting her journey.

19. God Help The Girl (2014)
This is a British musical drama film written and directed by Stuart Murdoch of the band Belle and Sebastian, and that’s basically why I want to see it because they’re a great band.

20. Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
I’m sorry. This film looks terrible, and yet… This is based on a sixties comic book, that became a seventies cartoon, and then a noughties movie. It stars Rachael Leigh Cook as Josie, Tara Reid as the drummer, and bassist/backup vocalist is Rosario Dawson (currently in a pair of Marvel Netflix Originals Daredevil and Jessica Jones). It might well be crap, but it looks like fun.

21. Chocolat (2000)
Set in France, Juliette Binoche plays an expert chocolatier and single mother who moves to a conservative village with her six-year-old daughter. She ruffles some feathers, especially when she opens a chocolate shop at the start of lent. It’s based on the novel by Joanna Harris, who is also outspoken against gendered marketing, and follows me on Twitter – so for that reason alone I should watch this! The movie also stars Johnny Depp.


So that’s my pick of 21. This list is based on movies available on Netflix in the UK & Ireland, but if you’re elsewhere, you can browse what Films Featuring a Strong Female Lead are available in your region.


Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

Please head over to Netflix to check out anything mentioned here.

strong female leads, movies with a strong female lead netflix, movies with strong female characters, romance movies with strong female leads


What do you think of this list of Netflix movies with a strong female lead? Any to add?


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Netflix’s Jessica Jones TV Show: A Female Superhero Like No Other

The Jessica Jones TV show is another piece in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), a Netflix Original that follows on from their previous Marvel foray Daredevil.

While Agent Carter is the first Marvel property to have a female lead, the Jessica Jones TV show has the distinction of being the first one with a superpowered female lead. She’s an actual female superhero. Well, sort of…

Unlike most of the Marvel Film & TV productions, this is a character that most non-comic book fans will never have heard of. It’s based on the early noughtie’s Marvel Comics series Alias (also the name of a fondly remembered JJ Abrams show) from creator Brian Michael Bendis, that centred on Jessica Jones, a former superhero and turned private investigator.

The series was part of the Marvel’s MAX comics, a line that specialised in mature content. It allowed creators to explore themes and subjects that were difficult to cover in mainstream comics, such as the mental and sexual abuse suffered by Jessica Jones in her past.

Jessica Jones Purple Man, Alias, Jessica Jones TV show, Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley
From ‘Alias’ Issue 25 (2003) – Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Art by Mark Bagley. Publisher Marvel Comics.

The Jessica Jones TV show reflects the same approach, and like Netflix’s Daredevil TV show before it, is decidedly not for kids.

The show follows Jessica in her work as a PI, slowly revealing her superpower of super strength, but also why she is such a cynical – even nihilistic – person. It wasn’t always this way. While not quite the former superhero (Jewel) of the Alias comic, she had decided to use her powers for good – until a run in with Killgrave, played with chilling intensity by former Doctor Who David Tennant.

Based on the comic book character Purple Man (see above – his look wisely adapted to a fondness for purple clothing), Killgrave is a sadistic and manipulative supervillain, whose power is to verbally control anyone who he speaks to.

Killgrave took control of Jessica, making her do things for him that she now abhors. Jessica is suffering from PTSD following this harrowing experience, and she is constantly trying to numb her overwhelming sense of guilt.

The overriding arc of the series is Jessica confronting this (unwillingly at first) both figuratively and literally as she organises against Killgrave.

A show like this lives and dies on the strength of the leading actor. Playing Jessica is Krysten Ritter, who you may recall playing a small role of a rather unfortunate character in Breaking Bad. She’s great as Jessica, a really engaging presence who pulls you through this character’s journey.

British actors have done well in Marvel films and TV shows (eg. Tom Hiddleston as Loki, Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter, even Paul Bettany as Jarvis/Vision), and David Tennent is no exception. His Killgrave is possibly the most terrifying MCU villain of all, as he is less about pantomime theatrics than chilling and believable sadism.

Also in the mix is the popular Marvel character Luke Cage (soon to have his own Netflix show), a black superhero who has also been a supporting character in Jessica’s comic book appearances. If you’ve ever wondered how two superstrong superheroes have sex, your curiosity will be answered – the makers clearly revelling in the opportunity to film a superpowered sex-scene.

Over the 12 episodes of the Jessica Jones TV show, the ensemble cast of characters (there are many more than I have mentioned) are really allowed to shine, and the story weaves a complex web of intrigue.

I was hooked on this show from the beginning. Jessica Jones is not just a great Marvel TV show – it’s simply a great TV show.