My Little Reboot

There’s a new show taking up home in my DVR and that show is “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic”.

Wait. What. A KID’S show? A very GIRLY kids show? A remake of a girly 30-minute franchise advertisement series?

I grew up watching My Little Pony and My Little Pony Tales so when I heard about the reboot, I was ecstatic to revisit my childhood even though nostalgia is often blind in one eye.

It couldn’t be that bad, right?

I was slightly horrified to see the designs.

What I remember:

What I got:

This was NOT the My Little Pony I remembered. If the animation cel appearance is like the mellow taste of rum, this slick Flash animation was like being hit with a bottle of vodka with its crisp lines. Not to mention the very heavy anime-influenced look threw me for a loop. If MLP from the past looked like marshmallow horses, these guys looked like the 80% fat-free version with gumdrop eyes.

I still love anime but I’ve seen American cartoons try to emulate the wrong things in anime when they try to capitalize on its success in the USA. They would fail horribly since they would focus on only the visual gags and not character or story depth.

So even though I love Lauren Faust for Power Puff Girls, Fosters’ Home for Imaginary Friends, and Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls, I decided to pass on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic to keep my nostalgia alive. After all, there’s only so many current cartoons that have the same wit and charm as the ones I grew up with in the 80s and 90s such as The Animaniacs and old Disney cartoons.

Then my friend shared this Starcraft 2 x MLP:FiM mashup with me:

Holy crap. That looked pretty cool. After looking at the comments and related videos, I noticed that there were a lot of men commenting on the actual show.

Yes, apparently, the multicolored ponies have charmed the /co/ anons of 4chan. They called themselves “Bronies” and the term has caught on to describe male fans of the series (most of whom won’t admit it in fears that it makes them less manly).

So I decided to give the show a chance and I set the DVR to record a few episodes on The Hub (a new kids-and-family channel) to see what the fuss was about.

I really wasn’t prepared for the amount of thought and care put into this cartoon. A total hoof-in-mouth moment.

Summary from Wikipedia:

The series stars a unicorn pony named Twilight Sparkle, who has been known to be a pupil of the world’s ruler Princess Celestia. Seeing the young pony buried in books, the princess gives her the task of making friends, sending her, and a young dragon named Spike, to Ponyville. There, they meet some interesting ponies, including tomboyish Rainbow Dash, glamorous Rarity, hard-working Applejack, timid Fluttershy, and hyperactive Pinkie Pie. Together, they explore the ins and outs of the town, solve various problems, and make even more friends. Every day is a lesson for Twilight, but none as important as the magic of friendship. At the end of each episode, Twilight relays a report to her mentor Celestia, telling her what friendship has taught her.

What I love about this show that people (not just girls) can see bits of themselves in each pony and not just one. The girls all have their character stereotypes but they are not limited to them.

I think that’s what makes all of them so lovable and not inherently one desirable over another because of her traits. A girly girl isn’t lesser or greater than a bold need-for-speed one. A fashionista isn’t less or more than her dedicated farming neighbor. They’ve all got their own strengths and flaws and none of it is centered on the all-end goal of getting a boy with them like they tend to be in any sort of media. They’re all centered on being the best that they can be for themselves.

I vastly preferred My Little Pony Tales to the original My Little Pony because the girls had so much more character than their 80s sisters who giggled, batted their lashes, and frolicked all day until the Big Brother Ponies came to knock them all up (Hey…that’s gotta be why there’s so many baby ponies and all the womens are excited to see the men come home every year for once, right?). The difference was that the 90s ponies had more unique personalities and they dealt with actual universal problems.

I can really only think of a few cartoons that pay proper attention to female characters and make them come across as fully-formed entities instead of shallow stereotypes which are detested by both girls and boys. Girls are horrible among themselves with labels and I believe a big part of it is a lack of understanding in media that then misrepresents them as well as the backlash because of it: both saying that certain types of girls are better than others. It’s refreshing to see them all working together and complimenting each other both with words and with their own unique traits. These aren’t one-trick ponies!

Book-smart Twilight Sparkle learns that she has a thing or two to learn from her happy-go-lucky friend Pinkie Pie.

The stories in this series are worth noting as well. Kids cartoons tend to have a moral-of-the-day tacked on at the end to make them better people but they are often shoved down one’s throat as an afterthought or they can be seen coming a mile away. This tactic tends to take away from the importance of a message since it comes across as parental nagging. MLP: FiM sweetens it up with its creative way to make sure each lesson makes sense upon reflection of the episode and sometimes they do catch me by surprise! And these messages hold true so it might reteach an older viewer a lesson or two as well.

Okay, we got strong characters and strong story. But this is for a young demographic. One might ask what else draws in older viewers of both genders? Does it mean that it’s only kidults that would enjoy such a thing?

Lauren Faust sums it up a bit on Deviant Art to this question:

The combination of characters and story already make the show very charming but there is a lot of references and subtle humor thrown in for the adults of both sexes. I’ve spotted an A-team parody, Benny Hill chase scenes, Pepe Le Pew references, internet memes, a frickin’ Karl Lagerfeld pony, Blu Mankuma as a singing voice, and many many so-bad-its-good puns. The show is very wholesome in taste so it’s the amount of sincerity and good writing that makes it shine.

I also really like the songs that spring up nearly every episode. They’re all very catchy!

I can relate to the second one in particular as both a cosplayer and a designer. Come on, Rainbow Dash. Saying “it needs to be 20% cooler” isn’t good criticism for a designer.

But beyond that, the background music is also very well done. Music is tremendously important in a production and it often gets the backseat just like backgrounds. Not here. It’s always got its place and it knows how to really bring a scene to life even with many different elements to bring out.

An example (oh and there’s the Karl Lagerfeld pony…)

I’m now almost fully caught up on MLP:FiM and I really hope that Hasbro releases it on DVD. It’s got enough ratings to get a second season and I’m sure that the DVDs will just fly off the shelves since kids and adults alike can enjoy and appreciate the show. I’ve got to admit, the style’s grown on me now that I’m used to it. It’s fun to see them trot around.

I made my boyfriend watch a few episodes that I recorded and he says that he wants to watch the show from the beginning now. So I guess we’ll be having a small marathon on YouTube later. Unless we get DVDs. Then that’d be mare-volus. All you neigh-sayers can suck it.

Do I feel bad about watching cartoons “for kids”? I believe that some G-rated fun is truly fun for everyone and that age shouldn’t be a signal that it is not meant to be enjoyable anymore. We all have fond memories of our favorite childhood cartoons, don’t we? I’m just glad kids these days still have some people that reach out to them and speak to them with the same respect we all wish we got when we were young.

Girl cartoons often get a bad rap because there’s so few shows truly dedicated to the demographic rather than the idea of the demographic. It’s the same with “girl video games”. For the longest time, the industry believed that girls were universally interested in the frivolous aspects of life such as make-up and fashion and so that’s what they focused on in their products. They failed to see that girls are most interested in personal connections and the stories behind them. That’s why girls loved to make up stories for their barbies! It didn’t matter that much if they had the latest accessories or not. They made them up!

To focus on only the surface is an insult to the audience and it is of no wonder girls would soon steer away from cartoons meant for them when there is no heart put into them. Blaming the lack of interest on the fact that girls “don’t watch cartoons” or “don’t play video games” or “don’t read comics” is a convenient excuse and it certainly does not help bring us forward in the quest for quality and profitable productions. The success of MLP:FiM – with its attention to successful story-telling and characters- is proof that a girl cartoon can be a strong contender in the animation industry.

I hope that MLP:FiM is a clear sign of things turning for the better and that the girls matter just as much as the 8-10 year old boy ratings in the Saturday Morning cartoon block. We truly need more people in animation like Lauren Faust. She does such a superb job!

If you’re wondering where you can watch this show for yourselves, the show airs new episodes on The Hub at Friday 1:30pm and they’re currently available on Youtube. You can also purchase episodes on iTunes (first episode is free).

Some other articles worth noting:
My Little Non-Homophobic Non-Racist Non Smarming Pony : A Rebuttal

Solidarity is Illusion: The Political Economy of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (just for fun)

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