If it's crap ... We'll tell you
This is a first for me, creating a blog entry where I take a topic of interest, and do a bit of analysis on it. Most of what I have done before has been movie reviews, so this should be an interesting entry.
And before you scoff in disgust at the topic at hand here, please give me a chance in having my say. I'll be taking as impartial a look into the show as I can, and not simply throw the fandom all over this blog. For those who don't know, or have been hidden from the Internet for the past 12 months, I am talking about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, the animated tv show that has caused a virtual storm with people all around the world. It has led to a surge in the fan community on a scale that hasn't been seen before, and to those of you asking, "Why??” Well, I'm about to find out.
I shall say from the get-go here that I am a quite a big fan of the show, in fact my interest in it is still growing. So yes, you can for all inclusive purposes start jeering and yelling "Brony!!!" at me. I don't mind. ;) But I won't let that bias my analysis here, this is going to be informative, so I won't be simply posting 14,000 pony pictures up for your pleasure / displeasure.
The story begins with the toy giant Hasbro, who wanted to create a new show to promote the MLP merchandise, and modernize the range too. Lauren Faust took up the challenge, famed animator of shows including The Powerpuff Girls, and Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends. Her artistic style and wit had made these shows cult favorites. However, she faced an exceptionally difficult challenge - how to take a franchise that has for many years been stared down upon, and turn it into a modern cartoon that would appeal to all kids? It was quite a challenge to be set, but Faust used her previous work experience, and memories of how she envisioned the old show should have been, to bring together the revised and refreshed show called "Friendship is Magic”. It got the green light to be aired on Hasbro's channel The Hub, with the first episode on October 10th, 2010.
The most significant complaint, and most notable problem with the old show, was that it played out as nothing more than a giant commercial. There was next to no character development, innovation, story arcs, personalities, or emotion given to the ponies. The goal was to turn the show completely around, and introduce a much more refined and developed story, taking the franchise and literally rebuilding it from the ground up. Not easy when the people you are working for only wish to receive profit from the merchandise, not the cartoon... This included total re-designs of the characters, although some names and personalities were carried over from the 1980's show.
The story to the show is very simple. It follows six lead characters, focusing mainly on Twilight Sparkle, on their adventures in Equestria, and her job in reporting on how their friendship helps them overcome their problems and dilemmas. This can either be on adventurous quests, difficulties within the group, or plights that endanger the home town of Ponyville. Each show focuses on a central element, and ends in telling the audience the morale that can be learned. As well as the main characters, there are many secondary characters, villains, and background ponies that create a very vibrant and detailed community. The pilot episodes outlined how they all met, and how their powers helped to save the land of Equestria from eternal night. Very simple stuff. You may even argue that it sounds dull. But like everything, it's all in the details.
There is so much more encased in the series, more story arcs and themes that are not only fun, but aid in the development of the characters. It can range from describing the history of the ponies, the history of Equestria, the surroundings, or the struggles of the younger ponies to earn their "Cutie Marks". These are the markings on each pony that illustrate their unique talent or skill. There’s a theme and storyline to appeal to everyone. The characters themselves are excellently executed, from the brave and charismatic Rainbow Dash, to the timid Fluttershy, and the honest (if not a tad stubborn) Applejack. Everything exhibits a great depth of thought and detail, certainly not sounding like just an expensive commercial so far.
The show's popularity received exponential growth of the likes that have almost never been seen before. From song remixes on YouTube, to extensive art on Devientart, to dedicated fan communities such as Equestria Daily and the many circles on Google+. The show has entered every corner of the Internet. The community, who are known by most as "Bronies" are what have fuelled this. Some would say it has gone over the top and they simply post for reference, but no. The majority is down to the creativity of those that generate the fanart and media, which seems to know no bounds.
So, time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Why MLP? Well, for one thing, animated tv shows have been on the sparse side for quite a while now, or at least, ones that are worthy of merit and mention. Many complain that studios have lost their drive for originality, and are more focused on keeping to the style that works in order to maintain audience numbers. Also, most people of my age (23) believe that we lived through the best of animation - the 90's. Shows like Batman, Animaniacs, Powerpuff Girls. Those are the one I still look back upon with a smile. And even though some cartoons recently have perked my interest, very few have lived up to going that extra mile.
And Friendship Is Magic scores on both counts. It took a dying brand, one that nobody had any interest in, and created something totally new and innovative from the ashes. And, it's designed in the style of those nostalgic cartoons of the late 90's, made to be fun, but also to be clever. The humor feels fresh, working to the show's advantage rather than serving only the purpose of getting a reaction. It feels like... proper writing.
The next significant point is the community. On the whole, almost all the fans show a real positive mood to the negativity and backlash some have given them. They don't get angry or spiteful; they take the stance of tolerance. A rare thing to find on the Internet, I'm sure you’d agree. There's also the real sense of appreciation for the creators and those who worked on the show, so much so that their contributions have been greatly appreciated by Faust and others. They have even created adverts and videos especially with the Bronies in mind, and taken on board some of the suggestions too. It may not be the audience she expected the show to appeal to, but it is something to be proud of for sure.
I can understand the comfusion people give, the raised eyebrows at the pony fandom, the bemused stares to the group meetups in cities across the world, the enourmous change it's brought to the Internet for what is, essentially, a kid's show. But, consider the Star Trek fans, and the fans of Doctor Who and The Simpsons. Do they seem wierd? Initially, yes, but on closer inspection, they're normal people too, who are expressing their devotion and interest to something they enjoy. It's the same here, it may be a show about ponies, but any ties to the old show are non-existent.
I was skeptical at first as well, worried that I’d be drawn in by nothing more than the Internet craze. But the show surpassed my expectations by a huge distance, offering a blend of comedy, quality, depth, fun, and the sense that the creators knew exactly what the audience wanted to see. It's premise is very simple, and yet it still pulls off some amazing two-part episodes that show it does not talk down to the kids it's aiming at. It acknowledges their intelligence, instead of pandering to them like a Happy Meal.
MLP is a marvelous show, a shining example of what happens when a studio dares to create something bold, something different, and something original. Who don't allow themselves to be bullied into submission by the managing board, or sacrifice profit for quality. Instead, they simply share their love for great animation with the world. And the fan community it has generated is a marvel in its own right as well, with amazing art of every form being created every day. My Little Pony has brought a whole generation together, it may look crazy from the outside, but you'll struggle to find a friendlier place than with the Bronies. Forget all your bad experiences with the original 80's show, and give the new one a try. If for nothing else, you'll finally have something good to watch on Saturday mornings.
And, the kids seem to love the show too, so at least the target audience is happy. :)
Thanks for reading!