Even if I weren't the father of young children, I'd still watch kid shows. I am and have always been a fan of cartoons and animation whether they be Youtube shorts, full featured movies, cartoons, American or foreign. Though I'll give most animations a chance, I have a very high standard for what I consider to be good or great.
Among things that meet this standard are most Pixar and Dreamworks movies and cartoon series that focus on excellent characters and story such as many Japanese animations ("anime") and the few, but growing cadre of American cartoons that put in the effort (such as the new "Clone Wars" series and Avatar the Last Airbender).
Now I've never been afraid of "girl shows" as I was a honest fan of My Little Pony, Care Bears, Rainbow Brite and others when I was very young, but with the super saccharine quality and overabundance of rainbows, ribbons, and makeovers, I'm unable to enjoy them anymore even if it's just watching it with the kids. These days I can only tolerate "girl" shows with much more effort in design and execution like some of the modern Barbie videos (which are watchable once or twice) and Disney's recent movies like Tangled and The Princess and the Frog (which are excellent!).
Which brings us to Hasbro's new incarnation of My Little Pony. In this new series, the lead designer is the talented and admirable Lauren Faust who I'll admit I knew nothing about before watching this show. As I've researched her and the work she's done to make shows that are unique, fun, and promote the kind of image for girls that I admire, I've become a fan of not just her work, but her ideals as well. What she's working to achieve for girls is similar to the work Bill Cosby did in his career to help break stereotypes for black Americans.
You're welcome to read the whole story of how Lauren got involved and her vision for the show if you want (I did), but I'll just concentrate on the end product:
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (FiM)
Anyone who can watch an animation and like it should not be surprised that someone of my age and gender is a fan of this show. The issue arises when people make a snap judgement of what this show must be based on what it once was. "How can you watch a show made for little girls?" the saying often goes. The obvious answer as evidenced by the thousands and thousands of older fans of both genders is "because it's that good".
The series starts with a 2-part story of the conclusion of a 1000 year drama that not only introduces the main characters, but also the world and general framework from which the rest of the series will be grounded. In short, an over-studious disciple (Twilight Sparkle) of the worlds leader and most magical pony (Princess Celestia) is sent off to study the importance (and magic) of friendship (in other words, to stop ignoring other people for the sake of her studies).
Each episode tells an engaging story that involves a few of the main cast characters at a time as they struggle with concepts such as trust, jealousy, even how to handle when your friends are fighting with each other or don't like your other friends.
As each story progresses, the show's creators take humor, inside jokes, and drama, and mix these with a healthy dose of unexpected creativity to reach the eventual conclusion. For example, in one episode, Twilight Sparkle is given two golden tickets to the kindgom's most prestigious party (a perk of being a direct disciple of the princess).
Her 5 close friends all want the second ticket, but instead of cowering away from the problem and crying about it (what would likely happen in previous editions of My Little Pony), Twilight actively berates her friends for fighting over it and trying to do her favors to influence her choice. But even though she tries to be level-headed and fair, the stress of trying to decide drives her to angry outbursts and frustration. To show such strength at the same time as weakness in the same character in the same episode in a completely natural, relatable, and realistic way is not just admirable, it's exceptional.
And as is typical of any excellent show (animated or otherwise), elements of the story and sometimes entire episodes reference events and characters that occurred in previous episodes. Because of this, the world and the characters grow and change and are allowed to tell a story (there are two main stories told in the first season, one which reached its conclusion and other that is likely to become more of a continuing plot device).
Furthermore, there are many themes and pop culture references designed for adults (just as any major animated movie is these days). My Little Pony has always been a "little girls show", but the newest version was specifically designed not to be (and is instead what one would call a family show).
The design is respectful of the original My Little Pony with the major changes being the Anime-like eyes and the highly unique hair designs for each. Unlike every iteration before it, FiM uses more than just colors and markings to differentiate characters, it uses body type, hair, and even the shape of the eyes. See this comparison of the main 6 characters:
Besides the look, there's also the movements. When walking, flying, or hopping, the hair bounces and flaps in the wind, the shoulders and flank move in rhythm, the face shows incredibly detailed emotions.
The effort put into design isn't reserved just for the characters though. The sets and backgrounds are amazingly detailed and stylistically inspiring. Rather than use the same 2 or 3 locations like many cartoons, this show covers massive ground from the desert to the forest, big cities, small villages, and even cities in the clouds. Nearly every episode has a new set of buildings, rooms, or landscapes; some of which are never used again.
The background designers use fairly simple shapes, colors, and shading, in artistically sophisticated ways to give depth, convey the scene's mood, and strengthen the story or characters.
Before speaking of each pony specifically, let me first say that great voice acting is sadly a very rare thing. This is because:
Alert… Sarcasm inbound!
- Voice actors with any ability what-so-ever are prohibitively expensive. It must be true since only big-budget films seem to have anyone who can deliver a line.
- Child voice actors are even more expensive than adults. That's the only conclusion I can come to for why a company would pick someone who's in their 30's to play the roles of child characters. I'm not saying a grown woman can't do a decent male or female child, but it's MUCH harder than just hiring a kid to do it in the first place (and adult males can't pull off kids except in the most rare of circumstances).
- Since there's no audience for foreign animations (like anime) in the US, there's no need to hiring professionals. Just grab anyone of the street and don't worry about how dumb, awkward, or inappropriate their voice is for the character. There's no need to respect the original creator's intentions since it's "just a cartoon"; who cares?
Given the sad state of animation voice acting, it's not only a great surprise but an enormous relief to hear the excellent, professional, and perfectly delivered voices that are given to each character in the show (whether they are a main character or not). Here's a sample conversation between Rainbow Dash and one of the younger ponies on the show: Apple Bloom (who's actually voiced by a real life young girl!).
Click this to watch a clip from the show.
So that about covers the art, animation, and physical characteristics of the show, but what about the ponies themselves? One of the greatest components of the show is the vast and varied cast. The creators are not afraid to have speaking background ponies who show up and disappear as needed which greatly adds to the variety and prevents "Simpsons Stagnation Syndrome".
But for time reasons, I'll just concentrate on the main 8 characters.
Celestia is the ruler of Equestria and is visually distinctive from all other ponies by her height, horn+wings at the same time, and 80's-space-anime-style flowing hair. She is a powerful, but gentle ruler who shows compassion and tender nurturing for her subjects. She's immensely patient (and she should be for someone who's over 1000 years old!) and kind. She has a sense of humor and isn't too uptight about problems, mistakes, or formalities.
Twilight Sparkle is a bookworm who studies constantly to the point of neglecting all other relationships except the one between her, Celestia, and Spike (her friend and assistant). She's given a rude awakening when she's commanded by the Princess to make some friends, but she quickly learns that having friends is not only tolerable, but awesome!
Her positive traits are logic, rational thought, intelligence and natural leadership. Others look up to her for her wealth of knowledge and singularly unique talent for magic.
As a role-model, she is the voice of reason cautioning others from being to quick to judge people for being different and jumping to conclusions. Though her strong need to understanding and clarity can cause her some frustration, Twilight's calm and rational approach to things solves more problems than not.
Spike is a baby dragon who was raised with Twilight (though practically BY Twilight). He is a devoted friend and assistant to her studies and acts like a little brother who idolizes and adores his older sister.
His positive traits are hard work, devotion, rational thinking, honesty and being extremely good natured. He sometimes makes some bad decisions, but isn't afraid to admit he was wrong and apologize.
Pinkie Pie is eccentric and hard to understand at times, but like all the ponies is extremely devoted to her friends. She's a bit of a ditz and very emotionally charged, but mostly that energy gets funneled into her intense powers of fun and excitement.
Her positive traits are being fun and carefree, but all while taking things seriously when they need to be. She's amazingly courageous and strong-willed (when she decides something, boy does she follow through!)
As a role-model, she encourages others to have fun and relax. She has great compassion and cares for strangers or people in need.
Apple Jack is a stereotypical farm girl with a Southern accent who works in an apple orchard. She lives with her Granny (Granny Smith) and her big brother (Big Macintosh) and little sister (Apple Bloom). She's not afraid to act when needed, though sometimes leaps to action without thinking.
Her positive traits are hard work, determination, problem solving, and great talent for cooking. She's a very active pony who's skilled in sports and physical activities.
As a role-model, she demonstrates level-headedness and strong devotion to family.
Rainbow dash is a sporty tomboy who loves flying, acrobatics, and speed. She's strong willed and quick to action, but is also the most impulsive of the ponies and is sometimes selfish and arrogant.
Her positive traits are loyalty, acrobatic skill, and protective instincts for people she cares about.
As a role-model, she shows that great skill comes from practice and hard work and that dreams are something you make happen, not something that happen to you. Though it may cause problems at times, Rainbow Dash shows that it's important to speak your mind.
Rarity loves fashion, glamor, and high society. She owns a fashion boutique where she creates dresses and outfits for sale (of her own design). She's a bit haughty and snooty at times, but has proven again and again that her true nature is that of generosity, kindness, and caring for others. Like Rainbow Dash, she can be selfish at times.
Her positive traits are creativity and artistry and confidence in self.
As a role-model, she shows that you can be girly and powerful at the same time. Rarity takes responsibilities seriously and will follow through on any task she undertakes.
Fluttershy is a quiet and shy pony who is extremely devoted to animals. Though she is a pegasus, she chooses to live on the ground to be close to her animal friends. At times her timid personality becomes a problem when she's unable to do what needs to be done.
Her positive traits are kindness, caring, and bravery that, once drawn out, is a force to be reckoned with.
As a role-model, she shows how its easy to be taken advantage of and pushed into things you don't want if you don't speak up and stand up for yourself. Also, it's important to stand up for others who can't do it themselves. Lastly, she demonstrates that it's ok to fail because that may change the way you see things for the better.
FiM characters were designed to showcase a wide range of female character types both to improve relatability for the target audience, but also to give the not-so-subtle message that people of all types can get along. However, the extremely powerful combination of looks, sound, and behavior of the ponies is what makes them fun, unique, but also popular especially with males.
Why a Brony
And now we get to the meat of it. Why is it that so many adult males are drawn to this show? Why do we hear the comments "Why do I like this so much? What's wrong with me!?" and "I watched one episode and I was hooked" so much? Far from being strange, it's entirely natural.
Small, cute, cuddly, vulnerable. These are adjectives that describe each of the characters in the show at one point or another and they are also adjectives that trigger an instinctive adoration and protective response in males. Anyone who's seen the devotion a man has to his dog or his spouse and children (sometimes in that order) knows this.
Strong, skilled, intellectually stimulating, fun, exciting. These are ALSO adjectives that describe each member of the cast at different times and trigger feelings of admiration, respect, and idolization.
The fact is that the ponies and world that Lauren Faust and Hasbro have created did what was intended: they represent all the positive and just a few of the negative (but realistic) traits of real girls! The effect that they didn't anticipate is how drawn males would be to characters that embody the traits of females they know and love (mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, etc).
Gender Neutral Lessons
FiM is a show where people, even ones who disagree, can get along and are treated fairly and kindly. Friends are loyal and supportive and even when things go wrong, the support and love of those close to you help you through it. Even in the darkest of times, family ties are close and honest. Anyone can (and should) identify with those message; male or female.
Consider the vast world, the 1000 year backstory, the diverse background cast and you've got immense fodder for fan fiction and art. Deviantart.com, a social community for artists, photographers, and the like, has exploded with pony fandom. Comics, custom art, sketches and more appear daily while custom video mixes appear in droves on Youtube. Established communities such as 4Chan and Reddit have also developed devoted sub-cultures around the show. Many new fan-driven webpages have launched all around the web spurred by the creative minds who've found this show to be inspirational.
The largest pony site as of the writing of this article is Equestria Daily which has achieved over 68 million page views in only a few months since its launch.
My Little Pony has been rebooted into an excellent show and there's hardly any surprise that people are enjoying it. While many find it odd, there are literally no logical arguments for why it would be wrong for someone to like and watch this show. If you haven't given the show a try, why not now?
Famous Pony Fans
Musicians(possible) Deadmau5 – Wore a Fluttershy T-shirt onstage
[Confirmed] Andrew W.K – Did an MTV interview about why he likes Pinkie Pie
Webcomic artist[suspected] Scott Ramsoomair of VG Cats – Drew a few comics with ponies in it, including this one
[confirmed] Greg Dean of Real Life Comics – Posted a comic about becoming a fan
Listing over over 100 pony sightings in popular webcomics
Gaming Industry[confirmed] Jacob Minkoff (Uncharted) – Blogged about how much he enjoys MLP
[confirmed] Notch (Minecraft) – Doesn't identify as a "brony", but does like the show
[confirmed] Gabe Newell (Half Life) – Says he's a Brony in an interview
[confirmed] Andrew Spinks – Creator of Terreria