Saturday Morning Cartoons: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

Since the 1980s, the My Little Pony franchise has been a staple for multinational toy-making corporation Hasbro. While the My Little Pony toys have been popular since their inception (I had boxes full of them when I was in grade school) and are generally considered to be decent toys, the animated spin-offs that emerged as a result of the toys’ popularity are a bit more… infamous. Often poorly animated and with extremely average voice-acting, My Little Pony: The Movie, the 1986 My Little Pony television series, and My Little Pony Tales from 1992 are disliked mostly for their vapid plots, which feature magical ponies acting like stereotypical adolescent girls.

Not accounting for nostalgia, I think it’s fair to say that not many people took My Little Pony seriously before Friendship is Magic.

I actually miss the days when I was unaware of the Internet shitstorm My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic would eventually cause.  I remember the first time I saw this picture plastered all over the ever-male 4chan’s Comics and Cartoons image board, soon after the show premiered:

I thought nothing of it at the time. Well, I guess I thought that their eyes were a little big and wondered if the royal pony would see a veterinarian for what looked to be a serious case of pink-eye. But before Friendship is Magic was even halfway through its first season, it became a massive hub for controversy on the Internet, most of which involves the fact that it has a huge fan following among young adult males. Images and discussions of the show soon started appearing on nearly every board on 4chan and in countless other places online. It became inescapable, if you wanted to continue living your life on the Internet. For many, including myself before I watched the show, this became an annoyance. I often hope frustration is what fuels the hate that gets leveled on an almost daily basis against male adult Friendship is Magic fans, popularly called “Bronies”, who are often accused of being perverted, mentally challenged, or closet homosexuals.

Though the show’s fandom has penetrated nearly every facet of Internet culture, spawned multiple fan sites, and even made its way into the mainstream, I rarely see serious discussion of the show itself. In fact, there is so little dialogue about the show’s strengths and weaknesses that people who have never seen it often end up confused as to what the show’s actually about. And because I’m sick of what I believe to be a great cartoon getting eclipsed by its fandom, I’m going to tell you.

Created by frequent Powerpuff Girls contributor Lauren Faust, Friendship is Magic follows the daily lives of six anthropomorphic ponies who live in the land of Equestria. The protagonist, Twilight Sparkle, is the star student of Equestrian ruler Princess Celestia, who sends her to study friendship in the small town of Ponyville. While there, Twilight Sparkle makes five friends: Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie. The show is a slice-of-life (with a few exceptions) that chronicles their adventures as they learn various lessons about friendship.

Despite the somewhat gimmicky premise, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is an enjoyable cartoon. It features vivid and appropriately cute Flash animation, likable characters, and humor that rarely falls flat. There are several pop culture references throughout the show, some of which you’d never expect to find in a cartoon made for such a young age group: The Benny Hill Show, David Bowie’s album Diamond Dogs, the Rocky series of films, and Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask), among others. Hell, there’s an entire episode that’s an homage to The Hobbit.

Friendship is Magic continues a trend that I’ve noticed in a few different cartoons lately: the show exists in a cohesive world. Rather than just forcing audiences to accept that talking ponies live in towns like humans and do human-like activities, the writers go to great lengths to explain the details of this fictional society. Over the course of the series, we learn about everything from seasonal changes in Equestria to pony coming of age. This world-building separates Friendship is Magic from its predecessors and makes it feel more like legitimate fantasy than a mere toy vehicle.

Though the show is distinct from earlier My Little Pony media in many ways, one of the best things about it is the way in which it reinvents aspects of the world established in the older shows, instead of rejecting them. For example, My Little Pony toys and animated characters have always had tattoos on their butts that were vaguely understood as being connected to their name and personality. The crew of Friendship is Magic took that stupid notion and turned it into a coming-of-age metaphor. The slice-of-life structure of the show is also consistent with the earlier media, but in the case of Friendship is Magic, the stories are relatable for a much wider audience. It is a rare example of a work within an established children’s franchise that updates while staying true to the initial concept.

The show’s real draw, however, is its characters. Not only is each member of the main cast well developed with a full back-story and at least two episodes devoted to every main character, but the show’s world is also populated with lively supporting characters that have become just as popular in their own right. The voice-acting cast also does an excellent job, providing perfect voices for each of the main characters and brilliant comedic timing when needed. The voice work of Andrea Libman (Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy) is especially superb.

Friendship is Magic is not flawless, though its weaknesses are mostly insignificant compared to the overall excellent quality of the show. There are numerous animation errors, some of which are so obvious that they’ve become memes. I can forgive the errors that are obviously Flash glitches, but a few appear to be the result of rushed or lazy animators. The show also isn’t immediately good. Many viewers, myself included, find the first three episodes subpar compared to the rest, and there are a few other episodes in the first season that many people could do without. This makes it somewhat difficult to show Friendship is Magic to friends who are prejudiced against it. On that note, there are also moments when you may become uncomfortably aware that you are watching a cartoon made for little girls, particularly during some musical numbers and the now-infamous “Dear Princess Celestia” segments at the end of every episode.

With that said, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a truly enjoyable cartoon. It’s funny, clever, and beautifully rendered, easily overcoming any stigma that it may have as part of the My Little Pony franchise or as a girl’s show. I firmly believe that anyone with the slightest curiosity or even just a passing interest in the show should give it a fair chance, despite all the controversy surrounding it.

Rating: ★★★★½

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  1. Pingback: First Impressions: My Little Pony Season 4 | Moar Powah!

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