Saturday, April 6, 2013

What an Adorable Dynasty! “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic”

Since last week at Build-A-Bear Workshops, you can build your own My Little Pony character. Die-hard fans will appreciate that you can specifically build your own Pinkie Pie or Rainbow Dash. For My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic super fans, this is a time of great rejoicing and/or gnashing of teeth (if you’re obsessed with Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rarity, or Fluttershy; not to mention the spate of secondary characters). In fact, the more you delve into the world of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the more you realize that this isn’t just a tv show with a tie-in product line. For many, it’s a lifestyle that cuts across every media and is a bone-fide cultural touchstone. Just ask any Brony or Pegasister when you meet up at PonyCon.

This is pony Pinky Pie
Bronies and Pegasisters are grown-up male and female (respectively) fans of the tv show, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (MLP: FIM) and PonyCon is a catch-all title for any one of several all-My Little Pony conventions held around the country. MLP: FIM enjoys a following that certainly is magical for creator and toy giant, Hasbro, but all cynicism aside, this juggernaut is newsworthy for just that reason: anything that has inspired this level of loyalty and devotion is worth a closer look. And when I say all cynicism aside, I mean it. The appeal of MLP: FIM is often attributed to its anchoring in the New Sincerity movement, a cultural trend that runs against prevailing models of postmodernist irony. Rarely is there a joke on MLP: FIM that kids can’t fully appreciate and everything works on a kid’s level, but with wit instead of snark. MLP: FIM offers its own version of iconic music, too. I noticed their own versions of Benny Hill-style chase music, the Mission: Impossible theme, and the James Bond theme. They tap into our cultural references without making the show an end-to-end mash-up.

Pinky Pie's eye, created in classic
animé style.
You’ll find a good synopsis of the narrative on Wikipedia: “The show follows a studious unicorn pony named Twilight Sparkle as her mentor Princess Celestia guides her to learn about friendship in the town of Ponyville. Twilight becomes close friends with five other ponies: Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie. Each represents a different face of friendship, and Twilight discovers herself to be a key part of the magical artifacts, the “Elements of Harmony.” The ponies share adventures and help out other residents of Ponyville, while working out the troublesome moments in their own friendships.” Series creator Lauren Faust set out to re-create the franchise with more in-depth characters and exciting, adventurous plots. There’s no real trick here. The show succeeds due to the high quality of the writing and the appeal of the animation style: part animé, part Flash. Any student of animé will appreciate the MLP: FIM pony eye, clearly based on the work of classic Japanese animators (who in turn honored Walt Disney). My only beef with the series is the amount of commercials on The Hub (a LOT). But My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is also available on Netflicks commercial-free, so I say problem solved. Faust also produced (and appears in) the 2012 documentary, Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony. You can see its trailer here:

Hasbro was founded in 1923 as the Hassenfeld Brothers, a family business that sold textile remnants. They eventually created a line of children’s products like pencil cases from the remnants. The Hessenfeld Brothers’ first toy hit was 1952’s Mr. Potato Head; and in 1954, the company became a Disney major licensee. In the sixties, G.I. Joe accounted for two-thirds of their sales. By 1968, the company officially changed its name to Hasbro Industries. In 2010, the digital cable and satellite television channel The Hub replaced the Discovery Kids channel as a joint venture of Discovery Communications and Hasbro. One of The Hub’s first original shows is the present incarnation, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, outstripping the appeal of either of its former incarnations, the largely forgettable My Little Pony television series from 1984 or My Little Pony Tales from 1992. For My Little Pony, third time’s a charm. Big time.

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