Thursday, August 25, 2011

Maybe Friendship Really Is Magic

Back in January, I wrote a post about My Little Pony spurred on by my daughter getting one of the happy meal toys based on the new version of that cartoon from my childhood. I was pretty disappointed with the new look of the updated ponies and had concluded that we would be sticking with the old school version of the cartoons when and if I let my daughter watch any MLP down the road. At the time, I saw that there had been a few straight-to-DVD movies released aroundabouts 2006 and they looked thoroughly meh, so I really didn't think they were worth my time and attention. What I had neglected to notice was that the toy that spurred my thoughts on the topic (and my daughter's toothpaste design) was actually brought in by a new new MLP show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, created by a completely different team (as far as I can tell) than the 2006 movies. Had I noticed this at the time I probably still wouldn't have cared, I'll admit. My mind was pretty made up.

But then I was talking to my husband sometime in the last few months and we somehow got onto the topic of MLP (I have no idea how), and he asked if I had been watching the new version. I told him no, of course not. He said he had actually heard really good things about it, and that it was the people behind Powerpuff Girls who had made this new version. Now, I love PPG, and my husband knows it. I kind of feel like that is exactly the kind of cartoon I want my little girl to grow up watching, because while yeah, there's an element of the girly to it, it also has a huge element of kick-butt and independent thinking involved. As well as just being completely entertaining. My husband implored me to give the new MLP a try. That's right, my husband asked me to watch My Little Pony. I told him sure, I'd check it out at some point, and the matter didn't really come up again.

A little time goes by...and all of a sudden, I can't get away from the new ponies. Apparently there's this whole concept of "bronies" that has sprung up around Friendship is Magic. A combination of "bro" and "ponies" it refers to the fact that a ton of teenage and up guys (and gals) have totally gotten hooked on the show. Artist Lar DeSouza (who draws for two of my favorites, Looking for Group and Least I Could Do) is among their ranks, and in June finally gave in and started sketching his own ponies in homage. He drew himself as a pony, and then the Looking For Group character Richard as one as well (Richard's battle cry is "For Pony!" so this seemed especially appropriate). He spread his pony love by drawing fellow comic artist Joel Watson, of Hijinks Ensue, as a pony also. The last straw came about two weeks ago when Katie Cook, the genius behind Gronk, mentioned that she, too, has become totally enamored of Friendship is Magic and drew a Gronk pony, which was just the cutest thing ever. There's even a site on the CHEEZburger network called My Little Brony. It is LOLcats with ponies, y'all. These are two of my favorites that I've seen:

my little pony, friendship is magic, brony - I Don't Even Know

my little pony, friendship is magic, brony - Staring Contest

I finally caved and started watching the show. I set it to record in my DVR and my daughter and I have been catching up on the first season ever since. It is actually kind of spectacular. Suddenly the extra stylized look and big eyes of the new ponies are forgivable, because they make sense in the context of the show, which is drawn in a very anime-inspired style. The pony Pinkie Pie, with the balloons on her butt? Yeah, she's kind of one of my favorites now. Lauren Faust, who served as a writer and director for Powerpuff Girls, created Friendship is Magic, serving as a writer and producer on the first season, and set to continue as a writer for the upcoming second season. The PPG influence is definitely there for those who are looking for it, but I feel like it also manages to capture a lot of the spirit and charm of the original series, which was an extremely pleasant surprise for me. There's even a dragon, yay!

The basic premise of the show, from what I can gather, is that Twilight Sparkle, a student of pony royalty Princess Celestia, has been kind of isolated and had her nose stuck in her books for most of her life. So Princess Celestia decides to expand her pupil's education by sending Twilight Sparkle and her assistant Spike (the dragon) down to Ponyville to continue her studies but also to get out and meet other ponies and make friends. Each episode Twilight Sparkle learns some lesson of how friendship works and she sends a report back to Princess Celestia with what she's learned (the moral of the story, so to speak). It's a cutesy concept, sure, but it works to show that people ponies are not perfect and give and take is part of the normal course of things. Other than the bit at the end, the show doesn't try to cram the "lesson" down the viewer's throat, and the writers do a good job of just making it become apparent throughout the episode.

I like that there are different kinds of ponies as well--pegasus ponies, regular ponies, and unicorns (who have magic). It's fun to watch how the ponies manipulate their environment given that their hooves don't give them the best grasp of things and they lack opposable thumbs. That is a neat level of detail, and the fact that the show runners are paying attention to that kind of thing impresses me, I'll admit. Also, instead of saying "everyone" and "nobody" and the like, they all say "everypony" or "nopony." I have decided to find this cute rather than be annoyed by it.

In one of those weird convergences, we started watching the show right before my daughter's birthday, and even though I hadn't mentioned it to anyone, she got two different MLP toys for her birthday. I was very pleased to see that the actual toys are not so skinny as the happy meal toys were (even though the happy meal toys do seem to be more on par with how the ponies on the show look).

Sweetie Belle doll, Baby Girl loves giving her her bottle.

Twilight Sparkle balloon playset. 

A better look at Twilight Sparkle, not an anorexic pony, yay!

Spike the dragon.

Compare the happy meal version with the toy.

Happy Meal Twilight Sparkle.

Granted, I am not giving all updates of shows from my childhood a reprieve (I still refuse to budge on the Strawberry Shortcake nonsense), and I still would really rather people just came up with their own new thing. But I have to say, after giving the new My Little Pony a chance, I am definitely on board. It is fun to be able to watch it with my daughter and know that we are both enjoying it, even it if is on completely different levels. And I'll admit it, the thought of my daughter having her own set of ponies to play with as she grows up makes me a little warm and fuzzy inside. I've already hunted down the basic pony toys of the main six characters. I will likely be getting her at least a few of those for Christmas.

Still, I did go ahead and order the original movie. It doesn't hurt to make sure she knows where this is coming from, right? We watched it last night, and I can admit that, as much as I love the old-school version, as much as I will always love it, the new one is actually probably better. I think the storytelling on the modern version is a lot tighter and the production values, as you might expect with over twenty-five years of advancement, are much better. It is a kids show, sure, but it doesn't feel quite as slapped together as the fare from my day. I thought that Spike the baby dragon was a holdover from the original, and was glad to see I was right. In fact, he is the only character with the same name and appearance (if updated) from back in the day. Clearly Lauren Faust digs dragons. I can get behind that. I did enjoy picking out which old-school ponies had inspired the newer characters too.

And my daughter still totally dug it. That made me happy, oh yes it did.

my little pony, friendship is magic, brony - So THAT's What the B on his Hat Stood For

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