Like many folks out there who avoid sites like 4chan as if they’re a Big Momma & Medea team up movie specifically designed by evil Hollywood scientists to give you syphilis, I first heard reports of a growing cult of adult “My Little Pony” enthusiasts about a year ago when stories like this one from “The New York Observer”.
Though articles like that one and others that followed avoided judging these self-described “Bronies”, they ended up being the exception, while sniggering reports as seen on the smug Fox News snark-fest “Red Eye” have proven themselves closer to the rule:
The temptation to mock the weirdoes with the strange hobby is simply too much for most of us to resist. Especially since doing so makes our own little obsessions seem that much more normal. “Sure,” a random guy I’m making up to prove my point might say to himself, “I may spend thousands of dollars a year to watch millionaires dribble a ball down a court, hit pock-marked orbs down manicured lawns or drive in circles at 200 MPH, but that all makes sense and is completely normal. Those freaks are all scary perverts who need to grow up.”
But the truth is that a report as savage as the one above could just as easily been filmed at any event. All you have to do is zero in on the most outrageous participants and edit out anyone who shows signs of coherence, articulation or self-awareness. Ultimately a 21 year-old man in a pony wig is no different than a guy the same age who has painted his torso to match the colours of his favourite football team—they’re just having fun. Leave them the fuck alone.
So, yeah, it’s obvious that I have nothing but sympathy for the Bronies out there whose chosen form of entertainment has opened them up to nothing but mockery and ridicule. Sympathy and even some admiration—so much so that I couldn’t help but think that “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” must be really fucking good if liking it is worth putting up with this kind of abuse. It made me wonder if I was missing out on a good thing. What if it turned out I was Brony and didn’t even know it?
Clearly it was time to watch some television and find out.
Beyond the existence of its rabid fanbase, I had other reasons to believe I was going to enjoy my “My Little Pony” experience. The show’s creator, Lauren Faust, had been one of the chief creative minds (along with her husband, Craig McCracken) behind “The Powerpuff Girls” another animated classic that was just as popular with adults as kids. (I still remember seeing the movie version in theatres on opening day. I also remember watching the “Ebert & Roeper” review it received that weekend and hearing Richard Roeper say that he wouldn’t want to meet anyone who liked it. In my case, his wish has thus far come true—even though we share the unusual connection of both having published books about urban legends imaginatively titled “Urban Legends”.)
But even more importantly she’s the brilliant mind responsible for “Super Best Friends Forever” a series of 75 second shorts that just happen to rank amongst the best things that have ever existed:
Anyone who could make that perfection happen is someone I can connect with, so I was genuinely excited when I started watching the first episode. This was despite the fact that I had zero nostalgia for the Pony franchise (we were strictly loyal to G.I. Joe, Star Wars and Super Powers in the Mott household), and a general overall disdain for anything horse-related (there’s a reason why the Western is my least favourite movie genre).
For those unfamiliar with the premise, the first two episodes nicely set the scene and establish all of the characters. Our protagonist is a purple unicorn named Twilight Sparkle who lives in a massive library in Canterlot with her baby dragon sidekick, Spike. Through her studies she discovers that the kingdom of Equestria is in danger of being overtaken by perpetual night if an ancient legend about the Mare in the Moon comes true. She tries to warn Princess Celestia, the wise and ancient ruler of the kingdom, only to be told to go to the smaller town of Ponyville and make some friends instead.
Still determined to stop the prophecy, Twilight has little time for the various ponies she meets in the new town, including the excitable party animal, Pinkie Pie; the salt-of-the-earth fruit farmer, Applebuck; the bashful, nature lover, Fluttershy; the ambitious and energetic, Rainbow Dash; and the fabulous, fashion-plate, Rarity. When Twilight turns out to be right, and the bitter Nightmare Moon is freed from her lunar prison after 1000 years of solitude, the six of them team up to stop her—each exhibiting the qualities that make them special along the way. It is only when they confront Nightmare that Twilight finally realizes that the friendship she has formed with these special ponies is actually the key element they needed to defeat their enemy all along.
Beyond the bright, pastel designs that bring the pony world to vivid, eye-pleasing life, what I enjoyed most about these two episodes was the effort made to create memorable characters that were both defined by their specific traits, but also allowed to transcend them at the same time. What could have been purely stereotypical is given dimension and character, thanks to clever writing and hilarious performances by its talented (Canadian) cast.
The plot itself is unremarkable and depends on the hoariest of all clichés—what I like to call the “The Fifth Element is Love” device, so named after one of its most famous examples. But here’s the thing—Faust and crew do such a good job leading to the emotional climax that by the time it happened I felt myself wiping away real tears.
Yes. I cried watching “My Little Pony”. And I have absolutely no problem admitting it.
I watched the next six episodes after that and I enjoyed all of them. I can happily report that “My Little Pony” is a genuinely good, imaginative show that was clearly designed to appeal to a broad audience beyond the young girls the toy line was initially created for. In a podcast interview I listened to before writing this, actress Tara Strong, who plays Twilight, explained that Faust didn’t take on the show as just as means to a good paycheque, but as a genuine passion project—the show she’d spent her entire life wanting to make—and it shows. Her enthusiasm is right there on the screen.
Perhaps the most amazing thing is that so many folks have recognized this and responded to it. The history of television is littered with similarly excellent but cancelled shows that never earned such an ardent group of fans. What makes “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” the exception?
My guess is that it’s the same reason “Star Trek” gave us Trekkies/Trekkers. Both are shows that deal with important moral issues in fun and imaginative ways (“Star Trek” dealt with racism with an episode where a black and white skinned alien species still managed to find a reason to annihilate each other, while “My Little Pony” dealt with it by introducing a zebra to the citizens of Ponyville), while also depicting an idyllic utopian society where problems are solved with understanding and communication. Both are optimistic fantasies where hope isn’t cynically dismissed as a curative for suckers, but a virtue to be nurtured and embraced.
In an age where every conceivable act of cruelty is ours to see and lament, it’s no wonder that so many people—male, female, young and old—would latch onto an entertainment that is so consistently positive without also being lame and naïve. It’s a nearly impossible trick to pull off, and this seemingly silly little show about cartoon ponies does it with skill and humour.
The truth is, with these eight episodes, I feel satiated and don’t feel any real need to watch more, but I can understand why others would feel differently and want to not only consume them all, but go on to explore the world in fan art, online discussion and special conventions.
Do some of them take their love too far? Anyone who’s visited this Regretsy page knows the answer to that. But my guess is that the percentage of Bronies who are ponyfuckers and/or sad, desperate losers who need to grow up, directly corresponds with the amount of ponyfuckers and/or sad, desperate losers who need to grow up who collect vintage automobiles, go to gun shows, watch MMA, attend Broadway shows, give a fuck about expensive wines, obsessively follow party politics, whip each other in SM clubs or any of the millions of other ways that exist to help us pass the time as we live our often unhappy lives.
So, am I a member of this much-mocked tribe? Not in the literal sense that I’ll be attending a convention or dressing up as Fluttershy (my favourite) anytime soon. But as someone who’s happy to embrace the possibility that a respite from the petty miseries of everyday life can be found where you least expect them, I’m proud to own the title.
I am Brony.
Deal with it.