At first, I was like…
But then I saw My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and I was like…
Call me a brony, call me a nutjob, call me mentally deficient. All I know is I have two little girls. Either I can let them choose whatever trashy, shallow 20-minute commercial happens to be on when Daddy needs to pay bills, or I can choose for them. I choose MLP, and they approve. When I pop in the DVD, they fly around with their Rainbow Dash toys which we got from McDonald’s months ago, and had no context for until now.
This is not a show I just set on, then go do other work. This is a show I sit down and watch with them. I know they say you’re supposed to do that as a parent, not just use the TV as a babysitter. But I mean I refuse to do other things while the show is on — it’s that good. In fact, I have to stop myself from watching ahead.
Do I need to say why the show’s good? No, you can find that anywhere. But I can say why I do.
One is the animation. I like a certain style with clean, thick, well-defined lines and smooth, flash-style animation. I hate pencil-sketchy, squiggly, vibrate-y experimental indie-pencil. My favorite comic strips, art-wise, are Peanuts, PvP, Penny Arcade, Real Life, Ctrl+Alt+Del, Sinfest, and VG Cats.
So it’s no surprise that when I looked up Lauren Faust, the Seth MacFarlane/Matt Groening of MLP, that she was the storyboard artist for “The Powerpuff Girls”. To show what that means to me, here is an excerpt from CS Wars: Refreshed, a humorous, in-joke piece I wrote a long time ago for my CS buddies.
She approached the door to his room and knocked softly. “Nick?” she said as she peeked in. “Are you in-“
“I’M NOT WATCHING THE POWERPUFF GIRLS!” he yelled out as he scrambled for the remote.
“I… didn’t say-“
“I DON’T FIND THEM WITTY AND ADORABLE, OR FUN FOR ALL AGES! WHY ARE YOU PUSHING THE ISSUE?”
“Uh, it’s almost time for you to go.”
“Oh… okay then.”
If you can’t tell, I’m the stand-in for Nick.
Next is the plot and characters. Mostly characters. The plots are, well, nothing special. Nothing that hasn’t been wrung dry in children’s shows. There’s the “overcoming fear” episode (“Dragonshy”), the “trouble with tribbles” knock-off (“Swarm of the Century”), the “competition” episode (“Fall-Weather Friends”), the “picking favorites” one (“The Ticket Master”), prejudice via rumor (“Bridle Gossip”), and the “let’s put on a show!” one (“The Show Stoppers”) — all standard fare for 6-11 year old girls. And rightly so.
Boys cartoons are often about defeating the villain or sci-fi gadgets or how much wacky, grossness you can get past the censors. Girls cartoons are about deeper things. They’re about coping and relationships and how to deal when problems arise. But uber-simplified, since this is a children’s show.
And as an adult, I appreciate that much more than the latest anime import. True, a lot of the plots involve characters carrying the idiot ball to work. But I’m too old to watch Shredder steal the latest ruby needed to power the Technodrome. I already know that Donatello’s going to say it’s “highly unstable” and no one learns anything.
The thing that makes it fun for adults is the characters. You never quite know what they’re going to do next. Especially Pinkie Pie. All the best parts of the show come from small lines of dialogue. I especially appreciate humor that’s both family-friendly AND actually funny, because that is SO hard to do. It’s easy to make jokes based on racism, misogyny, or offensive material — stand-up comedians and sitcoms do it all the time. But search on YouTube for “Funny MLP moments” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
You don’t need to be an adult or child to laugh out loud, and I love silly, absurd humor the best (Monty Python, Firesign Theater, Hitchhiker’s Guide) because I so often know what’s going to happen next because I’m good at reading context clues and have a good memory. So few things surprise me. And you need surprise to make comedy work. MLP has it in bunches. Bunches of balloons, that is! (See what I did there?)
They’re as diverse as in Sex & the City. But unlike Sex & the City, these people could/would actually be friends in real life. I know that because the strong traits in each one are like my circle of female friends in college (my wife is Applejack, by the way). Also, not self-absorbed sluts.
Most female-oriented shows for young girls make me shudder. Like “Dora the Explorer” who treats my kids like the lowest common denominator. Or “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” whose greatest goal is to be on the cheerleading squad or win the approval of the “coolest girl in school”.
Here, there is no coolest girl. They all have flaws and strengths. They’re all archetypes, but they’re also characters. They make mistakes and they make up for them. They take action. They go up the mountain to see the dragon (no boys to protect them!). They’re not regency-novel-style where all they do is talk about it. There’s action, they learn from the consequences of those actions. Even the slumber party one is riveting, because two of the friends can’t get along and the third is too busy studying what you’re supposed to do in a slumber party.
My favorite character is Fluttershy, because I most identify with her. I’m also extremely introverted to the point of suffering. So when I saw her first scene with the assertive Twilight Sparkle (the show’s main/hub character), I fell in love right away.
It’s just one of the many nods to the more geeky community that can sympathise. Everyone can latch onto someone, from the highly competitive Rainbow Dash to the meticulous Rarity to the book-smart Twilight Sparkle.
But I guess the main reason I love the show is because, it’s just so damn happy there. It’s not a utopia — there are plenty of problems I wouldn’t want to deal with, like the bitchy griffin friend of Rainbow Dash. But there’s no hate. No cynicism. No prejudice. No one trolls. No one hates. No one has a brooding dark past or an unrequited crush on a personality-less boy.
People/ponies there are sincere, hard-working, and funny. They are people you want to hang out with, and that type of character is hard to make. You want to hear their stories,watch their jokes, over and over. And I love shows where friends of different types have to work together. It’s the same reason I like TMNT, Final Fantasy, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I was skeptical of the brony phenomenon at first. But I don’t have to hide behind my daughters anymore. I like My Little Pony, and friendship is magic.