TV Series Review
Back in my day, the airwaves were saturated with cheap cartoons made (at least in part) to sell toys. We boys got G.I. Joe and He-Man and Transformers. Girls had it worse: The Saturday-morning animated cartel determined that they would better appreciate, say, The Care Bears, The Smurfs and the original My Little Pony—bits of fluff with lots of innocuous plotting, insanely stereotypical characters, odd musical interludes and enough saccharine to gag a killer whale.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a lot like that—only good.
This latest My Little Pony incarnation (technically the fourth generation of a long-running toy/entertainment line) is one of pop culture's unlikeliest success stories. Launched in the fall of 2010 on the little-watched Hub, the Hasbro Studios production featured the exploits of bookish purple unicorn Twilight Sparkle and her Ponyville friends: the cowboy hat-wearing Applejack, bashful-but-kind Fluttershy, gregariously girlie Pinkie Pie, tomboy speedster Rainbow Dash, and über-fashionista Rarity. Its introduction was greeted with a universal nicker from most of the world. I mean, how revolutionary can a 22-minute commercial targeting 6-year-olds be?
Pretty revolutionary, it seems.
My Little Pony quickly became the Hub's most-watched program, and the audience kept building. By the end of the first season, 4 million people were tuning in. (To compare, the much-vaunted Mad Men's Season Six finale drew 2.7 million viewers—the highest in the show's history). Viewership has grown even more since then, and it wasn't just the intended audience—girls between the ages of 3 and 11. It became a raging hit among teen girls and twentysomethings too. Soon we began to hear about "bronies," young men who never miss an episode. Geek culture was awash in ponies. Mash-ups featuring Twilight Sparkle and her equestrian amigos began proliferating on YouTube. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic became the most buzzy and blogged-about show this side of The Walking Dead.
Why so successful? The series, it would seem, gives us a paradox: It's both remarkably hip and utterly guileless, simultaneously self-aware and sincere. Its writers are sharp and witty, offering nods to both the homegrown culture that's sprung up around the show and non-Ponyville pop culture as a whole. Example: When Weird Al Yankovic lent his voice to a pony recently, bursting into melody, Pinkie Pie asks him, "Did you just steal my song?"
And yet there is not a hint of knowing irony to be found anywhere. It's as if the land of Equestria does not allow postmodern cynicism to enter its borders. Absolutely no eye-rolling allowed. It's all very sweet, but not sickeningly so. Nice, but feisty.
No televised phenomenon is without its detractors, of course. Writing for a Ms. Magazine blog, Kathleen Richter began with the headline "My Little Homophobic, Racist, Smart-Shaming Pony," and then went on to wonder why black ponies were subservient to a white-winged unicorn and argue that Rainbow Dash was intended to give the impression that "all feminists are angry, tomboyish lesbians."
Admittedly, Rainbow Dash does exhibit a rainbow, now a symbol of the gay movement, but My Little Pony has always featured rainbows, going back all the way to the days of Noah himself. (Besides, creator Lauren Faust directly refuted Richter's assertions.) My take: The ethos in question informs us that people with different personalities and interests can still be the best of friends. A pretty good message, I'd say.
There is magic, of course. Flying horses and unicorns can make things float or, if they're in a fix, zap things with magical blasts. Pegasi can alter the weather. Considering the very youngest of viewers for a moment, I should note that the show does feature some kinda scary monsters at times, and that ponies can land in perilous situations. And because the show does try to teach little lessons on occasion, it's almost guaranteed that a few of them won't line up exactly with your family's values.
Overall, though? My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic turns out to be far more than just a half-hour of product placement. Sweet messages and surprising wit coupled with a serious amount of sincerity help this little hoofer soar.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Kids, Animation, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Voices of Tara Strong as Twilight Sparkle; Ashleigh Ball as Rainbow Dash and Applejack; Andrea Libman as Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy; Tabitha St. Germain as Rarity; Cathy Weseluck as Spike
Paul Asay Paul Asay