Ponies Do Sondheim

by Jaime Weinman

After I did a piece about the My Little Pony cult following and it later appeared online, I got some helpful comments and corrections from fans of the show. One point is that the viewer count of Equestria Daily keeps going up and up, so instead of ten million as stated it’s now in the 36 million range, and that’ll go on getting higher.

The other, more important thing, is that I stated that “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” doesn’t have as many pop-culture references and adult shout-outs as other cartoons that have become adult sensations. I felt that was true of most of the episodes I had seen, and I think its fans would agree – and like – that it doesn’t hit you over the head with “this is for the grown-ups” moments the way even Sesame Street does. But after writing the piece, I saw this segment, which is based on Stephen Sondheim’s “Putting It Together.” And an episode I haven’t seen, called “Swarm of the Century,” is a Trouble With Tribbles tribute.

So Lauren Faust and the other writers are not living in some kind of bubble, sealed off from pop culture of any kind. They incorporate some of their favourite pop-culture influences (or in the case of “Trouble With Tribbles,” stock parodies) What they don’t do is aggressively try to call attention to pop-culture references, or make them the main way of appealing to adults. I think adults and kids do enjoy the show on somewhat different levels, but they enjoy it on similar terms, whereas when Sesame Street does a TV parody, the adults and children are often laughing st completely different things. Still, this is unquestionably a pop-culture shout-out by any standard.

From comments on the original piece, here is a pony fan, Nissl, explaining the show’s popularity from the point of view of its fans:

As for why adults like it, let’s play spot the influence…
Good classic storytelling and likable but deceptively complex characters – Pixar
Well animated with a fairly unique, highly expressive style – Powerpuff Girls/Samurai Jack
Breaks with standard kids’ show irony/hipness – (classic Disney/Pixar – agree with author’s point)
Fairly deep world mixing high magic and daily concerns – Harry Potter
Good, creative slapstick bits – classic Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes
Suitably monstrous villains – Dungeons & Dragons, classic mythology.

I also have to give the show one more thing: as a child, I really liked the “My Little Pony” cartoon of the ’80s, but having watched a couple of episodes of it again, the endings seem to be really lame, something Lauren Faust herself has mentioned trying to avoid. (There is one episode where they literally just defeat a horrifying villain by singing about love. That’s it.) The plotting on the current cartoon is much better.




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Ponies Do Sondheim

  1. Whoa! I was going to give the original article a thumbs-up both for its respectful tone and for sounding more like an entertainment section piece than a “bleah, slow news day, what’s new on the Interwebs?” article… I guess I have to throw in a nod for the quick corrections too.

    (For the sake of clarification, though, there haven’t been any tea parties on the show as of yet. I’ve been told Pinkie Pie — yes, that article got that part right — was known for them in the early-2000s version of the cartoon, but like the vast majority of fans I am not interested in finding out.)

  2. Season premiere in nine days. Heeeee.

  3. Cool!  A writer who actually cares.  Props to you for trying to make sure you represent this thing fairly.  I wish the “pretty pony tea parties” thing wasn’t there, but you have my respect for adding to your original article.  

  4. Well, the counter on Equestria Daily just counts page views. Every page-opening click on the site is counted. It isn’t really a counter of how many people go there; just how active they are.

  5. There’s a rather clear Benny Hill chase scene in the third episode.

    There’s plenty of nods to the adult audience, it’s just that they are usually very subtle; it doesn’t throw any “I don’t get it” moments into it’s kid audience, like Animaniacs did all the time when I was young. The dialogue is sometimes clever enough to toss cheesy puns right by any but the most perceptive viewers (Applejack telling stampeding cows to “steer” away from town.)

    I think a central component of its general appeal is that it reaches a balance point. It’s simple enough, but doesn’t dumb itself down and spell everything out for the children. The humour doesn’t pander just to kids, a clever enough silly joke is enjoyable to anyone, and that’s what it does. The characters have adult professions, and slumber parties; they are somewhere indefinite between adult and child, and this gives them the ability to related to both.

  6. Thank you for a very concise and accurate article(s) (and even to go as far as to make corrections) this is wonderful!
    Also, it’s great to hear positive comments coming from such an acclaimed publication as Mclains! Thank you again Jaime! It was a treat to read!

  7. Don’t forget the amazing music and wonderful voice actors.  Both are far better than any other animated show I’ve watched.

  8. You know, people have missed the OTHER Sondheim parody. The Season 1 finale, Episode 26 “The Best Night Ever” features a song called “At the Gala” which is unmistakably inspired by “Ever After” from “Into The Woods”.

    Other nice little, and very subtle pop culture references are strewn throughout. Episode 13 “Fall Weather Friends” features a race that evolves into a personal competition between two of the ponies. The “egghead” bookwork Twilight Sparkle decides to participate, eliciting laughter from her two athletic friends… Twilight’s racing number is “42″, which will catch the eye of any fan of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” as the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything”. It’s subtle, the thing a nerd like myself would immediately catch.

    The entirety of Episode 9, “Bridle Gossip” immediately connected in my mind to the racial prejudice that was once commonplace in parts of the United States against black people. The whole episode revolves around the local townsfolk being frightened of a zebra, assuming her to be evil. When she comes to town, they lock their shops and refuse to let her even step foot in any establishment. The only ponies with any common sense are a child and a pony that came from the capitol city. The locals influence the new pony in town and lead her into the same fearful prejudice they showed, while the young pony marches out on her own, into an extremely dangerous forest trail, to the home of the zebra, to prove the zebra is not to be feared. Half my family grew up in Mississippi, my mother spending her childhood in the deep south during the 1960s. Our family was one of the ones who wanted to see equality shared with black people. She grew up when and where the marches happened. She grew up when the civil rights revolution came. She saw how hateful people could be, all because someone had a different skin color. I know this is only a children’s cartoon, but I could NOT separate the influence of the terrible history of the US and it’s civil rights revolution in the 1960′s to this episode. The prejudice, fear, locking up shops, Twilight letting herself be negatively influenced instead of standing up for her common sense, Applebloom’s march to Zecora’s home to prove she was good… The fact that Zecora is a ZEBRA with tribal decorations in her home, talks of being from a far away land, and wears NECK RINGS!!! You CAN’T get more obvious than that. She is a bit of a stereotype herself, but she pulls it off well. She’s a genuinely caring character. It’s crystal clear to me that this episode was influenced in multiple facets by the concepts and events of those dark days.

    Episode 15, “Feeling Pinkie Keen” is in it’s purest essence, a Belief vs. Science argument, distilled and wrapped up into a 21 minute children’s program. I think the internet slowed down the day that episode was aired… And then exploded, twice. So much arguments erupted that day. I actually loved that episode. It also flipped my opinion of Pinkie Pie 180°. She used to just annoy me with her antics, but after that, it was like I understood her madness a little bit more. By the time she had her complete mental breakdown in Episode 25 “Party of One”… I knew I would always love that character, twisted, broken mind and all! I swear she’s written to be bipolar. manically happy, endless energy, and then poof, one bad thing happens in her viewpoint that breaks her, and she’s a hallucinating depressed wreck. Pinkie Pie is an interesting character. I think her antics remind me a lot of the old Looney Tunes cartoons, and her acme like contraptions, accessories, endless source of party supplies, and her epic command of breaking the 4th wall make her the perfect touch of utter insanity to give this show the right flavor it needs to be palatable to a male audience. Her antics and singing annoy even her in show friends, providing the little girls with the sweet sugary singing and parties and everything else, while letting adults say… “It’s OK, Rainbow Dash and Twilight want her to shut up too.” … Not that I’d want her to shut up now that I’ve grown to appreciate the character! :)

    You can’t forget the influence of YouTube in all this. Pony Music Videos, comedic video creations, musical cover, remixes, mashups, and even original musical works are all supplementing one major point. With all the user generated creative content that keeps the brony fandom entertained between episodes and seasons, such as the afore mentioned musical and video media, along with the art, fanfics, comics, craft works, and custom toys that people create, HASBRO THEMSELVES have left a wide avenue for the fan community to grow.

    HASBRO chose to not take down the youtube videos posted online that rebroadcast the TV show. Countless companies actively try to take down unauthorized videos and music from sites like YouTube. They refuse to let any creative control escape their grasp. Hasbro has embraced the form of viral marketing that these “unauthorized” but unpursued YouTube videos of their episodes provide. Not many people I know get “The Hub”. They DO get YouTube though. Hasbro has let videos of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” STAY online. Every attempt at taking them down has proven to be the efforts of internet trolls who hate the show, and NOT from Hasbro. The videos have always returned to YouTube. Hasbro knows that as the popularity of the show grows, it can only expand the sales of their products. Hasbro knows this and embraced it. When bronies started mixing video clips from MLP:FiM into music to create the first PMVs, Hasbro didn’t request the videos using their content be removed… They responded by MAKING THEIR OWN video with Pinkie Pie’s VOICE ACTOR singing parody lyrics of Katy Perry’s “California Girls”. “Equestria Girls” was a turning point in my opinion. It’s when Hasbro said, “Yeah, we know your there, and you know what… We’re cool with that”. Other advertising campaigns by Hasbro included a massive BILLBOARD that parodied Bridesmaids… an “R” rated movie that would NEVER be associated with children. There was also “There’s a pony for that”, an iPhone App Store parody that went so far as featuring the fan website Equestria Daily by name on one of the screens of the phone in the parody. Adult cues, such as Rarity’s Secret, were obviously connecting the TV show’s fashionista to the widely known real brand Victoria’s Secret… A store that whould NEVER be associated with children! These are people who KNEW they were targeting an adult audience with these ads.

    The studio has also been as interactive with it’s fanbase as it is legally able to. Artwork by Lauren Faust was auctioned for charity to support Japan after the earthquake. Fans noticed an animation error involving the eyes of a blond maned grey coated pegasus pony. Fans embraced the character and filled out her personality and role in their fan generated fiction with a backstory depicting her as being the mail-mare for Ponyville… Episode 15, enough time for word to get back to the animators, and the character suddenly returns to the show with her so called “derp” eyes again, and even botching the loading of goods into a delivery wagon no less!

    Between acknowledging the fans, allowing them fair use and free viewing of the TV show and derivative creative works online, integrating fan generated concepts back into the show, and all around creating a genuinely good and entertaining TV program, I salute Hasbro, Studio B, The Hub, Lauren Faust, Daniel Ingram, and so many names I don’t know off the top of my head, for creating and sharing this wonderful show with the world. You are all at least 20% cooler for giving the world colorful ponies! yay

    • You know what? You certainly made my day with that post.

      Keep spreading your awesomeness!

    • Brilliant post. Not sure if the “42″ isn’t a bit far-fetched though.

      • “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is legendary among scifi nerds. The number 42 is not something any self respecting nerd, bookworm, geek, or sci-fi nut will mistake. For Twilight’s number to be 42, someone had to choose it to be. I guarantee there ware laughs when that scene was first put to story board! :D
        You realize “42″ has a very extensive wikipedia posting that details the pop culture significance of the number?

  9. The show’s real triumph is its characters. Unlike far too many kids cartoons, there are no idiots, jerks, bullies or harridans in its main (mane?) cast. The central pony characters have wonderful, witty, warmly-drawn personalities. They’re easy to love and identify with, not just because they’re cute, but because they’re human types we’re all familiar with. I’ve never seen a show where female characters are handled so well. Whoever writes for the Muppets, and especially Miss Piggy, should learn from it.

  10. I’m both baffled and really impressed to see Maclean’s do an article on this show. I was pretty skeptical about it until friends showed it to me, but it grows on you very quickly.

  11. Ponys are awsooooooom !

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