Men who love ‘My Little Pony’

Don’t mess with guys who want to talk about Pinkie Pie and pretty pony tea parties

by Jaime Weinman

Men who love 'My Little Pony'

Corus Entertainment

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic seems to confirm adults’ worst fears about kids’ cartoons. The show, about female ponies with names like Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie, is produced by Hasbro to convince kids to buy the line of toys it’s based on, just like the company’s Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Brite cartoons. But some adults don’t have time to object to Friendship is Magic: they’re too busy watching it and writing pony fan fiction. On the Hub in the U.S. and Treehouse in Canada, My Little Pony has become one of the most popular cartoons among grown-ups, for viewing and online discussion. A mostly older audience (male fans call themselves “Bronies”) has given 10 million over 35 million views to a fan website, Equestria Daily. The founder of the site, who goes by the name “Sethisto,” told Maclean’s that the show “accidentally targeted the Internet culture.”

On Know Your Meme, a site that keeps track of pop culture phrases that have become popular online, there are more entries for My Little Pony than for almost any other show. The wide-eyed character designs, from series creator Lauren Faust, are used as the basis for fan art and games, often involving pony-based catchphrases like “anypony” and “nopony.” 4Chan, a website known for flooding the Internet with nasty jokes, erupted in a “civil war” when a moderator tried to ban pony discussion; eventually the site gave up and had to allow its members to talk about Princess Celestia and the pretty pony tea parties. “4chan once took on the FBI and won,” a Brony told the New York Observer, “so you might say that My Little Pony is more powerful than the FBI.” Fans have even taken to creating pony memes based on other cartoons, like an instantly famous cartoon of an old Looney Tunes character screaming, “Confound those ponies! They drive me to drink!”

Yet unlike other cartoons with grown-up fans, My Little Pony makes almost no concessions to them. Shows like Rocky and Bullwinkle had pop culture jokes that kids weren’t supposed to understand, while Avatar: The Last Airbender was an adult phenomenon for its complex plotting. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has fewer topical jokes than Hasbro’s first My Little Pony cartoon from the ’80s (which once had moonwalking ponies). Stories, Sethisto says, are “simple and easy to follow.” Every episode ends with a moral, like: “If you try to please everypony, you oftentimes end up pleasing nopony.” Even Sesame Street, which parodies shows like Mad Men, tries harder to please adults.

So why are grown-ups fascinated with the southern accent of the cowboy-hat-wearing pony Applejack, or lines like, “Are you sure about this, Scootaloo?” It may help that the show has a basic visual appeal that lends itself to fan art. Sethisto says Hasbro gave Faust and the animation studio (Studio B in Canada) “the green light to do whatever they wish with the facial and body expressions.” The animation may be as limited in movement as the ’80s cartoons, but the characters are constantly given different cute, wide-eyed expressions; unlike most TV cartoons, where the acting is all in the voices, the ponies do a lot of visual acting. Simple gags, like the pony Fluttershy’s inept attempts to nurse a bird back to health, may also give the show a timeless feel; Sethisto praises Faust for “using some of the classic cartoon jokes while still remaining modern and up to date in every other department.” Grown-ups may like My Little Pony for the same reason they like old Disney cartoons—unlike self-consciously hip cartoons, they don’t try to be cool.

This success is giving new credibility to the strategy of building cartoons around toys, and that worries some cartoon fans. Amid Amidi of the website Cartoon Brew told Maclean’s that companies have “co-opted respected animation industry artists who lend these toy-driven series an air of creative legitimacy,” but that ultimately the real goal of a show like this is “to get viewers to hand over their money.” But Sethisto thinks that for him and his fellow bronies, the show has “evolved way past being just another 22-minute commercial. They gave the team enough freedom to really make it awesome.”

(Update: For a follow-up post addressing points made in comments, click here.)




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Men who love ‘My Little Pony’

  1. I don’t like criticizing articles promoting ponies, but there are lots of mistakes in this one.

    There’s no such thing as a new Rainbow Brite cartoon, unfortunately.

    Equestria Daily has >35m hits now. (It’s currently posting almost 400k new hits per day. The counter is right on the main page.)

    FiM has a reasonable number of adult references, from the Yakety Sax bit in #3 to the Sondheim parody in #26. The thing is that it doesn’t just throw out fistfuls of references, it uses them sparingly and actually plays around with the ones it uses. And it goes for classic references far more than flavor-of-the-month pop culture references.

    Finally, if you think the physical range of character motion in this cartoon is as limited as the ’80′s version, well, I don’t know what to say except watch more Pinkie Pie.

    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

    • And just a sidenote for anyone wandering through and trying to get a sense of what the show’s about… the only “tea party” they have all season (the first few minutes of episode 22) mostly consists of the kingdom’s immortal sun goddess ruler trolling the hosts for being overly servile. Eeeyup.

    • Thank you for the comments. The figure for Equestria’s viewership numbers has been updated now. (As for the Rainbow Brite thing it should read “the Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Brite cartoons,” without the implication that they’re both new or both from the same company, but as it’s there I can’t really fix it.)

      The point about pop culture references is one that’s been made elsewhere since I wrote the piece, and it’s a fair one. I will say that in the episodes I watched, I didn’t see many references — for example, I only saw the “Putting It Together” one recently. So this may be due to the way I sampled it. 

      I think we do agree that the show is not trying to throw out bushels of references for its own sake, and that the appeal of it to adults is partly its “purity” and expressive style. But your points are correct.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply.  Hopefully my comments, here and elsewhere don’t come off as disrespectful towards your writeup of the show – I’m always happy to see more media coverage that keeps the juggernaut rolling! I just try to push for as much balance and nuance as possible so people who might be interested in the whole FiM phenomenon get a clear picture of what it’s about… maybe even surf over to Youtube to check out an episode or two.

        I think you have a great point, now that it’s been clarified, about the show’s break with the current, incredibly played out animated show trend of spamming pop culture references nonstop to appeal to adults rather than actually writing interesting characters or doing more involved commentary on the reference material. I hope this marks the start of a new set of approaches to the medium.

        • No, I’m thankful; this is part of the point of a comments section. And I incorporated one of your comments into my follow-up post.

  2. Me? I’m seriously looking forward to the second season.

  3. Whatever you know of old-school MLP, has been thrown out the window by Lauren Faust (thank God). 

    I know “Nissl” already made mention of this (BTW, excellent work brony) but there are no tea parties in MLP: FiM. Someponies drink tea, even Fluttershy makes mention of having a tea party… but they don’t exist in this show.

    Far too many people seem to be of the opinion that a TV show, of any type, has to have blatant pop culture references in order to be funny, i.e. Family Guy. FG stopped being funny a long time ago, because Seth MacFarlane tries too damn hard. Why not just let the story tell the jokes, instead of force-feeding the audience?

    I enjoy the show for its utterly deceiving simplicity, sorta like Arrested Development.

    Jamie Weinman, I think you did an okay job on this article, but it feels like you glossed over some bits or didn’t report all the facts. Or you just wanted to consolidate as much as you could, which I wouldn’t blame you for doing. =) 

    Seriously folks, stop by the KYM page and read up on this madness. You might become a Brony too. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/subcultures/my-little-pony-friendship-is-magic

  4. Jesus the freaks really come out of the woodwork when you talk about something they like.

    • I’m glad that some guy named “MuffTuff” is around to tell us who the real freaks are.

    • We’re going to love and tolerate the $*@! out of you.

  5. Awesome show. I haven’t liked a cartoon show so much since Dexter’s Laboratory.

  6.  ”The animation may be as limited in movement as the ’80s cartoons”
    Whoever wrote this article hasn’t watched the show in the slightest. The animation of FiM is some of the fastest and most fluid in animated television, just like PPG, which Faust was also the creator of.Compare the 80′s show to FiM, COMPLETELY different in animation.

    Overall the article isn’t too bad, I would recommend that the author gives the show a shot first if he/she hasn’t yet, referencing 4chan to ponies is a pet peeve of mine, and it always seems the article people look for the worst things people say, and ignore the best. 

    (Kind of like Skeeter in HP >.<)

    I agree with the end though, a lot of people like it because it doesn't have all the complete bullcrap, immaturity, crappy animation, and bad influences most (almost all) children shows have now a days.

    • I think people like MLP because it’s so refreshing to see a world so devoid of cynicism. The irony is that this phenomenon originated mainly from 4chan, which is pretty much the most cynical place on earth. I truly think that guys (and girls) are exhausted from having to constantly show each other as to who’s the toughest or hardest or most cynical, the “winner”, and MLP is just a breath of fresh air in a jaded world.The simple, commonsense morality of childhood makes a nice break from the moral complexity of adulthood, particularly when our awareness of the consequences of our actions is always present in the back of our minds.

      Also, the ponies have adorable anime eyes and the voice acting is really well done.

    • And to drive the point home, here’s an actual G1 My Little Pony episode to compare.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCarTVBXBWc&NR=1

      Take note of not just the more limited animation and lack of expression, but things like Spike’s inexplicable change of proportion in 2:10.

      FiM reaps the benefits of the post-Ren and Stimpy epiphany that a low-budget TV cartoon needn’t TOTALLY forsake good animation or aesthetic appeal, an epiphany that Lauren Faust has helped further as much as anyone else.

  7. I also applaud the author for actually reading the comments and changing the article. :) Very good show.

    I would also like to add, the article definitely could have been built up more in why they actually like the show, to many just say “weird adults who live in their parents basement like
     show meant for kids”. This shows immaturity and incorrect labeling, and gladly I don’t see any of that in this article.
    One of the biggest parts of FiM is what the fanbase creates. From artwork so good you could hang it in a museum, to fanfiction so complete and well written it could be made into a book, one such fanfiction cross-over Fallout: Equestria has near two thousand pages (?) and, if published, would span a good 2-3 books in size.

    Some of the music made is also simply superb, and the biggest bonus to this community is how nice each other can be to one another, without even knowing them.

  8. While I appreciate the fact that the writers have taken the time to cover the brony phenomenon, I must object to one thing.  

    It’s not a show about pretty pony tea parties.  There are NO TEA PARTIES in Friendship is Magic.  

    And just so I can be constructive, I’ll tell you what *is* in it.  Battles with evil incarnate.  Wicked spells like teleportation and levitation.  Fighting dragons and manticores.  Hydras trying to swallow ponies alive.  A main character going insane.  Looney Tunes chase scenes.  Pop culture references.  A princess/benevolent dictator who trolls her subjects for fun.  Snarky comebacks.  Badassery.  Sonic booms.  I could go on…

    Yeah, it’s basically an awesome show, which is the only reason I watch it.  If it was your mama’s My Little Pony, I’d sneer and walk away.  It’s not.  Get it straight.  

    • To be fair, they did have one tea party, with the princess, remember? One of the mane cast had a paranoia-induced breakdown, another starved, a third stole food from the princess’ mouth, the smart one began to spiral into despair, the princess trolled the hosts and finally, the quiet one kidnapped the princess’ dying pet bird.

      Good times!

      • That’s a much better description of the tea party than I was able to output, and it illustrates the tone of the show brilliantly.  Thumbs up!

        (and don’t forget, the last member of the main cast was outside taunting the guards.)

  9. Even if they are doing it to talk our money. I don’t care. Heres my money. I love ponys!!

  10. I hate it when people blindly to refer to this show as stuff like “a pretty pony tea party”. This is why I try to keep it on the download personally. All I can say is why don’t you watch and research the show for yourself and then criticize it? But by the time they have seen enough of the show to have an informed opinion, they will probably be one of the herd anyway.   …Oh and by the way, *BROHOOF*

  11. Generally a good article, although there are some inaccuracies other people already mentioned. I’d like to point out though that in addition to a lot of the reasons given for adults being drawn to the show, one major one is that MLP breaks from nearly every cartoon in that it has characters complex and interesting enough to appeal to an adult audience, but doesn’t try to capture that audience through cynicism. A lot of cartoons try to appeal to adult viewers by providing a really dark undertone that kids probably won’t pick up on; think Invader Zim or Samurai Jack for examples, but really most cartoons do it to one extent or another.
    My Little Pony is a truly remarkable exception – it’s got writing that’s not the sickening saccharine of a lot of kids’ shows but is actually good enough to be worth watching, and at the same time is nothing but bright and happy. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but in large part the reason I like MLP so much is because there’s so few shows for adults that have that kind of tone. It’s refreshing to watch something that’s not only fun to watch, but also cute and colorful and silly just for the sake of being cute and colorful and silly.

  12. ”Pretty Pony Tea Parties”? Someone hasn’t bothered to /AT ALL/ watch the show. The only ”Pretty Pony Tea Party” they have had is a one where somepony steals a cupcake, the host trolls everyone, yay. yay.

  13. I’ve got a few DVD shelves of animation.  I think it’s a great medium for comedy, and action.  But my  favourite series also have some heart, spirit, integrity, and dare I say it, some love in their creation.

    My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic will be joining them ASAP.

    It’s colourful, charming, and engaging.  It’s easy to watch.  It’s girl-positive without man-bashing.

    I talk it up to my friends, and especially to parents. 

  14. There’s already an article online that I often see that helps people understand why liking this show is so natural, ESPECIALLY for grown men. It can be found here if you’d like to see it: http://www.thegeekprofessor.com/why-i-am-a-brony-a-my-little-pony-friendship-is-magic-fan/

  15. “Pretty pony tea parties”.

    If more men respected little girls and didn’t patronize and dismiss them and their intrests so casually… There would be:
    More women in office
    Better animation for young girls like this one
    Better women, being respected and expected to accomplish more, less frivolity
    Less rape and sex crimes against women and children
    Less homophobia towards effeminate men
    Kinder, open-minded men who love their wives and listen to them

    Every woman was a small girl once. How about you give them an ounce of fucking respect?

  16. it’s because they are PONIES the older viewers are long time collectors and the “children” who watched the 80′s mlp cartoons

  17. My little pony is awesomer than you think.

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