By Matt Keeley
The Hub’s My Little Pony is one of the the best shows on television. I came to it rather late, despite having friends who were already fans, mainly because, well . . . who would ever think that statement could ever be true? But it is. And it’s all thanks to Lauren Faust.
If you’re an animation geek like me, you might recognize her name as an animator on The Powerpuff Girls and as the co-creator (with her husband, Craig McCracken) of the wonderful series Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends. If I’d known this, I probably would have given My Little Pony a chance much sooner. (Then again, on finding out she’d created the new Pony series, my initial reaction was, “No shame in doing something to get paid.”)
While I stand by that opinion, as “selling out” is one of the lamer complaints about art, it doesn’t actually apply in the case of My Little Pony. While I’m sure Ms. Faust did make money off the show, it wasn’t done for the paycheck, but out of love. She’s stated that she’s always been a fan of the toys, but felt the original 1980s cartoon was always lacking, and in a way that a lot of “For Girls” media is lacking. As a genius creator and a feminist, Faust wanted to do something different and better.
She wanted to, in her words, show that the phrase “for girls” didn’t have to automatically equal “lame.” So she created a show and gave her characters . . . character. Instead of being a handful of generic archetypes obsessed with makeovers, her characters do things. The lesson of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is not just “be yourself,” it’s that there are many different ways to be a girl (again, her words). It seems that the moral of many other “for girls” shows is something like “be yourself—as long as yourself is just like everybody else and pretty and frou-frou.”
Lest you think that I’m pooh-poohing being pretty and frou-frou and—for lack of a better word—”girly,” I’m not. And neither is Faust. If there are many different ways to be a girl, that’s certainly one of them, and in fact, one of the main characters, Rarity, is a girly-girl. (Or filly-filly, considering she’s a horse.) But here’s the twist: Instead of being fashion-obsessed and constantly at the mall, Rarity is fashion-obsessed and a designer, with her own boutique where she sells her own work. She isn’t a follower; she’s a creator.
The other ponies also follow their own paths. Twilight Sparkle, the lead, is a bookish nerd, slightly bossy, know-it-all-ish, and the town librarian. Pinkie Pie, an apprentice baker and party planner, is loose and carefree. Fluttershy (my favorite), is loving, quiet, and caring, and is a veterinarian. The two jocks, Rainbow Dash and Applejack, are both strong and powerful, but don’t just fill a “jock” hole. Applejack is head-strong and honest and disdains anything frilly, preferring the utilitarian. While Rainbow is similarly determined, she doesn’t have anything against “girly” things, she just tends to see them as irrelevant as they don’t typically have anything to do with her goals, such going as fast as she can and joining stunt-fliers and fellow pegasi, The Wonderbolts.
Part of what’s so significant about My Little Pony‘s characters being actual characters, is that they’re not perfect, and not in a “we need to have a random flaw for this episode to teach a lesson” kinda way. The ponies are all a bit neurotic: Rarity’s got a touch of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (I forgot that this was canon, rather than fanon, until I recently re-watched “Look Before You Sleep,” featuring Rarity re-making the bed multiple times to make it “just right”); Fluttershy can be a little passive-aggressive; Rainbow Dash definitely needs to be the center of attention to cover up a core of insecurity; Applejack’s self-reliance goes to extremes and she has a tendency to think that her way is always right; Pinkie’s not only heedless but a bit paranoid; and Twilight, aside from her tetchy social skills, tends to have a desire to dispense with trouble as quickly as possible, even when it’s not called for (and can make things worse).
There’s also the animation: Despite being made in Flash, the animation is very fluid and the character expressions are cartoony in the best sense; My Little Pony doesn’t follow John K.’s (Ren & Stimpy) edict of a different expression for every scene, never recycling, but it comes MUCH closer than most current animated shows. Often with shows made in Flash, there’s a tendency to make everything as static as possible; look at Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, for example. Of course, Faust’s earlier Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, also done in Flash, didn’t have this problem, and like My Little Pony, some scenes even look like cel animation. Even if you discount the content, the show, like the old Looney Tunes, is a joy to watch from a purely visual standpoint.
In the first run of the show, The Hub paired My Little Pony with the new remake of Strawberry Shortcake, a stiff, ugly, 3D CG show with unchanging characters with seemingly no distinct personalities. I couldn’t see anyone watching and enjoying it outside of a time-filler. To transition from that to My Little Pony almost seems cruel to the makers of Strawberry Shortcake, but to be honest, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for someone involved with making something so bad, particularly when they’re being shown by example how to make a show so alive rather than stiff and dead. Here’s hoping they pick up a few things from the competition.
And here’s hoping the world realizes that Lauren Faust has reached her goal in making “for girls” not mean “lame,” and that they should follow her lead.