April 4, 2011

I Spent My Entire Weekend Watching My Little Pony

And I loved it.

I’m not all the way through it yet, but I am really enjoying My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It is not a show I am going to recommend to you unless you have a child in the appropriate age range for a show like this. Then goodness, get them in front of it. They should enjoy it, and you can rest assured that it’s better than a lot of the garbage out there for kids.
But man, I just love stuff for kids when it’s done with a level of respect for the audience. It makes me happy. It makes me grin.

I know I’ve talked about it before. I tried to find some reference posts about how I love childish things that are taken seriously, and I found this one, but I feel like I’ve written a lot more. I just love the formula. I can see right through it, of course. I’m versed enough in plots to know, within two minutes of an episode of Friendship is Magic, exactly what is going to happen throughout the episode, and I’m always right. It’s following a formula, for sure. But it’s a safe and relaxing formula. Horrible things can happen, but you know that they’ll be wrapped up by the end of the episode, friendships will be strengthened, and everything will move on. I like that formula when it’s done right. The problem is, to do it right, you have to have characters with at least a little depth to them, and that’s often where shows fall flat. The characters are empty placeholders because the people who make these shows assume that children don’t understand how people work, and don’t have even the most rudimentary level of empathy and ability to follow more complex plots and ideas.
I’m not going to attempt to pretend that the character of Twilight Sparkle is some genius invention of art, but she is a very well-rounded character. She demands a level of organization of people around her, but is very sloppy in her own research methods. She’s happy to have friends, but many of her passions involve alone time and solitude, and so she not only has trouble finding a balance between the two, but also figuring out how to actually interact with those around her in an effective way. These are all character traits that are relatable and realistic.
She’s also a fucking wizard, so that’s cool too.
Throughout the season as I have viewed it, every one of the main ponies has had their personalities fleshed out in this way. Even Pinkie Pie, who really seems like one-note comic relief on first glance, is actually fairly fleshed out. None of them is just always right. They bicker, they’re always flawed, and it’s only by working together do they come to a solution to issues that isn’t a huge problem. It’s a mostly ensemble cast, though Twilight Sparkle is obviously the focus, and it makes it so that no one character is the “win” button. So often in shows like this you have a situation where side characters fight, and sigh, it’s time for main character, or “God” or “parent” character who is always right, to come in and fix everything. That isn’t the case here. They come to their own conclusions, and work things out themselves. It’s nice.

People were going insane for this show. I ended up reading this article by the main person behind it due to a twitter post, and I really liked her approach and her frank discussion of how she wanted to make a show worth watching, and not just a toy commercial. Still, it wasn’t until I saw the love put into the animation through the silly music video Val linked me that I decided to check out the first episode and see if what Lauren Faust had said was actually reflected in the show itself. I’m 17 episodes in now, after being unable to stop loading up “one more,” and I feel like she, for the most part, succeeded in her goals and made a really fantastic children’s show.

I’ve been thinking about the character relationships, and the general workings of the entire world of Equestria all weekend. As a person who is trained via lit crit to read too much into everything, I’ve certainly found some interesting things about the general world that I keep trying to figure out in my head. For example, all ponies have something called a “cutie mark” (which is a terrible name and I hope was dictated to the creative team by the toy department) which they develop as they grow older and which reveals their special talent and passion. In some ways, this mirrors the normal process of going up, but in another, it’s something that really speaks to a level of fate being ingrained in Pony society. What marks you is the one thing you can do well, and thus should do. You shouldn’t aspire to do other things, because those aren’t your special talent. Applejack is marked with apples, and thus should work on the apple orchard. That’s it. This sits potentially wrong with me, but says something interesting about the world. Similarly, Pegasus are in charge of changing the weather in this society. Seasons don’t change on their own, but only change via hard work, and those with wings are responsible for quite a lot of making sure nature is functional. They’re expected to bend the natural order to their will, but at the same time, Fluttershy is a pegasus who is totally focused on being in harmony with nature. Is she actively fighting against her place in the world? Or does her mark exempt her from that, because she is obviously supposed to deal with nature? Also, the prestigious ponies up in the capital of Canterlot simply use magic to change the weather and seasons, while those in Ponyville must resort to days and days of hard work to make nature happen. Does Princess Celestia not care about the plight of the working pony in the fields?

Also, Magic is Science, but Magic is also Friendship. Is Science actually Friendship? IS IT?

This is the kind of bullshit I think about, and will continue to think about as I load the next episode to watch while I eat. At least I am in good company, and am not the only one thinking about this kind of ridiculous stuff for fun.

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