Controversy is once again brewing among fans of diminutive cartoon horses. It seems like a weekly ritual, this constant ebb and flow of panic and relief, unchecked caps-lock accompanied hyperbole and the arrogant dismissal of the concerns of an understandably protective fanbase. This time, though, the fear, worry, anger, and resentment are ratcheted up to 11 as folks worry for the future of the show as well as its most popular character. It all comes down to one question- is Twilight Sparkle- the adorkably awkward student of Princess Celestia about to ascend to Princesshood…uh, Princessdom? Princessity?
Is Twilight Sparkle going to turn into a princess permanently? And more to the point, what does this signify for the future of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
Let me start by saying this- I’m not worried for two reasons. First, read the above sentence again. “Is Twilight Sparkle going to turn into a princess permanently? And more to the point, what does this signify for the future of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” If you can take that sentence in any way seriously, then you’re a far more stoic person than I. Since my (modern) beginnings as a fan of My Little Pony I’ve never approached it with the same gravitas of, say, politics or even as seriously as I take being a fan of other shows and media- Sherlock, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, James Bond, Punisher comics, Silent Hill games, etc. Frankly, My Little Pony is, for me, an escape from the super-serial storylines, fandoms, and entrenched history of other interests I follow- both real and fictional. My Little Pony plays to a different part of my brain; the same part that loves to sit in front of the TV eating cereal on Saturday morning or make crashing sounds when I wreck toy cars together. It’s not that I fail to hold MLP to a high standard, quite the opposite. From the animation to the writing to the jokes, I think each season, each episode has brilliance and merit. But I do hold it to a DIFFERENT standard. While sometimes I wonder what it would like for the show to deal with more concrete, grown up storytelling concepts and structure, I’m not disappointed when it fails to do so either. MLP FIM is just not that kind of creature. I am simply a firm believer that nothing involving cartoon ponies with magic symbols on their butts having adventures should never be the cause of so much stress and consternation.
Again, that is not to say the show isn’t brilliant on its own merits, which brings me to my second point. I think we all realize that My Little Pony is not a property with a long history of quality animation, storytelling, cleverness and well-rounded, thoughtful characters. When we were young, My Little Pony was a cartoon designed to sell toys. From a marketing standpoint not much has changed. But what is different now is that we have a team of smart, talented, and amazing artists, cast, and crew working on the show. Lauren Faust brought intelligence and a sense of self-awareness to what, ostensibly, could have been just as phoned in as Gen 3.5.
At the end of the day, Hasbro doesn’t particularly care about the quality of the show. They don’t care if you or I like it, if we, as people over 9 years old, buy the toys, support the show, or generate terabytes of art, music, videos, fiction, chats, websites or games every single day. Hasbro wanted a show that highlighted and drove demographic-specific sales of their molded plastic. They got that. But what Lauren and Jayson and Wootie and Sibsy and Raven and Meghan and M.A. and Daniel and Steffan have aspired to and delivered is so much more. They’ve worked to make the show greater than the sum of its semi-articulated parts with brushable hair and, for an additional $20 plus batteries, real voice action with six girly catchphrases. They approached the show as artists creating something smart and fun and meaningful that also happens to sell toys for the parent company.
So, yes, every season Hasbro makes demands. They need a new pink princess pony and for Twilight Sparkle to have a brother. The board wants to see crystal ponies because the buzzword “crystal” anything is popular with girls 4-8 years of age. And now, they want Twilight Sparkle to be a princess, because Hasbro is not like us. Hasbro is not like Lauren Faust and her message of empowerment for girls AND boys. Hasbro is not like M.A. Larson who writes amazing episodes filled with silly mayhem and unique approaches to the tropes of children’s programming. Hasbro is not like actual little girls or grown up adults who love the show for all its smart jokes and fun characters. Unlike all of us, Hasbro is convinced that being smart and capable and open to learning and new experiences- the myriad of character traits for which we love a certain purple unicorn, are unimportant. Their priority is rushing the character into being a princess because retailers don’t want books as accessories with girls toys, they want dresses and flowing hair and weddings and yards of pink material.
BUT, and this is the important bit, these demands are being filtered through artists and writers and directors who do understand, who ARE like us. These are the folks who gave us a fashionista pony who is smart and independent and isn’t averse to fisticuffs or weaponized whining. This is the same team that took an out-of-nowhere pink princess and made her into both a creepy insectoid monster queen AND a highly capable and good-hearted heroine who returns from exile to buck tradition and save her prince. These are the crafters of a show we love and appreciate- they know what we want to see, they believe in the work they produce and the world they have been building for three seasons.
As I’ve posted frequently here and on Tumblr and Twitter- I believe in M.A. Larson. But that’s really code for the fact I believe in every member of the My Little Pony production team. I believe they know what they’re doing, and no-matter what demands the parent company may make towards the direction of the show, DHX and the VAs will find a way to polish that rotten apple and make it shine, shine, shine.
So, all that being said- I’m not worried. I don’t fault other fans for their concerns, and I don’t want it to ever seem that I’m mocking or baiting those with concerns. By playing on fears and reactions I hope to lessen their weight and take some of the sting out of the drama. And while I don’t share in the anger or stress or worry, I can empathize and I wouldn’t dare make light of other people’s feelings.
But for my part, as long as DHX is running My Little Pony, I have no worries. I will not buy into the oft-repeated fan meme of “ruined forever” or be driven away from this show that brings me, consistently much joy. At the end of the day, giving a unicorn wings isn’t enough to tarnish my belief in the power of friendship and magic. Nor is it enough to keep me from showing up on Saturday morning with my pajamas and cereal and toys to crash together while making exploding noises.