Prancing Past Stereotypes

Courtesy of Hasbro

This is not your sister’s “My Little Pony.”

This isn’t a bunch of poorly animated equines with awkwardly large eyes prancing around in circles and singing poorly composed songs on rejected Hanna Barbara backdrops. And this definitely isn’t all a cheap gimmick to sell some crummy plastic dolls made in China that, let’s be honest, were about as lame as toys could get. In a single word, this is awesome. This is “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.”

We know what you’re thinking, if you haven’t already seen the show; you may be accusing us of being overly feminine, childish or just plain creepy. But that’s not the case.

In 2010, some people at Hasbro had a vision. What if they took all the awful old “My Little Pony” cartoons from the ’80s and ’90s, extracted the base characters and mythologies, and made it cool? To do this, they hired the eminent cartooning genius, Lauren Faust, as project lead. Faust, of course, is famous for some of our childhood gems such as “Powerpuff Girls” and “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.”

Faust and her team have done a stellar job of revamping the series, starting with the look. “MLP: FIM” uses vector imaging software and a time of skilled, stylized animators to implement a style rivaling more popular, established cartoons — the ones traditionally associated with boys.

Some characters from the original mythos were preserved, like the main character, Twilight Sparkle, and the big sisterly Princess Celestia, all in the kingdom of Equestria. And while these names and places sound absurdly girly, the beauty of having stereotypically feminine names and ideas effectively challenges gender roles, as the characters display depth, cunning and genuinely heroic tendencies.

Interestingly enough, Faust originally rejected the offer from Hasbro, as she herself claimed girls’ toys shows to be “boring and un-relatable.” Luckily, instead of staying aloof, Faust rose to the challenge and made a show about ponies that not only appealed to girls, but pretty much everyone. Strangely enough, the majority viewing group of “MLP” consists of not little girls, but dudes aged 18-30 called “Bronies” and their female counterparts, “Pegasisters”.

And these people aren’t creepy. Faust just knows how to appeal to a wide audience. In its first two seasons, “MLP” has featured parodies and cameos of such fandoms as “Doctor Who,” “Star Wars” and “The Big Lebowski.” Bronies and Pegasisters have even named several canon characters.

And season three, which premiered last month, continues to deliver.

The new season showcases everything we love about “MLP”: the interesting plots, the relatable, inspiring characters and the lessons stressing the importance of kindness, friendship and individuality that are valuable for people of all ages and genders.

In the season’s special two-part opener, Princess Celestia (the co-ruler of Equestria) summons Twilight Sparkle to help defend against King Sombra, the evil unicorn that once cursed the empire and is now threatening to overtake it again. Through a series of adventures that involve searching for a crystal heart that will allow hope and love to remain in the empire, the ponies eventually fulfill their mission through perseverance and bravery. No, really; it’s awesome.

The actions taken by the ponies of Ponyville defy the stereotypical roles of females in popular children’s shows. Girls are often shown as submissive, passive beings who do nothing more than brush their hair and worry about whether or not boys like them. In “MLP,” the females are strong, badass characters who do much more than concern themselves with petty social dramas. They are too busy saving empires and studying for their exams to be focused on anything else.

For example, Twilight Sparkle is a bookish pony who spends her time living in the Golden Oaks Library and craves any new knowledge she can gain. The show tells females that it is admirable to be intelligent and that they should embrace their nerdy qualities rather than be ashamed. Her studiousness plays to her advantage, as she is often able to discover important happenings such as the return of the antagonist Night Mare Moon and other situations that benefit Ponyville.

Other characters that lend themselves to strong character development are Applejack, the hardworking, sassy southern belle who works at Sweet Apple Acres, and Fluttershy, the animal caretaker that represents the kindness element. Applejack has a headstrong personality and Fluttershy is timid and shy, but both show audiences that everyone should embrace their unique traits and use them for the betterment of themselves and others.

These strong characters can be seen in the episodes that have aired so far, where the ponies have to use their smarts to combat clones of Pinkie Pie, battle bullying ponies and learn life lessons along the way.

The upcoming season is looking strong, and we expect that the quality and positive messages can grow from here. As creator Lauren Faust once said, “I encourage skeptics to watch ‘MLP’ with an open mind. If I’m doing my job right, I think you’ll be surprised.”

Final Rating: 5/5