One of the major reasons any show can catch on is its depth of characters. Realistic characters, each with their own goals, strengths, and weaknesses, provide the opportunity for realistic plots. Fortunately for MLPFiM, the main cast does a very good job of demonstrating all of these.
First, unlike many shows for girls, the characters demonstrate a wide variety of strengths. Even unlike earlier incarnations of My Little Pony, there are athletes, there are eggheads. The party pony and the shy one come into occasional conflict. This stems from one of Faust’s (2010) stated messages she wanted to convey with the show: “There are lots of different ways to be a girl.” The diversity among the characters ensures little girls will see something of themselves in at least one of the characters; however, this has also wound up applying to the older fans. Even the somewhat stereotyped characters are presented in a more positive light. For instance, the main cast does include a fashonista. However, rather than the typical shopaholic, Rarity is a designer and owns her own boutique. Her independence allows her to still present the beauty expected of such a character without the accompanying “objectifying restraint” (Moongazer, 2011, Meet the Ponies section, paragraph 3), and makes her a real character rather than a caricature.
However, the other half of why these characters work so well is their flaws. Moongazer (2011, Community, Diversity, and Pony Equality section, paragraph 1) claims that this is a crucial part of their characterization: “patriarchal media usually denies women the personhood that would enable us to be represented as flawed human beings and/or comical characters.” One of the best examples of this is Rainbow Dash. On the surface, she appears in many ways to be the stereotypical jock, with an overinflated ego and no concept that there might be something she can’t do. However, when examined more closely, it’s apparent that she is hugely afraid of failure: episode 16, “Sonic Rainboom” (Faust, 2011) does the most blatant job of showing Rainbow’s descent into neurosis when confronted with her own seeming inability (although of course this being a children’s show she succeeds in the end). In fact, all of the main cast have their own moments of feeling like their own talents have completely deserted them. Overcoming this loss of control provides a source of conflict that the “monster of the week” approach some shows take cannot match.
VanDerWerff, T. (2011, April 29). My Little Pony Friendship is Magic [Review of the television series My Little Pony Friendship is Magic]. Retrieved from http://www.avclub.com/articles/my-little-pony-friendship-is-magic,55168/
This review of MLPFiM covers the appearance of the show from Faust’s original intention: a show for kids, but a show the parents won’t mind watching either. VanDerWerff covers two major reasons for this working: the show is “relentlessly cute, relentlessly happy, and relentlessly entertaining”, and the characters are well-defined.
This is, frankly, the review I show people whom I’m trying to convince to watch MLPFiM; VanDerWerff does a very good job of describing the experience of watching the show without involving the fanbase at all. I’m not certain whether he’s attempting to target parents or non-parents with this review—he focuses more on the “this is awesome!” aspect than the “this is good for your children” aspect—but I believe that identifying the show as actually having depth while still being bright and colorful is useful for both groups.
Moongazer, Q. (2011, June 27). Unicorn ethics: A fragment on My Little Pony [Web log message]. Retrieved from https://quinnae.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/unicorn-ethics-a-fragment-on-my-little-pony/
Moongazer speaks to the three reasons she finds MLPFiM to be a positive influence on society: the show’s hero is an intellectual, the main characters represent a range of archetypes without being subordinate, and there is a positive sense of community and diversity.
Moongazer’s views are heavily colored by feminism—but considering the show’s true target audience and Faust’s (2010) own intended messages, this is not just fine but excellent. While her appreciation of an intellectual hero is based in part on seeing herself in that character, the other points she brings up are exactly what make the show enjoyable by all ages: there’s depth everywhere. Even though it’s a children’s show, the main cast all have their own jobs, goals, and motivations, and this allows for real conflict.
Faust, L. (Producer). (2011). My Little Pony Friendship is Magic [Television series]. Vancouver: Studio B Productions.
A young unicorn, Twilight Sparkle, learns about the magic of friendship through various adventures and hijinks with her friends in Ponyville over one season of twenty-six episodes. Her friends—including Applejack, a farmer; Rainbow Dash, an athlete; Rarity, a fashion designer; Pinkie Pie, a pastry chef and thrower of parties; and Fluttershy, the overly-shy local version of a veterinarian, help to bring Twilight out of her intellectual shell. The lessons she learns are generally presented as letters to her mentor, Princess Celestia, at the end of each episode.
As virtually every other work presented here suggests, MLPFiM is a bright, colorful show, aimed at girls around the six- to eight-year old range. However, for all the reasons presented elsewhere in this blog, it’s eminently watchable by those of all ages and genders. It is certainly not the deepest, most intellectual show out there, but I’m pretty sure it’s one of the most fun.
Faust, L. (2010, December 24). My little non-homophobic, non-racist, non-smart-shaming pony: A rebuttal [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://msmagazine.com/blog/blog/2010/12/24/my-little-non-homophobic-non-racist-non-smart-shaming-pony-a-rebuttal/
Ms. Faust rebuts a previous article on the Ms. blog regarding the alleged negative messages in MLPFiM by discussing how her childhood experiences led her to her current opinions, giving specific refutations to points raised in the previous article, and listing the messages she intended to convey with the show. In particular, while Faust played with My Little Pony toys (among others) in her youth, she didn’t enjoy the actual show from the ’80s: she felt the characters were largely indistinguishable.
Faust’s frustration with typical animation targeting girls has paid off in spades. Her intended messages have not only produced a wonderful show for little girls, but also created characters which adults can enjoy and relate to. The complex characters of MLPFiM, with their diverse personalities, talents, flaws, and goals, allow for complex plots which are enjoyable by young and old alike.