comScore
  1. Mediaite
  2. Gossip Cop
  3. Geekosystem
  4. Styleite
  5. SportsGrid
  6. The Mary Sue
  7. The Maude
  8. The Braiser

What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Essay

For the Herd: Why The Internet Loves My Little Pony


If you spend more than thirty minutes a day on the Internet, chances are sometime, somewhere, you’ve chanced across a rage comic — those badly-drawn (on purpose, of course) image macros that hail from the likes of Reddit. Every couple of days or so while browsing Reddit’s “f7u12″ section, I happen across a comic wherein a grown man watches the new My Little Pony reboot and becomes addicted to it. I always found this pretty hard to believe, and dismissed them as a running gag. I mean, the original My Little Pony was too sugar-coated for me when I was a little girl, and my room was full of enough pink and stuffed animals to give a goth a seizure. Granted, I’ve since matured into a different beast and my all-male group of gamer friends has kindly begun informing me that my gender is now “bro”, so perhaps it’s best to take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Nevertheless, the prevalence of these comics got me wondering if perhaps there was some seriousness to them after all. And it’s not just the comics, either: Pony memes from “Derpy Hooves” to YouTube remixes have sprouted all over the Intertubes and reached the attention of the series’ creator and its artists, many of whom have begun to join in on message boards and insert subtle meme references into the show. So, I thought, let’s go see what the big deal is. What is it about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that can charm fully-grown male and female nerds alike?

The problem with the old My Little Pony is that it didn’t have a plot or a purpose, which I suppose is fine if you just want to sell toys. I wouldn’t call the main characters ‘protagonists’ so much as just ‘reoccurrances’; they weren’t developed, they weren’t memorable, and you couldn’t tell them apart. The “conflict” in every episode seemed to stem from petty social drama and little else, because surely anything more would be too much for little girls to handle! Nevermind that its release overlapped the likes of She-Ra.

Needless to say, I was quite surprised and quite impressed when I pulled up the first episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and discovered that not only did it have a plot (at least for the first two episodes), but it also had memorable and identifiable characters who were actually developed. And not only that, but our main characters were not collectively girly.

The main protagonist, Twilight Sparkle, is a bookish, learned, and altogether nerdy girl who will actually call her friends out in their less-than-reasonable moments. Rather than prancing through fields of flowers and singing, she’s mature and she wants to better herself through her education. Right off the bat, the show has told young girls that A) it’s ok to be a nerd, and B) be proud of your brain, and FILL it with knowledge. Yes. Similar to Twilight, there are two other ‘strong’ ponies. Applejack is a tough, confident, hard-working, no-nonsense country girl who will get the job done and who encourages girls to do the same. Rainbow Dash is an athlete and a tomboy (who some have argued to be lesbian), who shows that it’s ok to be tough and ambitious and that it’s great to be active. These three alone could beat the snot out of Lickity Split and the pony herd from the 80′s.

The three remaining main characters are more traditionally what you’d expect from the MLP franchise. Somewhat. Rarity is obsessed with fashion, makeovers, and romance, but she’s usually classy about it. She’s less Bratz and more Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is certainly a massage I’d prefer if girls positively must be fashion-centric. Fluttershy, as her name implies, is timid, passive, sensitive, and demure, and she spends her time caring for baby animals, but really…she’s so cute that I’ll forgive her for it, and the Internet can’t argue that it doesn’t like baby animals. And finally, there’s Pinky Pie, who is simply…insane. No, really. They call her ‘Pinky’ for short, which seems apt because she’s an awful lot like a certain lab rat from the 90′s. Pinky’s not girly so much as she just likes to party, but it’s more of a character quirk than it is an encouragement, I think. A lot of the show’s humor comes from her.

Oh, and there’s Spike, a baby dragon who is the only male character with real lines and the only character reincarnated from the original show. Spike is sort of the embodiment of all that is stereotypically boy, but he is also the source of the show’s moments of clarity. In the few times when things do get really girly, Spike responds with the kind of reaction the audience is probably having.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is the fact that all these characters have noticeable flaws. Twilight can be reclusive, single-minded, and can over-complicate things; Applejack brings stubbornness to a whole new level; Rainbow Dash is abrasive and arrogant; Rarity is flippant and self-centered; Fluttershy couldn’t assert her way out of a wet paper bag; Pinky can get on everyone’s nerves; and Spike can gross everyone out. It’s obvious that they put a lot of care into these characters to make them enjoyable, relateable, and believable, which one is hard-pressed to find in half the adult shows out there these days.

The first two episodes treat us to an adventure wherein we’re introduced to the land that the ponies live in and the lore surrounding it. Apparently two sisters, Celestia and Luna, have ruled over the ponies for centuries as part monarchs, part god figures. Celestia made the sun rise every day, and Luna gave us night. Luna gets pissed that her sister gets all the attention and transforms into a pretty badass dark pegasus, who Celestia imprisons with six gems of power. The gems are lost, Luna is forgotten, and all that remains is an old prophecy stating that on the 1000th anniversary of her imprisonment, the stars will free her and she will return. In short, we’ve got a great setup for an RPG.

To make a long story short, Twilight reads about all this and tries to warn everyone about Luna — who now goes by the name of Nightmare Moon — and her return, but nobody cares or believes her until it actually happens. Backed up by her fellowship of five other ponies, she goes out to recover the gems and beat the baddie. Along the way we’re shown that not everything is, well, rainbows and unicorns in Ponytown. Beyond the borders of Celestia’s kingdom, there’s actually a whole cadre of fantasy monsters, from manticores to gryphons to dragons and more, and it’s actually quite treacherous for the ponies to leave their own territory.  This is a pretty cool sense of danger to what one would expect to be a fluffy show, and the fact that the outside world acts differently than it does in the ponies’ native Equestria comes into play in several later episodes.

In any case, because it’s a show aimed at a younger audience, the outcome is predictable. Nightmare Moon, despite her awesome power, uses her magic in pretty weak ways to hinder the ponies, and they easily overcome the challenges she sets for them. They manage to recover the jewels, whose powers just so happen to correspond to each of their strongest personality traits, and Nightmare Moon is transformed back into her real self. The day is saved!

…and then that’s it.

Honestly I wish the day hadn’t been saved, because there’s so much plot and conflict they could have had with Nightmare Moon as a recurring baddie. I’ve since seen 16 episodes and she hasn’t returned. As things currently stand, Luna’s mended things with her sister and hasn’t been seen since.

From here, the plot seems to have vanished in favor of unrelated problems that can be solved in one episode, but for the most part they seem to be avoiding the junior-high drama that was so prevalent in the previous MLP incarnation. The only exception to this is an episode wherein Twilight is given two tickets to a ball, and all her friends go nuts with jealousy trying to get the other ticket. This is standard fare in girls’ shows that I hate to see, and it’s been done to death. Other problems, such as an undermanned ranch or an intruding dragon, are solved through hard work, cooperation, and cleverness, and this seems to be the norm. To date, nothing has been fixed with fairy dust or group hugs (well, ok, one group hug — but it was the stupid ball episode), but the shows will always end reinforcing that friends are treasures and with them anything is possible. It’s a pretty sunny theme, yet a welcome relief from the kind of cynicism that’s prevalent in many other shows.

The artwork is clean and minimalist, but also colorful and fun — it’s essentially a long flash animation, which certainly explains its Internet appeal. The episodes are surprisingly funny, with humor that anyone can get or appreciate, and they’ve slipped in many nods for the older crowd. I remember one episode where the ponies kept fainting and making goat noises, ala Tennessee Fainting Goats;  who other than Internet-dwellers would get that joke? Speaking of which, lazy-eyed ponies in the background have now become a running gag courtesy of the Internet, and a gray pegasus with a blonde mane and “derpy” eyes has since made several appearances.

The show also addresses several things I wouldn’t have expected to show up in today’s overly-sterilized kids’ fare. In the second episode, for example, the ponies encounter a rather flamboyant purple dragon who’s upset that Nightmare Moon destroyed half of his moustache. Rarity says something along the lines of, “We must punish this crime against fabulousity!” and cuts off her tail so she can use it to magically regrow the dragon’s hair. The thing is, Rarity’s not saying this in a mocking or even silly manner, and the ponies don’t approach this dragon as though he’s an oddity. They’re genuinely concerned for him, and they treat him as an equal. In return, he helps them for their kindness. How many kids’ shows have recently thrown a gay dragon at you, and more importantly, how many treated him respectfully? Later on, everything from racism to period metaphors to the great science vs. religion debate comes into play.

There’s so much more I could detail, but let’s face it, that’d be venturing into TL;DR territory. Overall, while I’m not addicted to this show, I do enjoy it and I am impressed. It approaches young girls assuming that they have a functioning brain in their heads, and assuming that they care about more than clothes, proms, and the color pink. Moreover, it introduces them to things that matter, and situations that will actually apply in the real world. And I think that’s why the nerd crowd appreciates it: it’s fun, it’s honest, it dips into fantasy geek culture, and its writing is surprisingly strong. I dare you to watch this show on a bad day and not come away feeling at least a little better.

I guess I, too, am now a part of the Herd.

TAGS:


  • http://twitter.com/SeeSome Charley Sumner

    Some of the MLP mash-ups have been pretty funny, but I’ve avoided looking any further into it. After reading this article though, I may have to check out the first couple of episodes and see if it’s something I should introduce to my 7yo daughter.

  • Kaitie Kudara

    Thank you for this. I’ve been wondering what all the hooplah was about, even though I’ve enjoyed the mash up videos I’ve seen. I’ll try to check it out.

  • http://profiles.google.com/mercurial.ink Beth Romero

    I now feel compelled to check this out :)

    I hearted the 80′s show, but I was probably only 3 or 4 at the time, and horse crazy as all get-out. I never bothered to check it out when I was older because I assumed it would be a let-down from my vague memories of the colorful little ponies… the new series sounds like it would be worth my time, though.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=702867751 Tami Costa

    I disagree a lit bit on how Rarity was described. Yes, she’s the classy, pretty pony, what would make her so easy to hate. But there’s so much development to her character! I love how instead of making her like the regular fashionista that follows trends, they made her a designer that has her own business, a boutique where she sells her creations. When she was kidnapped by dogs, she managed to manipulate the situation in her favor using her smarts instead of being helpless and fragile. She shows that the “girly girls” can be strong and intelligent too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1244520180 Andrea Pantoja

    I was always the tomboy as a kid so i easily dismissed MLP as overly pink, frilly crap. But I just watched the first “Friendship is magic” episode. Let’s just say, i’m about to make up for the years i didn’t watch it. I loved it!

  • http://twitter.com/fireholly99 Holly

    This is a great article, but I’m not sure I like the implication that the least stereotypically girly ponies are the ‘strong’ ones. One thing I really enjoy about the show is that the girly characters have just as much personality as the tomboys, and how even the girly characters get the opportunity to be ‘do-ers’ rather than passive characters – for instance, it’s well established that Fluttershy has a secret terrifying side and can get animals to obey her unquestioningly, Rarity owns and promotes her own business, and Pinkie is great with machines, so I don’t see how their girliness makes them any less ‘strong’, either in terms of having strong personalities or in terms of actual power, than the tomboyish ponies.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love that there is a show aimed at girls which has several tomboyish girls in it who show girls that it’s okay not to be stereotypically girly. But I love just as much that the show has several girly girls in it who are not only girly in ways other than the contrived, shopping-and-boys way you would expect from a girl’s show, but who get to have well-developed characters and influence the plot themselves.

    I love the message this sends to children – there is no wrong way to be a girl. You’re just as good at being a girl if you’re a pragmatic hard-worker or if you just love partying and making everyone laugh; you’re just as good at being a girl if you’re a fashion-loving aesthete or an introverted animal-lover as if you’re a badass athlete or a brilliant scholar. The true strong female character in MLP isn’t any of the individual ponies, it’s the whole group. And that ensemble is what so many Smurfetted children’s shows are missing, and why so many of them therefore seem to insist that there’s only one way of being a girl.

  • http://twitter.com/fireholly99 Holly

    @Tami Costa: Yes. I think it says a lot that when we ask a man to design a female character aimed at children who’s into fashion, we get a shopaholic, and when we ask a woman to design one, we get an artist.

  • Erincb87

    I think this is a pretty excellent summary of the show overall. I’ve watched most of the episodes to date, and have rather enjoyed myself. It’s quite refreshing to see a show aimed at girls that actually tries to handle real issues. :) I will disagree with your opinion of Rarity though. Despite her “girly-ness,” and obsession with appearances, she is, in the end, an artist and an astute business owner who works very very hard. And actually, the episode involving the ball gowns, despite being fashion-heavy, showcases her hard work quite well. Rarity’s not my favorite character (that honor would go to Rainbow Dash), but I don’t think you can dismiss her completely out of hand.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001024198090 Scott Mccormick

    Icky,no like “pretty ponies”(except for real ones)

    Now had this been on a gangster rap remix of the teletubbies,or a disturbing look into my preposterous enjoyment of “hello kitty” You would have had me.
    Different
    strokes for different folks,I suppose.Damn it,now I’ve got “the world dont move to the beat of just one drum” in my head…happy tuesday all.

  • http://twitter.com/KomiIsDrawing Kate Ashwin

    Gonna mention another geek reference they make- There’s a pony called Doctor Whooves in the background of one episode, his cutie mark is an hourglass :3 There’s even one that looks like the Fifth Doctor too!
    http://mlp.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_ponies/Season_one/Earth_ponies#D

  • http://twitter.com/KomiIsDrawing Kate Ashwin

    Gonna mention another geek reference they make- There’s a pony called Doctor Whooves in the background of one episode, his cutie mark is an hourglass :3 There’s even one that looks like the Fifth Doctor too!
    http://mlp.wikia.com/wiki/List_of_ponies/Season_one/Earth_ponies#D

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_7G4SWUX2MCWWXLMYNN347JMIZY Frodo Baggins

    Puff, the Magic dragon. That dude was gay as a handbag full of rainbows.

  • Anonymous

    As someone who’s been a member of The Herd since I was a wee little girl in the 80′s, clutching my first Pony to my chest… Welcome!
    And the latest series is much closer to the stories I told with my ponies, anyway.

  • zbl

    I actually didn’t mind the two-tickets-to-the-ball episode. It’s not one that I rewatch that much (it’s got nothing to compare to the season finale, which is epic), but it does help establish Celestia as a flawed character (in particular, the sort that’d send her prize student two tickets and not think about how insensitive that is). Celestia comes off as a bit too much of a perfect god-princess sometimes (perhaps because she, well, is a god-princess), but I have a feeling that the occasional hints that she’s an aloof, uncaring monarch might be leading up to something.

  • zbl

    Oh, and forgot to mention — despite Rarity’s girlyness, as Lauren Faust points out, she’s not a mindless shopaholic but an ambitious entrepreneur that runs her own business. Seems like a good mix of girliness and strength.

  • Harhar

    I don’t even know this page, or you, but you’re already my very best friend

  • Colin

    “Honestly I wish the day
    hadn’t
    been saved, because there’s so much plot and conflict they could have had with Nightmare Moon as a recurring baddie.

    I know!

    I mean, Twilight is essentially pony Jean Grey, with Celestia as her Xavier; it would have been great to have more opportunities to show off.

  • Nicole Pucci

    Thank you guys for the insight into the other characters. Like I said, I’m not all that far into the series so I’ve likely missed a lot where character development’s concerned. I’ve yet to see the aforementioned sides of Rarity and Fluttershy, but now I’m glad that there’s still more to surprise me. This show is definitely good at pleasant surprises.

  • http://nightxade.blogspot.com nX

    Fantastic article. We stumbled on the show and now it’s a regular family event (tonight at 6pm!). Everyone should be watching it.

  • ponygirl22

    Talk to the creators about extending the conflict with Nightmare moon and thickening the plot. If they know people will go for it, who knows

  • SFG

    I wonder how long this can last. Of all the standard personality types used in cartoons, I don’t think they ever made the nerd the hero(ine) before. I wonder if this would limit Hasbro’s abilities to sell pony toys, as most girls who aren’t smarter-than-average (which by definition is most of them) aren’t going to identify with a smarter-than-average character.

    In short, are there enough geek girls to sell ponies to, or is the show going to wind up like all those Whedon shows?

  • http://profiles.google.com/churchhatestucker Church Tucker

    It’s been confirmed that Luna will return in season two, so we may yet get more Luna/Celestia conflict.

    Also, Derpy is being promoted to a foreground pony based on her internet popularity.

  • Alison

    A terrific article! The only quibble I have comes from my lifelong Pony love, and it’s the fact that Applejack is also a holdover from the original series, and was my favorite when I was a wee lass. The original series WAS pretty bland, and I simply adore the the art and story sensibilities of the new series. As you pointed out, the characters are actually developed as individuals, rather than palette swaps. Great site, and thanks for writing this!

  • Teal Deer

    There are huge problems inherent in splitting the main cast into “strong” and “femme” because of the dichotomy there. All of the characters have their own strengths and weaknesses, and to say that one is stronger than the other because they present as more butch (Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Twilight) furthers society’s general assumption of femme = weak.

  • http://www.facebook.com/privatewojtek Bear Philippe

     Be prepared for how often you will end up watching it with her.

  • a brony

    I strongly dislike it when redditors assume rage comics are mainly from f7u12.

  • Anonymous

    I am now… fearful of being assimilated into the Herd.

    Great article, Nicole!

  • Guest

    I don’t know if most girls aren’t smarter than average. I’d say about 50% of them are. 

  • Katchoo62000

    Will have to make sure our cable provider has The Hub.
    Also, according to Wikipedia, here’s why this show is full of girlish win: “This incarnation of the popular Hasbro toy was developed for television by Lauren Faust who is famed for her work on two of Cartoon Network’s noted franchises The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, on all of which she worked with their creator and her husband Craig McCracken.”
    LOVE the way those 2 shows depict girls. I introduced our friend’s 5 year old to PPG and Foster’s and she loves them! Will def make her watch this one.
    p.s. Well written article, Nicole!

  • Alasdair

    I’ve heard a fair bit about this show in passing on the Internet, but never watched it. This was the first time I’ve read about it in detail, and as a guy I found myself thinking, “Oh, they’re all girls? That’s a shame… can’t there be some male ponies as role models for any boys who might be watching?”

    Then I thought about it a little and realised that most cartoon shows ever made have had a majority-male cast. (I’m not too up to date with current cartoons, but the only female-led one I can remember from my youth was The Powerpuff Girls.) And suddenly I understand how frustrated girls must have been growing up with them…

    So, congrats to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic for breaking the trend, and double congratulations for apparently actually being good! May the ponies have many more adventures to come.

  • http://www.facebook.com/duffy.elmer Duffy Elmer

     This article Got me hooked on MLP:FiM. I’m a full-blown brony now.

  • http://profiles.google.com/ryanferneau Ryan Ferneau

    I wouldn’t peg Celestia as aloof or uncaring so much as that she seems to be secretly a bit of a trickster, and occasionally she sets the ponies up into an uncomfortable situation just to see how they deal with it.  It may not be a nice thing to do, but I think Celestia sees it as a good way to help the main cast grow and mature in character.  In any case, it’s neat that the simple pure matriarch character could have hidden dimensions that children wouldn’t catch the first time around.

    And I think that “The Ticket Master” actually speaks to the strengths of the show’s writing.  In a lesser series, it could have easily been a very bland and predictable episode, especially as it struggled to give all the main characters equal time–several later episodes would omit a few characters when they had a smaller scope.  But when you see how much creativity was put into all the ways Twilight’s friends plead their cases, it’s just so much fun to watch!

  • http://twitter.com/MLPPinkiePie Pinkie Pie

    Rarity seems a mix of the better parts of Seductress and Spunky Kid.

  • Andrew Redfield

    Trollestia is bestia

  • http://www.facebook.com/rosalie.kitchen Rosalie Kitchen

    that’s not the doctor! That blue one is the Master. He’s far too snotty and condecending and such to be the doctor. The doctor is a little… insane. But in a good way, not in a head up his arse way. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=542718643 Max Zinovskiy

    “which is certainly a massage I’d prefer if girls positively must be fashion-centric”  ehehehe

    yes, it is certainly a massage I’d prefer :D

  • TWSceptic

    I’ve read all these articles to be able to understand why a grown man would like this child animation, I still have no answer.

    I’m just going to conclude they are nerdy pedophiles who like child animation because it brings them in the right mood.

  • Turats

    Unless dates are possessive, they should not have an apostrophe to show plural. An abbreviated form of a date should have the apostrophe in front of the number to show that something has been left out. So when abbreviating 1980s and 1990s you write as ’80s not 80′s and ’90s not 90′s.