My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is my favourite show of the decade. I don’t think anyone expected when the first generation of My Little Pony aired in the ‘80s that it would eventually become a great show, but miraculously it managed it, proving that good writing can accomplish anything. In this article, I intend to examine briefly the three generations that preceded Friendship is Magic, and then I’ll move on to why Friendship is Magic is the amazing show that it is.
The first generation of My Little Pony is, to put it simply, a children’s cartoon from the eighties. That’s really all I need to say about it, as “from the eighties” describes every problem with it as well as everything it does well. I was only able to find one episode of it: a two parter called Rescue From Midnight Castle, although I’ve heard that many of the other episodes aren’t as watchable. Still, Rescue From Midnight Castle offered no less than would most other ‘80s cartoons.
Rescue From Midnight Castle
Rescue from Midnight Castle follows a group of ponies, most of whose names I can’t remember because they look so similar and sound like they’re all voiced by the same person, on their quest to save the world of Ponyland from an evil centaur named Tirek. I still can’t figure out why the ponies send one pegasus to bring a human to Ponyland, as she never actually does anything they couldn’t have done themselves.
By the end, my only thoughts were, “Well, that was from the eighties.” The pacing is odd, the animation low-budget, the voice-acting bad, the songs very eighties, and the characters uninteresting. The plot makes about as much sense as you’d expect from an eighties fantasy cartoon, although I’ve seen worse. It wasn’t especially good, but if you’ve a great deal of nostalgia for the eighties, I can only assume you’ll love it.
My Little Pony Tales
When thinking of terms to describe the second generation of My Little Pony, “f***ed up” are the first words that come to mind. If you’ve not seen Tommy Oliver’s video on the subject, I highly recommend you watch it. First of all, G2 is technically a spin-off of G1 despite having near nothing in common therewith, and despite being called “My Little Pony Tales,” it tosses out the fantasy setting for a modern town in the ’90s. Instead of acting like ponies, the characters exemplify the worst of humanity short of the truly evil. Instead of saving the world from Tirek, the ponies of G2 seem content to spend all their time trying to… well… er… trying to “get some.”
Amoral and Cynical
G2 has no morals; indeed, it seems determined to instil kids with the idea that morals are of little consequence, as the solution to G2’s every conflict seems to be to outmatch one’s obstacle in sheer cruelty. From what I can tell, the most infamous examples of this are the episodes Blue Ribbon Blues and Shop Talk, both of which I regret to inform you I have seen. Both episodes focus on a stallion named Teddy. In Blue Ribbon Blues he steals, abuses animals, and manipulates his way to his crush’s heart by nearly drowning one of his relatives.
In Shop Talk, word gets out that he has a teddy bear and he becomes a laughing stock. Instead of having any semblance of a moral as almost any other cartoon would, G2 shows its true colours—and what hideous colours they are! The female leads instead seduce teddy’s tormentors, take compromising photos of them, and blackmail them. I repeat—instead of Teddy learning to be open and happy with who he is, Tales resolves the episode with the moral that blackmail is the best solution.
Aside from being completely messed up, My Little Pony Tales is bad where characters, story, animation, and every other area are concerned. To make things worse, the songs are painful. How could it possibly get worse? Well, it could have been straight-to-video!
Generation 3 went straight to video, and it is the stuff of nightmares! With hindsight, the darkest hour came just before the dawn, but we didn’t know that back then. Back then we just gave the thing a wide berth when we could and shut off our brains when we couldn’t. Since the end of G3, there has been a damnatio memoriae of sorts upon it; no one wants to remember that this abomination existed. It is very difficult to watch an episode of G3 without flinching or shouting, “Burn it with fire!” at one point or another.
As far as I know there were three iterations of G3: “G3,” “G3: Newborn Cuties,” and “G3.5,” each of which was horrible. These three had much in common: horrible writing; horrible characters; hideous, creepy animation; and an utter lack of any conflict among other things. Yes, you heard that correctly; G3 lacks conflict—the thing that you need in order to tell any story—and therefore lacks any hope of having a plot. Instead of saving the world from Tirek, the
ponies abominations of G3 just waste time for however long they need an episode to take.
I’m Going to Burn You, Sherlock!
Next on the list is the animation, because the
ponies abominations of G3 all have dead, creepy “Jim Moriarty” eyes, and I keep thinking they’re going to threaten to burn the heart out of me. Instead of looking at each other—or even breaking the fourth wall and looking at the audience—they are content to stare through me.
G3 Newborns are so horrifying that I’ll not even try to describe them, and those of G3.5 look nothing like ponies. The songs are even worse than those in G2. One episode ends with the moral that all little girls watching it—and little boys too, as they make perfectly clear—are princesses. Burn it with fire!
However, as they say, the darkest hour is just before the dawn…
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the exact opposite of all the horrors that came before it! All those things that I complained about when I spoke of the previous generations (animation, characters, writing, conflict, voice-acting, and so forth) have suddenly become great. If Friendship is Magic draws any inspiration from any of the previous generations, it’s from G1, but all that it takes thence it makes good. The world of Friendship is Magic has its own mythology and culture, as opposed to being some generic ‘80s fantasy realm, and it’s a quite distinctive at that. This generation takes place in the high-fantasy kingdom of Equestria—a far better name than “Ponyland.” Ruling the kingdom is the sun goddess Celestia, whose student Twilight Sparkle fears the return of Celestia’s sister, Nightmare Moon. Twilight is sent to Ponyville, where she befriends Fluttershy, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie.
Each of the main cast has a distinct personality this time, and this time their eyes are reminiscent of anime rather than of Moriarty. The voice-acting, writing, and animation all come together to make nearly every movement reflect the personality of a character. As well as being interesting, the characters are also relatable; the internal conflicts are applicable to most people’s lives. The morals also tend to be really good, which sets it even more apart from G2 and G3. One of the show’s most prominent themes is how to reconcile individuality with equality.
The writing is, for the most part, great, although like any show (any show that isn’t Avatar: The Last Airbender) it’s got its share of bad episodes that should be avoided. Most of the bad episodes aren’t that bad; they’re only bad by the high standards of Friendship is Magic. Just stay away from Putting Your Hoof Down and you should do fine. When Friendship is Magic gets it right, however, they really get it right! Episodes like Hurricane Fluttershy, Lesson Zero, Flight to the Finish, and particularly Twilight’s Kingdom are some of the best episodes in all of television.
And, of course, Friendship is Magic also has songs, the difference being where quality is concerned. Now, I’m Scottish, and we don’t usually like songs that are happy; almost all our folk songs are tragic, bloody, melancholy, or—more often—all three at once. With this in mind, you know a happy song needs to be good in order for me to like it. The majority of happy songs that I do like are, in fact, from Friendship is Magic.
FilmCrazyAdam once said that “half these songs sound like something you’d hear on the radio,” but I think that’s giving the songs on the radio too much credit. The songs in Friendship is Magic have proven to me that contemporary music doesn’t have to suck. There really are good works in every genre of music, regardless how saturated one might be with bad ones. As for why the songs of Friendship is Magic are so good when so much contemporary work is so awful, I don’t know quite why, but talent and effort certainly help quite a bit.
The Land of Equestria
In terms of world-building, Friendship is Magic has created a very unique setting. Equestria feels unlike any other fantasy world I’ve encountered in a story, and even the world of the Equestria Girls movies (which ironically don’t take place in Equestria) is distinct enough from ours that it doesn’t break the viewer’s immersion in the show’s multiverse. Equestria’s steampunk-style technology and high-fantasy mythology and magic all blend seamlessly (something few stories have been able to do with such elements, I might add) to make it feel different from the worlds of other shows. Even their pronouns are set apart from our world, and this sort of disconnect—despite what some will tell you—can actually make it easier for one to become immersed in a fictional world, as is the case here.
When a friend first told me that My Little Pony had become a great show, he said that there weren’t any epic battles of good and evil. That, I am happy to say, was a bloody lie! Instead of saving the world from Tirek, the ponies of Friendship is Magic… well… Actually this time they’re back to saving the world from Tirek!
In fact there are loads of really good antagonists in the show, but none more famous than Discord, played by John de Lancie. I’ve already mentioned, I think, that the episode The Crystal Empire is an homage to Tolkien. Unlike most of what the first three generations gave us, Friendship is Magic actually has stakes. Indeed, the two-part episode Twilight’s Kingdom finishes off the show’s fourth season with one of the most epic fights ever!
In conclusion, Friedship is Magic is certainly one of the best shows of the decade. The characters are complex, the stories are engaging, the voice-acting is great, and aside from some bad episodes here and there, this show is just awesome! There’s a reason it’s so popular with all ages. That something can go through three increasingly horrible iterations and then be reborn in greatness is proof that good writing can accomplish anything. Just as I did with Merlin and Avatar before it, I happily recommend My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic!