My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Discovery Family, Saturdays 11:30am
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Okay, I suppose I should begin by saying I vaguely recall when I was a little kid in the early 1980s, playing with My Little Ponies. I don't remember if I had some of my own, or if they all belonged to my sister, but most likely some were mine. Perhaps this plays some small part in explaining why I have never been a fan of gender stereotyping. I'm also fairly sure I used to have a My Little Pony sticker book, with plenty of cute puffy stickers in it. I don't recall ever seeing any My Little Pony cartoons, though. Anyway, doing a bit of research online, I see that this series is considered part of the fourth generation of the "My Little Pony" franchise of toys and animations (so if you see something about the show that says "G4," you shouldn't confuse that with the cable network by that name). There were, apparently two different animated series based on the G1 ponies, and various movies and specials which I suppose may have been based on any of the first three generations. I have no interest in seeing these, nor in even sorting out which were based on which generation of toys. But I'm getting into the G4 cartoon, because I've seen a couple of wicked cool and funny and cute commercials for the show (There's a Pony For That; Equestria Girls), as well as some fanvids on YouTube. I highly recommend you look for such things. One of my favorites (which I didn't see until I had been into the show for a few years) is the song I Don't Have a Favorite Pony, by Hank Green. But there are tons of great vids. I should also say that from what I've read, the show has a pretty accommodating relationship with fans, which is refreshing. It seems to me like the companies behind a lot of entertainment do all they can to restrict fans from expressing their love, whereas the people behind this show clearly appreciate the fandom.
Speaking of the fandom, I need to mention that the show's fans include adults as well as children, and males as well as females. Fans of the show are called "bronies," a term which appears to be an amalgam of "bro" and "pony," although it applies to female fans as well as males (though perhaps it only applies adult fans). Some women may also call themselves "pegasisters," though some may disdain that term. *shrug* (An independent documentary called Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony was released online during the show's third season.)
Anyway, the show was developed by Lauren Faust, who was involved in making The Powerpuff Girls and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, two shows which were pretty cool, and which also were popular with different demographics than just the target audience. (I definitely see lots of PPG influence on MLP.) Faust left her position as executive producer after season one, but remained a consulting producer in season two, though I think otherwise the staff was pretty much the same. And the show was still awesome. I don't think she's been involved past season two, but subsequent seasons have all still been pretty cool. The show is just so super kawaii and fun and crazy and sweet. Kind of like shojo anime. So it's not surprising I like it, since I like all kinds of anime. Also, I've read online that the show is seen as being part of a trend called "New Sincerity," as opposed to the popular cynicism and irony of a lot of modern culture, including animation. And I think that's nice, but at the same time, the show doesn't seem to be entirely irony-free. I think everyone involved is well aware of the inherent corniness, which allows the writers, animators, and voice actors to all just have fun with it, be pretty over the top and zany, which allows all manner of fans to enjoy it, too. It's pretty neat that the show can pull that off, while still delivering positive messages about friendship for kids to learn from. Most shows aimed at kids, especially if there's any kind of "message" aspect to them, will tend to be fairly insipid, from an adult perspective. So it's always nice to come across something that can entertain young and old alike. It's definitely impressive to see a successful melding of sincerity and irony. (Oh, I also read a comment made somewhere by a fan with Asperger's Syndrome that they learned more about friendship from this show than they had from like 30 years of life, or something. Which I can appreciate, personally, myself.)
It starts by telling us of a legend from like 1000 years before the show begins, about these two pony princesses. One, Celestia, was in charge of the sun rising each day, and her younger sister, Luna, was in charge of the moon rising each night. But Luna tried to make eternal night, and Celestia had to use the six "elements of harmony" to trap her in the moon. Now, 1000 years later, a pony named Twilight Sparkle is studying an ancient prophecy which says Luna (or as she's called, Nightmare Moon), is about to be freed and once again try to create eternal night. Twilight warns Princess Celestia (of whom she is a student), but Celestia just sends her to oversee the preparation for a celebration in Ponyville, also telling her to make friends instead of just studying all the time. (I should mention that the land in which the show is set is called Equestria, and Twilight is from the capital city of Canterlot.) Also, Twilight has an assistant: a baby dragon named Spike (at least he's referred to as a baby dragon, and he's small enough to be a baby, but it's hard for me to think of him as such, since he talks, reads, and seems reasonably intelligent; he also has a major crush on a pony named Rarity, but that's getting ahead of myself). Spike can magically deliver messages between Twilight and Celestia. Twilight, btw, is a unicorn pony (there are two other types, pegasus ponies and earth ponies). And she is skilled at magic.
Well, Twilight isn't interested in making friends, and when she does meet the various ponies of Ponyville, she thinks they're all crazy. Meanwhile, she just wants to get to the library where she'll be staying while she's in town, in hopes of finding information about the elements of harmony, which could be used to stop Nightmare Moon. But she doesn't actually get to do any studying, until Nightmare shows up at a party, after apparently getting rid of Celestia, or something. So Twilight and the five ponies she'd met would have to go searching for the elements, while Nightmare put a number of obstacles in their way.
I should mention the other ponies, now. There's an earth pony named Applejack, who dresses and talks like a cowgirl. Her family runs an apple orchard (they all seem to be named after different foods made with apples, or apples themselves); or as I later learned, orchards around Equestria. (We'll occasionally see Applejack's older brother, Big McIntosh (aka Big Mac), their younger sister, Apple Bloom, and their grandmother, Granny Smith; the others from the first episode were just there for a reunion.) There's a pegasus pony named Rainbow Dash, who is adventurous and proud of being a very fast flier (her ultimate dream is to join a famous group of flying ponies called the Wonderbolts, who appear to be modeled after the Blue Angels). There's an earth pony named Pinkie Pie, who is like totally hyperactive and silly and sweet and ditzy and stuff (she's always singing and dancing and throwing parties, etc.) There's a pegasus pony named Fluttershy, who is very shy and soft-spoken around other ponies, but she seems pretty enthusiastic with other creatures like birds and bunnies and such (and she can get assertive, on rare occasions). And there's a unicorn pony named Rarity (the one I said Spike has a crush on), a fashion designer who wants to make everyone and everything beautiful (she's very elegant and obsessed with etiquette, and also a drama queen). Anyway, by the end of the second episode, Twilight Sparkle will realize that she herself, along with these other five ponies, represent the six elements of harmony. (I won't be more specific about that; you can check Wikipedia if you're interested, or preferably watch the show yourself.) Of course, they all save the day in the end, and Twilight learns to appreciate friendship, which she stays in Ponyville to learn more about, rather than returning to Canterlot. And at the end of every episode, she'll send a report to Princess Celestia, summarizing whatever lesson she's learned about friendship, in the episode. (Though occasionally she makes her report to Celestia in person.) The show has lots of great characters, but Twilight, Fluttershy, Pinkie, Dash, Rarity, and Applejack are the main ones (known in fandom as the "Mane Six").
Anyway... like I said, it's a really fun, amusing, sweet, and super cute show, with lots of fun songs, and the ponies all have well-defined personalities (which seem well-coordinated with how each of the ponies look, especially Pinkie Pie, who is pretty much the personification of the color pink; sorry, I mean the ponification). I think Fluttershy is my favorite, with Pinkie a close second, and really, I adore all the ponies. And there are three younger ponies who become important. I already mentioned Applejack's little sister, Apple Bloom. Well, she becomes close friends with a unicorn pony named Sweetie Belle (Rarity's little sister), and a pegasus pony named Scootaloo (who isn't related to the main characters, though she does idolize Rainbow Dash). I should explain that ponies all get their own unique little patterns on their flanks, at some point. These are called "cutie marks," and they are symbolic of a pony's personality or the kind of job they'll have. It's unpredictable exactly when a pony's cutie mark will first appear or what it will look like, but getting it is kind of comparable to entering puberty. Which is of course a common concern for human adolescents in any number of shows, movies, or books; so it's not surprising that getting a cutie mark is important to young ponies. And this becomes a plotline that runs through several episodes. Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo are like the only three ponies in their class at school who haven't yet gotten theirs, so they start a club called the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Basically, the three of them spend a lot of time trying to force their cutie marks to appear by trying all kinds of different activities, as well as listening to the main characters tell stories about how they got their cutie marks when they were younger.
Of course, there are lots of interesting stories. The first two episodes were a single story, the whole "Nightmare Moon" thing I mentioned before. The third ep involved the ponies getting tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala, an annual event in Canterlot, which they attend in the first season finale. (It's odd, because that's apparently the first time they went, but I thought they had gone immediately after the third episode.) There's also an episode that introduces a zebra named Zecora, who's like a shaman or something. And an episode that introduces a unicorn pony named Trixie, who starts out as a rival to Twilight, and will be seen again in later seasons. And... I dunno. In every season, some episodes will have adventurous plots or big events, but most of them are just sort of everyday type stuff. They're all incredibly funny and cute, though.
Like the first season, season two starts with a major 2-episode story. There's a villain called Discord who has to be defeated. (He's voiced by John De Lancie; Discord was apparently inspired by De Lancie's character Q, from Star Trek: The Next Generation.) We'll also see a bit more of Princess Luna this season (now that she's friends with her sister Celestia again). And some ponies besides Twilight will sometimes write to Celestia about friendship lessons they've learned. The season ends with another 2-part story, in which we learn that Twilight has a brother named Shining Armor, who is captain of the guard in Canterlot. He's marrying a mare named Princess Cadance, who used to be Twilight's favorite foalsitter, when she was little. However... Twilight soon comes to suspect something's not right about Cadance. This leads to the introduction of a new villain, Queen Chrysalis, who is the leader of a race of Changelings.
Season three starts with a 2-parter about the Crystal Empire (of which Princess Cadance becomes the ruler), which is another epic story. (They have to defeat a villain named King Sombra.) There's another (not so epic) 2-parter near the end of the season, which at first I didn't realize... because the first scene in the latter ep seemed to be a scene from the former ep. But it turned out that it was basically events told from two different perspectives (first ep Spike, second ep the Mane Six). There's also an ep where Trixie returns and does some bad stuff, but is ultimately semi-redeemed. Then the season finale is another epic episode, with a majorly important development for Twilight Sparkle, though I don't want to spoil that, yet. (It is, however, spoiled in my review of the movie My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, which takes place between the third and fourth seasons. And spoiled again in the next paragraph.) But throughout the season, there were, as always, lots of good stories. One important event is Fluttershy befriending Discord, who becomes a good guy... but is still rather mischievous, and never well-liked by anypony except Fluttershy.
Spoiler alert! Twilight became a princess (and therefore an alicorn) at the end of season three. Throughout this season, she'll have trouble dealing with the changes this means in her life... but also has trouble dealing with the lack of changes. Of course the season begins with an epic two-parter, involving yet another ancient threat returning. We see a flashback to Celestia and Luna discovering the elements of harmony long ago, which now have to be returned to the Tree of Harmony. With the threat averted, a chest with six key holes appears, and I got the impression that much of the season would involve an ongoing quest to find the keys... but it didn't. For the most part that plot point just seemed to be ignored, though there was an old abandoned castle that Twilight (and sometimes her friends) would return to occasionally, to look for answers to... stuff. One plot point that is mentioned in several episodes is the Equestria Games. Some of the preparations for that took place in the months prior to the 2014 Olympic Games, so I thought it would be cool to see the Equestria Games happen around the same time, in February... but instead, it didn't happen until May, near the end of the season. Meanwhile, there are plenty of good stand-alone episodes, including one that introduced Pinkie Pie's sister, Maud. (Her personality is the exact opposite of Pinkie's, but they still really love each other, and I love them both.) And of course there's a 2-part epic finale, in which Twilight is upset that she doesn't have any important duties as a princess, like Celestia, Luna, and Cadance do. However, an old enemy named Tirek escapes from Tartarus, where Celestia and Luna had imprisoned him long ago. He begins stealing unicorn magic to make himself more powerful, and Celestia sends Discord to stop him... but Tirek convinces Discord to join him, calling "friendship" with ponies just another prison. (I must say, I don't entirely disagree, considering how everypony except Fluttershy treats him and talks about him. And Discord himself says he mainly cares about her, more than the others.) Anyway, it will be up to Twilight to defeat Tirek, though she ultimately gets some help from her friends... and they finally discover the keys to the chest from the season premiere. The really cool thing is that we learn several earlier episodes that seemed totally random when they happened, actually played a very important part in leading up to the finale. Also, Discord is eventually redeemed. Also, Twilight finally learns what her special role as a princess is, and I found it both ironic and totally fitting, considering the way she started the series. Also, she gets a castle of her own.
Between seasons four and five, there's a second Equestria Girls movie, Rainbow Rocks.
(This aired in 2015, but it was in 2018 that I discovered a webseries called In My Little Pony Opinion, in which a girl named Audrey reviewed the first half of this season. I thought it was pretty fun, and I wished she'd have reviews of the second half of the season, as well as all the other seasons. But whatevs.)
Once again, there's a 2-episode premiere. In Twilight's new castle, the ponies discover a map of Equestria (the "Cutie Map"), and throughout the season, the map will occasionally summon some or all of them to different places, to deal with problems that involve friendship in some way. Which ponies are summoned differs from crisis to crisis, and they'll know because their cutie marks will glow. Apparently the map knows which ponies are specifically needed to deal with the current problem, but they have to figure out for themselves what the problem actually is, and how to solve it. But I should mention that Twilight is now known as "the Princess of Friendship." Anyway, in the first crisis, all six ponies are summoned to a small town where all the citizens have the same cutie mark. They eventually realize this is because of a spell cast by a unicorn pony named Starlight Glimmer, who believes unique cutie marks lead to feelings of superiority in some ponies, and therefore to suffering. So she's made everypony "equal." However, the truth is that none of the ponies in town are happy, even if they pretend to be. They've all lost their individual personalities, as well as their talents. Twilight and her friends eventually restore all of their cutie marks, and Starlight Glimmer runs away. (Something occurred to me about this plot when I watched the season finale, and I don't recall if it had occurred to me when I watched the premiere: Starlight's idea of equality is problematic for at least one of the same reasons as colorblind ideology in the real world.) Of course there are also plenty of standalone eps, in addition to the "cutie map" arc. The show's 100th episode, Slice of Life, is one of the most awesome eps of the series. It features lots of fan-favorite background characters, while the Mane Six are hardly seen at all. Another great ep had Rarity acting as a film noir-style detective. And as in season 3, there are a couple of episodes that happen at the same time, but from different ponies' perspectives (this one involved Apple Bloom dealing with the fact that Applejack was away on a mission; it results in some very sweet and funny bonding between Apple Bloom and Big Mac). And in another episode, all three Cutie Mark Crusaders finally get their cutie marks at the same time, in the most perfect way imaginable. And... well, there are lots of great episodes. Then in the epic 2-part season finale, Starlight Glimmer returns to seek revenge on Twilight, by using the Cutie Map and a magical spell to go back in time and change history so that the Mane Six never became friends. Twilight and Spike keep trying to stop her, but they always fail, and repeatedly return to the present, which is different every time. There are lots of callbacks to past episodes, and different villains end up ruling (or making war with) Equestria each time Twilight fails to stop Starlight. But eventually Twilight convinces Starlight to stop herself, so she (like most of the show's previous villains) is redeemed, and becomes a friend to the heroes.
Late in the season, there was a third Equestria Girls movie, called Friendship Games. Also towards the end of the season, an album called It's a Pony Kind of Christmas was released.
Starlight Glimmer is now Twilight's student, learning about friendship. In the two-part season premiere, Twilight and her friends, including Starlight, go to the Crystal Empire to visit Cadance and Shining Armor, who have just had a baby alicorn. There's a ceremony called a "crystalling" (kind of like a christening, except it involves a magical crystal heart), which is very important to the entire Crystal Empire. But... things go awry, and our heroes have to once again prevent a catastrophe. Meanwhile, Twilight had assigned Starlight to reunite with her old, estranged friend Sunburst. That doesn't go well at first, either, because both Starlight and Sunburst are keeping secrets from each other. But ultimately they help the other ponies save the day and they renew their friendship. And Cadance and Shining Armor name their foal Flurry Heart. Throughout the season, there will be more episodes in which the Cutie Map summons various combinations of the Mane Six to deal with friendship problems. And episodes where the Cutie Mark Crusaders try to help ponies with various problems (which is their calling, now that they have their cutie marks). In one ep, the CMCs befriend a griffon named Gabby, who becomes an honorary Cutie Mark Crusader, herself. There's an ep where Spike competes against other dragons to replace the current Dragon Lord, Torch, but ultimately he helps Torch's daughter, Ember, win that position. And an ep where Starlight befriends Trixie. Also this season, Rainbow Dash joins the Wonderbolts when one of them retires. (She earns the nickname "Rainbow Crash.") And there's an ep where Spike befriends a Changeling named Thorax, who has relinquished the evil ways of his kind. And of course lots of other (often hilarious) things happen throughout the season. In the 2-part finale, Starlight is invited back to her home village for a week-long Sunset Festival, though she's worried that the ponies there won't have forgiven her for what she did to them in the past. So she invites Trixie to go with her, for moral support. But it turns out the other ponies have forgiven her... in fact, they want her to help make decisions about various festival events. But she's nervous about taking charge of anything, for fear of returning to her old self. So Starlight and Trixie return to Ponyville early, only discover the ponies there are acting strangely. In a dream, Princess Luna tells Starlight that she and Celestia and the Mane Six have all been replaced by Changelings, and begs for Starlight's help. So, Starlight and Trixie set out to rescue everypony, receiving help from both Thorax and Discord (who, predictably, is really only interested because the Changelings had taken Fluttershy). This ultimately leads to a transformation of all the Changelings into creatures of good, rather than evil. All except Queen Chrysalis, who remains evil and runs away, vowing to exact revenge someday on Starlight. Meanwhile, Thorax becomes the new leader of the Changelings, and Starlight and her friends return to her home village for the remainder of the Sunset Festival, since her adventure had taught her to trust herself to make decisions for others without backsliding into tyranny.
There's a minute-long video called Fresh Princess of Friendship, which I guess appeared on Hasbro's YouTube channel a few days before season 7 premiered. However, I wasn't aware of it until like one or two episodes into season 7, when I saw a commercial that said the video would premiere on TV the next Saturday night, after whatever movie was playing on Discovery Family. But I didn't know exactly when that would be, so I sat through like 15 minutes of the end of the movie (which turned out to be Walking with Dinosaurs), just so I could see this clip that I could have seen online a few weeks earlier, if I'd known about it. Sigh. Anyway, it's Pinkie Pie doing a parody of the theme song from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and it's pretty fun, I guess.
Twilight decides she's taught Starlight all she can, so Starlight "graduates." Maud Pie moves to Ponyville, and becomes friends with Starlight. Big Mac starts a relationship with a pony named Sugar Belle (with some help from the Cutie Mark Crusaders). Pinkie Pie becomes Equestria's friendship ambassador to Yakyakistan (which is inhabited by yaks, previously seen in a season five episode). There's another episode in which Apple Bloom learns the truth about how her (and Applejack and Big Mac's) late parents got together, and she now works to end a feud between the Apple family and the Pear family, from whom her mother came. (Her mother was called Buttercup after marrying her father, Bright McIntosh, but her original name was Pear Butter. And she's voiced by Felicia Day!) In another episode, Starlight's friend Sunburst comes to Ponyville for a visit, and befriends Twilight, Trixie, and Maud. While in town, Sunburst also buys a barrel full of antiques, which turns out to contain a journal. Then, in the two-part season finale, he discovers that the journal was written by Star Swirl the Bearded, over a thousand years ago. The journal explains the very old mystery of why he disappeared, along with five other legendary ponies: Rockhoof, Flash Magnus, Mistmane, Mage Meadowbrook, and Somnambula. (While Star Swirl himself had been mentioned numerous times throughout the series, we first really learned of the others in a few episodes earlier this season.) These six ponies (called the "Pillars") basically had the same roles in protecting Equestria long ago that Twilight and her friends do in the present, with their Elements of Harmony. And in the finale, we learn that they had banished a villain called the Pony of Shadows into limbo long ago, but to do so required banishing themselves along with him. Now, Twilight decides to cast a spell, with all her friends' help, to bring back those legendary ponies... unaware that it would also mean bringing back the Pony of Shadows. But Starlight has reservations, which Twilight doesn't listen to. And later, when Star Swirl and the others want to try to banish their old enemy once again, Starlight thinks it would be a better idea to talk to the Pony of Shadows, and try to befriend him. It turns out his real name is Stygian, and he used to be a friend of the Pillars. Of course, Starlight's plan ultimately works, and in the end, Stygian and the Pillars each go off to see how various parts of Equestria have changed during their thousand-year absence.
Between seasons 7 and 8, there was a theatrical movie, which I haven't seen yet.
In the two-part season premiere, Twilight discovers that the Cutie Map now covers areas beyond Equestria. (Which confuses me, because I'm pretty sure it already did cover some of the areas that supposedly are new to the map this season. At least, they're areas we've previously seen ponies visit and solve friendship problems. But whatever.) Anyway, this inspires Twilight to open a "Friendship School," with herself as Head Mare, and her friends as teachers. The school will include not just ponies as students, but also young creatures from other lands. The main group of students we meet include an Earth pony named Sandbar, a yak named Yona, a griffon named Gallus, a dragon named Smolder, a changeling named Ocellus, and a hippogriff (and former seapony) named Silverstream. (This race was introduced in the movie, I guess, so I really should see that before too long.) Unfortunately, Twilight learns that the school will have to follow the rules of the Equestria Education Association, which is headed by Chancellor Neighsay. This means none of the teachers can do things their own way, which leads to the students being bored and ditching class... and then to Neighsay shutting down the school. But in the end, Twilight finds that the students became friends on their own, and decides to make her own rules for the school, which she reopens. (Personally, I don't think an Equestrian organization like the EEA should have authority over what's basically an international school, anyway. More importantly, I quickly came to loathe Neighsay, who is blatantly bigoted against non-ponies. And I think it looks like this season will teach some important lessons about real world issues like immigration and multiculturalism.) And I shall say more as the season progresses.