TVTV Review

My Little Pony and Optimism, Beyond the ‘Little Girls’ Trope

Equestria Daily has confirmed that Season 8 of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic will go full blast in 2018. Hasbro will once again offer fans and everypony the opportunity to travel with Twilight Sparkle and her friends in Ponyville and Equestria. The Princess of Friendship has 26 more episodes to bestow the magic of friendship, as Laura Faust’s reboot of the popular toy line proves to stun and amaze audiences.

Really? Watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? True enough, any mention of “watch” and “ponies” in the same sentence will warrant the obligatory raising of eyebrows. This is explainable, as the children’s show has always had a broad fandom.

On one end is its “intended” audience: children (mostly girls) to be entertained, and parents who hopefully get entertained enough with its episodic formula. On the other end is an interesting demographic, as Twilight Sparkle appears to have attracted more than just “little girls” to the land of ponies, pegasi, unicorn, and alicorns.

Going outside its fandom, however, allows viewers to see My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic outside its shell of a children’s show. After all, it couldn’t have become Television Without Pity (NBC Universal)’s best animated series for 2012 (beating the likes of South Park) for nothing.

If the recent My Little Pony: The Movie proves anything, however, is that My Little Pony isn’t just an ordinary children’s show. In fact, fans will agree – it’s not just a stereotypical cartoon. Seven seasons and 169 episodes later, why in the world are its fans gaga over, well, friendship?


My Little Pony: Optimism Works

Optimism as a quality has been highlighted in numerous studies, all of them discussing the impact of being “happy” to multiple aspects of our lives. Before anything else, this is not to say optimism should be the “only” way to tell a story. Pamela Punzalan of Girls Got Game shared her talk on how exactly the concept of grimdark as a narrative tool has been around for a long time. In her discussion, she revealed how renewed look on grimdark and tragedy’s history can help forge better narratives for stories.

In this case, let’s explore an interesting theme with this particular series. If anything, My Little Pony exemplifies how over-complicating plots too much isn’t necessary to deliver remarkable tales. After all, the little things count the most.

Values in the show such as gratitude and charity aren’t exactly new to children’s shows. The way My Little Pony shows these qualities, however, reflects on how little things can become a big deal. In fact, studies show qualities such as gratitude can actually become a way to motivate interpersonal relationships.

Sara Algoe and her peers highlight how doing small things for others can foster better relationships. Expressed gratitude, random acts of kindness, and thoughtful gestures can not only give a “boost” to relationships, but help foster healthier minds and hearts.


Equestria and New Sincerity

It is perhaps My Little Pony‘s way of playing on the “children’s show” concept that attracted such a wide demographic. When Faust conceptualized the show, she wanted to move away from stereotypes in the entire “ponies are for girls” trope.

You think it’s a children’s show when they discuss friendship, rainbows, and sunshine with pegasi, unicorns, Earth ponies, and alicorns. However, with episode titles like “The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows” and “Fresh Princess of Friendship,” it’s as if Hasbro is giving us a quick nudge.

“We know you’re watching, and we know you get this.”

In fact, the show doesn’t shy away from being a little meta. A previously-unnamed pony with an hourglass cutie mark was named Dr. Hooves by the fandom after a few background appearances. It seems Hasbro caught wind of the rustling in the fandom, and so Dr. Hooves officially became a character. He even sports a bowtie and a penchant for the sciences because, yes, he’s the pony version of the Doctor from BBC’s Doctor Who.

This insistence on “breaking the trend” is what made critics and other fans categorize My Little Pony under the New Sincerity “trend.”

New Sincerity is described as a trend for works that “break” from the expected convention of themes such as cynicism and postmodernism. These works also appear to have touches of modernist influence.

Of course, it would take us forever to prove and analyze just how My Little Pony can be considered part of the New Sincerity trend. It would take more time to get itself a proper philosophical analysis. Thing is, this clamor for a deeper look into My Little Pony as a show – as a children’s show more so – proves that Faust is onto something.


Friendship is Magic

Faust’s new “style” with My Little Pony proves she’s no novice in the industry. In fact, Friendship is Magic wasn’t her first rodeo with children’s shows. Faust may have had an idea just how “entertained” fans need to get, thanks to her experience with The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.

Although Faust no longer has any involvement with the show right now, Hasbro credits her as its author. It remains as such, given her influence persists as a powerful drive for the show to continue amusing both children and adults alike.

Thing is, it’s not like Faust introduced a revolutionary concept that separates My Little Pony from other animated shows. Friendship is Magic doesn’t necessarily warrant amazing plot twists and impeccable narrative, given how the show simply wants to exemplify “the magic of friendship.”

My Little Pony, however, separates itself from the flock because its formula works. It doesn’t need to be dark and mature to introduce complex concepts and entertain.


“Mature” Isn’t The Only Way

It’s not to say that My Little Pony is for everyone, however. The show’s contrast with animated shows of a more mature and cynical nature proves the interesting dichotomy between people that “always seem to be happy” and people that “always seem to be sad.”

Studies have also tried to touch on how it’s best to understand how “happiness” works. However, given there’s no way to accurately measure the emotion, it’s hard to define the “nature” of happiness. Studies have, however, discovered that “happy” people do have different ways of looking at the world. This is something the rather simple yet optimistic narrative of My Little Pony tries to explore.

In fact, it appears it doesn’t matter how “simple” an experience can get. For as long as it made an emotional mark, it can make people happy more than material objects.

Leaf Van Boven writes that we are more than capable of improving experiences, no matter how “awful” they get. People can “spin” unpleasant memories to highlight lessons. This is similar to how a rather sad beginning in My Little Pony can squeeze a happy ending.

The show highlights the value of experiences and friendships better with Van Boven’s work. The author also illustrates how experiences share social values. This makes each story worth sharing to others, no matter how “mundane” they seem to be.

It’s not like My Little Pony offers award-winning monologues to stress important points, either. What perhaps earned the show a myriad of animation awards is its persistent theme: optimism works. If anything, My Little Pony takes a step further, and makes sure we understand: optimism is also fun.


Rhenn Taguiam

Rhenn Taguiam is a frustrated journalist with a knack for comic books and video games. He likes pizza and pasta, and has an uncontrollable urge to gush over anything Super Sentai, Star Trek or X-Men. He is currently on his way to get his Master's Degree - unless he creates his own video game or graphic novel first.

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