My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic - The Friendship Express
You may have heard of the 'Bronies' recently, adult males who are fans of the latest televised My Little Pony incarnation. Based on a popular series of toys by Hasbro, the My Little Pony clan first came to TV in the early 1980s, and every few years after that, in increasingly stylized versions. (The toys also have mimicked this metamorphosis; whether the toy designs now lead the TV show or vice versa is immaterial - it's a faddish empire that's lasted longer than most, due to adaptability. Kind of like Madonna.) But I digress. If you're curious as to what the ponies are flinging in the second decade of the 21st century, and why (maybe) the Bronies are so into it, this 5-episode DVD could be a good place to start.
Sporting new, simplified designs (Ponies meet Power Puff Girls maybe) and sassier attitudes, the ponies still appeal to daughters and open-minded sons. As for you 'Bronies', well, let's see. Life is stressful, and the candy-colored ponies' knowing-but-innocent take on their problems - where everything can be solved by a little pep, bravery, and a snappy tune - has undeniable appeal. In other words, it's a reassuring diversion of the most mindless and inconsequential sort. But! There is already something out there to soothe the troubled minds of today's men, it's Pro Football. Yet for the hipster, sensitive male who would never allow or admit to an interest in football, there's My Little Pony. And who am I to judge?
The DVD tells me that this collection of five 20-minute episodes follows the arc of one Twilight Sparkle, a pony who thinks learning magic is the only thing in life. Luckily she's got uber-pony Princess Celestia to set her straight, sending Twilight Sparkle to Ponyville, where she meets five new pony friends whose exciting adventures teach her that the most powerful magic of all is the magic of friendship!
I guess that's so. My take from these cutesy/sassy stories is that never giving up, and being nice, is the way to go. Maybe that's what friends do; they never give up on each other. (At this point, the author rushes to make a few impassioned phone calls - Editor.) It's this overarching concept that leads me to believe that the content of the ponies' adventures is secondary to presentation. The ponies are now pastel totems, rather than living, breathing characters. What we're getting here, then, are these five episodes:Friendship Is Magic Part 1 (Mare In The Moon)
Friendship Is Magic Part 2 (Elements Of Harmony)
Over A Barrel
Hearth's Warming Eve
The Last Roundup
The ponies are sassy, they're sardonic, they're sweet and they're idiosyncratic. They're stylized to within a fare-thee-well of their origins as cartoon ponies. They are also far less saccharine than the ponies have been in the past, (for those of you coming at this, like me, from the perspective of a parent). They sing fewer cloying songs, for starters.
Their adventures contain 2 teaspoons more peril than incarnations past, while the overall tone is a bit more knowing, something that has apparently gotten the Bronies all riled up. What's even more appealing to the adults, and to an extent kids too, is the mastery of cartoon idioms displayed. While Warner Brothers and Disney blazed trails, the writers and animators of Friendship Is Magic have, like other modern cartoon artists, seemingly gone on some cyborg-auto-pilot-of-love, deftly tweaking physics and physiognomy with devilish precision. What I'm saying is, if the candy colors and cutesy antics don't get you, the animation will. And for you parents out there, it's still good for the kids. One joke made my five-year-old laugh louder than I've ever heard her laugh.
Plus, MLP is now coming at you in lovely 1.78:1 ratio widescreen, with colors blasted out of a Skittles Gun, and crisp Flash Animation that might as well be delivered straight from a giant iMac to you. Good stuff.
Even the ponies' Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo Audio is beefed up for the new millennium. Solid dialog, good mixing, and a fine dynamic range all get marks for quality, while an active stereo mix speaks to people who are enjoying doing their jobs. (Like any pro scribe of the Nets, I do my research, and have discovered since writing this review, that many devotees complain about audio-sync issues on Ep. 1 of this disc. I didn't notice, but be warned, some have.)
For the boys (I guess) is "Yipper Caper," The Debut Pound Puppies Episode , clocking in at 20 minutes and plenty enticing to my kid. Other goofy extras include a two-minute Sing Along, a printable Coloring Page, and four-minutes' worth of animated Meet The Ponies! profiles of the main characters.
Writing this review has nearly brought me to tears. Thinking about the sweet innocence of youth, when the idea of printing out a 'Coloring Page' seemed like a really awesome proposition, was wrenching enough. Thinking about those Bronies, avoiding football while defiantly claiming their own feminine sides, pushed me over the edge. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic - The Friendship Express is one sweet, saintly package of WTF: funny, smart, innocent, and possibly born in a petri dish. If you don't have the HUB channel on Cable TV, your little girl will likely love this DVD to shreds. Your Cousin Tre will probably love it too. Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com