My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Hearts and Hooves Day

I was going to draw something, but the little girl on the right perfectly sums up my attitude. And, hey, this scene of baking cupcakes sorta fits in with my usual motif.

That’s right, folks. Gauntlets off – on this New Year’s Eve, I’m taking on one of the most popular children’s show’s in recent memory. Joy to the world, ladies and gentlemen.

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is right up there with Mr. Park Sae-Jun in terms of internet success stories – an otherwise unremarkable kids’ show that exploded in popularity thanks to… well, I’m not really sure. Though I will say that I like the visual design of the show, the writing, premise and characters are about normal for a Saturday morning cartoon.

And yet, for a while, the show seemed very similar to the original Star Trek in its effect on the nature of entertainment (And in other ways too – a central, colorful ensemble cast, a fantastical world leading to an absurd amount of fan fiction, the show’s creator leaving after two seasons resulting in a marked decline in quality…but I digress). The kid’s cartoon had become so popular, and such an ingrained part of popular culture, that it looked like it was going to legitimize the entire genre of Saturday morning cartoons, just as Trek did for science fiction.

Luckily, for me at least, the ridiculous amount of popularity seems to have been just another fad. As a New York Comic-Con attendee, I’m happy to say that October’s gathering had the number of pony cos-players wildly outmatched by the number of trolls from Homestuck – a franchise that I don’t support, but at least find more harmless than Friendship is Magic.

Yeah, yeah, I can roll with this.

Having consulted with several former fans of the show, the only unanimously enjoyed aspects are the art style (which is the televisual equivalent of complimenting someone on their hair) and the gargantuan fan following. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only reason it gained such a following can be best summed up by a certain fan video: “It’s one of those things everybody does just because everybody else is doing it.”

And indeed, this is the only reason I saw the show at all: After learning that the fans of the show I mentioned were close friends of mine, I resolved to hang up my prejudices, and see the then-most recent episode of the show, “Hearts and Hooves Day”. If I was going to become of a fan of this show, it would have to meet my standards of entertainment. Now, I’m not averse to liking a kids show – I point to Avatar: The Last Airbender, Invader Zim and Animaniacs as examples of shows that by all rights should have a much larger following than Friendship Is Magic – but if this show had outpaced them all, I felt it would have to appeal to me as a grown-up as much as those shows had.

And so, we begin. The show’s premise evokes the original Power Rangers: Six young women (or ponies, but let’s leave that aside) have to deal with their everyday lives and the complex relationships between one another, while also also occasionally turning into beings of pure power and magic to defeat great extra-normal threats. The problem with this is that the show is even more brainless than Power Rangers, as it makes no attempt at reconciling this set of double-lives – aside from the season enders and openers, the fact that these otherwise unremarkable people can transform into a frillier and sparklier Justice League is almost never touched upon, in order to make the slice-of-life moralizing easier.

But this girly Justice League has a girly Teen Titans to match – three elementary-school-aged fillies, all of them slight variations on the theme of Dot Warner, each of them the younger sister of one of the central six. Because they’re even younger than the main character, they make mistakes leading to important life lessons with an even greater regularity than their siblings.

I will say that there is some excellent character design in this – each character is very recognizable, even against the colorful backgrounds.

The episode starts with them going to school. Since this aired on February 11th, they present their teacher with a Valentine’s card (forgive me, “Hearts and Hooves Day card”). This teacher is about as close to Edna Krabappel as you can get in this surreal, equine Munchkin-land that is the setting of the show. Upon learning that she’s single, the Twee Titans are horrified, and decide to play matchmaker immediately, going into town to find a suitable partner.

Y’know, for such a wonderful person, the teacher doesn’t seem to be very good at her job – I’ll accept that they weren’t doing much actual learning on a holiday, but she seemed to be fine with letting them strut into town unsupervised, after about two minutes of class time. Yeah, I know I should make allowances for plot, but once again – I’m holding this to the standards of an adult show, because otherwise it doesn’t deserve its adult fandom.

Anyway, as the junior letches walk into town (They’re obviously not perverted, just acting out of a misguided sense of duty and affection), they sing a song about all the stallions they see. Now, this is a matter of opinion, but I had to mute it after a few lines – as a rule, I don’t like musical-style songs outside of musicals, because the composers and/or writers aren’t used to it, and don’t usually rise to the occasion. There are exceptions, of course; Mystery Science Theater’s brief lyrical wax-ations (is that the word?) were generally short and funny enough for me to enjoy them. But this is an exception that proves the rule, as several of that show’s writers (including head writer Mike Nelson and lead singer Kevin Murphy) were former TV songwriters.

Anyway, the girls’ song brings them to the conclusion that the only eligible bachelor in town is Big Macintosh, a surprising case of double-copyright-infringement and the elder brother of one of the girls. He’s a hardworking, honest farm boy with no distinguishing characteristics – basically Luke Skywalker or Clark Kent without the galaxy-spanning lineage or superhuman powers. He seems crying out to be the protagonist of some huge, swashbuckling and heartwarming adventure, but this seems to be the only episode where he gets more than a few lines.

This is another thing I don’t like about the series – all the underused potential. From what I know of the rest of the show, the bulk of the episodes seem to consist of a few boilerplate plots that have been reused over and over since it began – and when your show takes place in such a fantastical, magical world, this is just inexcusable. To go back to the other comparable shows I mentioned, take a look at Avatar: The Legend of Korra. The writing wasn’t up to the standards of the original series, but it had some really good ideas about how to advance and iterate the world they had created. Here, we have Big Macintosh, who seems to be much smarter than he lets on, meaning his close relationship to the super-powered saviors of all horse-kind would give him a very interesting role in quite a few possible stories. Instead of that, though, he’s stuck being the target of the romantic reckonings of a gang of preteen girls.

Said girls (I know I should be using equestrian terms, but…shut up!) attempt to hoodwink Big and their teacher into meeting by setting up a romantic date, but they’re obviously not interested in one another. I’ll note that the Twee Titans watch the adults’ conversation by standing on their hind legs, which looks… wrong. The character design is one of the most outstanding aspects of the show, but the actual appearance can get downright creepy at times…

…that last picture is of Twilight Sparkle (or ‘Toilet Sparkle’, as Big’s little sister seems intent on referring to her), main cast member and capital-letter Smart Person. She’s a better teacher than the actual teacher, and tries to tell the Twee Titans about the traditions of Hearts and Hooves Day, but when they hear a casual mention of ‘love potions’, they immediately think up a plan.

Now, as soon as I heard the words “Love potion” mentioned, I might as well have stop watching the episode (And to be honest, the first time I watched it, this was exactly what happened – when I saw the episode for this review, it was the first time I had ever seen it all the way through). There’s nothing really wrong with having a predictable story, because the real question is one of execution. The problem is that this episode’s execution leaves quite a lot to be desired – it’s pretty much the same few points dragged out for ten minutes.

For starters, the love potion turns Big Macintosh and the teacher into sickeningly-sweet lovebirds. Hot tip for aspiring writers: You don’t need to avoid intentionally annoying dialogue, but please try to avoid it when it takes up more than a third of your entire story. They meant the dialogue between these two unconsciously brainwashed people to be comical, but it goes too far in the wrong direction. By the way, that brainwashing? I’m leaving it alone. A world that’s been living for millennia with functional, practical and widely available magic would have wildly different social mores than this one, and I won’t try to impress my values upon the people of this fictional land, even though the relentless life lessons show that they won’t extend us the same courtesy.

But anyway, the Twee Titans have to keep the lovebirds away from each other while trying to counteract the love potion’s effects. After a few pitfalls, they do so, and the status quo resets itself as the girls learn an important lesson about…hell, I don’t know. Drug abuse? Precocious dating? Respecting the romantic decisions of others? I really have no idea, folks.

The reason I watched the most recent episode (at the time), rather than starting at the beginning, is because I believe a good series should be able to stand up on any episode. This episode is very light on the main characters, which means it would probably appeal to someone more familiar with the show. However, as far as I know, this episode is considered to be relatively unremarkable in the grander scheme of the show – a few ‘shippers were satisfied, many more were angered, and the fandom moved on. I have no accounts that it wasn’t a decent cross-section of the show, and so I have no reservations on completely giving up on becoming a fan.

For a while, it looked like Friendship is Magic was going to be The Simpsons of its time. But now that it’s carved out its gratifyingly small niche, it seems like it’s only going to be a modern-day Spongebob SquarePants, which seems about right in the grand scheme of things. Certainly not bad by the standards of a children’s show, and including enough bonuses for its peripheral fanbase of adults to hold their interest, but nothing particularly groundbreaking or world-changing.

TWO THUMBS UP: Most of the visuals

THUMBS UP: The fact that so many people like the show…

THUMBS DOWN:…at the expense of shows I think are better

TWO THUMBS DOWN: Uncanny Valley images and weak messages

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