Characterization and the Zen of Little Ponies


The new My Little Pony show, “Friendship is Magic,” has attracted a significant number of adult viewers, including adult men.  Video posts on Youtube are laced with comments such as “why am I watching this pony show-and liking it?”


The previous direct-to-DVD cartoons promoting the third generation of ponies were mediocre and forgettable.  Giving a character a catchphrase might make that pony stand out, but it doesn’t generate interest or affection;  “Pinkie Pie loves parties!” is hardly a personality.  “Friendship is Magic” took a different approach.

Pinkie Pie still loves parties, but this trait is turned up to eleven, creating a kooky, eccentric prankster with a gift for making people laugh-and a struggle to get people to take her seriously when danger threatens.

Perhaps the greatest strength of “Friendship is Magic” is that each of the six core pony characters have flaws that are logical evolutions of their personalities.

Applejack is honest and hardworking, but stubborn to a fault.  Rainbow Dash is brave, athletic, talented…and  tends to brag about her abilities.  Twilight Sparkle is intelligent and magically gifted and spends so much time studying in her library that she struggles with ordinary social interaction.  Fluttershy is gentle, kind and timid, with a gift for working with animals and a surprising backbone of steel.  Rarity sidesteps the stereotypical fashionable, stuck-up, “popular girl” by being a skilled fashion designer with a generous heart.  Yet despite being so different from each other, these six ponies are the best of friends.

Friendship, however, is not always free of conflict and here is where characterization spawns plot.  Flaws and personality clashes cause tensions that can create problems-or exacerbate already tense situations.  What happens when the two most athletic ponies-Applejack and Rainbow Dash-find themselves competing against one another, when Applejack’s stubbornness clashes with Rainbow Dash’s ego?  What happens when “rough and tumble” Applejack and “prim and proper” Rarity start driving each other nuts-and are forced into close proximity?  What happens when Fluttershy is the only person who can stand up for her friends?  What happens when Twilight Sparkle fears that showing everyone just how gifted she is will make her look like a braggart?

The visually distinctive character designs don’t hurt, nor does the expressive animation, but in the end it comes down to characterization.  Much of the show’s humour comes in watching these strong personalities bounce off each other, and with such a variety of characters it’s easy to recognize a bit of yourself in at least one of them.  The characters are appealing, engaging, and actively relating with one another-for better and for worse-and it’s this dynamism that makes viewers care about them, and find entertainment value in watching them.  Entertainment value sufficient to make grown men watch this pony show, and like it.

2 responses on “Characterization and the Zen of Little Ponies

  1. kylie

    Great post, Mary, although I must confess I originally read “Pinkie Pie loves panties” rather than “parties”. Pony porn!

  2. Clancy Metzger

    Kylie – LMAO!

    Mary – my daughter has always loved the ponies – even as an adult – this new incarnation makes me feel better about it 🙂
    Seriously though, characterization is freaking crucial – if we don’t care about the characters, we don’t care what happens to them. If we do care about them, then it doesn’t matter if it’s written brilliantly, or the plot is awesome, we will still read because we care what happens to the characters.

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