New film examines the adult fans of ‘My Little Pony’Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“I used to wonder what friendship could be
Until you all shared its magic with me.”
The first thing you have to understand is, this is not ironic.
This is not an example of people “liking” something just because they like to see the way you react when they say they like it. No, by and large, they don’t care what you think. This is a genuine affection, among adults, for “My Little Pony.”
Yes, that “My Little Pony.” Well, sort of. In 2010, when a new version of the classic 1980’s franchise — subtitled “Friendship is Magic” — first debuted on cable network The Hub with an eye on selling toys to a whole new generation of little girls. Ever since then, however, it has become apparent that this new version of “Pony” is drawing fans far beyond its intended audience.
It wasn’t just 10-year-olds who were watching the show. A large number of adults were tuning in, as well. And not just women, either — a significant chunk of the growing “My Little Pony” fandom was made up of men. Twenty–something, adult men who had grown to genuinely enjoy the show and its characters. Like all good fandoms, they soon gave themselves a name: “bro ponies,” or “Bronies.”
And this is where Q comes in.
Right on Q
John de Lancie has one of the most recognizable voices in entertainment. His stint as recurring villain Q on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” cemented his place in geek iconography for a generation of sci-fi fans.
In recent years, he’s performed regular voice-over work, lending his pipes to video games, cartoons and more.
It was in this vein that he was first offered a role as a villain in an episode of “Friendship is Magic” in 2011. He agreed, did the work, collected the check and promptly forgot all about it. Until, that is, the fan mail started coming in.
“I’m reading the emails,” de Lancie said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star, recalling a conversation with his wife. “‘What is this “My Little Pony” thing all about?’ ‘You voiced it about three months ago.’ ‘Oh, I forgot about that.’ ‘And it’s a cartoon for little girls.’ ‘Well, let me tell you something — these aren’t little girls that are writing me.’”
It was at a fan convention in Canada when de Lancie first spoke at length with a few Bronies, who tried to explain the appeal of the show. Intrigued, de Lancie began doing a little research, finding striking parallels between “Pony” fandom and the other subculture he had become intimately familiar with.
“What they ended up doing is to create a community that they could be with each other without being ridiculed by other people. So in that respect, the [‘Star Trek’ and ‘My Little Pony’ fandoms] are very much the same.
“There was always kind of a didactic quality about ‘Star Trek.’ It always tried to have some kind of a moral lesson. And there’s no question that ‘My Little Pony’ is always about some kind of moral lesson. There’s always some kind of moral that’s being told,” de Lancie said.
Soon after, de Lancie shared his Brony experience with his friend, producer Michael Brockhoff. “I was over at his house for dinner one night, and he told me the story of what he had done and the reaction afterward, and that there were these people called Bronies,” Brockhoff said. “And I was very interested, because this is fascinating — who are these people?
“I went home and did some research, and ended up calling him up and going, ‘Hey, what if we did a documentary on the Brony? It could be really fascinating to introduce to the world who the Bronies are.’”
The original idea was a short film focused on one event — BronyCon, a fan convention in Seacaucus, N.J., — that would examine the fans who attended. To fund the movie, it was decided to raise money through Kickstarter, where the public can contribute to a project directly. The original goal was $60,000 — a modest sum that was soon left in the dust by the sheer volume of fan enthusiasm.
“The $60,000 came in about three days, and $100,000 came 10 days later, and then $300,000 and some came 20 days later,” de Lancie said.
With the increased funding, the focus shifted from a short subject on one event to a film that encompassed the whole of Brony-kind, introducing fans from all over the world and focusing on the overriding question of who Bronies are and why many people have such a knee-jerk negative reaction to the idea of their existence. The film brought on “Friendship is Magic” creator Lauren Faust and voice actor Tara Strong as producers. The new title: “Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony.”
“To sort of focus it, we kept on saying these words, which were, ‘Why are 20-year-old guys watching a cartoon intended for 10-year-old girls? And, why does society have a problem with that?’ And we felt that we didn’t need to necessarily answer the question, but we needed to mirror what was going on, so the people could essentially speak for themselves,” de Lancie said.
No fans responded to this author’s requests for interviews, not even those from a Facebook page dedicated to University of Toledo Bronies. Perhaps it’s no surprise, since many media figures treat the Brony phenomenon so derisively. The finished documentary opens with a lengthy selection of news clips that show hosts laughing in contempt at the very idea of adult fans.
It is to this reaction that “Bronies” speaks directly. The film is not merely a pat-on-the-back, preaching-to-the-choir piece. It readily acknowledges the resistance nonfans have toward the idea of Bronies, and attempts to lead its viewers to an understanding. The story arc came naturally for producer de Lancie, because he went through the same transformation.
“I’m not gonna watch the show, it’s not really a show that interests me very much. But I don’t watch many things like that,” he said. “But I’m very partial to people who do, because they derive something from it, and in this case they derive something good from it. So that, I felt, was something that we needed to make sure that we helped them in that desire and to allow them to identify themselves before they were identified by people like the Fox News people.”
But the passion and technical expertise of the Brony community may be working against the finished project. After an initial screening at a fan convention, the film was released via digital download to fans who supported the Kickstarter — as well as for purchase by those who didn’t — on Jan. 19. Almost immediately, the movie was readily available for illegal streaming and download.
The volume of the piracy has proven disheartening for de Lancie.
“What we decided to do was, we would not take any money out of the pot, salary-wise, but what we would do is put it all on film, all into the show — and I think you can see that the production value is pretty high — and we would take it out, our salaries, the six of us would take our salaries out when the sale came.
“The unfortunate thing about all this is we were sending it out to one of the most savvy Internet generations ever. And within a half-hour, the downloads — which were promised to the backers — somebody, some person in all that started posting it on YouTube, Pirate Bay, all that. So our model has collapsed. And now we’re faced with a show that, while very popular — people are just ripping it off right and left.”
The end result is that any further production — such as a planned second disc of bonus material for the DVD release of the film — has been canceled. There is still work toward releasing the documentary via legal streaming sites like Netflix and on DVD, but any financial rewards the makers will receive for their months of labor on the film will always come with an asterisk, thanks to the piracy.
“I think we’ve sold 4,000 copies, but we know of at least 10,000 that have been downloaded,” de Lancie said. “I can’t say that I haven’t done the same — we’ve all done the same, in a manner of speaking. Except the problem is that, for us, instead of two months’ worth of work we ended up with four times that amount of work, and we’re not too happy about it.”
Something for everypony
Still, the producers hope that the finished film can communicate to Brony and non-Brony alike what this community is about — a surprisingly genuine example of pop culture joy in an increasingly cynical world.
“We’re hoping that non-Bronies at least understand what’s going on, and hopefully through some of these stories that they can relate, at least a little bit, to some of these Bronies and some of these personal stories,” Brockhoff said.
And there are fascinating sociological implications to the phenomenon, de Lancie added. “Isn’t this interesting that there is a population out there of young men in their 20s who are malnourished in terms of something they need that society, entertainment, whatever is not giving them — to the extent that they are actually willing to brave the ridicule that society will cast upon them by going as far back as to a show that was intended for 10-year-old girls? Wow!
“What sort of society then, do we have?” he said. “Why are we making fun of people who are watching a show that is about being generous and loyal and kind and — you know, those six elements of harmony and whatever — why do we feel that it’s so easy to make fun of that?”
Special thanks to writer, teacher and Brony Sean Shannon for suggesting this story. For more information on “Bronies” or to purchase the documentary, visit www.bronydoc.com.