Monday 13 May 2013

On the "Equestria Girls" Furore

I awoke today to find that the official announcement and the trailer for Equestria Girls were released during the early hours of the UK morning. For those who aren't aware, Equestria Girls is Hasbro's movie-length spinoff of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and over the last few months it's generated a great deal of rumour and speculation in the latter's fan community. Unsurprisingly, today's announcement sparked a fresh round of debate. Taking my Twitter timeline as a sample, the reactions ranged from gleefully positive to cynically negative; most people fell somewhere in the middle, but there's a clear sense of concern in the air. I usually consciously avoid weighing in when these sorts of tensions arise, as I worry about a sort of observer effect, in which any comment – even an appeal for calm – only ends up adding fuel to the flames. This time, though, I would like to offer my thoughts on the matter. Please take them for whatever they may be worth to you.

Now, when disagreements occur in any fandom, it's very tempting to borrow a piece of wisdom from MST3K: "Repeat to yourself 'It's just a show / I should really just relax…'" Though on the surface this is good advice, it can also be read as somewhat dismissive of the fact that people do have genuine concerns; whether or not they "should" feel a certain way is far less relevant than the simple fact that they do. There are folks who are worried about this, and it's not difficult to empathise with them. That we all (to varying degrees) nurture a feeling of investment in the show is one of the things that brings us together as fans, and some concern is only natural when the comfortable familiarity of that show seems threatened. I understand why folks are worried, and I won't tell you that you shouldn't be. What I will tell you is why I'm personally not worried.

I'm not worried because this is familiar territory for us as a fandom. It wasn't so long ago that outcry erupted when Twilight's alicorn destiny was revealed; not so long before that, turmoil arose over the introduction of Princess Cadance. This has been a recurring pattern: much vocal concern leading up to a controversial episode, followed by a general return to normalcy once said episode aired and fears were laid to rest. I anticipate that the release and reception of Equestria Girls will end up following that very same pattern. Furthermore, prior episodes have followed this pattern to positive outcomes for one simple reason: the enormously talented individuals behind the show.

We were given confirmation this morning that the same creative team behind Friendship is Magic is also behind Equestria Girls, and those same Powers That Be have so far always managed to deliver a quality production, even with story premises that have seemed impossible to pull off successfully. Rest assured, as much as we care about Friendship is Magic, they care about it more. It's not overstating things to say that they pour their hearts and souls into the show, and that's precisely why it's so good. That's why it attracted our attention in the first place. If anyone can make this concept work, they can. I have faith in them, and the fact that they appear not only unconcerned about Equestria Girls, but genuinely excited, only strengthens that faith.

And it isn't blind faith. I have my share of reservations about Equestria Girls. I'm aware that this isn't just another episode, and that spinoffs are notoriously tricky things to get right. I don't know whether Equestria Girls can sustain the same charm with human characters that Friendship is Magic achieves with candy-coloured magical ponies. I don't know if the storytelling freedom permitted by the fantastical setting of Equestria will translate over to a closer model of the real world. I don't know if the positive moral message can remain intact when suddenly saddled with the baggage of Equestria Girls' apparent genre. And I don't know how (or if) any of this will affect season four of Friendship is Magic. The fact is, like almost everyone else in the fandom, I know almost nothing about Equestria Girls – and until I watch it for myself, that won't change.

Thus it's only sensible to reserve judgement, and quite premature to worry about a worst-case scenario that in all likelihood will never come to pass. True, it's possible that Equestria Girls will be truly awful, and will completely poison Friendship is Magic; intellectual honesty requires that I allow for that possibility. But I consider it a remote one, I can't possibly know for certain until Equestria Girls is released, and worrying about it doesn't gain me anything. Besides, if I've learned nothing else from watching Friendship is Magic, it's at least taught me the valuable lesson of not judging or dismissing a program until I've seen it for myself.

We need to also remember the realities of the show's commercial nature, which, though perhaps unpalatable, cannot be dismissed. Hasbro has an audience in mind when it develops the MLP brand, and we aren't it. I think we as a fandom sometimes forget this, and let our positive sense of investment in the show turn too easily into a false sense of ownership. The unparalleled level of interaction between us as an audience and the Powers that Be have made this an easy mistake to make, but it's one we must try studiously to avoid. It leads to discussion and behaviour that's unworthy of the show we love, unworthy of any respectful and respectable fandom, and simply unworthy of our best selves. We aren't the primary demographic. Though we enjoy it, Friendship is Magic was never meant for us, and neither is Equestria Girls. Whether or not we personally care for it when it's released, if the show is able to entertain and positively influence its intended audience, that should be enough for us. We're adults, and there's no maturity in begrudging children their entertainment.

Finally, it's worth noting that the MST3K mantra is not entirely out of place here. A sense of perspective does help in these situations. Whatever our level of connection with the show and the fandom, and whether or not Equestria Girls turns out calamitously, it's neither the best nor the worst thing that will ever happen to us. Life goes on, and there are more serious things deserving our time and attention. Fandom, on the other hand, is supposed to be about having fun together – and in the final analysis, if we're not having fun, we're probably doing something wrong.

All will be well.

Be excellent to each other.


  1. The only reason I felt a slight touch of sadness from seeing that Equestrian Girl -trailer is that I now know that the resources used to make Equestrian Girls could have been used to give us a full season 3.
    But, as you said, it's not our show, and Hasbro needs to do what they think best.
    I'm going to give Equestrian Girls a chance; if it's bad I'll forget about it and resume waiting in excitement for season four. If it's good then that's just a bonus.
    Either way it's nothing to be worked up about. It's not going to change the cannon - at least that's what I hear - so all is well.

  2. First, thanks for not being dismissive of those of us who were (very) unhappy about the Equestria Girls trailer. I knew this wasn't for me, but actually seeing it was still depressing. It's good to know some more neutral observers are accepting of different opinions.

    I don't think the Princess Twilight situation is a perfect analogy here. That was a logical progression for the character, and took place in the familiar confines of the FiM universe. What really bothered me about the EqG trailer was that the Twilight there didn't even feel like the same character. Instead of a smart, powerful protagonist, she came off as a dumb, boy-crazy stereotype.

    Now I'm not saying that as some entitled whine about how the show's creators should cater to bronies. I don't expect or want any artist to pander to me instead of following her inspiration. But at the same time, I'm not going to force myself to get excited about something that, if it weren't related to MLP, I would never have given a second glance.

  3. Random person from Twitter who found your post via a retweet chiming in.

    My entire set of thoughts on Equestria Girls can be summed up as: Meh, whatever.

    I have no plans to see it. I'm not interested. It's just too far out there for me, and after several huge moments in S3 that I personally disagree with, there's just not much room there for me to try and work with it. All my "trust the writers" faith is currently wrapped up in Alicorn Twilight; a move I hated from the first rumor and that the sloppily thrown together, way too short season finale did nothing to bolster for me.

    If it gets an all-around amazing set of reviews, I might grab the inevitable DVD release. But right now, I'm content to merely watch the drama and shake my head at it all.

  4. (CosmoBrony here, stupid Google account doesn't let me display custom usernames)

    I have full faith in the show staff. They gave us three seasons of awesomeness and I have no doubts that EQG -- despite it's premise (which I do not like at all, based on what we know so far) -- will be at least entertaining, if not actually awesome.

    The only thing I can't wrap my head around is that, for our first FiM movie, we get whoop-de-doo High School shenanigans when we could have had epic 90 minutes of Equestrian history instead (and we all want that, don't try to deny it). As I said, the premise seems inherently, well, bad. The show staff we all love surely tried their what they could to make the result as good as possible, but I still have my reservations about how the whole thing will play out.

    We'll see.