Disorder Reviews: My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (2010-2019)

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Martintox

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MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC


Creator: Lauren Faust
Director: Jayson Thiessen, James Wootton, Jim Miller, Denny Lu, Tim Stuby, Mike Myhre
Music: William Anderson, Daniel Ingram, Caleb Chan, Steffan Andrews
Distributor: Hasbro
Initial Airing Date: 10 October 2010 - 12 October 2019
# of Episodes: 222
Genre: fantasy

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TV animation has a wider demographic than ever before, but not just for the reason you might think. Yes, the mainstream breakthrough of adult shows has given additional legitimacy to the medium, but the people who watch cartoons today are in no small part those who grew up with them. Many shows from the past have their devoted fandoms, and the nostalgia for them has led to reboots meant not just for a young or general audience, but fans of the original as well. Watching cartoons as an adult isn't as unusual as it once was, but even with the strides TV animation has made, it doesn't have the same artistic credibility as most other forms of art. For example, commercial juggernauts like the Marvel Cinematic Universe do little to undermine cinema's rich history of boundary-pushing works. There have been some genuinely great shows in the creator-driven 90s and 2000s, but today, TV animation is still primarily a family-friendly merchandising exercise; after all, regardless of their quality, older shows like Transformers were ultimately made to promote a toy line. When your hobby has such an unflattering history, it's hard not to feel like you have to justify yourself in some form, which is why a conversation on any particular cartoon is likely to involve the words: "it's good for a kid's show."


It's still a little surreal to think of how massive My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic was for some time. When Amid Amidi used it as proof of the end of creator-driven cartoons, it was only due to the presence of talents like Lauren Faust and Rob Renzetti; there was no doubt in his mind that the show itself was a formality to sell toys, just like the 1986 cartoon beforehand. In fact, I'm willing to wager that Faust's involvement was the main reason people outside of the target demographic even bothered with FIM at first, and if anyone checked it out after the initial explosion, it was to see what the buzz was about. I was one of the latter: I watched the whole thing back when it still only had one season, and I found it was perfectly alright. Yeah, it's an episodic show where horses have wacky adventures and learn how to be respectful and compassionate, and it works based on that simple premise. It doesn't look too bad, the songs are fairly catchy, and most importantly, the writing isn't overly simplistic: the main six characters, in addition to the plethora of side roles, are interesting and dynamic enough to keep the viewer interested in their many interactions. By and large, it's solid. It's definitely better than you would expect from a show aimed at young girls... but does that really mean much?

The problem with discussing "cartoons" is that the format has such a mixed connotation that you have to add a disclaimer to your own opinion. Even people who grew up watching them will often speak positively of what they enjoyed as a kid and think little of what came after they grew up. The simple notion of a cartoon, particularly a brand-driven one, inspires little confidence in someone who's looking for more than simple entertainment. Consequently, when such a show is better than anticipated, there is an inclination to say that it's good -- not on a general standpoint, but based on the low expectations that people might have. This approach doesn't do any favors to the medium and how it's perceived. For one, it's reductive of the level of quality that cartoons have attained many times before, regardless of financial motives or any restrictions made to ensure a low age rating. For another, it comes off as a flimsy excuse to blow one's admiration of a show out of proportion, should it exceed this standard by even the smallest margin. All this does is make outsiders want to dismiss any acclaim as pure fanaticism. When it comes to cartoons, a lot of fandom "toxicity" is the result of people taking the things they like much too seriously; as you can guess, such individuals would be the ones to make a big deal out of something that's merely better than some of its contemporaries.


I lost interest in Friendship Is Magic around the time the second season started. Back then, my only explanation was that I felt something was off, but the most probable reason is the show had already given me everything I wanted, and watching anything more would be redundant. Even if I had kept watching, I doubt I would have persevered through nine whole seasons. I'm sure a lot of things happen and plenty of characters get introduced in those 200+ episodes, but the underlying principle of the show is bound to stay the same throughout, and all this worldbuilding won't help me get more interested in the formula. Furthermore, if you've read my review of SCP Foundation, you already know that I don't care to have lore for the sake of it. I'm sure there are plenty who were invested enough to stick to the end, and I'm glad for them if the formula didn't get stale, but even in that case, Friendship Is Magic is not some kind of breakthrough in the cartoon industry; it's a solid show that makes efficient use of its simple and unambitious premise. You don't need to pretend it's anything more or append "pony" to half your vocabulary to justify your appreciation for it. It's "good for a kid's show", but that only means it's pretty good. To act like it's anything special just because little girls would have made do with much less is just an insult to the staff that worked on it.

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PERSONAL RATING: READ
RECOMMENDATION RATING: THE
LETTERED RATING: REVIEW


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THE UNDERTALE REMINDER

You know, Undertale is far from perfect, but it's actually fairly unique in the realm of video games, so unlike FIM, there is actually a solid reason for its massive popularity.
 

fOx

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Being a fan of animation as a whole, I have to somewhat disagree. The writing isn't very good, but it is serviceable. The art, however, is atrocious. Modern animation has, sadly, taken a turn for the worst. Animation schools no longer teach students how to produce high quality, fluid animation. Instead, they teach them how to produce animation as quickly and cheaply as possible, in order to fit them into the animation production pipe line. As a result, quality has suffered. Compare these two images:



1598122195502.png1598122154400.png

Look at the art on the left. The grass is more detailed. The characters are more anatomically correct. The background it bristling with detail. By comparison, look at the modern equivalent from Friendship is Magic. It looks like a collection of clip art assets stacked on top of each other. No detail or dynamic change whatsoever. This is what we call the "cal arts" style. Very poor in quality.

Now, some people will say that modern MLP isn't supposed to look realistic. It's more stylized. But lets look at another example of what animation used to look like.
1598122491119.png

Here we can see a shot from The Last Unicorn. While it is heavily stylized, it is still bristling with detail. The protagonist is more realistic, proportionally, then modern animated characters. You can see where the animators took inspiration from the American master, Eyvind Earle. The line work is fluid, beautiful, and makes use of colored outlines to make everything blend seamlessly. The Last Unicorn is majestic. You could take almost any cel, and frame it in a museum. The writing, too, was tragic and beatiful, having been based on the novel by Peter Beagle. Even when sad, or angry, or scared, the protagonist of The Last Unicorn is an expressionistic work of art. For comparisons sake, here is celestia, the unicorn and literal goddess of MLP:
1598123310246.png

This frumpy looking... thing is not majestic, not beautiful, and certainly not ethereal. What we're seeing, through the last unicorn, through the the original my little pony, and finally, through friendship is magic, is the literal degeneration of artistic and narrative talent. Friendship is magic may be mediocre by todays standards, but compared to past works, it's downright bad. I don't expect children to notice the decline in quality. But adults should know better.
 

fOx

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No, it's not.

THIS is what we call the "cal arts" style:
View attachment 605
No, lauren faust was educated at cal arts, and her style is defined by its ability to be cheap, easy, and quick to produce. All staples of the "cal arts" style.

Unless there's some other definition that you would like to define here, that it unrelated to those factors.
 

Houseman

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No, lauren faust was educated at cal arts, and her style is defined by its ability to be cheap, easy, and quick to produce. All staples of the "cal arts" style.
AFAIK, the signiature style of cal-arts is the bean mouth.
RD has a bean mouth, therefore it's cal-arts.
PPG has bean-mouths, therefore they're cal-arts
MLP:FiM has no bean mouth.

Observe:



Just because someone attends cal art, it doesn't mean you have to use this art style, and using this art style doesn't mean you went to cal-arts
 

fOx

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AFAIK, the signiature style of cal-arts is the bean mouth.
RD has a bean mouth, therefore it's cal-arts.
PPG has bean-mouths, therefore they're cal-arts
MLP:FiM has no bean mouth.

Observe:



Just because someone attends cal art, it doesn't mean you have to use this art style, and using this art style doesn't mean you went to cal-arts
Incorrect. The bean face is a byproduct of the cal arts style, not its defining feature. Cal arts style is characterized by quick, easy to draw animation. The "bean face" is the result of this. It is a quick, easy to draw preset face that can be used as the basis for many characters. But not all cal arts style shows use it.

For instance, many would consider teen titans go the poster boy for tye cal arts style. And yet it doesn't typically use the bean face at all.
Screenshot_20200822-160624.jpg

MLP uses the same quick, easy, low quality art techniques as other cal arts shows. Heck, it even makes use of the bean face itself.
 

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Houseman

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For instance, many would consider teen titans go the poster boy for tye cal arts style.
I've never heard of this show being referred to as the cal arts style. Who says that?

And no, that picture of Spike does not show the bean face.
- The cheeks that intersect with his eyes and also create creases.
- Spike has visible fangs and horizontal lines that separate the top from the bottom, as opposed to cal arts, where there are only vertical lines.
- You can't see past his nose to the creases on the other side.

Compare that to the REAL bean-face style
- the whole of the mouth and face can always be seen, like how Mickey's ears always seem to face the "camera"
- smiling causes no creases
- vertical lines for teeth instead of any detail or horizontal lines.
 

fOx

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I've never heard of this show being referred to as the cal arts style. Who says that?

And no, that picture of Spike does not show the bean face.
- The cheeks that intersect with his eyes and also create creases.
- Spike has visible fangs and horizontal lines that separate the top from the bottom, as opposed to cal arts, where there are only vertical lines.
- You can't see past his nose to the creases on the other side.

Compare that to the REAL bean-face style
- the whole of the mouth and face can always be seen, like how Mickey's ears always seem to face the "camera"
- smiling causes no creases
- vertical lines for teeth instead of any detail or horizontal lines.
Interesting. So you're saying that the cal arts style has less to do with quality or production strategy taught at cal arts, and more to do with how accurately a cartoon character captures the shape of a bean.

I'm not sure if i agree with this definition, or have seen it widely used, but even if we use your definition, I woukd say that spike qualifies, due to his resemblance to a pinto bean.
 
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Houseman

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Interesting. So you're saying that the cal arts style has less to do with quality or production strategy taught at cal arts, and more to do with how accurately a cartoon character captures the shape of a bean.
An "art style" isn't a production strategy or a place where a degree was obtained. An art style should be able to be determined just by analyzing the art. It consists of consistent, recognizable characteristics that persist even across characters, settings, etc.

I woukd say that spike qualifies, due to his resemblance to a pinto bean.
You're missing all those details I laid out about the teeth, visible and invisible features, and creases, which are absolutely important, but okay.
 

fOx

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An "art style" isn't a production strategy or a place where a degree was obtained. An art style should be able to be determined just by analyzing the art. It consists of consistent, recognizable characteristics that persist even across characters, settings, etc.



You're missing all those details I laid out about the teeth, visible and invisible features, and creases, which are absolutely important, but okay.
No, I agree with you. I just don't understand why it's called the cal arts style is it has nothing to do with cal arts, and everything to do with beans.

I think maybe they should change the name to The Bean.
 

Drathnoxis

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I lost interest in Friendship Is Magic around the time the second season started. Back then, my only explanation was that I felt something was off
Season 2 was off. I gave up on the show after that season as well. Once Lauren Faust left the characters lost focus and started acting out in really abominable ways. Suddenly Twilight Sparkle is maniacally obsessed with submitting a report every week, when it's never been mentioned as a requirement before. The season is full of similar instances of the main characters going insane over trifles or just stabbing eachother in the back and lying about it like in the cake episode. And then there was the season finale in which Twilight's dearly beloved brother we've never heard of materialized just in time to become crucial to the plot. In other words, the show had regressed to being another standard children's show and whatever little magic it had possessed evaporated with the departure of the creator.

Compare these two images:



View attachment 600View attachment 599

Look at the art on the left. The grass is more detailed. The characters are more anatomically correct. The background it bristling with detail. By comparison, look at the modern equivalent from Friendship is Magic. It looks like a collection of clip art assets stacked on top of each other. No detail or dynamic change whatsoever. This is what we call the "cal arts" style. Very poor in quality.
You are holding up original MLP as an example of "good" animation? Really? It's like the height of uncanny valley in 2D animation. The detail to the grass only serves to draw attention to the fact that the characters are simply placed over it. They don't deform the grass where they stand, they don't even have shadows. The art style looks doughy and just kind of creepy to me.

MLP:FiM doesn't have the best animation in the world, but the style and character designs are striking, cute, and sleek. The world pops with a vibrancy that retro MLP utterly lacks. The faces are far more expressive as well. No, it doesn't have the detail or fluidity of a theatrical film, but MLP:FiM uses what it has to good effect.