Mixed Messages: Of Legos & Ponies
In the twilight of 2010, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic began to get the attention of older, male viewers. While many were skeptical of the show at the time, those viewers would go on to set the foundations for what the fandom – the bronies – would become. No matter what people thought about the show, the general consensus was that it deserved credit for breaking down gender barriers, or perhaps that the bronies deserved credit for giving the show a chance despite those gender barriers. However, I am beginning to question those barriers.
The demographics that make up the bronies have been watching cartoons for many years now. The rise of the internet has made their activities more visible, but the fact that teens and young adults watch cartoons is hardly surprising. The surprise was that they liked a cartoon that was made for little girls. Yet despite all of the progress that has been made on that front, I question why I have seen so many people refuse to give the Lego cartoons a chance because they were made for little boys. Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu was a very impressive show, but you would never know that based on the lack of appreciation it gets online. I have seen several reasons repeated as to why.
The most frequent reason that I’ve seen, which frustrates me to no end, is that the show is about toy blocks for young boys. Of course, that’s not the case; Legos have come a long way since most of us were children, but the Lego name conjures very specific images and sets false expectations. But certainly My Little Pony did the same, and frankly, its conjured images were far worse. Wouldn’t toy blocks be less of an impediment to older, male viewers than a bunch of colorful ponies? Yet many of the same people who have flocked to Friendship Is Magic have been hesitant to watch any of the Lego cartoons. Do the two shows drastically differ in quality? I think not.
I would have to give the edge to Friendship Is Magic in terms of comedy, although Ninjago was hardly a slouch in that department, but Ninjago certainly had the advantage in other aspects. I understand that quality is subjective, but speaking frankly, it had been dealt better cards. It had more of a story than Friendship Is Magic, with more recurring characters and stronger continuity. I know that not every show needs those things, but if your aim is to attract an older audience, then they’re kind of important. Most cartoons are designed so that the network can air re-runs in any given order without confusing the kids. But outside of the blandest sitcoms, most shows for adults have a fair amount of substance to them. Yet that substance wasn’t enough to get people to watch Ninjago in the end.
Now, another Lego cartoon is about to premiere: Legends of Chima. Unfortunately, the only buzz it seems to be getting on various forums and websites is about how much it reminds people of Thundercats. It is a valid comparison, considering how much the main character resembles Lion-O, but I wonder if this will provide people with yet another all-too convenient reason to overlook a Lego cartoon. From what I’ve seen, it appears to have a very interesting mythos; there is a lot of lore on the official website, and with five main tribes – each of which full of characters with different backgrounds and motivations – it looks to be something that people of all ages should be able to enjoy. I believe that will hold true if it is anything like Ninjago was.
I intend to watch Chima when it premieres on January 16th, but I will also be watching intently to see how it is received once people stop making Thundercats jokes. I just ask people to be open-minded about the show. I do not believe that the Lego cartoons will ever have a fandom that is equal in strength to the bronies, but if people are willing to give a toy-based cartoon for little girls a chance, then shouldn’t they also be willing to give a toy-based cartoon for little boys that opportunity as well? Ninjago deserved far more than it got, and I think it would be a shame if its spiritual successor ends up the same way. Let’s tear down all of the gender barriers and judge shows for what they are, and enjoy them accordingly.