There weren’t a whole lot of us who watched My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic back when it premiered in 2010. After all, it was a My Little Pony cartoon, and the new network it was premiering on was owned in part by a toy company. Many believed that it would be just as bad as the other shows in the franchise, with an over-abundance of girly things and plenty of characters that were each as vapid as the next. However, I gave it a chance for one reason: Lauren Faust. I was appreciative of her work and was willing to see what she could do with the property, and sure enough, she wanted this to be a different type of show, as she explained to Ms. magazine.
“I was extremely skeptical at first about taking the job. Shows based on girls’ toys always left a bad taste in my mouth, even when I was a child. They did not reflect the way I played with my toys. I assigned my ponies and my Strawberry Shortcake dolls distinctive personalities and sent them on epic adventures to save the world. On TV, though, I couldn’t tell one girl character from another and they just had endless tea parties, giggled over nothing and defeated villains by either sharing with them or crying–which miraculously inspired the villain to turn nice. Even to my 7-year-old self, these shows made no sense and couldn’t keep my interest. No wonder the boys at school laughed at my Rainbow Unicorn Trapper Keeper.
From what I’ve seen since I’ve grown up, little has changed. To look at the quality of most girls’ cartoons, it would seem that not one artist really cared about them. Not one designer, not one background painter, not one animator. Some of the more well-meaning, more expensive animated productions for girl audiences may look better, but the female characters have been so homogenized with old-fashioned “niceness” that they have no flaws and are unrelatable. They are so pretty, polite and perfect; there is no legitimate conflict and nothing exciting ever happens. In short, animated shows for little girls come across as boring. Stupid. Lame.
This perception, more than anything, is what I am trying to change with My Little Pony.”
And boy did she ever. These characters had personality and they had ambitions, and in the second episode, the most “girly” of the bunch kicked a manticore in the face. In the face! The show sent a resounding message that this wasn’t going to be the My Little Pony of old, and that while it would be influenced by Hasbro’s needs, Faust contested what she could and always did her best to work with her team to make sure that their requests were implemented into the show without doing any harm to the story.
“Yes, My Little Pony is riddled with pink, the leader is a Princess instead of a Queen and there probably aren’t enough boys around to portray a realistic society. These decisions were not entirely up to me. It has been a challenge to balance my personal ideals with my bosses’ needs for toy sales and good ratings. I do my best to incorporate their needs in an acceptable way, so when we are asked to portray a certain toy or playset, my team and I work to put it in a place that makes sense within the story. There is also a need to incorporate fashion play into the show, but only one character is interested in it and she is not a trend follower but a designer who sells her own creations from her own store. We portray her not as a shopaholic but as an artist.”
But then season two arrived: a season full of high expectations and fear – fear, which was made all the more palpable when Lauren Faust announced that she had parted ways from the show. She posted the following statement on her deviantart journal.
“And now I suppose it’s finally time for me to deliver some unfortunate news. I’ve been uncertain for a little while now about how, when and, to be honest, whether to announce the news at all. But here it is: I am no longer working on the show. Various circumstances with the production made it increasingly impossible for me to keep up the level of personal creative involvement and control that I had at the start of the series. I don’t think I can accurately express how difficult and painful the decision was and still is. When Season 2 begins, you will see my credit changed from Executive Producer to Consulting Producer. My involvement in Season 2 ultimately does* not reach far beyond story conception and scripts. A little more involved in the beginning, and a little less towards the end.”
Let’s cut that quote down and look at one sentence in particular.
“Various circumstances with the production made it increasingly impossible for me to keep up the level of personal creative involvement and control that I had at the start of the series.”
She was losing creative control. The question that has never been answered is why. People began to assail her, trying to find the reason. They thought that she had lost interest. She stated otherwise. They thought that she might have been offered another job. She said that wasn’t the case. They thought that it might have been because of her pregnancy. She took offense to that. So I came to the conclusion that the only way she could have lost creative control – in her position as the show’s creative steward – is if it was taken away from her. It is the only logical outcome.
In the second season, a new Alicorn princess, Cadance, was introduced in the season finale. When Lauren Faust was still working on the show, the character in question wasn’t an Alicorn. As she said, “I was very involved in the inception of the story, but I was surprised when I saw she is an alicorn. I don’t know who made that decision, but it was after I was no longer working on the show.” When she was asked how many Alicorns should exist in the show’s world, she said “If it were up to me, there would be only 2.” When prompted to say more at an event, she remarked that she was unable to do so, likely due to the terms of her departure from the company, as she made a similar comment when asked how she felt about Twilight Sparkle getting turned into an Alicorn princess. But we’ll get to that in a bit.
Despite losing Lauren Faust, she was involved in much of the formation of the second season, and by most accounts, it was very well done. The Royal Wedding may have reeked of executive meddling, but I thought that it was the best episode to date and most people would agree that the second season didn’t lose very much momentum from the first. But then the third season rolled around, the first without Lauren Faust’s influence, and it caused a whole lot of debate as many episodes were hit-or-miss in quality. It wasn’t helped by the reduced order – being only thirteen episodes instead of the usual twenty-six.
Yet the most controversy of all came from the announcement that Twilight Sparkle would be becoming an Alicorn princess as well in the season finale. This news divided the fandom, with Entertainment Weekly reporting on the outcry that it received when it broke the news about the change. They interviewed the founder of Equestria Daily, who has taken a positive stance on this change, but the reasons they laid forth about why people disagree with the move isn’t why I disagree with the move. I don’t fear change. I don’t fear Twilight Sparkle becoming something more than a geek. What I fear is what this change represents: one more blow against Lauren Faust’s original vision for the show. She had acquiesced so much, and yet it was never good enough for them. She never wanted there to be a princess in the first place. I asked her about that in 2010.
Q: “I know “princess” sounds cuter and helps sell more toys, and because of that you were probably forced to keep her as a princess by the powers that be, but is there any way around that? Does Equestria have a King or Queen that we just don’t know about? Does she have to marry or complete some ritual to become Queen? It would be more comforting to know there’s some explanation other than corporate insistence.”
A: “That’s what happened. I was told that because of Disney movies, girls assume that Queens are evil (although I only remember 1 evil queen) and Princesses are good. I was also told that the perceived youth of a Princess is preferable to consumers.
She does not have parents that outrank her. I brought the weirdness of that situation to my bosses, but it did not seem to be a continuity concern to them, so I’m letting it alone. I always wanted her to be the highest authority, and so she remains so. And I certainly don’t want marriage to be what would escalate her. (Bad messages to girls and what not.)
Sorry I couldn’t give you a more satisfying answer. Maybe as the series goes on we can thread something together. I put up a bit of a fight when her title changed, but you win some, you loose some.”
And so the world of Equestria got its princess, and with each passing season, Hasbro appears to be demanding more and more. It is their right to demand these things, and I respect that right, but at what point does the straw break the camel’s back? At what point does the show go back on its founding principles? And who remains to fight for what is right, as Lauren once did?
While the season finale was better than I had expected, the crux of the matter is that they made no effort to explain the whys of her transformation. Why did she need to become a princess? How does that benefit her moving forward? There were vague notions about her growing up and needing to start a new journey, but besides a fancy dress and wings, what did she really gain? Very little, it would seem. Some have argued that this change will open up new doors for growth, but characters can grow without doing something as drastic as this. This show has already demonstrated that.
I do not believe that this was the right move for the show, and I cringe when I hear the vapid lines spoken by the toy that Hasbro oh-so-desperately wanted to make. It saddens me, and reminds me of the Cartoon Brew article that some say lead to the creation of the bronies in the first place. Amid Amidi announced the end of creator-driven animation in television, and Lauren Faust proved him wrong, but I think he’s been vindicated to some extent. The network won this fight, and Lauren Faust’s vision is becoming increasingly irrelevant.