With four seasons under its belt, The Hub channel’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic celebrates its season-ending two-part episode and a just-announced 26-episode season five with one of its “What’s the Hubbub?” online chats.
91 episodes in and four seasons under its belt, The Hub channel’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic gallops on. To celebrate its season-ending two parter and a just-announced 26-episode season five (sorry bronies, they won’t canter onscreen until 2015), the channel scheduled one of its occasional “What’s the Hubbub?” online chats. It’s a treat for Pony’s adult fan base; in all likelihood, very few girls from the show’s 6-11 target demo are watching.
An assortment of bloggers from places like Just Us Geeks, Geek Alabama, Geek Mom, the Week in Geek—and the Miscweant—were invited to throw questions at Tara Strong (voice of Twilight Sparkle) and Meghan McCarthy (Pony’s co-executive producer and story editor), with Hub VP Ted Biaselli keeping things moving.
A few excerpts (slightly edited for clarity):
Pony’s fan base is double-sided [consisting of its kid audience and adult bronies]. Does this affect your writing, trying to make sure it appeals to both sides?
Meghan: We think about the characters first—they’re 100% what guides the story. If we guess about what different segments of audience would like we’d guess wrong because people like different things and we’re not going to tell the story that needs to be told; we stay focused on the emotions and journey of the characters.
[The initial fan concern over Twilight Sparkle’s elevation from unicorn to alicorn princess (sporting both horn and wings) is addressed:]
Ted: There was a lot of kerfluffle online when it was revealed Twilight Sparkle was going to be a princess. [Tara agrees with an emphatic “a lot” and turns to Meghan:] People got really mad at you.
Ted: Now that a full season with Princess Twilight Sparkle has gone by, you guys bought such a great sense of the underlying story, “am I ready this new position?” which is relevant to so many people at any stage of their lives—kids or adults facing new jobs or schools. Now I think fans 20/20 hindsight “oh that was so good!”
Tara: People ask me, are you going to change anything about her character? No, she’s still Twylie; would you treat someone different if they changed their wardrobe? It’s still the same person.
Do the people who make Pony enjoy the live tweeting when an episode airs?
Meghan: I think it’s really lots of fun. It’s like virtually watching show with the fans. The show itself is about community—that’s sort of what community is in our world now. People watching and sharing the show together—it’s exciting.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you at fan convention?
Tara: I had a fun one this past convention. There were a couple of bronies with really great Pony tattoos—one really hot army brony and a cool biker dude. They wanted to get my signature and have it signed [tattooed] immediately by a tattoo artist at the con. [Tara points to her arm.] “You know that’s forever, right?”
What type of Pony would you be?
Meghan: My cutie mark is a typewriter, which I explain in this device people used to use write things. [She mimes her hands going up and down over a phantom keyboard.]
[Tara doesn’t answer, but later on I visit an equestriadaily.com chat board, where brony “Timid Cleft” tells me in a 2012 interview Tara hoped a fan would draw “Taralicious,” her personal Pony “OC.”
Time out to explain OC stands for “original character,” one you invent to enter the world of the show as one of its denizens. (When I visit Equestria it’s as “Scales,” a green reptile Pony with a Lacoste-like gator as my cutie mark. Don’t worry—I haven’t taken part in any online Pony roleplay or written fan fiction where Applejack falls in love with me—yet.) That both Tara and Meghan have their own OCs is a pretty good sign they don’t just write and perform in the episodes; they’d like to visit Equestria almost as much as any hardcore brony.
Within a few days Tara’s wish is granted when Deviant artist “Lysok” posted his version of Taralicious: a blonde Pegasi with a heart-adorned microphone as her cutie mark - http://tinyurl.com/mb4dyuh ]
Weird Al Yankovic guest-voiced “Cheese Sandwich” in a season 4 episode; what other guest stars would you like to write an episode for?
Meghan: Oh, golly, I’m trying to think what celebrities would be bff with me…Beyonce?
Ted: her Pony name would be “Bootylicious.”
Tara: her cutie mark would be a booty – a booty on a booty.
Ted: did you write Cheese Sandwich and then cast Weird Al, or did you guys say “we’re gonna get Weird Al” and then wrote an episode around him?
Meghan: The original concept was from [Pony director] Jayson Thiessen. He said ‘The character is Weird Al.’ We crossed our fingers and luckily he agreed to do it.
[It might not have been as hard to get Weird Al as they thought; the seeds of his appearance were planted in the dawn of bronydom when he saw—and mightily enjoyed—a PMV (“pony music video”) edited to his song “Polka Face.”]
[The subject of a second Equestria Girls movie comes up, in which the Twilight and co. will once again appear in human form.]
Meghan: I like to say it’s Empire Strikes Back of the Equestria Girls, everything gets kicked up a notch.
Ted: Twilight loses a hoof, Rarity frozen in carbonite…
If the show had a prince for Twilight, who would you want to voice him?
Tara: Hmm, such a good question...[then very rapidly, under her breath] BradPitt!
Some guy named “Joe Strike” begins asking “how did you react when you discovered the show had an adult audience,” when audio from earlier in the interview suddenly covers up the end of his question and the beginning of Tara’s answer; fortunately it’s not loud enough to drown her out completely:
I can say was really shocked at Pony fandom. I learned about it on Twitter and was like, “wait who’s that—okay!” It was love at first tweet, they’re so genuine and sweet. We raised over $100,000 for a little girl with a brain tumor last year. Bronies for Good [broniesforgood.org] are constantly doing things to raise money for different kinds of charities and help kids that are being bullied rally for each other.
I’ve often heard people say “I had no friends until My Little Pony and now I’ve got friends all over the world.” Someone’s nervous to go out, or they’re shy, and then they have this community online that the show created. They call me “The Queen of the Bronies” online because I just adore them and think they’re so funny. I was definitely surprised but pleasantly surprised; we love our bronies.
Meghan: I totally saw it coming because I have this sight [and points to her forehead]. No, it was a surprise because once you hear people talk about the show and what they like about it, you’re “yes, of course,” because it does have these great messages, it does have a sense of community and great art and music that inspires other people to create.
Ted: It transcends—it’s the kind of thing that’s out there to make great content, and great content is appreciated by all sorts of people. I remember a very early conversation when we first started the network and were developing Pony and [show creator] Lauren Faust said “I want to make a show called My Little Pony that boys will watch,” and she did! [Props to Ted and the gals for reminding everyone who first brought this magical Pony to life.]
Ted: There are multiple stakeholders in the show: the brand team, Hub, Hasbro Studios, Standards and Practices, all weigh in on the script. [It’s interesting to hear an acknowledgment in an official network event that a toy line is at the heart of Pony instead of pretending the show is created in a vacuum.] What do you do when the notes come back?
[Meghan first mimes ripping the notes into little pieces, then:] It’s kind of like I don’t write for a living, I take notes for a living, but in a good way. It’s part of the job and I push back on notes I don’t agree with. It’s a process – the script is a blueprint for next thing going to happen.
What are your favorite episodes?
Tara: “Lesson Zero” [Twilight goes off the rails trying to come up with a last-minute lesson-in-friendship moral to share with Princess Celestia] and “A Canterlot Wedding.” [Twilight suspects her brother’s fiancée isn’t who she claims to be.]
Meghan: Those and “Party of One.” I’m writing a scene where [a crazed] Pinkie Pie is talking to inanimate objects and I’m thinking “they’re never going to let me do this”—and they did; thanks, Hub!
What’s fun about Pinkie is it all makes sense to her. She actually knows more than anyone else, she’s actually on top of it, but has such unique way of looking at and expressing things that she seems crazy and wild sometimes, but deep down she has it together.
I get to ask a second question—which once again is plagued by out-of-nowhere audio
Ted: Just a second Joe, we get a second audio feed when we hear you…
Oops, my bad: turns out I forgot to mute my computer’s speakers. Things settle down and I can finally ask: Do you enjoy putting in pop culture references for the bronies? In “It’s About Time” there’s a mention of “an epic pony war,” a direct reference to a Pony fan fiction. Do you keep an eye on what fans are doing, and work things like that into the show?
A slightly nervous looking Meghan: I don’t think it was a reference to a fan fiction because we’re not allowed to read it—it might’ve just been a coincidence.
A lot of stuff with the background ponies isn’t scripted because if we put all those references into the script it would be 5,000 pages long. A lot of it is put in by the storyboard artists. I think it’s as much for them, they get a kick out of it – everybody who works on the show is a kind of pop culture geek—it’s to make ourselves laugh and surprise ourselves. [Not to mention attracting the show’s unexpected adult audience.]
* * *
No doubt a good part of that adult audience is watching four days later when “Twilight’s Kingdom,” the two part season-ending episodes air. The semi-reformed former villain Discord returns, descending (thanks no doubt to one of the show’s storyboard artists) Mary Poppins-style from the sky.
He’s arrived to help the ponies battle another returning character—only this character is returning from the ancient days of the first generation Ponies – in fact, from the very first My Little Pony episode. (A few spoilers lie ahead, for those who prefer to catch the episodes later on.)
That episode, a one-shot standalone simply titled My Little Pony aired on April 14, 1984, almost exactly thirty years and one month earlier.* Now its villain, the centaur Tirek has returned to drain all the ponies—pegasi, unicorns and earth ponies alike—of their power. Thank goodness the mischievous Discord is on hand to aid the ponies…or has he returned to the dark side and teamed up with Tirek? No, it can’t be—he has to be playing Tirek, setting the villain up for his eventual downfall…
Only he isn’t. It’s a betrayal that leaves the ponies at his mercy and all of Equestria at risk. (Attaining ultimate power and growing to enormous size, the centaur strikes a pose any Fantasia fan will instantly recognize.) A Tirek-Twilight battle that rivals Superman vs. General Zod in Man of Steel in sheer destruction follows.
Fortunately, the clues planted during the season-long story arc (you have been watching the series all season, haven’t you?) lead the ponies to an energy source that transforms them into powered-up, rainbow-fied versions of their normal selves and ultimately prevail. (Hopefully, collector bronies who gotta catch ‘em all will find room for a half dozen exceptionally colorful Pony figures to add to their already sizeable paddocks.)
* * *
Where do the ponies, not to mention Tara and Meghan, go from here? Probably not into Tara’s fantasy episode: “I’d put our OCs in there and we’d run off together. We’d join Cirque du Soleil, and then Game of Thrones where I’d hang out with Selyse.”
To which Ted Biaselli responds, “you’re gonna read that tomorrow online—someone will have written it for you.”
* Full disclosure: in 1984 I was on-staff with Sunbow Productions, the producers of the original My Little Pony TV series.