Indie Spotlight, Reviews — January 5, 2014 at 6:00 am

INDIE SPOTLIGHT: BRONIES: THE EXTREMELY UNEXPECTED ADULT FANS OF MY LITTLE PONY

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Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony:

Now, I have to admit, my initial reaction (dismay, in case you’re wondering), came about because of a misunderstanding. I expected this picture to be about adult men who love My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, the popular animated kid’s series. After my viewing, I went back and read the official synopsis, which made things more clear: the movie follows misunderstood fans, males in their teens and twenties, as they prepare to attend a brony convention.

To its credit, that description actually does tell you what you’re going to get. B:TEUAFoMLP delivers on a bare-bones reading of its stated goal: I saw many young male fans, and learned a bit about their lives; I learned that they face prejudice from ignorant people; the fans attend a convention for the television series that they love.

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Unfortunately, this documentary is not put together solidly enough to withstand scrutiny by someone who isn’t already keen on attending a My Little Pony convention. A concerned parent seeing slews of dudes at the event their children attend? Maybe. A young girl seeing a guy who can barely grow a beard excitedly buying MLP figurines? Sure… Yet the movie plays in a way that won’t do what it should: convince X random man on the street that bronies are just harmless hobbyists.

I can honestly say I came into this ready to love any quality production about this premise. Perhaps my stance would be different if I had gone into the experience with hostility or different expectations, or if I had seen it under skewed circumstances. So… what do I mean by all that?

Well, on the first point, I heard about bronies maybe 6 months before I saw this doc. I thought the idea was terribly silly – but “silly” is not the same value judgment as “bad” or “harmful.” And, even as I thought that this subject was damn unusual, I realized (a) that lots of people have hobbies that sound silly/kinda weird.

This was a hand-held shot, over a lot of people's heads, so...

Also, (b) that I shouldn’t pay much attention to the popular stories on my mind: namely, people drawing sex pictures of the ponies on Deviant Art, and a lengthy post that seized the entire internet because it was by a guy who talks about living with his pony. Seriously, he says he’s in a relationship with his pony doll.

That would be like reading a news report about one horrific crime in a small town and then assuming that the one crime reflected everyday life in that town. It’s like assuming that all Czechs are racists and thieves because you just got mugged by one Czech who happened to be a racist.

Some guys like MLP. A few of those dudes are really creepy. Big deal. The percentage of nutjobs who like this is probably no higher than for any hobby…

As to the other point: I watched this documentary with someone else – an open-minded, educated, fun female. And, if her worldliness and gender weren’t enough of an assurance that I would have a different opinion on hand, this same female (before our viewing) pointed me to some very positive reviews of the My Little Pony TV show.

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So, just keep in mind that I did everything that I could to be sure that I judged this doc on its own merits, short of watching an episode of Pony. I’m straight, but I review gay and lesbian films. Even if I hated sushi (I don’t), I could be objective about the quality of a documentary film about sushi.

The first big flaw of Bronies is that I never felt like it told me enough about the show that is the background for its topic. When did it first air? On what network? Do they still make new episodes? How popular is it among its target audience? Was it a success right away? Did something specific raise its profile with people in their teens and twenties – like, maybe, an article in Men’s Health magazine?

Despite interviews with longtime fans, some show writers and voice actors, and the series creator herself, none of these questions are really answered.

creator

The second big flaw of Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony (just rolls right off the tongue, right?):

the several custom-made animated segments, which are hard to follow. I liked the fact that this movie got some original animation for its interstitial sequences, good-looking animation at that. And I loved that I immediately recognized the main voice as belonging to John DeLancie, who is famous for his work on Star Trek The Next Generation, among other TV programs. But I guess that Mr. D is using the same sort of voice and delivery style as is customary for the show.

The big issue with this is that John’s speech pattern is terribly-fast rhyme, which makes it way hard to hear or process the info he’s relating. The second issue with this is that I would need to see some portions of the show to actually have the appropriate context for – I kid you not – sequences of a “Pony University” lecture on the merits of bronihood.

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Another flaw lies in how this documentary was assembled in the editing room. All that time that could have been spent offering much-needed background on the MLP program was instead spent on interviews with assorted My Little Pony fans. 6 or 7 of them receive the bulk of the attention, and it adds up to a significant portion of the film’s running time.

What I realized, two days after watching the pic, was that these interviews served a specific purpose: to show what these fans get from their beloved show, and how they have benefitted or suffered because of their interest.

And, it was indeed helpful and gratifying to learn that one Southern 20-something had his rear window destroyed by a stranger because he had Pony decals on his rear and side windows. Or that a guy in Israel makes very popular songs based on the show. Or that a German woman is making good money producing painted Pony figurines, plus she met and fell in love with a German boy who is himself an MLP fan.

UK's own Corey Feldman

But (again) these discoveries would have mattered more if I had a better understanding of the program that has fascinated them so thoroughly. It’s a critical flaw, one made worse because the individuals receive more time than they should.

One male fan is a UK teen who lives at home and has Asperger’s. This not-very-social guy makes his first ever solo daytrip outside his home to attend a Pony convention. For him, it’s a big deal that he’s taking a train and trying to find the convention center – especially since he doesn’t like talking to strangers, even to get directions. But the viewer spends several minutes on this teen as he’s lost and turned around, when we simply could’ve learned some of this in a brief interview.

Ultimately, you are left feeling that B:TEUAFoMLP could’ve used its limited running time better. And the only conclusion left is that the movie is intended for people who are already fans of the TV series, to the exclusion of people who aren’t “in the know.” My source of pain, then, is that this could really have provided a chance for people to understand bronies, but instead I saw something that seems meant to be played at MLP conventions.

bronies

All of this stands out, because the documentary actually makes some interesting points. It is interesting to learn that there is a whole subset of bronies who serve in the US military and feel that they will be ridiculed because of their hobby – as if a subscription to Maxim weren’t as bad, or worse. And it’s really interesting to see a father who is clearly suffering from gay panic because his boy – in interviews where dad’s George W poster is visible, he makes sure to say his son is an expert with guns – loves a TV show that is targeted at young girls. The look in the man’s eyes simply screams distrust.

Some online research revealed that John DeLancie decided to produce a documentary about bronies after he attended a convention and learned that these fans were being discriminated against and ridiculed. And, while his aim is admirable and highly-commendable, the result is not.

Now, as anyone who’s been to my personal film site will know, I cannot claim to be a full-fledged film student, although I do study film. However: a movie like Bronies must give an audience the background needed to understand its subject. It also needs to present opposing arguments and viewpoints, and explore the issues surrounding its subject.

But we don’t hear any mention of the people who sexualize this kids’ show, and the people who hate it from afar do not really get to expound on their real problems with these fans. How can I accept an argument when I get a half-murky explanation of what one side thinks?

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I was ready for this picture to be laughably-bad. I hoped that this film would be an informative and insightful look into a subculture. And I was prepared for this movie to make a good case for why I should give My Little Pony a shot myself. Instead, I was bored and disappointed – and if it sounds like I’m biased, let me add: the two MLP reviews my viewing partner pointed me to? Those actually did make a great case for why the show is fun, pleasant, and rewarding.

At this point, I can only hope that the filmmakers recut the footage and make a documentary that is more accessible to MLP neophytes.

Filmbuff has made Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony available to rent or purchase via ITunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu, Xbox Live, and the Playstation Network.

2 Comments

  • Interesting read. I remember hearing about that this was on Watch Instant and thinking that I should give it a chance. Perhaps not, though.

    The Brony phenomenon seems odd to me, but all fandom is odd in some way. It’s when adult or even adolescent males begin sexualizing a TV show directed towards children (more specifically little girls) that I get a little creeped out.

    • It gives you half a view into the background, but gets lost. And it really needs to deal with negative stereotypes, like the one you noted.

      For my part, the primped eyelashes on the ponies seemed… odd to me, and some friends. A lot could be said about this subculture, but this misses the mark.

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