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"My Little Pony: Classic Movie Collection."

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Home video: Galloping once again into a rainbow sunset

  • Article by: MIKE HALE
  • New York Times
  • January 29, 2014 - 3:44 PM

 

I didn’t really believe in “bronies” as more than legend or a put-on until I saw the young guy on the subway. Sitting hunched forward on a downtown No. 4 train in Manhattan, he wore long fitted shorts, a glum or perhaps defiant expression and a 3-foot-tall Pinkie Pie doll strapped to his back, like a well-behaved baby. Its face was buried in his shoulder blades, one big expressive pony eye peeking out from behind his ear. The women sitting on either side were buried in their cellphones, studiously ignoring him.

This was hard evidence that there were indeed grown men willing to profess their love publicly for a line of rainbow-colored toy animals and its associated television show, “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.” I wanted to pat him on the shoulder and say: “It’s OK. The women don’t matter.” I also wanted to whisper to him, “Dude, have you ever checked out the original ponies?”

The current popularity of My Little Pony, including the rise of the beta-male fans known as bronies (bro + pony), dates from 2010. That’s when Hasbro refreshed the quarter-century-old line of dolls and associated paraphernalia and the Hub children’s cable network began carrying “Friendship Is Magic,” a reboot of the My Little Pony animated TV and film franchise. The new show brought the gentle-talking ponies into the sardonic 21st century, sassing them up in the manner of “Wicked” and rendering them in a flat style similar to “The Powerpuff Girls.”

These ponies-come-lately may have revived a moribund enterprise, but some of us will always prefer the more innocent, mellow, trippy joys of the pre-2010 My Little Pony, when the dolls were just for little girls, and adult fans stayed in the closet where they belonged. For us — well, for our children, presumably — Shout! Factory is issuing a two-DVD set ($14), “My Little Pony: Classic Movie Collection,” containing four straight-to-video features released from 2004 to 2006. It’s an extra special pony party in a box.

The stories in “Classic Movie Collection” feature the third generation of ponies, who have left their previous home in Friendship Gardens for Ponyville, where they remain. (“Friendship Is Magic” stars the fourth generation.) Unlike the wisecracking animals of today, these more childlike creatures are resolutely amiable, indulging only the occasional eye roll. They spend most of their time doing the things ponies love to do: singing songs, organizing parties, picking flowers, taking bubble baths and falling down. Lots and lots of falling down.

Plot is never the point, though the 50-minute running time of “Princess Promenade,” the best known of the four films, requires a semblance of a story: While digging in the castle garden, a group of ponies unearths Spike the stinky dragon and, in the process, the pony Wysteria accidentally becomes princess of Ponyville. Heavy is the head that wears the royal flower tucked behind one ear, however, and rather than rule over her friends (Pinkie Pie, Ladybug, Sunny Daze, Tiddlywink), Wysteria makes them all princesses.

It’s a sweet resolution, but a more unified aesthetic experience is provided by the 19-minute “Dancing in the Clouds,” originally a videotape sold as part of the package with the Star Catcher doll. It’s nearly plotless: Sky Wishes makes an extra, extra special wish that her friend Twinkle Twirl will come up with a new dance for the princess party. Finding herself at the most magical place in Ponyville — a psychedelic waterfall that looks a little like Times Square on New Year’s Eve — Sky Wishes encounters Star Catcher, is carried through the water by a magic carpet of butterflies and learns to dance in the clouds.

The short feature’s symphonic washes of color and emotion are exceptionally pleasant, especially, I imagine, if you’ve basted yourself with the appropriate natural or chemical substances before viewing. If your perceptions aren’t too clouded, though, you might have some questions, such as why so many of the ponies have stripper names. (“Gem Blossom? Desert Rose? Coconut Cream? Follow me!”)

You also might notice that when they do the things ponies apparently do — prance, rear up on their legs and punch the air with their hooves, shake their hindquarters while swinging their rainbow-colored tails — they resemble nothing so much as a late-night conga line at Studio 54 in the late ’70s.

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