Critics have lambasted My Little Pony: A New Generation’s “woke” themes, but it’s no different than what the series has always stood for.
Fans of My Little Pony might have expected the biggest uproar about the new Netflix film, My Little Pony: A New Generation, to come from angry “bronies” (a group of devotees of Friendship is Magic, aka Generation Four ) who were resistant to the idea of new characters or animation style. Instead, a Fox News article titled “‘My Little Pony’ has gone woke: New Netflix movie introduces progressive creatures” sparked discussions about the franchise’s potential political messages. What Fox News failed to realize is that the basic themes of acceptance and working together to resist dangerous outside forces have always been present in MLP — and that’s a good thing.
A New Generation (the start of Generation Five, or G5) begins with science-minded and inquisitive Earth pony Sunny Starscout (Vanessa Hudgens) recounting tales of the G4 ponies’ friendship and togetherness. At this point in the timeline, Earth ponies, pegasi and unicorns live in segregated communities and spread lies about each other: Earth ponies have developed technological defenses against the other ponies’ magic but are considered stupid rubes by the others, while pegasi and unicorns are thought to be dangerous because of their magical abilities and flight — abilities that, unbeknownst to other groups of ponies, haven’t been active in ages.
Sunny’s father, Argyle Starshine (Michael McKean), encouraged her curiosity and interest in other types of ponies when she was a child, but most Earth ponies are scornful of the others — and of Sunny’s open-mindedness. It might seem on-the-nose that Sunny actively goes to protest and disrupt the Canterlogic group’s presentation of new unicorn-and-pegasi-repelling technologies, but a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that G5 ponies live in a world with versions of modern technology that can be utilized in the story, while older generations of ponies were fighting more fantastical, allegorical villains.
Soon, the Earth ponies of Maritime Bay are startled by the appearance of a friendly unicorn named Izzy Moonbow (Kimiko Glenn). It turns out later that she came here after finding a note that a young Sunny had written encouraging unicorns to come see their Earth pony friends, but the Earth ponies treat her like an invader, trying to capture her with all of the new Canterlogic tech and running from her in terror. Sunny helps Izzy escape from the law, and they end up going on the run; it becomes clear that Izzy is about the least-threatening pony that could exist. She’s cheerful and a bit ditzy, and she — like the other unicorns — has no magical ability.
They also find allies in the pegasus royal family: princesses Zipp Storm (Liza Koshy) and Pipp Petals (Sofia Carson) and their mother, Queen Haven (Jane Krakowski). They’ve been lying to the public about royal pegasi still being able to fly. However, pegasi lost the ability when magic disappeared, but the royals have created propaganda to inspire their constituents.
Meanwhile, Sprout Cloverleaf (Ken Jeong) has taken over as Maritime Bay’s sheriff and has co-opted his mother Phyllis’ (Elizabeth Perkins) Canterlogic workers to create anti-unicorn/pegasus tech to stop what he believes is an invasion. He works the town’s ponies into a frenzy during a hilariously unnerving mob song and prepares for war. This, too, might be seen as too on-the-nose since this plot shows that it’s bad to blindly follow a fearful and bigoted authority, but it’s also amusingly reminiscent of Jeong’s character Ben Chang’s villain arc in Season 3 of Community.
Sunny, Izzy, Zipp and the others only manage to restore magic to ponykind when they realize that it’s not just the magical jewels that need to be united but the ponies themselves. Working together has long been one of the main themes of MLP, and this anti-segregation undertone has also appeared in previous generations. 1986’s My Little Pony: The Movie had a storyline about how the isolationist Flutter Ponies had to be convinced to help the other ponies fight the Smooze (a magical interpretation of man-made pollution). A similar conflict also occurs between the ponies and the isolationist Seaponies in the 2017 film.
A Season 1 episode of Friendship is Magic features Twilight Sparkle and the other ponies learning not to be bigots toward Zecora, a zebra who lives in the forest outside of Ponyville. Acceptance of self and others is one of the most prevalent themes in Friendship is Magic. In fact, many episodes involve characters overcoming biases, however small, and learning to work together. The film also has a storyline about Tempest Shadow (Emily Blunt) feeling bullied and isolated after breaking her horn and essentially becoming a pony with a disability but eventually learning to trust others and herself because they refuse to give up on her.
Saying that MLP only started including “progressive” themes in the new film is blatantly untrue. Previous generations didn’t directly address themes of propaganda and war-mongering, but the message of acceptance has always been there. What’s more, Fox News decrying the new film’s “wokeness” is baffling. There’s nothing bad about encouraging young audiences to challenge societal biases and work with people (or ponies) who are a little different than them.
My Little Pont: A New Generation is now streaming on Netflix.
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