Thursday, May 15, 2014

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

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony
Directed by Laurent Malaquais
87 minutes, 2013

You know, we live in pretty amazing times. I remember going to the first ever Star Trek convention at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, back in the early 1970s. I’ve been to comic cons, rock cons, and horror cons. I’ve always been amazed at the dedication of fans for a particular topic.

As time has passed, the subject of cons has become more focused, including anime, porn (yep, the AVN in Las Vegas, and no, I’ve never been), and I have a cousin and aunt who used to go from Edmonton to New York to attend a con for a soap opera.

These kinds of cons are similar to trade shows and in some ways use them as a model. There are products to be tested and bought, meet with people in the same industry (or same interest), and make some backroom deals (I’ve saw an interesting mass buy of bootlegs in years gone by in the rooms, though for the life of me I can’t remember who was involved 30 years later). The difference is there is a larger element of talent. For example, at a plumbing show, they may hire a Kardashian to get the guys sweaty, but for a con, it’s more artistic and people who are actually associated in some aspect with product (for example, at a Beatles con, I saw a presentation by their limo driver, Alf Bicknell).

One socially interesting aspect of these cons I find is that most of the ones I’ve been to started out as mostly male fan boys, and as time went on, more and more women joined in (with the exception of the Beatles and Monkees cons run by Charles F. Rosenay!!! [sic] in Connecticut, which has always been pretty even). Sort of like how Penny is starting to quote Star Trek more on Big Bang Theory.

A more recent fixation that has laser focused into the form of conference loci is a show meant for the demographics of young girls, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. However, the die-hard fans of this show seem to be male, ranging from teens to full grown adults. And that is the focus of the film.

Right off the bat, the director, Laurent Malaquais, wisely addresses the core issues by presenting visual soundbites of people being interviewed who are not fans of the show, stating how if men like the series, they must be pedophiles, gay, or mentally ill.

It is on this question that we are introduced to a collection of Bronies (that’s a mixture of Bro and ponies, so it’s pronounced broh-nies not brown-nees) from all over the world, including the US (Maine and North Carolina), Germany, Holland and even Israel. We meet these guys (and in one case a girlfriend equally devoted to the show) and their families, who occasionally struggle to understand just what is the male fascination of a tween girl show.

It is interesting to see how these guys are outsiders who have found a single thing to be fascinated by that is just outside the accepted norm (remember when punk was like that before the jocks joined?). The most noteworthy to me is the gender blending. A question that is raised in the film at nearly the half-way point, which is the most germane to me, is that wonder of what it is about males enjoying a female show that other members of society find so scary; would it be the same if a girl would be fascinated by, say, GI Joe?

As for the female fans? This, too, is addressed in the documentary, in My Little Pony adapted cartoon form, stating that even though ‘bro” is used at the beginning of the term brony, it also applies to female fans, as well, and is not proprietary. Good to know.

Personally, I find the whole idea of this level of this type of obsession interesting. I mean, I have my own, which are varied (just look though this blog), but even my devotions pale in comparison. There are, of course, unhealthy fixations when something becomes too much of power thing (jingoism, some religious zeal, some sports fanaticism, the occasional star fandom), and then there are healthier ones that become outlets. In the case of the Bronies, their focus – at least the people in this documentary – is the same as the show: friendship can conquer anything, positive triumphs over the  negative, and the like. For some who are lonely, or are in need of something in their lives, this positive message is important, no matter where it comes from, and if it’s accompanied by music (remember the psalms?), it can go a longer way. When you are feeling like a misfit, a kinship is also an opiate of the masses. This can also work in other ways within culture, such as music.

The star of this documentary, and yes it does have one, is John De Lancie. You know, the guy who played Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently, as a once forgotten gig, he voiced Discord, the “evil” character that is defeated by the positive energy of the ponies. Since then, he has been embraced by the Bronies (One of us! One of us!) and has taken the role as a symbol of the movement, helping to mentor the younger ones. Here, he comforts a conservative dad to help him see that being a Brony doesn’t mean his 16 year old son is not a man.

Most of the other voice actors are interviewed individually, but the main focus is on Lauren Faust, who created the show, and Tara Strong (landsman!), the Canadian who voices the central character. They swirl around the Bronies at the New York Brony Con, lighting up faces along with Lancie, who really seems to be enjoying himself. He even voices the animated wraparound musical pieces of this film.

But the New York con is not the only one we take a boo on. There’s also one in Manchester, and another in Stuttgart. The theme to all of them is peace, harmony, being good to one another. And buying plushies and posters.

The third act of the documentary is also about focusing outward, as well as in. We see how one of the aims of the cons is to raise money for charities, and to promote original art and music (with a Ponies theme). The viewer meets musicians, laser artists, and some with the talent to draw the Ponies in ways that make others very, very happy. People dance, they jump, they fist bump and hug, and mostly they let everyone be themselves, including the 60 or so Bronies from the US Armed Forces. In other words, everything Robert Bly was trying to accomplish in the 1980s.

The two extras are interviews with voice talents and an overview of the BUCK con in the U.K. (6 min.) and the Galacon in Germany (10 min.) Both are well paced and varied enough to keep it going.

While it may be a bit of a head scratcher as to why, especially as I am not a Brony myself (is there a My Little Ramonie?), this is definitely a feel good film from beginning to end. Yes, it could have been a bit shorter, but love is all around, and watching this may make you 20% cooler.



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