But what, exactly, is the whole thing about? And, more to the point, is the fandom’s rage over it justified?
To start with, it’s worth giving a brief recap of exactly what Equestria Girls is and the information about it that came out leading up to the trailer for it that appeared over the weekend.
What is Equestria Girls?
To go all the way back to the origin of the title, you’d have to go back to the end of the first season of My Little Pony : Friendship is Magic. Shortly after the season finale, The Hub (Hasbro’s cable channel on which the show airs) aired an ad for the series that included a small snippet of Pinkie Pie singing a spoof of the Katy Perry song “California Girls” using the title “Equestria Girls”, with scenes of the show appearing in the background. The spot was explosively popular within the brony community, and The Hub eventually released an extended version with a more complete version of the song, which included a specific shoutout to the brony community within it.
Not long thereafter, a fan site popped up, using the domain name equestriagirls.com, which consisted solely of the song played on a constant loop. This site remained up until early 2013 (towards the later half of Season 3), when Hasbro had the site pulled down for what at the time was seemingly no reason at all. Brief research amongst the news sites found that Hasbro had trademarked the title, and the brony community nervously waited to see what would come out of the trademark.
Shortly following that, news came out that Equestria Girls would be a spin-off franchise marketed to an older demographic than Friendship is Magic was targeted at : specifically girls in their tweens, to compete with the likes of franchises like Bratz and Monster High. The brony reaction was predictably negative in response to the news, although without any real information about the series, it soon slipped back under the radar.
That wouldn’t last long, as more news emerged regarding the spin-off. It would be a one-off movie release with limited theatrical showing which would star the ponies in human form attending high school. Marketing concept designs began showing up at around the same time, and the fandom’s reaction kicked up into a frenzy once again. The show’s writers and animators attempted to get out ahead of the brony backlash, assuring the fandom that the movie would have no actual impact on the main series itself, and that the upcoming Season 4 of Friendship is Magic would be totally unaffected by it, and while that placated some, others continued to rail against the idea, claiming betrayal from Hasbro and declaring the franchise ruined.
More information continued to emerge. The movie would feature Twilight Sparkle, tasked with retrieving a stolen crown, crossing into an alternate world to chase down the thief. Upon arriving in the other world, she would find herself transformed into a teenage human girl, and both have to cope with the change while attempting to find the thief, all the while having to deal with “normal” high school life.
The most recent peek into the movie came over the weekend, with an official trailer making the rounds on the internet. Oddly enough, reaction specifically to the trailer from the brony community was considerably more mixed than previous news, with reactions ranging anywhere from surprisingly pleased with it to raging against it harder than ever, and the community currently appears to be very split on the movie’s existence.
Issues With The Movie
(Edit : After having discussions with several people on the race topic, which oddly got a lot of attention, the point’s been made that keeping the pony colors intact does allow for “insert race here” style self-interpretation for some of the characters, and that the issue may not be as present as I implied. I’m willing to admit that I may have jumped to a conclusion on that front, although the point that it is a prevalent issue within the genre of girls entertainment Equestria Girls is attempting to compete with is relevant, and I still think it deserves to be looked at, so I’m leaving it in.)
Hand in hand with this issue comes the fact that the fashion sense of all of the characters appears to be nearly identical. This is another issue that the fashion doll industry suffers from overall (ironic, considering that toys of that nature are focused so much on fashion and clothing), but on an even deeper level, this presents an issue regarding the characters themselves. Tomboyish Rainbow Dash’s clothing choice isn’t that far removed from fashion queen Rarity’s, to the point that you could easily believe that both outfits were purchased within the same line of clothing, possibly even on adjacent racks within the store they got them from. That isn’t to say that a human Dashie can’t (or wouldn’t) wear those sorts of clothes, but for all of these characters with their spectrum of personalities to be dressed near-identically to each other sends a message antithetical to the one Lauren Faust intended to send with the series when she got involved with the reboot, that there are many ways to be a girl and all of them are equally legitimate.
Why It May Not Be That Bad
The trailer thankfully showcased that the character designs in the movie itself are markedly different from the marketing previews, and while the above issues are not subverted in their entirety, they aren’t quite as profound. The characters aren’t all bathed in makeup, and the clothing issue even seems to be lessened a bit (although they’re still ridiculously limited in their fashion range, at least Rainbow Dash’s outfit comes off as slightly more sporty in animation), and overall the designs feel more far more tolerable, and I have to admit that I actually find them pretty adorable.
It’s also worth noting that the movie is being headed by more or less the same team that have been working on the show as of Season 3, and the trailer seems to showcase that the level and style of humor is still there (there’s a scene where Twilight attempts to eat an apple by slamming her face into it, still presumably unused to the concept of having hands). Opinions on Season 3 are mixed amongst people, but it’s generally agreed upon that the writing staff is at least competent, and at least personally I’m more than willing to leave a setting and story like this in their hands to see what they can make of it.
Regardless of whether or not the team manages to deliver on the concepts, the fact remains that Equestria Girls isn’t that big of a deal in the larger scope of the series. It’s been stated flat out that the movie will have no impact on the main series whatsoever, and the character who appears to be shaping up to be the villain of the movie is also not going to show up at all in Season 4 according to the writers. The canon-ness of the movie is somewhat up in the air, but even if it’s considered “canonical”, it’s very much a side story that can be completely ignored without any real consequence. To that end, it doesn’t really matter all that much whether or not it does come out any good or not, because collectively we can all just shrug and pretend like it never happened if we really need to and not miss a beat.
The Hate Is Overblown
I’d be lying if I said I was completely on board with this idea. I’ve been on record as saying that I’m not particularly fond of humanizing the ponies, and I don’t think the high school story is something that needs to be told within the series (I’ve always considered the ponies to be past high school age anyways). Ironically, both of these were opinions I had formed before Equestria Girls was even a thing, because the fandom beat Hasbro to both concepts by a long shot. Bronies have been humanizing the ponies since the beginning of the fandom (sometimes doing a far better job of it than Equestria Girls is doing, and sometimes far worse), and there’s several “put the ponies in a high school setting” fanfics and fan-comics out there that I know of, and probably more that I don’t. Hell, even the concept of humanizing them at the same time as putting them in high school has been done by the fans already. To act like Equestria Girls is Hasbro violating some core part of the series on specifically that basis is silly. If that’s true, bronies violated it themselves long ago (and have quite frankly come up with far worse ideas).
I’ve heard the movie described as “nothing but a blatant cash grab” by fellow bronies. Does the term apply? From a certain perspective, absolutely. The movie is being made to appeal and sell to a specific demographic, and in that regard, yes, they’re doing it to make money. But you could easily apply that same logic to other My Little Pony products and it would fit just as easily. The iOS game and the comic series were ostensibly made with the brony community as a target market (the comic series was deliberately made to sell to the brony community, and while the iOS game had a larger audience the brony community was the most likely to pour money into it). They were just as much cash-ins as Equestria Girls is, and while neither one has been without some detractors, there hasn’t been anywhere remotely close to as much outrage over those “cash grabs”. So what’s the message there? Cash grabs are bad, unless we’re the ones being sold to and then it’s okay?
Ultimately, my stance on the movie is the same now as it always has been, namely to withhold actual judgement on it until there’s something there to fully judge. I’m not a huge fan of the basis of the movie itself, but especially looking at what the trailer had to show us, I’m willing to give it a shot. It has its problems, and I don’t think they should be ignored, but at the same time the movie has a chance to be at least mildly entertaining and, dare I say it, possibly even good. And honestly, if the worst case scenario comes about and it’s as mind-bogglingly awful as people are convinced it will be, the bronies can just block it out of their minds and pretend it never happened. They certainly wouldn’t be the first fandom to have done that sort of thing.