Wednesday, 23 January 2013

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

The film's title card
No, you haven't bought Peppa Pig by mistake
It's been a long wait — extended at the last minute by a week due to delays in obtaining clearance to use some of the music and artwork — but Bronies finally went public at the weekend. The "Core Edition" of Laurent Malaquais' film (without the Blu-Ray discs and other goodies that certain backers receive) is sold from the official website at US$12.99, which works out at £8.30 or so. For that, you get a DRM-free file in 400p, 720p or 1080p quality; you're allowed four downloads of each, which should cover any potential power-cut disasters.

If you have a reasonably fast connection and are watching on a screen big enough to take it, then you'll probably want to get hold of the 1080p version. Be warned: this takes up 3.5 GB! That does at least mean that it can be burned to a single DVD easily enough without any messing around. It's a standard H.264 file which I had no problems playing using any of the players I tried. For the sake of completeness, I mostly watched the film with the excellent, cross-platform VLC media player. You need have no fear here.

Enough technical geekiness; we have pony geekiness to consider! I shall, of course, be rambling on at some length in a minute, so out of the kindness (of course!) of my heart, I'll put the rest of this review after a jump. Follow me there for lots more waffling!

Daniel looking for the Bridgewater Hall
T-shirt from TruffleShuffle. Hat too sharp to be sold without a licence
The heart of the film is the coverage of a handful of bronies who are interviewed about the fandom and how their peers and family see their interest, and in some cases followed along to conventions. The guests include Israeli music superstar The Living Tombstone, composer of this little remix you may have heard of. There's Lyle Gilpatrick, an American brony with a highly conservative dad. And there's the English Midlands' very own Daniel Richards, wearer of an extremely fine black hat. Maybe regional bias is showing through here, but I thought he was great.

It's important to make clear, before going any further, that Bronies is not a "warts-and-all" look into every aspect of the fandom. You know that its darker side exists; I know it exists; some of us like it; some of us don't. That's not the point. This is a feel-good movie, a celebration of a fandom that makes (most of) us... well, feel good. As such, you won't find any discussion of Derpygate and its fallout, or of the .MOV videos. Nor is there any consideration of the way in which Hasbro's treatment of fan-made content has evolved since 2010. You do get LaserPon3's BUCK laser show, though!

John de Lancie lectures the class at Pony University
"No, class, I said it was time for us to be stopping"
One reason for that caution may be the involvement of several major MLP:FiM names in the film. Lauren Faust has of course now left the show ("I had to," she says at one point, though without explanation) but there are also substantial contributions from Tara Strong (come on, was she ever not going to do this?), Amy Keating Rogers and Charlotte Fullerton. It's a shame, given the huge part that music plays in our fandom, that Daniel Ingram wasn't interviewed, but there are limits to how many people you can get into 90 minutes!

And yes, I know I've missed someone out: John de Lancie, who (as usual) absolutely steals every scene in which he appears. Bronies contains several sequences of wonderful original animation by JanAnimations in which de Lancie (or rather, his ponysona) is clearly having the time of his life. He sings, he dances, he teaches a class containing a certain muffin-loving mare, you name it. He even slips in the words "plots" and "clopping", the latter causing a somewhat interesting reaction! Oh, and in human form he thrills and/or terrifies a sweet couple cosplaying as the Cakes...

One of the best things about Bronies from a British perspective is that it's very far from being the Americocentric film it might so easily have been. As well as Tombstone and Daniel, we get to hear from Benjamin Meyer and Nadine Neumann, a very nice German couple — who became a couple thanks to the show bringing them together. The internet, as is acknowledged, plays a big part in the global fandom's very existence, not to mention of course the distribution of pony artwork, music and so on. And this film!

Part of the BronyCon music workshop audience
Just part of the enormous crowd for BronyCon's music workshop
Naturally, there's plenty of coverage of pony conventions, which concentrates on last year's BronyCon and BUCK. (Once again, kudos to the makers for not just covering the US scene.) There's a clear difference in how the two cons come across on screen, with BronyCon being a great deal larger and attracting actual show stars. BUCK, meanwhile, comes over as a bit of a good-natured knockabout. The stereotypical British ability not to take ourselves too seriously is well in evidence.

As we all know, the FiM fandom is stuffed to the gills (do sea ponies actually have gills?) with musicians of one sort or another, and these songs are given a decent amount of time, though mostly in the background. Lots of brony music is used in the soundtrack; I was especially delighted to hear an instrumental version of Replacer's wonderful "A Pony Like Me" used behind Lauren Faust's interview. There's even an original song, "Take My Hand", by none other than Tara Strong. It's not bad at all.

I've already touched on cosplay, but of course there's more to the fandom than that. Art is tricky to put into a video, but at one point Pony de Lancie walks past a wall hung with plenty of (mostly) well-known pieces. There's even a reference to "Picture Perfect Pony", though I was a little sad that the actual video wasn't used at all. (That's by JanAnimations too, now I come to think of it. Those guys are really impressive.) Game-making was possibly slightly neglected too, given how popular it is, but you can't have everything.

Lauren Faust being interviewed
The woman without whom... etc, etc
Is there anything else to complain about? Well, the choice of when to subtitle and when not to was a bit odd; I didn't see that Tombstone's very good English really needed it, but the dad speaking German could have done with it throughout, rather than leaving us to rely on his daughter's translations. It was also a little disappointing not to have a final treat for those who sat through the full end credits. Oh, and they spelt "puppeteers" as "puppeteeers" during the live performance of "Discord". Tsk.

Those are all fairly minor whinges, of course, and in the end I think Bronies did a very good job. Its budget of around $300,000 seems like an awful lot of money — but for a 90-minute film shot internationally, involving original work and several big names, it isn't really. A true general-interest documentary about the My Little Pony fandom remains to be made, and I hope we do see that one day, but for what it is, this film was excellent and certainly satisfied me. £8 is a fair price for Bronies, so when you've watched the trailer, off you go to the official site and buy it!

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