‘A Brony Tale’ review: Just needs to be 20 percent cooler

brony tale

The world lacks a great deal of love and the magic of friendship, and Bronies are the ones to bring it back.

That’s the core of the message behind the avid fandom of My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic. Produced by Hasbro, the animated cartoon series about female, magical ponies airs on The Hub ever since 2010, being the fourth reincarnation of the franchise. Lauren Faust, who created the new series, was a huge fan of the franchise growing up, and wanted to take the ponies on her own ride. Not only has the series been a hit with its intended audience (young girls) but it gained a much larger, unexpected following: young adult males.

Just who are these fans? The psychologists featured in the film give us a rough breakdown on the demographic, dubbed Bronies:

  • Aged anywhere between 14-57, with the average age at 21
  • 85% male / 15% female (and a percentage of those females refer to themselves instead as Pegasisters while the other females prefer Bronies)
  • Tend to have much lower scores of neuroticism (feelings of anger, anxiety, etc.) than non-Bronies
  • 35% are in high school, 62% are in or had completed college

And, in case you were wondering if Bronies tended to be gay because of their inclination to a girls’ show, check this out.

  • 84% are self-prescribed heterosexuals
  • Only 1.5% label themselves as homosexuals
  • 10% are bisexual
  • 3.5% are asexual (meaning they have no interest in sex whatsoever)

Bronies have been at the center of much media attention in the past few years. Misunderstood, new filmmaker Brent Hodge decided to create a documentary detailing much of the nuanced audience to tell the world, “Hey, these guys aren’t so weird.”

Disclaimer: I decided to pick this documentary up to review, because I recently watched another documentary on Bronies (I know, two!?) called ‘Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony.’ The film was the second most-funded documentary project in Kickstarter’s history, which is not surprising, as you’ll come to find out that the fanbase is a very dedicated one. I will be apt to compare the two docs.

Seems as though Morgan Spurlock, too, had an interest in covering this epidemic. Spurlock, who brought us controversial hits like Super Size Me and other nerd-related docs like Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope (which I’d like to just forget about), helped produced this new documentary. I do wonder if his involvement spoiled the film for me, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

The doc opens up with Ashleigh Ball, who starts off reciting her voice acting resume for almost five minutes. In all that time, you are sort of wondering what this scene has to do with learning more about Bronies. We come to find out at the end of her long introduction that she voices two of the characters on the show.

manliest brony in the worldThe film progresses, with interviews of different Bronies from the corners of the U.S. and Canada, with the first being the Manliest Brony in the World (who was also featured in the other documentary.) This guy enjoys manly mustaches, manly motorbikes, manly beers, and My Little Pony. He makes a very important statement that is carried on throughout the film, which is “I like what I like, and I don’t care what you think I have to like.”

Featuring more people in the fandom, the documentary seems to only briefly cover the lives of most, except for one guy in particular — Bryan Mischke, a veteran who suffered depression after coming back home from war, who then found solace in drawing fanart of My Little Pony, primarily that of Princess Celestia. He attributes a lot of his self-discovery and his ability to come out of the depression to this character, who is sort of the surrogate mother to the main character, Twilight Sparkle.

drawing of celestria by mishke

While many different types of Bronies were featured in this film, telling their story, the documentary doesn’t do a wonderful job in spending quality time with these people, learning about their lives, their struggles to express their fandom for the show locally and publicly, and just who they are. As a viewer, you experience most of these people’s lives as sort of a city tour bus guide — a little bit of info on a lot of different people.

That is probably because the filmmaker spent a lot precious air time with Ashleigh Ball.

Nothing against the pretty sprite girl, but she has what I refer to as the Hayden-effect (from Hayden Panattiere, Heroes, Nashville.) The typical, blonde clueless girl who is supposed to play innocent and sort of oblivious to the world she’s in, gets a lot of screen time because she’s pretty and is part of the ultimate juxtaposition for the storyline of the doc.

brony tale ashleigh ballBall voices two of the characters in the series, both Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Her voice acting abilities are bar none exceptional; as you will have seen in the beginning of the documentary, she carries with herself a fairly impressive resume for such a young age. We also find out later that her true passion is singing, as she’s one-third of a Canada-based indie band named Hey Ocean!

In the film, we see that she’s been invited to BronyCon to speak and do autographs, and she reveals a bit of apprehension to it, though ultimately she agrees. Whether her feelings were pure or not, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those days in high school, when the popular, pretty girls always seemed a bit clueless as to what the nerds were doing. As I noted before, there was this weird Hayden-effect every time she was on screen (think Penny in Big Bang Theory). I wonder if it was truly necessary to film her with light upon her back and soft, acoustic music under her dialogues. This sort of juxtaposition I felt really undermined what the movie was supposed to be a about — “A film about men who like My Little Pony.”

This sort of clueless-actor thing is of course very prominent in Hollywood. While the writers and most of the times its directors and producers are avid fans of the story they’re involved in, hardly are the actors such fans as well. Which of course is not their fault, as the Venn diagram between ultimate fanboy and character look-a-likes contains a very, very small overlap.

Think of it this way: If you were to watch the making of the Captain America film, you probably would not be THAT interested in learning about where Chris Evans likes to vacation or hear him talk about how these fans are a little bit weird.

bronies doc tara strong

credit: Big Focus Television

This is where the other fan-funded documentary excels: while they do feature Tara Strong, the voice of Twilight Sparkle, in the documentary, the film focuses much more attention on the actual fans of the series, and not so much about Strong’s other life or personal views on Brony fandom. Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony also does a much better job at capturing the darker side of Bronies’ lives — that is, the guys who were afraid to express their love for the show for fear of being ridiculed. One of the guys in that documentary even discusses how his car was bashed in by locals and was called derogatory names because he put up decals of the ponies on his car.

You don’t get that sort of emotional depth from Spurlock’s version.

In the end, I’m left with a mixed bag of emotions. I went into the film expecting to know more about Bronies, which I do, but I’m also left with some odd personal insight into Ashleigh’s life. It was not what I came here for. But the film’s saving grace is that you do get to meet some of the community’s most avid fans, diverse as they are in their background, their personalities and their art. While they do connect with their love for the animated series, they connect on a much deeper level: that love and friendship is to be celebrated, and the world needs more positivity.

brony tale - santa monica meetup

Besides, they aren’t harming anyone, and they’re too busy doing meetups and making music to be bothered with vices in the world like drugs or violence.

Rating: 3/5 Atoms

NR 3 Atoms - C

A Brony Tale hits theaters in select cities July 8, 2014, and on iTunes, cable on-demand and other digital platforms July 15th.

Check out the release dates and cities of the film here.

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Rocky Vy
Rocky Vy 101 posts

<a href="http://www.artofonline.com">Digital marketing consultant</a> by trade, a freelance writer by passion. Also, anything that involves innovative tech, fashion, entrepreneurialism, Pantone 021C and pandas are cool, too. Follow him <a href="http://www.twitter.com/rockyvy">@rockyvy</a>.