1986 in Film – My Little Pony The Movie

Release Date: June 6th
Box Office: $5,958,456

The things I do for you people.

The 80s was an era of toy mega franchises; He-Man and Transformers and GI Joe and Thundercats and a million others that didn’t sell half as well. Thanks to the power of marketing all these here were firmly aimed at boys in our gender divided society. Of course toys are toys and whoever likes them fine, but advertisers and corporations love their demographics. They of course had products aimed at the girls as well, a big one of which was the My Little Pony range.

This has begun in the early 80s produced by Hasbro. Initially the line was called My Pretty Pony and was made up of rather basic figurines of ponies with brushable hair. The line was then redeveloped as smaller figures with brighter colours and renamed My Little Pony. It launched with 6 characters in the toy range and took off like a rocket. Well, maybe a really fast horse would be a better analogy.

The point is that it was a huge seller and, like most franchises of the era, began to spread into anything that it’s logo and characters could be screen printed on. Ordinarily, as was the custom at the time, this would focussed around a Saturday morning kids TV show. With the relaxation of advertising regulations in the early 80s these had exploded in popularity. My Little Pony wasn’t like GI Joe or Transformers which launched onto TVs and toy shelves at pretty much the same time.

1984 saw a 22 minute My Little Pony TV special air with a second following in 1985. 1986 would be the year that it would hit the big screen, as My Little Pony The Movie (1986) alongside Transformers The Movie (1986).

The film has the pony’s going around doing pony stuff, like getting ready for a Spring Festival. Meanwhile in the nearby Volcano of Gloom the wicked witch Hydia is planning to ruin the party, if her incompetent daughters Reeka and Draggle don’t get in the way. And then-

Look, you don’t care. It would be tough for even the most obsessed 80s Pony fan to care about this film. It really is badly made, from top to bottom. The animation looks as cheap and barely a step up from a TV production. The plot is like the last scraping of butter spread across burnt toast. The attempt at songs are ludicrous at best.

A lot of the criticism about kids TV at the time was that they were nothing more than adverts for the toys, just there to make kids harass their parents to buy more stuff. And they were, if we’re honest. Sure, we like to go back and try to shine up those shows and pretend they’re diamonds. Sometimes they are but mostly they’re 22 minute adverts with any creative spark being strangled by the franchise holder. GI Joe, for example, was mandated to show as many of the cast (toys) on screen as possible at all times regardless of the story.

My Little Pony has a lot of pony’s knocking around the place.

It’s not like there’s nothing there that couldn’t be drawn out to keep people entertained; a couple of decades later My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic would cross age and gender barriers to become a true crossover success. In 1986 it seems like the closest we get to that in the voice casting; here we get Danny DeVito, his wife Rhea Perlman and Madeline Khan. Not exactly huge names at the time but recognisable at least. But if that was the big game plan to use them bring in the parents then they must have been feeling pretty ticked off once the film started.

This was proved by the box office returns which were nowhere near as much as was expected. This, and the poor performance of Transformers The Movie put any future plans for toy franchises on the big screen on ice.

Here’s the rub: this will give some people the same kind of warm fuzzy nostalgia feelings that I get from Transformers or He-Man or whatever. And that’s fine, but for most people it won’t so they’ll just be watching a poorly made film about animated horses. You could argue it’s good to watch something from the same era as the things you love, something that doesn’t come with a boat load of rose tinted glasses. That’s because it can help you see what those things really are, to understand the intentions behind them without the rose tinted glasses getting in the way.

Yeah, they were cynical adverts produced to make people spend money. Sometimes thats fine, sometimes it really isn’t.

In this case, it really isn’t.