A My Little Pony Primer

In the early 1980s, Hasbro created the My Little Pony line of colorful plastic ponies with synthetic hair. Each year, Hasbro designed a new batch of these cutesy figures and unleashed them on little girls (and some boys), who wiled away the hours combing the synthetic hair, wishing that they had a real horse instead of a little purple plastic one. MLP—the accepted shorthand in the My Little Pony collecting community—inspired a movie, two TV series and several TV specials. The movie featured Rhea Pearlman as the voice of Reeka, Danny DeVito as the Grundle King and Tony Randall as the Moochick.

For an in-depth plot synopsis of My Little Pony: The Movie or any of the TV shows, I suggest a stroll through the “Mane” page of Kim Shriner’s Dream Valley. With a “Good evening, My Little Pony friend!,” Kim takes your hand and guides you through the MLP heritage.

There are only so many variations that you can make on a plastic pony. By the ninth year, Hasbro’s pony design team began grasping at straws. The Rockin’ Beat MLPs, released in 1992, signaled the beginning of the end. These neon ponies were garish, even by MLP standards, with neon color combinations that were so 1983, and clashing neon eyeliner tattooed onto their faces. Each had its own guitar slung around its neck, showing Hasbro’s disdain for the intelligence of the eight-year-old girls that comprised the MLP’s key demographic. I mean, The Rockin’ Beats didn’t even have a rhythm section.

In 1993, after ten years, Hasbro ended the MLP run. In the ensuing years, MLPs became sought-after collectibles and when the original MLP generation became mothers of eight-year-old girls, Hasbro reinvented MLP for the 21st century.

 

Plastic Ponies and Lurking Death at Mammoth Hot Springs
by Jeff Lewis


The typical visitor to a national park spends only four hours in the park, often as part of a whirlwind tour of America, which means that most people spend the bulk of their time either in their car or on one of the ubiquitous short hiking loops, conveniently located next to the hottest tourist destinations. There is no doubt that these crowded, often paved loops detract from the experience, but if you only have four hours in Yellowstone and need to get down to Jackson Hole by dinner, efficiency is vital. Although I don’t condone this reliance on well-groomed trails with adjoining parking lots, I am as guilty as any of the sausage-necked Winnebago owners, who roll out to snap a few pictures and shuffle along the trail.

I usually feel sheepish on these hiking loops, because I know I’m not getting the most out of the national park experience. I sense a kindred spirit with many on these paths, particularly those who walk quickly, hoping that maybe if the walk along the asphalt path is brisk enough, it might count as a hike. This tendency is most apparent among families, with parents determined to either: a) educate their kids about the wonders of nature, or, on hot days, to b) repeatedly use the phrase, “I’ll give you something to whine about.”

We visited Yellowstone during a hot spell, so the tension between parents and children was high among those trudging up and down the boardwalks of Mammoth Hot Springs, a signature attraction second only to Old Faithful. These are a collection of roughly fifty hot springs that steam, flow, bubble, and spurt a weak acid that deposits limestone upon reaching the air, creating spectacular rock terraces and towers.

The rock formations are unbelievable, but what makes them stand apart from most touristy nature spots is that they change rapidly, at least from a geological point of view. Brightly colored bacterial colonies, living in the hot water, add visual punch. The hot springs shift and turn off and on without warning. Old paths, patches of forest and a tennis court have been victims.

The encroaching springs have killed the lodge pole pines, leaving no shelter from the sun, while the white limestone formations that attract the tourists create a blinding landscape that elicits squints even behind sunglasses. The sun’s dual assault, the hills, the high elevation and the heat from the expansive parking lots up the ante in the battle of wills between the parents who have to make the most of their summer vacation and the kids who just want to get back in the car so they don’t have to walk around and look at a bunch of white rock. We saw many children who appreciated shade more than geothermal activity.

Having sunscreen rubbed into their pores, water forced down their throats and oversized hats stuffed on their heads didn’t help their disposition. Cranky kids don’t fully appreciated the stigma attached to parents who let their kids get sun stroke.

One thing that undoubtedly outstrips sun stroke in the pantheon of bad parenting, however, is allowing your child to get boiled to death. In the back of every parent’s mind, making them edgy, were warning signs—based on actual events—depicting a young boy who had strayed from the boardwalk in the early 1970s, broke through the thin crust below a pool of roiling water and met a horrific death. The drawing captured the moment before the boy plunged in. His Keds were already in the soup, his hat floated above his head, a camera hovered at his side, his mom looked on in horror. This sign was not a calming presence.

Lynn and I trudged through part of the self-guided walking tour, but we were our own bosses with full control over sunscreen application, water consumption and hike termination, unlike the hapless kids around us. One of these was a fair-haired boy, probably about six, who announced his physical and mental fatigue by flopping down on the boardwalk. He began to cry silently with his face down-turned, looking at his lap. He held a My Little Pony doll tightly to his chest. This must have been his best friend, his Hobbes; the pony’s blue body matched the blue of his shirt. The boy’s mom gently picked him up, consoled him, and handed him to dad. We saw them head to the car, the boy still crying and clutching the plastic pony. We took this as a sign that it was time to return to our car and make our way to the next parking-friendly hiking loop.

Since that day, I’ve occasionally wondered what will become of that kid. Society often isn’t kind to boys who allow their crocodile tears to mingle with synthetic pony hair. With luck, maybe he’ll prosper from his sensitive side and become the Robert Smith or Morrissey of the 2020s. Unlike similar children of past generations, he’ll at least be able to find like-minded souls on the internet, who share his passions. To see the options available to this kid, I decided to check out My Little Pony sites on the internet.

If the current crop of sites on the My Little Pony Ring of Rainbows is any indication, he’ll have plenty of companionship. There are many My Little Pony (MLP) fanatics out there, and based on the upbeat message of cutesy love, this boy will have no problem finding a MLP soul mate. I hope that Monica, the creator of my favorite My Little Pony website, Moondancer’s Dream, will be around to embrace this boy. Sadly, though, she seems to have stopped contributions to her website. When I first visited Moondancer’s Dream, it was in good health—it had its own URL, moondancersdream.com, no broken links, and lots of love. When I returned a few days ago, moondancersdream.com was no more. Only Monica’s older version of the site on her Geocities account remained. It is still a pony tour-de-force, but was missing the polish of the old site, plus some key content was absent.

This loss made me sad, maybe not sad enough to clutch a blue pony to my chest and cry, but still a little down. I can’t stand to see Moondancer’s Dream fade into oblivion, like the manes of Posey, Lickety Split and the 86 other little horsies that Hasbro created in the 1980s with inferior light-sensitive pink hair dye.

Moondancer’s Dream is a loving tribute to one grown-up girl’s obsession, with roots going back to 1983, when Monica received her first pony from Grandma. It is filled with so much ponyness, I don’t know where to begin. Like many of the MLP websites, there are descriptions of every MLP that Hasbro produced, shows about MLPs, books on MLPs…you get the idea. What sets Moondancer’s Dream apart, though, is Monica’s ability to make the ponies come alive. She gives each pony in her herd a voice. For example, Skydancer is upbeat and self-reliant, Parasol sarcastic, Angel a gentle soul. These characters not only populate Monica’s short stories, but crop up throughout the site. There even is a Ponyland Walkthrough Adventure, where you can choose your own path through the story. Here’s an excerpt:

Moondancer sends some swallows to find Cool Breeze. Soon you see a green butterfly pony flying recklessly though the air; as she crashes at your feet, you see that her symbol is a palm tree. "Hi!" says the pony, pulling herself to her feet. Her harsh landing doesn't seem to have discouraged her in the least. "I'm Cool Breeze, but you can call me CB!" she adds.

Magical!

I am not a MLP fanatic myself, but I recognize the passion behind Moondancer’s Dream. Granted, Monica could have funneled her energy into something more productive—perhaps she now has—but Moondancer’s Dream is not without a social conscience. To confront the issue of image theft on the internet, Monica created Ponies Against Image Napping (P.A.I.N.), a “brigade against unscrupulous pony people who steal other people’s hard worked on pictures without permission.” I have to agree with Monica that “It is not very Pony to steal.”

Moondancer’s Dream tackles other tough issues, too, like transgender ponies. This is a tough thing to explain to little boys and girls, but the following excerpt eases into the subject gracefully:

…an aqua unicorn looks at you with interest. “I’m Sunbeam,” he says at last. You begin to introduce yourself, but the stallion interrupts, “I know who you are. Moondancer told me all about you.”

“You know Moondancer?”

He raises and eyebrow. “Well, yes, She is my mate, after all.”

“Ohh!” you say in enlightenment. “Gee, I think I remember a toy version of you, Sunbeam… but I always thought you were a girl. That’s what the package said…”

Sunbeam rolls his eyes. “Hasbro never got anything right. Well, I suppose I’m too hard on them… we were trying to fool them, after all.”

“’We’?”

“Hasbro aimed the My Little Pony line at little girls; they thought that girls would only be interested in collecting female ponies. A couple of us guys decided we wanted toys made of us too—it was a status thing. So we had to pretend to be mares. Humiliating, but true….”

Someday, maybe we’ll all live in a world where all girls, boys, and ponies can just be themselves and live in a world in which social norms aren’t dictated by what mega-corporations think people want to buy, or see. Moondancer’s Dream tries to create for us such a world, albeit in a saccharine sort of way that is unlikely to touch the hearts of most Americans. What the world needs is a charismatic figure who can make this message mainstream, perhaps a man who grew up knowing what it was like to be ridiculed for the way he was, but stood strong against the bullies and institutional hatred.

I’m going to hope that the boy from Mammoth Hot Springs will grow up to be this charismatic force—despite his inauspicious start on the boardwalk by the hot springs—and will be a champion of love. The future will be shaped by a man named Sunbeam.

©  Copyright Jeff Lewis, 2005

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