The Pre-Evolution Of My Little Pony

The Huffington Post have a  great slideshow showing the evolution of MLP from the babyish but still equine Cotton Candies of the early 1980s to the bizarre-o “Equestria Girl” of 2013, a new model that’s an even stranger mutant than the hideous “Struts, fashion-forward ponies” that were unveiled and then disappeared a few years ago. Equestria Girl is a kind of anime-goth human–horse hybrid whose designers must have had at least one knowing eye on the pony girl fetish scene, which also draws on Japanese comic book and goth influences. The mini skirts, the brightly coloured hair, the stacked boots… It’s a direct appeal to the much-trumpeted “Brony” craze that’s seen young men adopt a girl’s toy and cue up an avalanche of press interest and pseudo-analysis. How did we get here?

I wrote a bit about the history of the toy in If Wishes Were Horses, and the still earlier stage of evolution that predates the transition from tchotchke to dolly bird. The proto MLP was dreamt up by a woman and former little girl called Bonnie Zacherle. This is an extract from an interview she gave that was originally published on Fauquier.com (accessible on this MLP forum):

I got the idea for My Little Pony because a pony or horse was the only thing I ever wanted.

I came up with drawings of miniature, realistic horses like a Pinto, Paint, or Appaloosa, but my vice president of R&D told me little girls liked to cook, clean and iron. I knew he was just killing my idea. Later he got his own group that came up with another idea, and it was nothing like a horse – it was a pony. …

It was [aggravating]. This toy was hard, had an ear that wiggled, an eye that blinked. They thought that little girls would like to sleep with it. They called it My Pretty Pony, and it sold a couple million units. The VP of marketing took this thing home, and his wife said, “You know, this is nice, but it should be soft, simple, and have a combable mane.” …

They asked me to miniaturize what I had already designed – I did original design work on all of them – and make it soft with rooted hair. And the first ones, believe it or not, were Palominos, Pintos, and one was black. My marketing director asked what I thought of making them pink and purple. Though I was a purist, we tested it and it tested great. …

The sellers, all men of course, said they couldn’t sell it. But the VP of marketing said he was going to stick with it. He thought it was his wife’s idea, which if she hadn’t had it, my idea wouldn’t have seen the light of day. I was the inventor of My Little Pony, though several people claim that. I am the undisputed designer, along with the original sculptor.

So there you have it: marketing has taken a girl’s love of horses from realism to kitsch to sexualisation, keeping MLP at the forefront of a long-running Western tendancy to anthropomorphise animals and sexualise children. Will the Equestria Girls be a hit with real little girls, or are they solely for the cosplay-attending Bronies and Pegasisters? Which is the better source of cash and brand loyalty for Hasbro? What do little girls really want?

* The all-new Equestria Girls are in fact a reworking of an earlier attempt to create a “My Little Pony goes to High School” scenario, called My Little Pony Tales, in 1992. It didn’t really take off, despite the jocks, rollerskating and dating. The ponies were anthropomorphic, but still resembled equines. Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for ponies with lockers in the early ’90s, but apparently we’ve evolved too…

** Excuse choppiness and scant blogging. I’m hard at work on plans for book two, and it’s making coverage here skimpy.

5 thoughts on “The Pre-Evolution Of My Little Pony

  1. I’m so fascinated (and horrified) by this! I played with MLPs as a little girl, and have always been a lover of horses. I don’t know, however, that today’s MLPs would ever have appealed to me. I liked the magic-ness of pink and purple and wings and horns, but Equestria girl is nothing I would ever have related to.

  2. I had MLPa but didn’t know what to do with them. The new models are baffling… And of course MLP triggered a change in other toy horses, which also became pink and spangly. Thank goodness for Breyer!

  3. i never begged for mlp , i was born in the 60,s by the time i was really horse crazy, breyer horses were the “hot” thing,that and jane west, and comanche , the horse with the bendable legs , that wouldnt stand up to well, chic jane even had a compact, and lipstick among her belongings ! but breyers ruled with me, and i still have several from the 70,s

  4. I likewise am a 1960’s-child and MLP was not even yet a gleam in the developer’s eye. I was totally happy (after being infatuated with dinosaurs up until about age 8) to spend hours and hours playing with Breyer horses and the smaller “Britains” horses from the UK (of the latter, I still have my entire herd). And yes, I had Jane, too, with her blue plastic molded body and blond head. My mom bought a horse for her from another manufacturer as I recall, and it was a giant foal, so Jane must have been puzzled!

    I probably would’ve liked the realistic horses the developer had in mind, and perhaps even the pink and purple ones and unicorns and such. My own daughter really enjoyed the MLPs of the late 90s/early aughts and all their little magical capes and clothes and cakes and such. But she definitely thought the Bratz horse and its MLP descendants were bizarre…

  5. I kept reading “NLP” there instead of “MLP”. Both are equally weird, as far as I’m concerned. The whole “Bronie” thing as well – can you examine that?

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