Me and pimmy have written this essay.
Today we are going to compare and contrast three cartoons. The most recent My Little Pony show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, and the last two shows, which I will call My Little Pony G3, and My Little Pony G3.5. "G3" and "G3.5" are what collectors call the last two generations of ponies. G3 look a little more like ponies, while G3.5 ponies are a bit more "super deformed". We are mostly going to talk about the animation, and the little nuances of style and character.
The differences between them, in toy form, for your reference.
First off, there are two kinds of kids shows: the kind only kids can watch, and the kind that kids AND adults can watch. MLP:G3 and MLP:G3.5 are both shows that are in the first category. MLP:FiM, is in the second. Now, shows can't be faulted TOO much for being in the first category, and I will try to keep that in mind, but I will critique them as I would any animation. I also find it much more impressive when a kids show makes it into the second category anyway.
For one thing, making it into the both-kids-and-adults show category takes a good amount of humor that anyone can enjoy. Funny faces of the characters, funny lines, etc. The G3/G3.5 shows are...well, not very funny. Some of the characters will make a joke and giggle to themselves, but no one over 3 would find it amusing. The shows are only really funny in a "This is so dumb that its funny" kind of way. And back to the "funny faces" point, there is none there.
Here is G3 ponies surprised. This is about as funny of a face as they make. And every pony will make the same one.
Here are some examples of FiM pony surprised expressions. They are funny to look at and varied, and use the whole pony's body to express the emotion.
This pony is disappointed. Or sad. Or...uh.
This pony's expression is pretty clear.
This pony is excited. Or maybe just mildly happy who knows.
This pony is also excited!!
Basically it's easy to tell which show has funnier and has more varied expressions. Here are some other examples of FiM expressions, just to show:
Speaking of expressions and body language, each character in FiM has their own unique personality to them, not only in what they say, but in their body language as well.
The G3 and G3.5 shows are also very "on-model". Which means whoever is in charge wants the animators to draw the characters EXACTLY as they are on their model sheets, with only the few poses and expressions given. FiM clearly gives a lot more leeway with how the characters faces can be drawn. And note, the FiM show is done in FLASH. Meaning it could be easier just to make a set of expressions for each character and paste them on when needed, but they don't, they make new expressions all the time.
Heres some group shots of the ponies in the G3.5 show, from the opening theme song. Looks like a bunch of ponies all running in the same way, and then a bunch of ponies with balloons. Can you tell what their personalities are?
Here's ponies from G3, walking into a house for a party. can you tell their personalities, also?
Hint: no you cant. You can't really tell by looking at them individually either.
Here's a group shot from FiM. Can you tell THEIR personalities? That pink pony sure looks bubbly, that purple one looks somewhat fancy or sassy, the orange one looks confident with her cowgirl pose, blue pony looks tough and outgoing, and the yellow pony appears soft and quiet.
The ponies in all 3 shows have varying personalities, but FiM SHOWS their personalities in their character designs and in everything they do.
Just look at the different ways they're standing. Heck Pinky pie there isn't even standing, she is almost constantly bouncing. While Rarity, the white and purple one, stands and walks with a high-class grace. As another example, the yellow pony Fluttershy has a certain way of slouching when she flies, and slinking on and off screen in a humorous fashion.
In the other shows, they all move about the same. Character will DO different things: Like Scootaloo's tendency to skateboard or jumprope, or Starsong's ability to fly in general, but their overall body language doesn't differ by much.
In G3/3.5, the only pony with a really noticeable animation quirk is Toola-Roola, sometimes blowing a tuft of hair off of her face.
My younger sister (21) saw me looking at some pony characters (she doesn't watch the show), and upon seeing an image of Rarity from FiM, she immediately pointed and said "That one looks cool, she looks like she's all fancy and vogue, and talks stuck-up." And she was just about spot on.
So I asked her to guess the other ponies personalities from FiM, and she basically guessed them all right, she even guessed what Applejack's and Rainbow Dash's voices were like!
Next, we pointed out a pony from G3 (Rainbow Dash, who is supposed to be like Rarity, in that incarnation), and my sister just said "She looks... uh... ..nice?
That pretty much says a lot about character design, to me.
Another difference I find in the shows in the character's actions, is how "pony-like" the characters act.
The first thing I'll go into is use of "hands", or, hoofs, really. Ponies don't have hands or fingers, but in the G3/3.5 shows, they really act as if they do. They carry things with what we call "invisible thumbs".
In both of these shows (refer to the balloon-holding image posted above, as well), there is no shortage of the ponies "holding" things with no fingers, as would highly stylized, fingerless characters. This normally does not bother me whatsoever in cartoons, except that while these ponies ARE highly stylized, they're still super on-model, non-flat style characters who to me, look awkward holding things with hooves.
But looking awkward isn't really the only thing, I believe this just shows how much more EFFORT FiM puts forth, by making SURE the ponies move and get around LIKE PONIES WOULD.
shaking hooves but needs to hold on with both hooves to get a good grip
Twilight Sparkle is a unicorn - they can use magic - so she will use her magic to turn pages and lift things, rather than her hooves.
Pulling a curtain rope with mouth.
More mouth holding (and silly faces and poses!)
Am umbrella that must be attached to a saddle, covering the whole pony body, more pony-like, and even more practical and clever than holding with invisible thumbs.
There are very rare times they'll be lazy and use invisible thumbs:
But I hardly see it and usually the tip of their hoof will be "curled" around the item to be slightly more plausible.
This also used hoof-curling, but this leads into another point of pony-mannerisms. Notice how Scootaloo is jump-roping here, using two "hands" and jumping on her hind feet. I think this is a sort of odd, overly-anthropomorphic pose for a pony to have. Anthropomorphizing 4-legged creatures is common and looks fine in most cartoons, but these ponies switch from appearing 4-legged to 2-legged very awkwardly, and all the time. It sort of takes away from the entire point that they are ponies.
OH CRAP IS THAT A THUMB WHAT THE HECK
This one from G3.5 is by far the creepiest one to me. They're sitting down like people, and one holding a book and turning pages with hoof. This just looks REALLY awkward to me.
Also, notice the joints on their hind legs in the image of them holding balloons, and compare to the above image? Notice something odd? Hint: they are breaking their legs.
Notice the well defined head and neck in G3.5. There's no "mane" going on there, that's anthropomorphic, human-like "hair", ending at the back of the head.
Compare to FiM:
The characters have clear manes that go down their neck.
G3.5s are really the least "pony-like" in this way and many others.
I've also seen ponies on only two roller-skates, and other such things. G3 ponies are a little better about it as they give them 4 skates.
even the first generation of ponies sometimes fell into the way-too-anthropomorphic-poses-for-how-they're-designed thing, though.
In FiM, they tend to do things more pony-like more often than in the other shows, and really make it a point. Granny Smith is seated in a chair but all of her feet are on the ground.
She'd rather hold worms in her mouth than resort to invisible fingers!
A pile of straw is a good "chair" for a pony!
A good, funny way to put something on your face!
What are you doing at a chair with a back why do you even need that
At least G3 ponies didn't have chairs, and just sort of propping themselves up at the table with front feet is good. I like that method better.
Basically, the FiM show does almost everything in it's power to keep them PONIES. They push things with their head, clumsy move things by nudging with hooves, a pegasus holds a ball under her wing rather than an "arm", they're almost constantly grabbing things with their mouths or even pulling carts with back-attachments. Heck, even a pony that used a joy-buzzer on her hoof at least had a visible STRAP on it. Everything seems tailored just for a pony to be able to use, even all the doors look like stable doors! There a few odd things, of course. Like Twilight Sparkle using magic to hold a feather-pen, but why a feather pen? How do other ponies hold them? I guess mouth too. And books as well, I can't remember if we've seen non-magical ponies manipulate books. And sometimes it can look like the pony must be having a bit of trouble holding that bottle with her mouth. So it's not PERFECT, but there is a lot of effort and creativity going on in there.
Another thing, is the quality in animation. To put it simple, FiM is VERY well animated. It's a flash cartoon, but they use Flash to it's full extent. Each character is clearly made up than more than just a few peices and joints. They seem to have different sets of arms, legs, and heads for any angle or situation, and some expressions and poses are used for just specific times or only one joke. They move very well too, nothing looks rigid or clunky, they hardly have that "paper doll" look that a lot of flash cartoons get.
Notice every part of Pinky Pie's face is fluid and moving here, her hair is bouncing, and her expression is clear and it's hard to tell where one symbol (piece of the character) starts and another ends.
She has bouncy and fun animation, her hair is always bouncing, and the actions of moving her head from side to front and nearly seamless.
Another instance of showing personality in how they move. Mostly just Pinky-Pie here, but even then their faces are all little different. Forward run cycles also are difficult in Flash.
The characters squash and stretch a lot when they move! It is hilarious.
Now, I can't fault the other shows too much, but their animation is pretty boring. They stay strictly on-model, and hardly do very many interesting things with the animation. They walk all the same way, and there's not a lot of interesting things going on in their movement. The hair usually just stays in place unless they're running fast. They're nicely drawn and stay on-model, but it's boring to look at.
Of course, nothing can compare to the horrible-ness that is the animation of "My Little Pony: Newborn Cuties". Why are they crawling like regular babies, too? It's awful.
Now let's look at another important part of the shows; the writing. The two G3 shows are clearly geared towards a much younger audience, while the FiM show is geared for a much wider range. But one key thing I find, is that BOTH shows are able to appeal to little girls very well, and yet FiM is able to ALSO appeal to adults and anything in-between. Basically, it gets merit for being a show that both the children, AND the parents/babysitters can watch along with them. FiM has witty humor, well-written characters, and attention to small plot details. Overall, the writing is just very good. The characters are just as distinct with their dialog as they with their actions and animation. The other two shows, however, are not quite as interesting. The characters all act mostly the same except for their basic likes and dislikes. And when they do end up acting different, it's still all kind of boring. Basically just mindless plots and morals. Often times, not even morals, they just kind of...do things.
Lauren Faust, the one who directs the show, has also specifically stated she wanted to show that all cartoons for little girls don't have to be mindless. She clearly wanted to make this a good show that almost everyone could enjoy. Heck, even the staging in FiM is well done. You can just tell the storyboards were laid out carefully with attention to the angle, placement of characters, and the backgrounds. The episodes look good, the stories are good, the dialog is hilarious, and so is the animation.
The other two, well... ponies counting numbers and going to parties? Cute for baby kids and -just- baby kids. As fine as that is, I really give a lot more credit to shows that can implement great characters and writing, even to the girliest of franchises. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has done just that. Even with the franchise and that silly title, it's managed to draw in fans of all ages and types. The magic of the show is all of the clear effort the writers, animators, directors, and story-boarders have put into making a good cartoon.