Relaxing in Ponyland.


Original medium: Collectible toys
Manufactured by: Hasbro
First appeared: 1982
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The "My Little Pony" line of characters was representative of two major trends in cartoons of the 1970s and '80s, neither of which was particularly notable for …

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… inspiring enduring classics. The first (exemplified by Rainbow Brite) was the tendency to function as half-hour commercials for the toy, clothing and similar merchandising franchises associated with them; and the second (like The Get Along Gang) was a virtual mandate to carry out the agenda of the "parent action groups" that were so prominent at the time, and eschew dramatically powerful motivations and character traits in favor of gentler stories about feeling good.

Yet, after more than two decades, the Ponies appear to be commercially viable, as well as a subject of fan interest that spans generations.

The Ponies began in 1982, when Hasbro (also the manufacturer of G.I. Joe, aimed at the other gender, and current owner of Rich Uncle Pennybags) introduced a set of six pony-shaped figurines in plastic, identical except for color and a symbol branded on the rump. Each had a soft, silky mane and tail, which could be combed just like real hair, and even came with a color-coordinated comb. Little girls loved them, and most who had one wanted all six. (They were anticipated by a year in Hasbro's "My Pretty Pony", originally part of the company's Romper Room line. Tho similar in some ways, they show enough differences to make them very clearly distinguishable.)

Realizing they had a good thing going, Hasbro introduced new Ponies the following year, with a couple of new poses, so they were no longer identical except for color and markings. These were joined by different types of Pony — Pegasus Ponies with wings, Unicorn Ponies with horns, Sea Ponies shaped like seahorses, and Rainbow Ponies, with multi-colored manes and tails. Even the Rainbows, tho, were colored in pastels so soft, pictures of them sometimes appear a bit fuzzy and indistinct. Later years saw the introduction of Baby Ponies, Twinkle-Eyed Ponies, Pony Friends (Pony-like moose, elephants, dinosaurs etc.) and more, plus relentless expansion of all existing types. The proliferation seems to have had only a beneficial effect on their collectibility.

The first My Little Pony animation was, of course, in the TV commercials for them. But in 1984, Marvel Enterprises and Sunbow Productions (the two companies that collaborated on Jem, also the animated realization of a Hasbro toy aimed at girls) produced a half-hour TV special about them. For a storyline, they introduced Megan, the Ponies' 13-year-old human friend, who lived with them in Ponyland, a section of a magical realm called Dream Valley. A second TV special, My Little Pony: Escape from Catrina, followed in 1985. Naturally, Megan became a prominent part of the burgeoning toy line.

Marvel and Sunbow released a feature-length version, My Little Pony: The Movie, to theatres on June 20, 1986. The syndicated TV show, My Little Pony & Friends, began September 15 of the same year. For this venture, DiC Enterprises (Alvin & the Chipmunks, Kissyfur) came in for production. Megan's two siblings, Danny (11), voiced by Scott Menville (Robin in the animated Teen Titans), and Molly (9), voiced by Keri Houlihan (who mostly works in face acting) became part of the series — and, needless to say, the toy line. Megan's new voice was Ginnie McSwain (voice director on Kwicky Koala, Earthworm Jim and elsewhere).

The TV show ran its course after three seasons (87 daily episodes), but Hasbro kept introducing new Ponies and related toys until 1992. Oddly, it was just about when Hasbro stopped that Disney launched a new series of half-hour cartoons. My Little Pony Tales debuted on The Disney Channel on Feb. 28, 1992. Megan and her family were dropped, and the Ponies were somewhat anthropomorphized (at least to the extent of walking on their hind legs). Also, Ponyland was made less magical with the addition of modern technology. This version lasted one season of 26 episodes.

In 2003, Hasbro began a new My Little Pony marketing push. Response seems to indicate renewed interest among the children of 1980s fans — many of whom still cherish their carefully preserved collections.


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Text ©2004-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hasbro.