My Little Pony is an entertainment franchise developed by Hasbro, originally as a toy line for girls. The first toys were developed by Bonnie Zacherle, Charles Muenchinger, and Steve D'Aguanno, and were produced in 1981. The ponies feature colorful bodies, manes and a unique symbol on one or both sides of their flanks. Such symbols are referred to in the two most recent incarnations as "cutie marks." My Little Pony has been revamped several times with new and more modern looks to appeal to a new market.
Following the original My Pretty Pony toy that was introduced in 1981, My Little Pony was launched in 1982 and the line became popular during the 1980s. The original toy line ran from 1982 to 1992 in the United States and to 1995 globally, and two animated specials, an animated feature-length film, and two animated television series were produced during the period. The first incarnation's popularity peaked in 1990, but the following year Hasbro decided to discontinue the toy line due to increased competition. 150 million ponies were sold in the 1980s.
The toy line was revived in 1997, but these toys proved unpopular and were discontinued in 1999. The brand saw a more popular revival in 2003 with toys that more closely resembled the original toy line, which sold approximately 100 million pony toys globally by 2010. Hasbro launched the fourth incarnation of the franchise in 2010, which started with the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. The brand grossed over US$1 billion annually in retail sales in 2015 and 2014, and US$650 million in retail sales in 2013.
The predecessor to My Little Pony was My Pretty Pony, a pony figurine introduced by Hasbro in 1981. It was created by illustrator Bonnie Zacherle and sculptor Charles Muenchinger. My Pretty Pony was a ten-inch-tall hard plastic figurine that could wiggle its ears, swish its tail, and wink one eye. The original My Pretty Pony was followed by My Pretty Pony and Beautiful Baby, which came with an additional smaller "baby" pony figure. This was followed by pink, yellow, and blue versions of the original that had the now-hallmark symbol on the ponies' backsides.
After the relative lack of success of the My Pretty Pony toy line, Hasbro introduced six smaller and colorful versions of the toy in 1982, sold under the title My Little Pony. The toy line led to many more merchandise under the My Little Pony brand, which later became unofficially known as the "Generation One" or "G1" of My Little Pony among collectors. This incarnation ended in 1995 in the United States, but was marketed internationally until 1995. Animations from mid-1980s (My Little Pony animated special, My Little Pony: Escape from Catrina, My Little Pony: The Movie and My Little Pony segment within My Little Pony 'n Friends anthology series) and My Little Pony Tales from 1992 accompanied the line-up.
|My Little Pony (1997–1999)|
|Video game(s)||My Little Pony: Friendship Gardens (1998)|
|Toys||My Little Pony|
The 1997 incarnation was marketed by Hasbro as "Friendship Garden" and designated "Generation 2" by collectors. They were manufactured in redesigned poses with jewel eyes and turning heads and were smaller, slimmer, and longer-legged than their 1982 counterparts. The line was not successful in the U.S. and was discontinued in 1999, although it continued overseas for several years. Since the second generation was more popular in Western Europe, Hasbro continued to produce and sell them in Western Europe after 1998. Most were Earth Ponies, but a few unicorns were made internationally. Although no Pegasus Ponies were made, some adults had clip-on wings. In the early 2000s, several unicorns with clip-on wings (called the Magic Unicorns) were made. Two baby ponies were introduced, and none of the baby ponies were sold in the United States.
In Europe, the main location was renamed Ponyland instead of Friendship Gardens, and were discontinued with the inception of the "G3" toyline in 2003. Many ponies released in the last years of the line are considered rare. A number of playsets were introduced, including a mansion and a castle. Some of the licensed merchandise released in Europe included beanbag plushes, magazines, clothing, perfume, wrapping paper and coloring books. A CD-ROM game for PC, Friendship Gardens, was also released, which involved taking care of a pony and playing games along the way.
Some "Generation Two" ponies were sold as detachable key chains, including Morning Glory, Sundance, Light Heart and Ivy. The pony came with a comb attached to her neck by a string. The back of the package says, "My Little Pony Logo and Pony Names are Trademarks of Hasbro Inc. Copyright 1998." They were produced under license by Fun-4-All Corporation and made in China.
The third incarnation of My Little Pony, which is often unofficially referred to as "Generation Three" or "G3" by collectors, began in 2003. The revamped line of dolls was targeted to a younger audience than the previous lines. Until the generation's end in 2009, there were at least two minor revamps. A series of direct-to-video animated films (mostly produced by SD Entertainment) accompanied the line-up.
The current incarnation of My Little Pony, unofficially known as the "Generation Four", was launched in 2010. It is set in a fictional location named Equestria, and the main characters include Twilight Sparkle, Spike, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity and Fluttershy. Television series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, theatrical film My Little Pony: The Movie, as well as other related media accompany the current line-up. This era generated a fandom among grown-ups with the success of the television series.
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls, the anthropomorphic spin-off, was launched in 2013.
My Little Pony toys drew the attention of collectors from their initial release.(1:1–5) Media coverage in the 2000s reported on collectors' conventions, finding it odd that adult women are interested in My Little Pony. The 2004 My Little Pony Collectors' Convention reportedly had only one man among the attendees. When updating the toy line, Hasbro reassured collectors that it will produce My Little Pony editions for collectors.(2:3–4)
Despite Hasbro's target demographic of young girls and their parents, the fourth incarnation of the franchise has become a cultural and Internet phenomenon as the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic television series generated the unexpected fandom, with many male fans between 13 and 35, creating a large fanbase and a multitude of creative works, fan sites, and conventions. The fanbase has adopted the name "brony" (a portmanteau of "bro" and "pony") to describe themselves. The older fanbase had come as a surprise to Hasbro and staff members involved with the show. They have appreciated and embraced the fandom, adding nods to the fans within the show and the toys. Sherilyn Connelly and others have noted that bronies alienate other fans of the franchise by focusing on the fandom itself rather than the show.(2:3)
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In the United States during the 1990s, other toy companies desired to benefit from the success of the My Little Pony line; imitations were produced and sold after the discontinuation of the "G1" toys in 1992 and before the "G2" incarnation was produced and sold in 1997.
When Hasbro discontinued the "G1" My Little Pony line in 1992, some pony molds fell into the hands of other toy companies, who made their own "pony" toys. The second generation was not popular in the United States, and there are few imitations; however, "G3" imitations exist. There are websites to help people identify genuine My Little Pony toys manufactured by Hasbro, and recognize imitations. Many, but not all, imitations are sold at dollar stores.
Of many imitations, the four listed below were popular with young girls in the early to mid-1990s and were available at toy stores. These toys had similarities to both the My Little Pony and Dream Beauty lines. In the My Little Pony collecting community, these are known as "fakies" or "bootlegs"; however, some are sought after by collectors:
Released by Tyco (now a division of Mattel), Secret Wish Horse was a toyline of colorful, plastic horses with rooted eyelashes and a bejeweled saddle that would open up to reveal a surprise such as earrings, a bracelet or a ring. They also came with a necklace similar to a magic 8-ball that was said to make a girl's wishes come true.
Fantasy Fillies was a line of colorful plastic horses that were produced by Empire/Marchon. The designer of this line also designed Fashion Star Fillies released in 1987 by Kenner (which was, together with Tonka, later acquired by Hasbro in 1991). They came as pegasi, unicorns, horses and mini-fillies. One, called Princess Growing Hair, had hair that could grow, and a filly was sold with a carriage.
Magic Touch Pony toys were made of plastic and came in different colors. They had symbols on their flanks, like My Little Ponies and Dream Beauties. Some had hooves that would light up, a necklace that lit up, plastic flowers in their manes that would light up, and some played music.
Cabbage Patch Ponies toys were made by Hasbro, which had a license to manufacture Cabbage Patch Kids from 1988 until 1994. They were made of rubber and came in different colors; some had glittery bodies. Some had hair that could be combed, while others had yarn for hair. There were unicorns, pegasi and regular ponies.
My Little Pony is often derided for promoting consumerism. When the media adaptations of the franchise debuted, there was much controversy in the United States about television advertising targeted at children. Relaxed regulation in the 1980s on cross-referencing between programming and commercials led to toy-based shows, such as Mattel's He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Hasbro's Transformers, G. I. Joe, and later My Little Pony 'n' Friends.(1:5–8) While He-Man initially drew the most controversy, My Little Pony remained controversial for many decades later, even when it was not being produced; the criticism is much more harsh and enduring than similar franchises with toy lines. Sherilyn Connelly cites examples from authors and journalists who single out My Little Pony for being tied to toys and merchandise, often putting it "first against the wall" while sparing such criticism from the aforementioned Hasbro franchises, or franchises such as Star Wars, Toy Story, and Lego.(2:5) Connelly notes that professionals who work with children, for example psychologists and librarians, often have a positive view on the franchise; psychologist John Rosemond described My Little Pony toys as "great, soothing, quiet-time toys", having none of the violence or sexuality of other toy franchises. The first animated series is often given as the worst example of a Saturday-morning cartoon, despite never airing on Saturday mornings. Even though no My Little Pony adaptation was airing on television for much of the 1990s and no toys were being produced, it was still often brought up as a contemporary example of aggressive marketing through television.(1:3,5,8)
Connelly contends that My Little Pony is singled out not because the franchise's business methods or content standards are particularly different from other franchises', but because it is overtly girly. Replying to criticism that My Little Pony is "junk" while Star Wars stems from "integrity and creative vision", cartoonist Craig McCracken noted that both franchises can have integrity or be junk, depending on how they're produced. Character designer Chris Battle pointed out that the media adaptation of My Little Pony is seen as less valid because it's aimed at girls.(2:5) Director Lauren Faust, who was creative developer of the relaunch of the My Little Pony franchise in 2010, wrote that she expected people who haven't even watched the animated series "to instantly label it girly, stupid, cheap, for babies or an evil corporate commercial." Faust feels that the show's femininity makes it a target of derision, regardless of its other qualities.(4:3) Ellen Seiter, professor of media studies, observed that girl's television shows are a ghettoization of girl culture, and the attacks on these shows is often aimed at their femininity.(1:1) My Little Pony has been perceived as an icon of femininity and "girlie-girls", particularly in the United Kingdom. The franchise has alternately been described as asexual and too sexual by the UK media.(1:8)
The My Little Pony brand drives over $1.2 billion in retail sales