It is safe to say two of the hottest cartoon (and most heavily merchandised) shows on television right now are Adventure Time, and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Both of these shows appeal to a wide range of age groups: from the younger generation to an older but maybe not as mature generation. Adventure Time is currently in the middle of its 5th season, and continues to be amazing. And Hasbro has releasing a spin-off of MLP:FiM, Equestria Girls! The fans, and buzz around these shows continues to grow and one might wonder, what makes these stand out above the rest?
Even though the shows are on different networks, and geared towards a different audience, a lot of times they share the same fans. Some Bronies (and Pega-Sisters) love Adventure Time, and Adventure Time fans might enjoy the adventures of the Mane 6. So what formula makes this work, what makes both of these shows stand out above their competitors, and what makes them some of the most cult followed cartoons of recent years? Since they are both widely popular do they utilize the same story telling formula? See I think they do, although in my honest opinion I think one does a much better job at it then the other one.
Tread with caution friends, this article may contain spoilers!
There are some shows that strike a cord with a wider range of audiences, and both Adventure Time and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic are a few of them. In a previous Gazetteer Article (Sexism in Nerd Culture) I defended the Bronies against people who thought that is was inappropriate, and creepy for guys to be a superfan of a cartoon that was geared towards young girls. This time around I wanted to get into why I think these shows are so good at entertaining a larger audience. Particularly an audience that is not the geared demographic.
I’ll say it again, both shows are extremely popular with a wide age group of fans. I truly think this is more than just the wacky cartoon antics of our animated friends. I believe it has to do with the care, and effort writers and creators put into an underlying back history, stories, and set of rules that these characters have to deal with in those animated realms. With these secret parameters in place it adds a tiny bit more depth than the next animated cartoon. I truly feel that Adventure Time, and MLP: FiM are two strong examples of this. When you watch these shows there are elements of the worlds that impact relationships, the surrounding environment, and ultimately their perceived destinies. I think in a show like MLP:FiM we all knew that the main reason the show was created was to market Hasbro’s My Little Pony toy line. That gives the shows creators some constraints to work with (come on, they can’t make Pinky Pie go straight out evil, or who would buy the snuggly plush?) but it can also give them opportunities to be really creative with how and why certain elements happen to the characters. Since Lauren Faust left the show around season 2 the writers have made more brash and less creative decisions. Although I was 100% behind the decision to make Twilight Sparkle a princess, why and how they did it felt rushed, and incomplete. If you watch the show from the beginning, you really get the feeling that Twilight was being prepared and trained for something big. Being the Princess’s personal protege to me means she is being trained to have a much higher position than writing weekly reports on friendship to keep her OCD mind occupied. Even her name alluded to some sort of connection between the 2 royal sisters (between night and day there is twilight) AND her foal-sitter was a princess herself. It just all seemed to fit. But this is where the writers, and creators to me dropped the ball. When she actually wrote the new magic and proved herself to be ready to become a princess it seemed like the experience didn’t justify her worth to be upgraded to royalty. It was her writing new magic, after she fucked up the destinies of her friends, rather than the numerous times she herself had saved Equestria when Celestia or any other of the royal ponies were unable too. Not to do with more in depth reasoning with her magic abilities, or potential. No basically it was Twilight fucking up and fixing it. And I am sorry but having your friends HATE their job is not as bad as oh I don’t know, having an evil queen and her entire kingdom feasting on the love and happiness of Canterlot, or an Evil unicorn imprisoning and enslaving a lost civilization of ponies. NOPE, Apple Jack makes ugly ass dresses, so if you can fix that mess then here are your wings! They had some sort of story with this, With Starswirl the Bearded’s magic journal, and the significance that surrounded that, but they rushed it. There is some underlying lore, and back history in MLP:FiM, and I feel like it is often untapped in season 3 (which I attribute to the loss of Faust). It is there though, waiting to be utilized! And it’s that initial history that I think added a lot of depth to the show that older audiences really were captivated by.
Adventure Time to me is the exact opposite. When you first start watching Adventure Time it seems like a hodge podge mess of entertaining nonsense. There is no apparent formula for how the story goes, it feels like a “whatever the writers/creators want to throw on the screen” sort of cartoon. But as you watch you start to see things come and go, small almost unimportant plot points pop up again, characters who were throw-aways come back and have more purpose. The story, the world and all of its characters really start to take life. Creator, Pendelton Ward, has stated there is a set of rules (almost like a D&D Manual) that they follow. It is this secret set of rules, and history within the land of Ooo that adds the magic sparkle to the show. You start to feel sorry for the Ice King, you start to wonder the true history behind Princess Bubblegum and the Candy Kingdom. You feel sad because maybe Finn really had a pillow wife, and kids, and maybe he got to the mysterious Pillow Kingdom by one of those random dimensional portals talked about in the finale of season 4. Everything has a history, everything has a reason, almost everything that happens has a future purpose. This is what really adds that extra kick to Adventure Time.There is also a balance of happy fun, and dark loneliness. That conflict in itself adds a lot to the show. It is those extra steps and such that the writers and creators tap into that MLP: FiM has, but a lot of times they do not use. To me that makes Adventure Time better when it comes down to following a certain formula for the show, and adding that extra depth to make it stand out above the rest.
Both shows have a cult following. They both have a story that fans of all ages and genders have fallen in love with. I think that the reason being is that they both have some hidden secrets, and stories that haven’t been told, but we are anxiously waiting to hear. I do think that Adventure Time and the talented people behind it have really found the perfect blend of dark, colorful, fun, and sad to make the show really shine. I do think MLP:FiM has it too, and I am WAITING for them to really tap into that and blow our socks off!