Footage of the Twin Towers aflame on 9/11 is not what I would expect to see in a documentary about bronies. This growing subculture of teen and adult fans of the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has never seemed so relevant to anything other than their own odd phenomenon. But in the film A Brony Tale, these misunderstood masses are made out to be something quite special within the context of human history. They’re compared to the jazz crowd of the 1920s and to the Beatniks and, most assuredly, to the hippies. They are a response to all the terrorism and war and violence and financial catastrophe of the 21st century.
And they might just be the answer to all the problems of the world, as well.
Can that really be so? The historical connection mainly comes from neuropsychologist Marsha Redden, who with her associate Dr. Patrick Edwards has been conducting a study on the Brony fandom for the past few years. If you’ve seen the previous documentary on the subject, Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, this is the same academic duo that appears there. But this time they’ve got a lot more to say on the cultural significance of this group, in addition to the social aspect. “I think that 10 years later, this is what we’re seeing,” Redden states regarding the link to 9/11 and its aftermath.
From the bronies themselves, we hear about their reasons for liking the show and joining the community attached to it. Community is a key word for many of them, so is harmony and, of course, friendship. Some point out that this fandom is all about being positive and counter to all the cynicism and sarcasm of modern society. There’s a lot of dancing and hugging and art making and charity work and general acceptance of all kinds of people. Unlike the hippies, though, they’re not as much associated with something they’re against, like a war, as with something they’re for, namely love and tolerance. Again, it’s all about being positive.
Director Brent Hodge seems to be on board with what Redden and the actual fans are seeing in the movement, if we could go so far as to call it that. He’s got more of an outsider perspective than the other bronies doc, having decided to make A Brony Tale focused on his friend, Friendship is Magic vocal cast member Ashleigh Ball, when he saw her coping with the strange idea of grown men who like a show for little girls – and who had also started attending her indie rock band’s concerts due to her connection to this show – and contemplating whether or not to accept the invitation to attend BronyCon, one of the biggest conventions for this specific fanbase.
Yet in spite of his approach, he hardly exoticisizes the brony culture (nor does he exactly glorify them), and he doesn’t simply settle on showing them and what they do and calling it a day, which is sort of what Bronies does. Hodge comes closer to making those of us who can’t possibly get it at least start to comprehend what is really going on here and why. Through his employment of footage from 9/11 and of Occupy Wall Street and Barack Obama’s 2012 victory speech, an excerpt that seems to apply more to the hope and promise of the brony reality than the American dream, he situates the phenomenon inside an identifiable world rather than setting it aside like it’s some kind of otherness.
A Brony Tale might be the best, or at least the most receptive doc on fandom since Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, which is why it’s perfect that Morgan Spurlock has signed on as an executive producer and distributor of the film. But Hodge makes bronyism come across as more than just fandom, and so parts of it reminded me of the doc We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, which took a little-understood group like Anonymous and proved its importance. Hodge does that for bronies, which again are the more positive in comparison to that disruptive activist collective.
Whether they might be more effective in changing the world, however, is not something that’s revealed in the film. It doesn’t even seem to be an agenda or interest for most of the bronies who are interviewed, at least not actively. There’s only the implication that if we all joined them in not necessarily watching and playing with and dressing up as My Little Pony but at least in following its message and influence, then the planet would be a much better place. Of course, it didn’t work out so perfectly for the hippies, so we’ll see how well this whole thing catches on.
A Brony Tale premired this evening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and will be released in theaters and on VOD in July. For more coverage from the Tribeca Film Festival, head here.