|Picture by Dragnmastralex|
Well, it looks like the Nostalgia Critic will never get around to make another Old VS New ever again, what after Rob Walker and Doug Walker decided to retire the character forever (even if they say they haven’t, I feel they don’t want to touch it ever again). So I decided to take on this by myself. I was hopeful one day we could see a video that compared the original generation of My Little Pony to the modern generation, but it looks like that will have to wait. Until then, you have this article here.
I will go like I always go. First thing first guys, this is all opinion, it’s what I think, and I will make my best to argue my points and explain them so you understand my reasons on making these choices and comments. I don’t mean to say one generation was better than the other generation. They both have fans, and they are appreciated equally by everybody. Some people appreciate them less, others appreciate them more. Again, it’s all a matter of opinion rather than which is objectively best.
The way I will approach this article is rather similar to what the Nostalgia Critic used to do. I will point out five characteristics that each show has in common and that they can compete in, those being “Characters”, “Villains”, “Animation”, “Music” and “Story/Writing”. There are some aspects I could have considered, like how well they promote the toy line, or (in G 4’s case) background events, but keeping it simple is preferable than mudding things up adding more and more elements to the article. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at these two twenty minute long commercials for girl toys.
Okay, some of you may consider this a no-brainer, especially if you come straight from Generation 4, but I want to be fair to the old generation.
You have to admit that for a cartoon that was made in the late eighties, and with the simplest plotline you can imagine (ponies live in a land called Dream valley, they do cute stuff) they did give the characters of Generation 1 very distinctive personalities. You have Applejack, for starters, who is clumsy and goofy but endearing and likeable, or the boastful Firefly, who doesn’t let anything stop her and is the bravest of the group, or Clover, a whinny girl who is never happy with anything. These character traits didn’t come from the toys but from those who wrote the episodes, and without them Lauren Faust wouldn’t have had the grounds to develop her own stories and characters that will later on turn into the Mane Six from Generation 4. Unfortunately, there is one problem that drags the set of characters to a hole, and that is Megan. Now, she is not a bad character, for a girl in the eighties she was pretty much harmless, but she has next to zero personality, and her only reason to be in the cartoon is so the target demographic could have someone they could relate to (like what they did with Shia Labouf in the Transformers movies).
|Those girls that dress like a rejected Cinderella will relate with her so well.|
In Friendship is Magic the cast is consistent and solid. The characters are three-dimensional, and they can be easily relatable without having to use humans, in fact there are no humans at all in Generation 4. Like I said before, if it hadn’t been for Generation 1 these characters would not exist, and it’s obvious that a lot more thought and development went in the writing in the newest show than in the old one. But give credit where credit is due, it’s obvious that the new show has better characters and better character development. It’s not just about showing realistic traits, but also uses these traits to convey a message; while in Generation 1, when they needed to convey a message they blatantly did so regardless of the character.
Besides, we have to take into account voice acting. Now, don’t get me wrong. Acting involves a lot of factors, like editing, directing, and the actor’s work itself, so you can have great actors but give them terrible directions and you will end up wasting their talent. That’s what happened with Generation 1. The voice acting ranges from just alright to painfully annoying. There are some characters you just want to put on mute, like Clover, or Gusty. In Generation 4 the voice acting is one of the reasons why the characters are so good. They don’t sound like cartoon characters, they sound like real people. Even the cartooniest of them all, Pinkie Pie, sounds like a real person (if a real person had a bunch of cups of coffee, but still!).
So you have the elements of voice acting, writing and character used in both generations, but G4 had them combined better than G1, which is why I think Friendship is Magic has the best characters and thus gets my vote.
When it comes to villains things are not that clear. We can all agree that, regardless of generation, the villains are the best part for many fans. It’s quite interesting to see people root for these treacherous troublemakers, and that usually is because of different reasons. With Generation 1 it was because they were so different and so bizarre in their design and motivations, while in Generation 4 it’s because they are just so much fun to watch. This is where both groups of villains are different, but also very similar.
Let’s begin with Generation 1, where we have Tirek, Catrina and The Witches that summon The Smooze. Tirek is a demonic centaur monster who rules a palace called Midnight Castle and whose motivation is to turn ponies into dragons so they can pull his carriage from where he will rain chaos thanks to his rainbow of darkness. His design is freaky, with four horse legs, horns, and that bulbous bag that carries his poisonous rainbow. He looks like he doesn’t belong to a cartoon for little girls, which was one of the reasons why there was never a toy of him. Catrina, on the other hand, has a different approach. She is this cat lady (literally) who is addicted to a substance that comes from grinding certain plants, so she captures the ponies to use them as leverage to grind the leaves for her. Her motivations are less vapid than Tirek, even if her design is not that inspired. The last set of villains, The Three Witches, I never found them interesting enough and I never quite got their motivation, but they did summon one of the most terrifying things in children’s cartoons. The Smooze, a sea of purple mud full of eyes that consumes everything around it and turns all ponies it touches into jerks. It looks like it came right out Chtulhu’s cloacae!
|Every second of my life is full of agony!|
As for Generation 4, there are really good villains too. We have Nightmare Moon, Discord, and Queen Chrysalis. Nightmare Moon is probably the one with the most tragic of stories. She used to be Princess Celestia’s sister, until something possessed her and, fed by her envy, turned her into a beast that set the land into eternal night. Celestia was forced to banish her own sister for a thousand years, and not until then did she returned to her normal form, after the evil of Nightmare Moon was destroyed by the Elements of Harmony. While she had a pretty clear plan from the start, Discord on the other hand doesn’t have one. He is one of the most evil, most treacherous, most despising villains this show has had. And it’s beautiful. He is not just evil, he is evil and he loves it. Imagine him as a mix between the Joker and Loki, if he had to make a play for little children. His techniques are classy deceptive techniques, and to top it all off he is voiced by a massive trickster himself, John de Lancie. Finally, Queen Chrysalis is similar to Discord when it comes to treachery and deception, but her motivations are less empty. While Discord just wants to have fun, Chrysalis is taking over Equestria because she wants to feed her kind, and save her subjects, which makes her reasons a bit more believable, and even relatable. Wouldn’t you do anything to save your own?
Now, as you can see, both groups of villains have good points so, how will I decide which one is better? Well, I will be honest here, but I think it will be a matter of design. While their motivations and personalities are all really good, it’s the way they look what makes them so different. In Generation 1 the villains looked like they had been animated by a completely different team. It was like someone lost a page of “Masters of the Universe” into the script of My Little Pony. Their design was terrifying, and their voices frightening. The Generation 4 villains did look more consistent with the design of the show. They looked like the belonged to the land of Equestria. They had the same color palette and animation, which made them feel like they were part of the land.
I think this is why I prefer the villains of Generation 1 more. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Discord and Chrysalis a lot, but Tirek, The Smooze, and Catrina looked like complete outsiders, like they didn’t belong there and that they should be kicked out of Dream valley. That’s the nature of the villain. It doesn’t belong to where the good guys are. The more different from how the show looks like the more menacing they are. So in this round, I give the winning vote to Generation 1.
This one is going to be a hard one for me to pick, because I love animation and always have admired all the craft and dedication that goes to making cartoons. There are a lot of hours that go into making these TV shows, and just for that they both deserve praise. So regardless of which one I am picking as the best, take into account that I love both animation styles equally for different reasons, which I will explain.
Generation 1 was made with traditional techniques, hand drawn, with a lot of digital techniques to make it more spectacular for the kids. While these techniques make the cartoon look even more eighties than not using them, they also make it really eye-catchy and add a lot of personality. I’m talking about rotoscoping lasers and twinkles, like the scene where the rainbow of light eats the rainbow of darkness from the inside, or anytime a pony is teleported, or a unicorn uses magic. But that aside there is a lot of appeal in how organic hand drawn animation feels. It’s great to see the lines and the softness left by the pencil as these characters move in this magical land. The backgrounds are also fantastic and colourful, though they get quite too cluttered from time to time, especially when we get to the villains’ hideouts. One thing going against this much effort sadly is how blatantly obvious the playsets are introduced. You may consider this a story issue, but it’s the animation department the ones that take care of how to use these designs. With Generation 1 it was pretty evident when they were promoting a toy or when they were just putting the ponies in a bright and colourful background.
Generation 4 it's pretty obvious it’s done entirely in flash, and an old version of flash at that. Flash has the clear disadvantage that it can make things look artificial, especially when it comes to animals, even if they are just cartoons. Using flash and make it look and feel like traditional animation is quite a feat. Well, to my surprise, Studio B and DHX media pulled it off masterfully. Not only does flash look great, but there are points where I forget that what I’m watching was animated with a computer. It’s soft, fast, and has perfect timing. The facial expressions are fittingly over the top, not stiff like the ones in Generation 1, and they never go into Tex Avery territory. Being digital one would expect some use of CGI, but instead of that they use their creativity to make scenes that range from pseudo 3D camera movement to atmospheric effects, magic bolts, auras and smooth transitions. Besides, each character is animated differently, which helps to convey their personality without them needing to say a single word. When it comes to backgrounds these are detailed enough but simple enough so one doesn’t need to look several times to understand that that’s a house, that’s a cart, or that’s a castle, and like the characters each element has its own personality. In their defence I will also say that the use they make of the product placement is rather clever. It’s pretty obvious that what they are selling is featured rather blatantly in the show, but they do their best to incorporate it to the plot. But, to tell you the truth, I don’t know if this is better or worse. It’s so subtle that the commercial is getting into your head without you noticing. So hooray for Hasbro, they have successfully indoctrinated our innocent little brains.
So as you can see, there’s pretty much a tie between my opinions on both animation styles, so which one do I think it’s better? Well, as obvious as it is, I am picking the newest flash animation style. This has no further explanation but for how consistent it is. The traditional hand drawn animation of Generation 1 is impressive when we are talking about the specials like “Rescue from Midnight Castle” or “Escape from Catrina”, but when it comes to the regular TV show the animation becomes, well, average to mediocre. There are no flashing effects, and the backgrounds feel copy pasted. In Generation 4 the animation is not only consistent throughout the entire series, but it also gets better as it progresses. The first episodes feel a bit rough, but by the end of season 2 I’d say it can even compete with big animation studios. So in this round, the vote goes for Generation 4.
I’m pretty sure this one is clear for many fans, and whether this is good or bad, many will defend that Generation 4 is superior to Generation 1. Even though I have my decision picked already we have to give credit where credit is due, or else this all will seem very unfair.
For starters, Generation 1 had to cope with the effort of making one song per episode, and between three and four for the movies and TV specials. That is a lot of work, especially when we take into account the time when these songs were requested and the guidelines they were given. These songs served different purposes, from introducing a new character to deliver a moral or tell a part of the story. Some of them have become icons by themselves, like the Sea Ponies song that once you start singing everybody follows along. Regardless of its campiness people do have fond memories of it so I won’t trash it. Besides, it is pretty catchy. Other song that people remember is the Applejack song, the one where she is called a silly pony, or more infamously “I’m going alone”, sang at the beginning of the “My Little Pony Movie” in a duet between Clover and Spike. Sadly and to the show’s dismay, most of the songs were like this one. They were usually screechy, annoying, and added nothing to the story. They were stops on the road that would only give you a headache, and each episode was sure to have at least one. So what we have are a lot of songs, with many of them being bad or just downright unbearable.
|I see these creatures in my nightmares.|
Generation 4 is the other way around. While it doesn’t have as many songs as Generation 1, the ratio of good VS bad is the complete opposite. It helps that they have the amazing talent of Emmy award winner Daniel Ingram doing the compositions, and the talents of writers like Meghan McCarthy and Charlotte Fullerton to write the lyrics. Not every episode has a song in it, which allows the viewer to relax, spacing the songs between each other, and when they do they usually set up a new character, serve as a bridge for the next scene, introduce the plot of the episode, or deliver the moral towards the end. Besides this, the songs have a wide variation of styles that go from soft rock & roll beats to ballads and full on musical numbers. This all is pretty impressive, but the most amazing aspect of all this is how catchy every single song is. Yes, even the less fortunate ones (like “You gotta share” from “Over a Barrel”) are incredibly catchy, and you will find yourself humming them without even thinking about it. After watching “Winter Wrap Up” I couldn’t get its tune out of my head for an entire year, and even now I find myself humming it at the most unexpected times. This aside, two of the songs composed for this cartoon have been nominated to a Day-Time Emmy (“May the Best Pet win” and “The Pony Everypony Should Know”), and if that wasn’t enough I could also mention all the songs and remixes inspired by this show, that have been featured left and right, including music games like Rockband.
|Next thing there will be a version for Dance Central.|
So I do give credit to the popularity and the quantity that Generation 1 possesses, but I think Generation 4 has more going for it. More quality, award nominations, and inspiring people to compose their own songs is all I need to give the winning vote to Generation 4.
This aspect is quite difficult, regardless of the generation we are talking about. It’s obvious that this cartoon exists as a twenty minute long commercial for toys, since it’s produced by a toy company that wants to sell their property, so one will think story doesn’t really mean a lot. But even with all that the makers of the show went and made their best to flex out a story out plastic colourful equines that live in a magical land full of whimsy adventures. Now, which one did it better? Let’s find out.
Since I expect people plummeting the old Generation 1 I will say in its defence that it has more multi-parters. I don’t mean the movies or the specials, but full on storylines that sometimes spawned for over ten episodes. This allowed the story to be stretched as much as they saw fit, and even though most of it was filled with songs there was a lot of world expanding going in these episodes. However, that’s not something that plays completely in its favour. Having episodic storylines means you can’t just pick an episode and watch it. You will have to watch the entire storyline and every previous episode in order to follow what’s going on. It’s a good intention that they wanted to deliver a constructive moral with their stories, but if it’s done wrong then there is more wrong than right being done here. That’s the case with some of the episodes in Generation 1. The morals where shoehorned, and it felt rushed, even with the multi-parters. So their good intentions got ruined because of terrible execution.
If I speak about Generation 4, well, when you think about it, it feels like they had more time, more patience and put more effort into creating a better show. Lauren Faust took her time to write a design document, and she made sure to gather good writers and a talented editor. It is true however that some episodes feel too big for a time span of only twenty two minutes. This causes the endings to be a bit rushed in many cases. Even with the episodes that are split in two parts this happens. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either. It shows the writers have lots of ideas, but not enough time to put them all on screen. There is a reason why they speak about scenes that got cut out the episodes. This hurts the pacing in some of the episodes, where you can have a dramatic scene, a funny scene and a happy scene one after the other in less than one minute, which can throw the viewer on a very uncomfortable loop. This only happens a number of times however. Of course there are episodes where the three act structure works beautifully, and the build up leads to a mind-blowing pay off. Every new character is introduced in a very seamless way, making the viewer feel like they had been part of the show all the time, and the writing takes its time to give the characters new personality traits and quirks they never had before. But if we talk about achievements, we have to mention the world building. Creating a new universe is no easy task, and Lauren Faust envisioned this land of talking pastel coloured equines with a lot of fantasy, and very solid ideas. World building is probably the strongest thing going for the writing of Generation 4. Just that aspect alone deserves its own article, and I won’t go into detail or else this paragraph will be three pages long. There is no episodic plot either, so anyone could pick any episode and understand what happens from beginning to end. The characters are kept consistent enough that one doesn’t need a thorough explanation about who they are and what they do. And to top it all off, the message. I don’t know about other fans, but the messages in this show are brilliant. They are not lessons kids can use, but also adults. It’s not just about friendship and understanding, but about life itself. The very first episode of the series tells us that we shouldn’t let work get in the way of meeting new people and forging relationships. How deep is that? For a first episode of a TV show it’s pretty deep.
|And don't get me started on the endless connotations between Twilight, Celestia and college degree students!|
So, as you might imagine, I am giving the last winning vote to Friendship is Magic, as I consider it to have the best story and writing of the two.
I have to say I feel rather guilty and bad for giving most of the votes to the new show than to the old one. We have to take into account that there wouldn’t be a Generation 4 without Generation 1. If it wasn’t for it Lauren Faust wouldn’t have been motivated to create her own stories and characters which, in the end, turned out to be better than what Hasbro was doing back then. We have to appreciate the work of those men and women who did the previous TV show with what they had, and even though it didn’t age that well for today’s standards it remains as a cherished memory for many people, regardless of gender. I remember playing with the original pony toys and loving them, even though I didn’t really like the show.
But, in the end, and when you put them one next to the other it’s pretty obvious which one I consider better.
That was fun to write, actually, especially after a summer where this blog has seemed emptier than usual. It’s not the long drought at all, but more like a bunch of other websites pulling me in so many different directions that I just don’t know where to look at. But Season 3 is coming, and with it my reviews, so I hope this can serve until we step into the Crystal Kingdom and whatever lies beneath its surface.
|Have another happy Twilight, because a lot of happy Twilight is never enough.|