I have not hidden my relationship with the MLP: FIM community. I have a particular fondness for the show, but not the fan community. I just don’t have the level of obsessiveness over cotton-candy colored anthropomorphic horses to fit in with this social group. I have tried to utilize some of the show’s structures to communicate what I saw as its essential core ideas, but this group wanted nothing to do with it. So be it.
Along the way, Hasbro, the company that makes the show, realized what they had – a cash cow. They’re not in the business of educational messaging, they’re in the business of selling toys. So the decided to expand the MLP franchise. You can do this in a couple of ways. Add a TV spin-off series, which they did in something called “Equestria Girls” – a through the looking-glass adventure featuring human versions of the pony characters – same names, same skin colors – cyanotic blue, jaundice yellow, healing bruise purple.
Then there was “My Little Pony: The Movie.” The announcement was Hasbro would form a new division to do all animation in-house, take half the MLP team and put them on the film. Allspark Pictures was born. Bronies everywhere waited two years in anticipation for their big day. Me? Not so much. You see, film and TV animation are two different beasties. Unless you are bringing in some pro with experience in working that, your movie is going to feel like A Very Special Episode Of the TV show. Disney had this issue when they tried to do films of their Disney Afternoon series in the 90’s. Watch DuckTales Treasure of the Lost Lamp for example.
The other thing is that the social group overestimates its size and impact. I call this the “We Are Legion, hear us roar” effect. Most notable example of this? The Browncoats, fans of Joss Whedon’s show “Firefly” at the turn of the century. Here was a series that had been admittedly mishandled by the Fox network. A very loud fanbase convinced Universal to fund a $100 million film based on a 13-episode canceled TV series.
It made $32 million domestically. Absolutely cratered at the box office.
The reason it failed was the movie never caught on beyond that fanbase. TV shows can subsist in a fractured world. Films need a broader audience to recoup their budgets.
Now fast forward to this past weekend and the MLP film. Hasbro has two goals. Make money back and be successful enough there will be a run on its toys at Christmas. The MLP toys have been sagging in sales over the last few years. The hope is the film would be a shot in the arm. They would introduce new characters, an adventurous plot, even seahorses – oops, pardon me, sea-ponies (they look a lot like dolphins with hooves – long story).
So how’d they do? I’m thinking they aren’t exactly dancing this morning at Hasbro Studios HQ in Burbank, DHX in Vancouver, or Hasbro corporate in Connecticut. The Lion King, it was not. Heck, Home on the Range it was not.
According to Variety.com, My Little Pony: The Movie finished with $8.8 million for the weekend for a 4th place finish behind “Blade Runner 2069,” “The Mountain Between Us,” and “It.” However, when you do the breakdown, that number becomes a little less encouraging.
MLP showed on 2,528 screens. Figure $10 average ticket price, and 5 showings per day for 3 days, you come up with an average attendance per screening of… 23 people.
Bronies, meet Browncoats. Browncoats, Bronies. This movie may have the children’s film field to itself for a couple of weeks (Pixar’s Coco looms on the horizon), but with Hasbro showing multiple MLP episodes on TV every day, seems to be little incentive to see it in theaters. This will be a Netflix / DVD film – or a very special episode on cable.
It’s pretty obvious. It didn’t sell tickets. Very few, if any other than diehard fans, went. So now the question is, will this translate into toy sales. How may swimming Pinkie Pies will they sell? The television series is assured an eighth season. Beyond that, who knows?
Myself, I know this – the animators of the show already snuck in a sight gag involving jumping a shark. This time, they may have finally done so for real.