Director: Brent Hodge (What Happens Next? The Dan Mangan Documentary)
Screenplay: Brent Hodge
Producers: Brent Hodge, Lauren Bercovitch
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 79 min.
My first encounter with a Brony came out of, what seemed to me at the time, left field. John de Lancie was on stage at a convention, humorously skirting a question about some technical aspect of an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” that he shot 10 years ago, when a guy wearing a black t-shirt that read “I’m 20% Cooler” and a headband with pink fluffy ears walked up to the microphone to ask a question. De Lancie smiled when he looked over at the 20-something and when the guy asked de Lancie about Discord, the actor’s smile widened. The crowd erupted in applause, cheers and whistles and de Lancie went on to answer, at length, about his experience voicing the popular TV character. I looked over at my friend and started a conversation that went something like this:
Me: Ummmmm… Did I miss something?
Her: It’s a “My Little Pony” reference.
Me: Like the TV show I watched when I was a kid?
Her: No no. The new “My Little Pony!”
Me: There’s a new “My Little Pony?”
Her: Yeah! And it has a huge following of grown men.
The Trekkies eventually took over again but my interest had been peaked and I spent a good part of the following Monday getting myself acquainted with a fandom that, until a few days before, I hadn’t even know existed.
It seems that in the year since my discovery of Brony culture, the rest of the world has discovered it as well. There have been numerous documentaries on the fandom (I’ve seen two others) and even an episode of “Bob’s Burgers” (by far the best examination of it to date) and now comes Brent Hodge’s documentary A Brony Tale.
While it would be simple to write off Hodge’s movie as just another attempt to cash in on a currently popular fandom, truth is that A Brony Tale is, so far, the best documentary I’ve seen on the subject. A large part of the movie’s success is that it doesn’t simply go around interviewing various members of the fandom but it has an interesting through line in Ashleigh Ball. A voice actress on “My Little Pony” and a musician, Ball’s reaction to the fandom mirrors mine. At first she’s a bit creeped out (we are talking grown men watching the same show as little girls) but the more she reads into it the better she understands it. Hodge intersperses Ball’s decision to travel to Brony Con in NY with interviews with members of the community and the result is a movie that both proves to Ball and to the public at large that Bronies aren’t freaks but just another group of misunderstood fans.
As interesting as the community members are and the introduction to the fandom, the real appeal here is Ball who is very clearly unsure how to proceed. Even after meeting some of the fans there’s a sense that she’s a bit uneasy about the entire thing and seeing her speak candidly about her experience is eye opening not only as it relates to Bronies but as an indicator for all fandoms.
Truth is that with nerdy being cool now, being a Brony isn’t nearly as dangerous as it could be. Sure it’s strange to outsiders but only because it’s initially difficult to understand why men would be attracted to the show and Hodge finds some individuals who make a great case with which I agree (it only takes watching 2 or 3 episodes to see the appeal of MLP’s sincerity in a social environment that is generally loaded with sarcasm). A Brony Tale has the advantage of a filmmaker who understands storytelling and Hodge does an excellent job not only of capturing the energy and passion of the fans but packaging that up in a documentary that is both entertaining and informative.
A Brony Tale opens Tuesday, July 8th and is available on VOD on Tuesday, July 15th.