Just before 8:30 p.m., when the line to enter Toy Art Gallery was at its fullest, a small white car sped through the intersection of Melrose and Curson. The driver screamed, “Bronies!” The crowd let out a deep roar of excitement. My Little Pony Project 2012, a massive art exhibition dedicated to the cute and colorful toys that spawned a cult favorite cartoon series, was under way.
At TAG, the line extended down the block for the bulk of the night. Elsewhere on the avenue, My Little Pony fans — including, yes, bronies, the term for older men who are My Little Pony fans — swarmed other participating shops. JapanL..A had MLP keychains on hand early in the evening. Store owner Jamie Rivadeneira told me that they ran out in about five minutes. Designer toy shop Munky King was giving away free ponies with a $5 purchase. I stood in line for somewhere between five and 10 minutes to enter the shop. The line to make a purchase and collect a pony was longer than that. That this night was also Cinco de Mayo didn't matter — Melrose was all about ponies.
The biggest crowd was at TAG, the focal point of My Little Pony Project. Although the opening event for the monthlong show was designed like a scavenger hunt, with flyers indicating what prizes were available at different locations, the organizers indicated that most people preferred to wait in line to see the main exhibit. Inside the small art gallery/boutique, the crowd was thick. People took cellphone photos of the large MLP figures, which were customized by artists ranging from Devo founder Mark Mothersbaugh to Japanese fashion brand 6%dokidoki. They ogled L.A. accessory designer Onch Movement's luxe My Little Pony necklaces and lined up again at the register, arms filled with T-shirts and other merchandise.
The event came at just the right time, when renewed interest in the 1980s toys is at a high thanks to the surging popularity of the Hub's animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and the Brony phenomenon has reached almost mainstream status.
Bronies have been getting a lot of press coverage over the past year. Some grown-up female fans also identify as Bronies, while others use the term Pegasisters. Make no mistake, there are plenty of women who are currently obsessing over My Little Pony, too.
Compared to something like Hello Kitty's 35th birthday bash or Sanrio's 50th-anniversary art show, the My Little Pony crowd was heavy on the dudes. However, the crowd ultimately appeared to be closer to a 50/50 male-female split, more in line with what you would see at a convention like Anime Expo or San Diego Comic-Con. For every group of guys we saw wearing cheeky MLP T-shirts with their typical baseball cap and jeans uniform, there was a group of women, oftentimes sporting Rainbow Dash hair.
My Little Pony is for everyone. Well, it's for everyone except maybe the kids. Though this is a franchise geared toward the little ones, I saw fewer than 10 children on Saturday night, and most of them were gone well before 9:30 p.m.
The franchise's massive adult following shouldn't be that surprising. There's a nostalgic element for those who grew up in the last two decades of the 20th century — that certainly was present inside Toy Art Gallery. The show's curator, Caro, brought in her own childhood collection of MLP figures, which was displayed alongside the art. But nostalgia is only one small element in this phenomenon.
The latest incarnation of My Little Pony, the Hub's hit cartoon, is one of the most relevant shows you'll see on the small screen. Friendship Is Magic is one part self-help guide, one part entertainment. It's absolutely genuine in its messages about friendship but never takes itself too seriously. The writers and artists play up the quirks of the characters, which fans love. They also embrace the grown-up fans, essentially giving them the go-ahead to unleash a slew of fun, and sometimes strange, creations from costumes to videos.
Ultimately, one of the messages that's more or less understood in the fandom surrounding My Little Pony is that you can sincerely like something and still have fun with it. That was evident throughout the art show. There were plenty of gorgeous, faithful interpretations of the figures. There were also a handful of unusual takes on the toy.
Mark Mothersbaugh fused together two pony heads for one piece and two tails for another. Both sold by opening night. Japanese artist/fashion designer Shojono Tomo added a handful of plastic toys and curlers to her pony's mane and tail. L.A. artist Luke Chueh dressed his figure in a fetish outfit. But as irreverent as some of these creations are, there's never the sense that it's done in a mean-spirited or mocking way. Ponies can goof around with each other, but they shouldn't be jerks.
My Little Pony is spreading joy and prompting creativity in everyone from professional artists to college kids with access to video editing software and glue guns. It's also inspiring an obsession, complete with the rush for exclusive and limited-edition merchandise, which soon could rival those found in long-established fandoms. This is much more than anyone can ask for in any children's toy or TV show. That this happened with a series of vintage toys makes the situation all the more bizarre and all the more exciting to watch.