When you think of My Little Pony, you think of miniature horses, glitter, eyelashes and bright, neon colours. It’s not a brand typically associated with things that are dark, weird or gross. However, once you started scratching below the magical surface of Equestria, you’ll be surprised what at what you uncover. Like most big, cartoon franchises, My Little Pony began life as a toy line; created by Hasbro and aimed at girls. The first ever Pony toy released in 1981 was actually called “My Pretty Pony” and stood at 10″ high. After slow sales, the designers came up with an ingenious solution to hook the kids in — just make them smaller.
They also started ramping up the makeup and glitter too, and since then, the toys and subsequent animated adaptations have become synonymous with sugar and spice and all things nice. For this reason, it’s easy for many to dismiss the cartoon series and films as just silly, vapid kids stuff. But, there’s a reason that this equine-themed property has stuck around for so long. Amidst all the friendship and frolicking, the Pony world has long been home to some darker elements — demons, witches, black magic, tyrannical dictators, and villains that wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of an Iron Maiden album. Not to mention the deeply unsettling political dystopia that the Ponies seem all too content to live in. Depending on your tastes, this will either ruin your childhood or convert you to Brony-ism.
15. THERE ARE DEATHS, AND THEY’RE REALLY DARK
If you assumed that fabulously done-up ponies and unicorns lived forever then… well, you assumed wrong. There aren’t a lot of deaths in My Little Pony, but the few that do happen in Friendship Is Magic are surprisingly graphic and disturbing. We’ve seen minor antagonists like Windigos burnt to a crisp in a “Fire of Friendship” and a Giant Timberwolf choke to death on a rock.
More upsetting, though, was the death and on-screen funeral (yes, a Pony funeral) of Fuzzy Slippers in Season Two, who was strongly implied to have been killed by cancer. Yikes. Possibly the worst example of Pony-on-Pony butchery though was in Season Three, when dozens of Pinkie Pie clones are murdered by Twilight Sparkle without much as a second thought.
14. PONIES DON’T MIND KILLING OTHER ANIMALS
Things always get a little uncomfortable when it comes to anthropomorphic animals and meat-eating in cartoons. In Teen Titans, Beast Boy was a strict vegetarian. In BoJack Horseman, everyone just eats everyone else. The Ponies are not meat-eaters though their rich diet of pies, cakes, and sandwiches means they certainly aren’t opposed to eating animal products. They also herd cattle and rear pigs too, which is really weird, considering.
But, just because they don’t eat other animals, doesn’t mean they won’t kill them. Being the “ruling class,” their fellow sentient creatures are essentially depicted as second-class citizens, or worse. This was no more apparent than in the episode “Dragonshy,” in which Fluttershy kills some fish she’d had a pleasant chat with in a previous episode, before feeding them to some ferrets she thought might be hungry.
13. PONY SOCIETY IS RACIALLY SEGREGATED
This isn’t something that’s a “squint and you’ll see it” take. It’s quite literally the way that Pony civilization is built and functions in Friendship Is Magic. First off — yes, there are different Pony “races.” Created in Generation One, the three major ones are: Earth, Unicorn and Pegasus Ponies. FIM has since added Alicorns and Crystal Ponies. FIM also apparently drew inspiration from 1950s-era racial politics when developing Pony society.
Equestria is a vast country made up of rural towns like Ponyville and big cities like Canterlot, which is also the capital. Unlike most urban areas though, Canterlot isn’t a cultural melting pot — it’s the exclusive domain of the ruling race, Unicorns, while places like Ponyville are home to Earth Ponies who are saddled with agricultural and manual labor, and live in much poorer conditions.
12. THE EARLY VILLAINS WERE GENOCIDAL
The villains of Generation Four, like fan-favorite Discord, are full of the kind of nuance you’d expect from a modern, smartly-written show like Friendship Is Magic. The earlier Pony antagonists, however, were much more distinctly ’80s. In other words, they were villains with a capital “V” — moustache-twirling and evil through and through. In fact, the writers may have gone a little overboard.
Some of the villains from the original series not only wanted global domination, but outright genocide. There was King Charlatan, a giant Penguin who believed that anyone who wasn’t a penguin should be eradicated. Nice. Even more terrifying was Grogar, a “Ram Demon Necromancer” (his official title) who wanted “no more ponies in Ponyland!” He was also voiced by Lex Luthor from the ’80s Superman cartoon series.
11. DEMONIC, ANTI-PONIES EXIST
“The Changelings” are an evil army of minions serving Friendship Is Magic villain, Queen Chrysillis, who herself looks like a Pony gone wrong. True to the name, her Changelings are insect-like Pony clones that look like the antithesis of a regular bright and sparkly Pony. Color coordination is important in My Little Pony, and as such, nearly ever villain can be easily identified by their comparatively darker coloring.
Suitably, the Queen and her army are all black and dark blue, with tattered bug wings and pupil-less, bulging eyes. As the name also suggests, they can shapeshift, characterizing them as trickster types. Their other ability — “devouring love” — sounds a lot less fun and innocent, though. If Ponies were angels, these little guys would be their demon counterparts.
10. THERE’S A PONY HELL
We know that death is an established part of life in both Ponyland and Equestria, but is there an afterlife? Where do good and bad Pony souls end up once they’ve departed for the big paddock in the sky? Well, good news, kids — it turns out that not only is Pony Hell a thing, it’s a real dimension you can travel to! It’s first mentioned in Season Two of Friendship Is Magic.
Twilight Sparkle runs into Cerberus, the legendary three-headed dog from Greek mythology who guards the gates of the Underworld, and confirms that this is also his role in Equestria, referring to the realm as “Tartarus.” In Season Four, we actually get to have a look at Tartarus when a literal portal to Hell opens up, and its true purpose as a supernatural prison is revealed.
9. DEMONS! DEMONS EVERYWHERE!
A lot of villains, dark forces, and other Things That Go Bump In The Night often look quite demonic. This isn’t especially coincidental or surprising, considering how long demons have been our go-to personification of “bad.” But, for a franchise built on the horseback of innocence, pastel shades and glitter, there sure are a lot of demons and very demon-like things that the Ponies have to contend with.
As well as the demonic Changelings in Friendship Is Magic, Equestria Girls features two instances of humanoid Pony girls — Sunset Shimmer and HuTwi — morphing into over-powered, demonic, twisted versions of themselves. The original series was even worse for this. There were just straight-up demons in Ponyland. You could tell from subtle name choices like “Arabus The Cloud Demon” and “Laven The Lava Demon.”
8. YOU CAN BUY XENOMORPH AND JOKER PONIES
If you’ve ever been tempted to add a Pony to your toy collection but have been put off by the batting eyelashes and bright colors, then these frightening redesigns could be for you. They’re the creation of artist Mari Kasurinen, who channels her sculpting and painting skills into creating customized toys, particularly My Little Pony-based, and crossing them over with other iconic figures from pop culture.
“Popular culture is my television. My art represents what I have seen so far,” she explains. Some of her creations are pretty adorable — Pony Han Solo and Pony He-Man have a weird charm about them. But others, like Pony Xenomorph, Pony Joker, Pony Edward Scissorhands and Pony Predator are pretty freaky (in a great way). The juxtaposition of cute and creepy still makes them appealing, nonetheless.
7. EARLY VILLAINS INCLUDED A SATANIC CENTAUR
For further proof that early My Little Pony cartoons were way darker than necessary, look no further than the design of the first Big Bad, Lord Tirek, who made his debut in the first animated TV special, “Rescue at Midnight Castle” in 1984. To say that Tirek looks satanic is no exaggeration — he’s literally a big, red Centaur with huge horns and spiked gauntlets sat on a huge throne.
Tirek also used the magic of the “Rainbow of Darkness” to corrupt a human Prince, transforming him into a demon called Scorpan, an ape-like creature with bat wings and a lizard face. Scorpan wanted to force Ponies to pull his “Chariot of Midnight,” though he did manage to free himself from Tirek’s grip in the end. Kids of the ’80s must have had some pretty freaky dreams after watching the special.
6. YOU COULD BUY URINATING PONY TOYS
Kids toys and urination seem to forever be a match made in heaven according to the toy industry. Infinitely weird to adults, but clearly appealing to their target market, they continue to be staples of independent play for a certain age. It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that My Little Pony attempted to corner this niche in the past… and yet, somehow it still is surprising. You just don’t ever expect to see a diaper anywhere near a horse, even on a tiny, beautified one.
Produced in 1989, the most disturbing thing about the “Drink n’ Wet” Ponies was that their diapers had a magical backstory. The “Baby Ponies” were “scampering” around outside one day with a bouncy ball that bounced too high, knocking a rainbow. “Magical crystals” fell from the stripe, became diluted by the water that the Ponies were playing in, and stained their diapers to become “as pretty as can be.”
5. THE PONIES LIVE UNDER AN AUTHORITARIAN REGIME
In Friendship Is Magic, Equestria seems superficially like a paradise. Any place with unicorns would, right? But, like most things that seem too good to be true, there’s darkness underlying this Equestrian utopia. Ponies have godlike control over every microcosm of their world. They control everything from the weather to the changing of the seasons. They even make the sun rise and set.
It’s very telling that the one place they don’t have power over in Equestria is the Everfree Forest, which the Ponies characterize as “unnatural,” and fear more than anywhere else. They have so much control over their world, that a place of literal freedom is terrifying to them. And historically, the kind of societies that fear freedom aren’t usually considered the best places to live, are they?
4. THERE’S A SHADOW VILLAIN THAT LIVES IN DREAMS
As well as witches, anti-Ponies, giant spiders, satanic centaurs, and so many demons, shadow-based antagonists are also fairly common in My Little Pony. There’s Shadowfright (or Larry, to use his real name) from the Friendship Is Magic comic book series who has been corrupted by “Nightmare Energy” and leads the “Nightmare Forces” from his moon-base.
Worse, though, is Apple Bloom’s Shadow. Apple Bloom is a child-age Pony, and this shadowy version of herself is the dark manifestation of her all her anxieties in Season Five’s “Bloom and Gloom.” Like the My Little Pony answer to Freddy Kruger, the Shadow stalks Apple Bloom’s dreams looking like an inverted Halloween pumpkin, and forces her to live out her worst fears, turning her dreams into nightmares.
3. THE PONY PRINCESS RULES WITH AN IRON HOOF
The beautiful and beloved Princess Celestia rules Equestria alongside her sister, Princess Luna. She’s usually characterized as being kind, patient and devoted to her Princess-dom and its subjects, but she definitely has a darker side. In the first episode, we learn that she had no problem banishing her own sister to the moon for a century after she transforms into “Nightmare Moon.”
More troubling, however, is her treatment of the reoccurring villain, Discord. As the name suggests, Discord is the Loki equivalent in Equestria, capable of causing mischief as well as evil. We meet him after he’s been trapped in stone in Celestia’s palace for hundreds of years. His crime? He just disagreed with how tightly she ran things — that’s all. Seems like kind of a dictator move.
2. SOME ORIGINAL PONY NAMES SOUND X-RATED
Twilight Sparkle, Apple Bloom, Princess Celestia, Fuzzy Slippers, Pinkie Pie. These modern Pony names are pretty much what you’d expect My Little Pony characters to be called; adorable, innocent and almost sickeningly sweet-sounding. But what do Chocolate Delight, Whizzer, Steamer, Salty, Cherries Jubilee and Ruby Lips sound like to you? Not so sweet and innocent, are they?
These were just some of the names that earlier incarnations of the toys were (ahem) saddled with. To be fair, some of the more edible-sounding ones were part of the Sippin’ Soda Ponies range, each coming with their own miniature ice cream float accessories. (You just know they’d be salads instead, today.) Still, the tagline from the box doesn’t help things. “How nice is it that sweet surprises appear when the Sippin’ Soda Ponies are near!”
1. ONE OF THE MAIN VILLAINS IS METAL AF
From satanic centaurs, to dream-dwelling shadow monsters and “Chariots of Midnight,” there’s already more than enough evidence to call My Little Pony a pretty metal franchise. But then there’s King Sombra. Sombra is a male, black unicorn, which in MLP makes him doubly evil. Before being exiled to the “arctic north,” he was the maniacal ruler of the Crystal Empire who used black magic to enslave Ponies.
If that doesn’t already float your dark boat, the Friendship Is Magic staff revealed that his design and personality were directly inspired by two very unlikely places for an MLP character — Sauron from Lord of the Rings, and lyrics to “Crystal Skull” by Mastodon. That’s right, heavy metal and high fantasy are in this guy’s Pony DNA. Princess Celestia gives him one hell of an introduction too: “a unicorn whose heart was black as night.”
Do you know any other dark secrets about My Little Pony? Let us know in the comments!
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