Although I am a fan of the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, this is not a review from a fangirl perspective. As a responsible adult in the interweb world, I keep my various gush-lush enthusiasms relegated to their appropriate pens, and away from the lovely, clean pasture of critical thought and analysis. Thus, any enthusiasm that subsequently grows there arises from the appreciation of the art itself – or at least that’s my earnest intention. Consider the caveat for my mental gymnastics delivered.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Songs of Harmony is a mouthful of a title for an album, and exists that way purely to brand it. A logical decision, given the loyal devotion of bronies and child fans of the show, who consume the MLP:FIM brand’s products liberally. Despite the instant cynicism an outsider to this brand-devoted clan might conjure up at the thought of this album – assumptions of a bunch of saccharine tunes offering a lot of sweetness without meaningful heft – this album heads into some surprising territory for children’s music, including searching for personal meaning in life, the defiance of lynch mob mentalities, and recognizing when someone sells you fear.
These themes were first introduced within the show itself, and this album is a collection of various songs aired in the show, with the exception of “True True Friend Winter Wrap-up (Ultimate Mash-Up)”, which, in the grand tradition of mash-ups, blends two songs together. Each of these songs is therefore either narrative by design – including critical information to propel a plot forward – or intended to accentuate a narrative. Despite their diegetic origins, there is a lot to be found among the music alone without the supporting visuals.
This album is not the electric pop-aganza or pared-down folk of many children’s albums. Instead, Daniel Ingram creates songs that are firmly entrenched within musical theatre. The instrumentation is generally orchestral, the vocals emotive and full of precise theatrical timing. There are even direct references to other musicals; in “Flim Flam Miracle Curative Tonic” an homage to “(Ya Got) Trouble” from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man occurs when the “townsponies” chant “Tonic!” over and over again in the background vocals, à la Willson’s background flurry of “Trouble!”s. This is no casual reference, either. “Flim Flam Miracle Curative Tonic” is a song about shady travelling vendors stirring up fear and anxiety among residents in a small town to drum up business – much in the way that Harold Hill once incited the townsfolk of River City to believe that they were in danger, and needed Hill’s products to save their children from moral degredation. Awareness of when our emotions are being manipulated is a vastly undervalued tool in the belt of survival, and including such a poignant message within a catchy, calliope-flavored tune for children is welcome indeed.
“Bats” is a song that is not so much a nod to Danny Elfman as whiplash in his general direction. The orchestral instrumentation evokes Elfman’s work with Tim Burton in particular, with a playfully macabre demeanor throughout. In it, two characters from the series – Applejack and Fluttershy – give a point-and-counterpoint argument in favor of and against the vampire fruit bats that have invaded Applejack’s orchards. As Applejack’s condemnation of the bats is countered by Fluttershy’s desire to give them a chance to be properly understood, the debate is joined by their mutual friends, who turn into a mob that starts chanting a pitchfork-and-torches slogan that drowns out Fluttershy’s points. The fact that Fluttershy is, as her name indicates, characteristically shy only serves to emphasize the difficulty and horror that can accompany speaking out against a majority. The song plays as a gracefully dark homage, with yet another significant message at its heart.
The songs collected here are largely entertaining, catchy, and quick – all good qualities to have when you’re trying to grab the attention of children. “You’ll Play Your Part” has the slowest introductory tempo, but it ramps up to a dramatic crescendo of sparkly percussion and vocal harmony, thematically addressing the anxiety of discerning an individual’s purpose in life. There are reassurances here, confirmations that the singing protagonist will learn her place in time, and that she does indeed belong to the community. Although the specifics of Twilight Sparkle’s plight – that she’s a princess, etc. – arise within the lyrics, there is a human universality within them that is rather touching, and that one can easily imagine being a comfort to children.
The messages within My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Songs of Harmony are delivered painlessly and thoughtfully, and range from the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie variety (“Glass of Water”) to merely celebrating the beauty of nature (“Music in the Treetops”). The first song on the album, “The Perfect Stallion” is perhaps the weakest as a stand-alone song, which merely comes across as a prolonged and tired gag about how good-ponies-are-hard-to-find as three young ponies try to find their teacher a date. However, the majority of the album includes – if not sparkling originality – at least plenty of sparkling optimism. Although the die is cast and bronies have likely already bought this one, fans of musical theatre are encouraged to give this album a try, and parents searching for fun, supportive music for their children to listen to could do far worse then letting a dash of rainbows into the mix.