My Little Pony is one of Hasbro’s biggest brands. The original toy line, launched in 1981, has been reimagined into a cartoon TV series (with a spin-off), several movies, comic books, and more. Rogues Portal sat down with My Little Pony lead storyteller Meghan McCarthy and vice president of global brand strategy and marketing Tyla Bucher at HASCON to talk about the brand, how it’s grown, and where it might go in the future.
Rogues Portal: Meghan, how did you get into the role of lead storyteller for My Little Pony and how have you tried to develop stories since you took over that role?
Meghan McCarthy: I started off as a freelance writer on season one. I knew Lauren Faust because I had worked on a show called Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, had done a couple episodes of that; I met her through that because her husband was the creator of that show. She approached me about doing My Little Pony and I was like, “yes, please!” So I did freelance for the first couple seasons and took over for the third season as head writer and then went from there. I became the co-executive producer and head writer and then Hasbro approached me about taking on a role with the bigger company to oversee storytelling for the company itself.
RP: Tyla, how long have you been working on the My Little Pony brand and how did you get into that space?
Tyla Bucher: I’ve been on the brand for two years. I spent most of my career in film, but I work on a lot of franchise brands like the X-Men. When Hasbro was making a pivot toward becoming a more entertainment brand of play in organization, one of the things they were looking for was experience in the movie side of the business. I came over to work on this franchise in entertainment and building out the franchise from that perspective. It was a really big learning curve, but kind of amazing.
RP: I assume the two of you work together fairly frequently.
MM: We’re BFFs.
TB: We are totally BFFs.
MM: Total BFFs.
RP: That’s great! As far as connecting the show and the actual Hasbro brand together, how does that process work?
MM: We’re really story led, so it’s really about — when we start a new season, or even the movie, we try to figure out what the arc of the season is or what the plot of the movie is going to be and then really talk about that with the folks on Tyla’s team. It’s like, here’s kind of what our big story plans are, and ultimately we think about the kid or even an older fan. We think, how would you want to experience this at home? We’re going to tell this great story that you’re going to watch and love and we think… like a kid. We think, what would you want to play with and hold in your hand? Then we work together to sort of figure out what things like that really work.
TB: I think the integrity of the show is really what is paramount to keeping the brand alive. You fall in love with the show and you fall in love with the characters and then everything else is a derivative of that.
RP: My Little Pony has definitely become sort of a phenomenon. Globally.
MM: Has it, really?
RP: Just a little bit, maybe. Did either of you ever expect it to become what it has?
MM: 100 percent. I had my finger on the pulse, totally saw it coming from a mile away. [Laughs] Um, no. None of us did. I think it was probably in season two that we really started to see this big upswell in the fandom. You know, coming from animation and being an animation writer, it’s so rare that you ever hear what anyone ever thinks of your work. You hope people like it and you might meet the occasional kid or a fan that will say, “oh that was a cool episode!” But that’s kind of the extent of it. So when all of a sudden people knew who I was and knew my name, I was like, “What? How is this a thing? This is so weird.”
TB: That doesn’t happen to me.
MM: It’s been an absolutely amazing ride and I think that this fandom has been so special and so wonderful. I think they responded to the messages of the show and have really applied that to the real world. Like, hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity has been raised by these fans. That’s just been an amazing thing to be a part of. I feel really lucky.
TB: Coming into the brand only two years ago, I was amazed at how deep the franchise goes and how many ways there are to engage with it. One of the ways that I’ve spent my time while I’ve been working on it is trying to share that even more. From even the perspective of like, the general movie-going audience, it’s like, do you really understand how universal the message of this brand is? And bringing it wider and bringing it to a bigger audience and bringing more people into it.
RP: Is the writing process for the series or for Equestria Girls any different than it is for the film?
MM: It is really different. On a TV show, with the schedule that you’re on, you have to get scripts churned out pretty quickly. And also, you essentially are shooting the script as written. We have a locked script that goes up to the directors, then to the designers; it goes to that team and they 100 percent plus it and take it to places you didn’t even know it was going to go. But it is pretty set, what that story’s going to be and what the dialogue is going to be. It’s pretty set because it has to be; it’s this fast-moving train.
On the movie, one of the big learnings for me because this was the first movie I had done, was really how much more it evolves every step of the process. So we would have a script, but that would go to the board artists and they would change things and alter things and move things. Then we’d go back and redo dialogue or we would get someone in the booth — like Michael Peña, who plays Grubber — he would go in and we would give him lines to do. Then we would say, “okay, now just go be Michael Peña.” And he would just riff and just do these amazing things and we would go, “okay, that was better than the thing that we did! So how do we incorporate that? How do we rework the scene so it’s about this?”
So it’s a really different process. We just finished the movie and the writing on the movie literally stopped, like, two weeks before that. We were still saying, “oh, we could drop that line” or “let’s get a pick-up and put it in here.” So it’s just a much longer process and really collaborative as well.
RP: What about toys for the film, versus for the series? What does the marketing look like for that? How do you promote the film versus promoting this ongoing thing that’s the My Little Pony series?
TB: That’s a good question. So, one of the things that the movie allows us is that we’ve kind of created this global movie event. The series rolls out at different times around the world and people engage with it differently. They watch it at different times or in different ways depending on how they watch TV, whereas with the movie you have this opportunity where everyone is aware and knows that something is happening on this one day. It’s like, how do you continue to drive that momentum? So with our toy product in particular, it’s been all about — there’s this brand new world that you’ve never seen before and you’re all going to get to see it at the same time if you go to the theater, around the world, within like 30 days.
From that, we’re going to say now, if there’s something that you love about that movie and want to continue to experience at home, this is how you can do it. We have these different worlds that you can bring home or bring to the theater with you and kind of play with the brand. So that part — that’s been amazing for me, from an experience standpoint. I think when you’re managing a show, you’re trying to make sure that the product line that’s out there is supporting different audiences at different stages in the franchise, right? Whereas this is sort of a very specific and special time in the life of the brand.
RP: Is My Little Pony: The Movie done?
MM: It’s done.
RP: Have you seen it?
MM: I have.
RP: Do you love it?
MM: I love it. I do, yeah.
RP: Can you — without spoiling anybody — speak a little bit about what people can expect?
MM: The stuff that you love is there. These characters that if you’re a fan of the show and have loved — we didn’t change them. We make them go through some stuff and challenge them in ways they haven’t been challenged before. It’s not like, if you’re a fan, you’re gonna go and be like “what’s this? Who are these guys? I don’t recognize them because they’re in a movie now and you just totally did a 1-80 on us.” So expect those characters that you love. And then it’s just a big, fun adventure. We really did get an amazing guest cast and every single one of them showed up to do a good job and to really bring a character to life.
The other thing is, the music. We have Sia, for Pete’s sake, which is — I got to go see that music video being filmed and it’s just amazing that we have a song from her. It’s great. The other music is just completely elevated from the series. It’s full orchestra and just these big, amazing, musical numbers. It’s everything you love times 100.
TB: A hundred million billion.
RP: Where, ideally, would you like to see the My Little Pony brand go?
TB: One thing I will say is that, again, from my own experience, seeing how deep the brand goes and now realizing that we’re just at the tip of the iceberg… Friendship, honestly, without sounding corny, is so universal. It’s something you can share and start a movement. I really think that’s what this brand can do. There is always room for us to be kinder to one another and better to one another. With all the different lines of business that we have that support that message, we’re just at the very beginning of all the things that we can do. So for me, I’d like the brand to be synonymous with friendship. When you partake in this brand, it’s really saying, “This is what I stand for.” I think it’s our responsibility to make sure that everything we do supports that and that, fundamentally, that is the movement that ends up being started from this brand.
MM: See, that’s why we’re BFFs.
RP: I like it. Do you have anything to add?
MM: Just make sure you include that we’re BFFs. It’s super important. No, as Tyla said, the message of this is so positive. It’s something that I really hope that we can continue to put out into the world in bigger and better ways and that people really do see that it’s such a positive thing. That they can be a part of it and feel good about it and continue to share that message in real life, as well.
RP: The main cast of characters in My Little Pony are girls and a lot of people on the creative team are women. How does it feel to have such a female-led, female-centric thing get so big and be so popular across all age groups and gender identities?
MM: It’s awesome.
TB: It really is awesome.
MM: That was really Lauren [Faust]’s mission statement when she came up with the new version of pony. There are lots of different ways to be a girl, which is a message that I think is really important for girls and frankly, women to hear. As a woman, that’s fantastic to be a part of. As a mother of a daughter and a mother of a son who gets to see girls represented in a really positive way, you know, it’s a really fantastic thing to be a part of.
TB: I would echo what Meghan is saying in the sense that it’s really empowering and amazing to be part of something that, as you said, there’s a lot of women who work on it and female characters in the show. But it’s a show that is for all genders. Women don’t need to make things that are just for women. Women can make things that appeal to everybody and I think that’s a powerful message for our girls and our team. I have a daughter too and I think there’s something to be said about how it’s just about being good. It’s not about being a woman or a man. We’re in a place where you want to call it out but at a certain point, when our girls are working, it’s like — it doesn’t matter. You know? And I think that’s where we’re going.
RP: My final questions are fun. If you were a pony, what color would you be and what would be your cutie mark?
MM: So I have a pony that has been designed of me. She is pink and has blonde hair with a streak of pink because I used to have much more colorful hair. The cutie mark I have is a typewriter, since I’m a writer. My joke used to be that I would explain what that was to younger people because they didn’t know what that was. “It was a thing you used to have to write on, and if you made a mistake, too bad for you!” I have one and I love that design.
TB: I don’t get this kind of treatment where people make one for me. I have to make my own. I don’t know what color I’d be. I’d probably be pink because I really love Pinkie Pie and every time I do a contest or whatever, I always win Pinkie Pie. I do have a cutie mark. My cutie mark is an ohm. I’m a huge yogi and I really do believe in the power of the universal vibrations of all of us and that we’re all connected. I stole it. I’m keeping it for myself. I said, “no ponies on the show can have the ohm because it’s mine.”
My Little Pony: The Movie hits theaters on October 6. Want to keep up with the brand? You can follow Meghan McCarthy on Twitter.