When I get a movie to review, I really try not to compare it with other films that cover the same subject matter. However I find it impossible not to review A Brony Tale without discussing the film Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony. (For the most part, I will refer to this movie as just Bronies.) I have now seen both of these documentaries and the similarities are hard to ignore. It was as if a professor assigned the topic of Bronies to a filmmaking class and each doc had to include the same sub-topics but could not use the same sources.
Both of these documentaries cover a lot of the same ground but I feel it's important to point out the fact that Bronies predates A Brony Tale by two years. Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, released in 2012, was directed by Laurent Malaquais and produced by Lauren Faust, best known in the Brony fandom for developing the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series for the Hub network. This documentary did not have a known studio behind it. Instead, the producers and executive producers went to Kickstarter to fund this film. Bronies became the second most funded documentary project in Kickstarter’s history. It stars Faust, Canadian actress and singer Tara Strong (who voices Twilight Sparkle on MLP:FIM), as well as actor John de Lancie (who voices Dischord on MLP:FIM), known to Star Trek fandom as Q. These three not only star in this documentary but they are the producers who went to the web to get Bronies made. Both Strong and de Lancie share their journeys of learning of and how to embrace the Brony fandom and their journey to BronyCon, the largest convention for Bronies in the world. But Bronies doesn't just focus on Faust, Strong, and de Lancie. It also chronicles the stories of Bronies from around the world along with great animation of new ponies created just for the documentary who explain the “science” behind the Brony phenomena.
A Brony Tale hits theaters July 8th, and Video on Demand on July 15th. This Brony documentary was directed by Brent Hodge (Winning America, What Happens Next?) and was produced by Hodge, Ashleigh Ball (who stars in this doc), Lauren Bercovitch, and Carolyn Wells. It comes from Virgil Films and has the great advantage of having Morgan Spurlock as one of its executive producers. Many people, including myself, will be willing to watch films and shows that Spurlock is tied to. A Brony Tale stars Canadian actress and singer Ashleigh Ball (she voices Applejack and Rainbow Dash for MLP:FIM). She shares her journey learning of and how to embrace the Brony fandom as she takes her first trip to BronyCon. But this documentary doesn't just star Ball. It also features stories of Bronies from across America as well as two doctors who explain the “science” behind the Brony phenomenon.
Sound familiar? Well the similarities don't end there. Both films feature the stories of Brony DJs and Brony musicians. Both feature the story of a Brony whose life was in the midst of struggle until finding MLP:FIM. Both films feature members of the military Bronies. Both films feature interviews with DustyKatt, the “Manliest Brony in the World.” (He's awesome. Check him out on twitter @Dusty_Kat) Both address some of the issues around gender and the idea that MLP: FIM is a show and toy line marketed towards young girls. Both feature some of the charitable work that the Brony fandom is involved in.
So if both documentaries are so similar, which one do I like better? Even though I'm here to review A Brony Tale, I have to go with Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony. While I am glad that both films are bringing light to a misunderstood fandom, Bronies has more heart. The Brony stories the filmmakers chose to follow in Bronies were more effectively told and I think they could connect with a wider audience. From Daniel the English Brony with Asperger’s syndrome, who travels alone to a European Brony convention, to Lyle the young teen, whose dad journeys with him to BronyCon to try and understand his son better, these stories were just human and compelling. I also really enjoyed the animation in Bronies as well as getting to hear the story of why Lauren Faust wanted to reinvigorate the franchise.
After watching both films, it feels like Brent Hodge saw the first documentary and thought that he could do it better. Sadly, I don't feel like he did. To me, it feels more like Hodge made a less-involved and slightly darker documentary about the Brony fandom. In A Brony Tale, Ashleigh Ball came off, at times, as cynical and cold about the Bronies who embrace her work. The most compelling story A Brony Tale tells is that of a military Brony named Brian who is just beginning to draw again after tours in Afghanistan.
Although I do believe that both films can educate people about Bronies and their stories, I really think that Bronies not only did it first, but did it better. I would recommend anyone interested in gender issues, fandom, or just learning about the Brony community to watch Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony.
On a side note, I really hope that all the Bronies are documented in both films are doing well. I hope those who were struggling have found a community in which to share their burden. And most of all, I hope the Brony community keeps embodying the elements of harmony and keeps trying to make everything 20% cooler.
A Brony Tale Trailer: