Monday, March 17, 2014

March of the Ponies: Review of the Previous Works of Lauren Faust

[NOTE: Links to March of the Ponies stories will go here: Part 1 - A look at previous MLP shows, Part 3 - MLP Comics (Micro-series of TwilightRainbow Dash, Rarity, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, CMCs/Celestia, Spike/LunaNightmare Rarity arc (main series)), Part 4 - Equestria Girls reviewPart 5 - Fan-made episodes (Dusk's Dawn, Double Rainboom, Snowdrop), Part 6 - Fan works (MusicDoctor Whooves, Parody/Abridged Series, Fanfictions), Part 7 - Season Reviews: Season 1, Season 2, Season 3, Magical Mystery Cure, Season 4 (to date)]

The ponies march on.

Welcome back! Before I get into the realm of the MLP Universe, I want to touch on the person responsible for making a Pony show that isn't just a marketing scheme: Lauren Faust.

Those unfamiliar with her work will know her from the credit at the end of the theme song that says, "Developed for Television by..." Those who are familiar with her work will know her from a large portion of Cartoon Network in the early 2000s.


But before working with them, she was an animator for a series of films. Her first notable work was "Cats Don't Dance" in 1997. This was a Warner Bros. Animation movie and was one of the first things to come out of the Turner-Time
Screw. This. Merger.
Warner merger that killed World Championship Wrestling. (I know, not the time or place, but I was a WCW fan and this merger was no good for anybody.)

The movie moved out of Turner's production studio during post-production and received very little focus. That said, I do know quite a few people who have seen the movie, as have I.

This movie is basically a story about a cat named Danny trying to get a larger role in film and theater. I remember the story being nice enough, though nothing I wanted to see again, but I'm really just noting Faust's work here.

She was one of the animators, and though I can't really distinguish anyone's work (nor should I be able to), the actual imagery of this movie was good. There was color and I don't remember anything particularly jarring.

I could say the same about her next animation job, Quest for Camelot, which has gorgeous imagery mixed with plotting so bafflingly bad that you'll wonder how it was allowed to exist.

I won't go deep into it, as the Nostalgia Critic has already beaten me to it, but needless to say, don't seek this out if you like movies that explain why things are happening or have music that's actually thought out.

Her final notable film work was as an animator in The Iron Giant, which is probably the first sign that she's someone legit. This movie is one of the gems of 90s animation, so if you're going to check out anything Faust worked on as an animator, this one is your best bet.


Faust is far more notable on the conceptual side of the production process, as evidenced by the show's she worked on. After getting hired with Cartoon Network, she did work on an episode of 'Code Name: Kids Next Door.'

I won't discuss that show or the episode here because she only worked the one and it was only animating walk cycles. Where I will start is her work with the critically acclaimed "Powerpuff Girls" series.

The show, which is easily the strongest of the works Craig McCracken and Genndy Tartakovsky did together, starred three child superheroines fighting crime and trying to learn about the world while having the maturity of a kindergartener.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of comedic possibilities that come from this, and the show balanced action with comedy really well. And the fact that the show starred three female protagonists who were otherwise normal girls was an accomplishment in raising the quality of female-led animation.

So where does Faust come into this? She took over as a writer, director and storyboarder about midway through the series. By this point I had largely moved away from American animation and was in an anime phase, so her work on PPG largely was left unexplored for a while.

That said, over the years I have come across a large portion of these episodes and quite a few were available online. I can say, having seen maybe half of seasons 4-6, that the show's comedy didn't diminish at all with Faust's addition. In fact, I'd say the comedy got better if anything.

The more ominous aspects of the show like Him and the grittier coloring were taken out, which I wasn't  happy with, but it's just as likely that CN requested that change as it being a creative choice.

Even with the more comedic focus, the show still managed to be pretty graphic at times. There may not have been AS MUCH blood and monster dismemberment, but it was still present. There was even an episode revolving around cussing.

He's Santa. CHECK IT!
Honestly, this show is better than I gave it credit for years ago. All the characters stayed in my consciousness and remain memorable years later. If you haven't seen it, check out a few episodes. There's no overarching story, but it's good for a laugh now and again.

If I could give recommendations, check out the series finale, the Faust-dominated Christmas special, the cussing episode and at least one each of the main villains: Mojo Jojo, Him, Fuzzy and Princess Morbucks.

The last pre-FIM show Faust worked on was Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. I'm not going to lie, when I first saw this thing on TV, I cringed.

It looked like nonsensical insanity and I was moving away from shows that didn't have a semblance of a story. However, it was a Craig McCracken show, and given how terrible CN was getting, I decided to give a Golden Age creator his fair shake. I'm glad I did.

This show was the first one McCracken and Faust worked on as a married couple, and they created a very sharply written comedy that focused primarily on the characters and making them seem real, which really is the point of an imaginary friend, if you think about it.

Most people remember Bloo, as he was on all the merchandise and looked like a Halloween ghost colored in, but so much of the cast was memorable. Frankie, Mac, Cheese, Goo, Herriman, Madame Foster, Eduardo, Wilt, Coco - I literally just ran names off the top of my head that I could recall on the show.

Each had their own well-defined personality and once again none of it was defined by gender, which was still a problem in a lot of live-action shows I was watching at the time. By focusing on internal personalities, it gave the viewer a reason to invest in all the characters.

Heck, if you don't count the three-part premiere, there were only ever two multi-part specials, and neither focused on the supposed 'main' characters of Mac and Bloo. The first, 'Good Wilt Hunting,' tried to give a real backstory to Wilt and give closure to his sad past. There were plenty of laughs, but the focus was ultimately on helping Wilt feel secure in his role at Foster's. In my opinion, these are the two best episodes of the series.

Ranking up there as well, though, is the second special: a three-parter called 'Destination: Imagination.' This one is very much Frankie focused, though the ensemble cast gets plenty of time themselves. It's a story about Frankie's frustration with Mr. Herriman and her role in the house, and the imaginary friend that drives the plot with her has a very unique gimmick: He's a box that can create worlds inside himself for people - an imaginary friend who is a portal for imagination.

This was near the end of the series, and did a nice job of drawing the Frankie-Herriman dynamic to a state of closure.

There aren't a lot of episodes that are must-see, but I'd recommend the three-episode premiere, both of the later specials, and the last four or so episodes of the series. Oh, and at least one of Cheese's early appearances.

After completing works on these shows, Faust tried to pitch her own shows. When she came to the Hub to make a pitch for the fledgling network, they gave her a Generation 3 MLP movie and told her to find ways to "fix it." What she created was a fusion of MLP and her previous works (especially PPG) that used friendship as the most powerful force of order in the universe.

The rest is history, which I will start to look at next time.

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