The Smooze: Anatomy of a My Little Pony Villain

Looking at the smooze
[CORRECTION: The original edition of this article confused John Von Neumann with Werner Von Braun, and very unjustifiably referred to Von Neumann as an “Evil Nazi.” Von Neumann was neither Nazi nor Evil. We hear he was a pretty cool guy, and we wish A Beautiful Mind had been made about him instead. OTI very much regrets the error.]

Great heroes are often defined by their villains. Luke Skywalker had Darth Vader. He-Man had Skeletor. U.S. Grant had Robert E. Lee.

But some heroes aren’t defined by their villains, they’re defined by their shiny, brushable hair, their many collectible colors, or their gracefully molded haunches.

Designing villains for heroes that go around saving planets or slaying dragons is easy — some good ideas might begin with a dragon or something that could destroy a planet, not necessarily in that order.

But in the maddening crush to narrativize, syndicate and cross-market every collectible under creation, every once in a while, somebody, somewhere has to confront the one of the most daunting challenges a character designer can face.

How do you make a villain for a hero who doesn’t do anything? Maybe you start with something like this:

Today, we discuss one of the most compelling answers anyone came up with for that question: The Smooze, the sentient Grey Goo that terrorizes the prancing protagonists of 1986’s My Little Pony: The Movie

Old Movie PosterRedefining success

Before I get too far into this, it’s important (read: fun) to remember that My Little Pony: The Movie was one of the biggest cinematic failures on record. It had the 27th worst opening weekend for a major theatrical release ever.

(My Little Pony: The Movie made less than $700,000 on 734 screens, which means that less than 20 people saw it on its opening weekend in the average theatre. For reference, that means that it did about four times as much business per screen as 2008’s Delgo and 1/40th of the business per screen as 2008’s The Dark Knight. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .).

To put that in further context — this very site has produced videos that have been viewed more times in their opening than My Little Pony: The Movie. Of course, we don’t charge 80s prices of $4-$8 per head. And we also didn’t figure out how to make a plastic mold shaped sorta like a horse. This is why we are not millionaires. Hey, life is tough sometimes.

Some movies are underappreciated and get less of a response from the paying public than deserved. This is not one of those movies. It sucks pretty hard. Anyone who’s seen it would be able to corroborate that, but since they’d be remembering My Little Pony: The Movie while doing it, that kind of interrogation would violate the Geneva Convention.

So, why am I talking about this movie?

1.Its all-star cast includes Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Tony Randall, Rhea Perlman and Danny DeVito as “The Grundle King.” Not counting daytime Emmys or DeVito’s Oscar nomination for producing Erin Brockovich, that’s 3 Oscar nominations and 1 win + a staggering 39 Emmy nominations and 13 total Emmys won across that cast.

None of these actors play any of the really major characters. Nancy Cartwright (1 Emmy) as one of the ponies is as close as the movie comes to having an actual star, and this was three years before Bart had his first cow.

On a recent OTI podcast, we talked a bit about casting directors who convince supercasts of famous and successful actors to do humiliating things. If they gave awards for this sort of thing, Carol L. Dudley should get the Victoria Cross. By the by, she’s still casting movies.

2.My Little Pony is a major pop cultural institution, and I suspect the overall penetration and relevance of this article will surpass just the people who saw the movie in theatres — like, for example, people who watched it on video during the decade when video stores rented out all sorts of random crap, rather than simply the last 18 months or so of random crap + 55 copies of The Da Vinci Code.

3. I repeat: Danny DeVito as “The Grundle King.” Seriously.

4.The Smooze.

So let’s get back to it.

To Carol L. Dudley, for valor beyond the call of duty.

To Carol L. Dudley, for valor beyond the call of duty.

18 Comments on “The Smooze: Anatomy of a My Little Pony Villain”

  1. pave #

    lol i am one of those people who saw it on video! in the times before there were dvds :)

     
  2. Donald Brown #

    I’m pretty sure I sat through this one. Or maybe my mother took my daughter and I got to stay home. My daughter was 5 at the time and a fierce collector of these ponies, so of course she had to see the movie. I do know I sat through a Care Bears movie and something called “Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night” which even my daughter at 6 was able to poke fun at. I think that pretty much ended that phase of bad animated movie viewing. The ’80s!

     
  3. mlawski #

    ADULT ME: Well done, Pete! This was a cleverly-conceived, epically-executed article. Most importantly, it made me laugh.

    KID ME: Oooh do one on Care Bears!!! Or Rainbow Brite! WEEEEEE I want CANDY

     
  4. stokes #

    You really brought your A game on this one, Pete. I think it speaks to the quality of your post that it has me – inconceivably – curious as to how the plot of the MLP movie is resolved.

     
  5. Gab #

    Is it sadder that I can basically answer Stokes’s question myself, or that I was able to sing along with the musical clips? That’s how often I made my parents and grandparents rent it for me. But they never hunkered down an bought it. Why not, I have no idea.

     
  6. Lola Listerine #

    This thrilled me inside… Mostly because I not only saw this movie I OWNED it… And watched it obsessively. Bravo sir.

    I wonder if they’ve released this on dvd yet…

     
  7. takenoko #

    I watched it on VHS a lot when I was a kid. Not as much as I did the Transformers Movie which I saw actually saw in the theaters. Great job, Fenzel. More 80s cartoons articles please!

     
  8. whenclamsattack #

    perfect. so perfect it was copied over to another great moment of my childhood

    1995′s MIGHTY MORPHIN’ POWER RANGERS THE MOVIE

    the grundle king did some experimenting in college and came back alive and kicking as Ivan ooze.

    dont even pretend like its not possible

     
  9. Ponyology #

    Oh I LOVE this movie! I believe they DID re-release it recently on dvd, along with a lot of the episodes from the tv series. The artwork on the covers is different, not the original style ponies, but the actual videos are the same as the 80′s. Fabulous stuff to watch when you need to be cheered up!

     
  10. Kopakka el Incrópito #

    Great heroes are often defined by their villains. Luke Skywalker had Darth Vader. He-Man had Skeletor. U.S. Grant had Robert E. Lee.
    and G. W. B. had O. B. L.

     
  11. Gadget Sleuth #

    Imagine having this on your resume as a writer, director or animator. Low mumble: “yeah, and I worked on My Little Pony…” All those bright colors must eventually drive an animator insane.

     
  12. John Clarke #

    Calling John von Neumann “An Evil Nazi Scientist” is pretty much defamation of character and detracts from an otherwise interesting article. He was a Hungarian Jew born in Budapest and his family moved to the United States in 1930, three years before the Nazis came to power in Germany. During WWII he was one of the major players in the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos New Mexico.

     
  13. fenzel #

    @john

    Yes, my apologies. I confused John Von Neumann with Werner Von Braun. That’s entirely unacceptable, and I apologize to Von Neumann and his family.

     
  14. Fairportfan #

    “…how often I made my parents and grandparents rent it for me. But they never hunkered down an bought it. Why not, I have no idea.”

    Likely because they knew that if you had to nag them into renting it, it would be around for a couple days and then it would be weeks again before you got annoying enough that they’d do it again to Shut You The Hell Up.

    But if they *bought* it for you – three (or more) times a day, seven days a week, till they killed either the VCR, you, or themselves…

     
  15. 80sDorkGal #

    Oh, you are too hard on it. And you seem to be of the male persuasion as well. Being born in 1980, I was on this like jam on bread. I had no idea though that it was ever in a theater, so I’d assume the marketing for it was not good. Once it was on VHS though, it was worn out by me. I even remember the Flutter Ponies sequel – and Flutter Ponies were a gold standard in our Kindergarden class. Sure, part of my love is nostalgia, and it definitely didn’t have a well thought out plot or characters, but you had to be a little girl in the ’80s to understand. That said, I’d still watch that any day over the modern animated movies coming out that are geared toward girls.

     
  16. Gab #

    Fairportfan: So would that also be why they never bought _Gettysburg_ for me, too? I mean, I had them rent it so often that the video store gave it to us because the tapes got so worn down…

    Yeah, I was/am *that* nerdy and at *that* early of an age.

     
  17. 10+ Min Mile #

    Can you do one on Gem and the Holograms?