It only took a few hours for DashCon 2014 to degenerate into the most catastrophic fan convention in recent memory.
Over the course of one weekend, the organizers took $17,000 from convention-goers as part of an emergency fundraising drive, failed to pay any of their high-profile guests, and attempted to compensate disappointed ticket-holders by offering them an “extra” hour in a children’s ball pit. The ball pit only fit around six people. There was apparently not a very long queue.
DashCon was originally known as Tumbl-Con USA, a convention aimed specifically at Tumblr culture enthusiasts from fandoms such as Superwholock, Welcome to Night Vale, and Attack on Titan. If you’re at all familiar with any of these subcultures, you won’t be surprised to hear that many of the eventual convention-goers were in their teens.
Tumbl-Con USA raised more than $4,000 in startup funds via Indiegogo, before changing their name to DashCon to avoid implying that they were officially linked with Tumblr itself. “We are not in any way affiliated with or endorsed by Tumblr,” reads DashCon’s Tumblr account.
Billing itself as Tumblr’s answer to VidCon, DashCon easily found volunteers and drummed up donations…
To say that Hasbro’s pastel colored ponies are a hit would be a gross understatement; the toy line has become increasingly popular since it was revitalized in 2010 thanks to the show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
What makes the revitalized franchise such an interesting topic isn’t that the new show; simply made to sell the toys, is such a hit, but why it’s a hit. And that answer is because of teenage and grown men and women whom came to love the show and its characters, these interesting people now known as ‘Bronies’.
I’m a fan of the show and have purchased a few items myself. I have bought plush ponies, posters, shirts and even the card game by Enterplay. I didn’t know about the show until mid-2013 and ever since I have become enthralled by the fandom.
You would be forgiven for wondering how such a childish looking show that was marketed towards little girls has made a big impact on a much older, and largely unknown, demographic. And what better way of learning about a phenomenon than by watching a documentary?
Two time Leo Award nominated Canadian Director Brent Hodge (Winning America, What Happens Next?) takes a flawed yet interesting look into the Pony Fandom, and while he hits some interesting topic they ultimately lead to little more than cliff notes. This is a real shame as Brent has the ingredients to create something that could stir conversation about how fandoms can become something more.
One of the winning pieces Brent uses is voice actress Ashleigh Ball (Littlest Pet Shop, Johnny Test), not only was she caught off guard by the shows older fans but she had never met eager fans that knew her name and face. Going in with one of the key members of the My Little Pony show is a great way to learn about the show from the inside, another smart move by Brent was incorporating multiple fans that are well known within the fandom such as DustyKatt and musician Silvahound.
From the very beginning you can tell Brent Hodge knew what he wanted to do and cover, so where exactly does the film go wrong? The execution, Brent tries to cover plenty in less than two hours, the final runtime is actually 80 minutes.
He tries to cover the music scene, the podcasts, websites, Ashleigh Ball and most interestingly, the mentality of the fandom. All of these things are presented in interesting ways, but because there is so much in such a small amount of time it feels like the film is bouncing around and never settles on a single topic long enough to resonate.
This is most noticeable when a couple of psychologist are brought on camera to show off their studies on the Brony demographic; they talk about the difference in age and sexual preferences, this was easily the most complex section of the film and I would have loved for the film to have spent more time with this subject. The documentary does revisit this topic shortly with a former soldier who enjoyed drawing but lost interest after he returned to the states after being deployed.
This section of the film was where the film began to pick up, but once again it was dropped far too quickly so the film could focus on a different and less interesting topic.
Ashleigh Ball is an afterthought in the film, despite touting that the film follows Ashleigh as she discovers the Bronies and visit her first convention (BronyCon 2012), the audience only gets short moments with her and these moments don’t fit with in certain places.
One moment the film is discussing the fandom and the mental state, then the film does a complete reversal and tries to focus on Ball and her band, Hey Ocean. This moment is used to talk about the fandom affected the band, yet this too is skimmed by and the film jumps a different subject.
The film can’t seem to focus and despite being less than an hour in a half long, I was checking the time wondering when an interesting topic would pop up again. That interesting topic could have come in the final few minutes with Ball finally deciding to show up to BronyCon, the film doesn’t show her time there and her experience with the fans, instead we get Ashleigh and a couple of her co-workers at a panel.
If you thought you were going to see Ball and the others talk to fans and have fun than you are in for a disappointment, all you’ll get is Ashleigh doing a quick AppleJack joke and Nicole Oliver (The voice of Princess Celestia) receiving a special picture from the soldier that shared his story with the film. After the exchange Ashleigh gets in a limo and that’s the end of her journey.
Brent Hodge is a competent director and knew what he wanted going in, unfortunately it seems like he either didn’t have enough time with the people he talked to or he lost interest and decided to cover as many topics as he could.
A Brony Tale is a harmless and decent documentary and that’s the problem, it doesn’t have the courage to tackle certain topics and feels as if it’s trying too hard to be nice to the Brony fandom.
Is this documentary worth seeing in theaters? No, if you are not embedded within the fandom already than this film won’t do anything for you, it doesn’t really answer any questions and will leave you just as clueless as the moment you walked in.
Now is the film worth watching on demand at home? Yes, grab somebody you know that has knowledge of the fandom, this film will surely have you asking questions and that person next to you will be able to answer them.
There are great topics that Brent filmed and I would love for him to revisit them and ultimately the fandom with a stronger and more focused execution.
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