Toy stores, with their pretty pinks and commanding blues, make clear what we expect of our girls and boys. So when adult men become fans of the cartoon TV series My Little Pony, it's enough to prompt not one but two documentaries. Unlike Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, which features both male and female fans (and is currently streaming on Netflix), A Brony Tale focuses almost exclusively on men. Fortunately, it proves to be much more than a film about dudes who like ponies—it's about the unique camaraderie that stems from the shared experience of fandom, and about reassessing our simplistic notions of manhood. The film follows Ashleigh Ball, a voice-over artist on the cartoon show, as she travels to New York City for the annual BronyCon. Though director Brent Hodge might overstate bronies' political resonance—he even likens their subculture to hippies in the '60s—we soon learn My Little Pony isn't just a diversion for these men; it's an outlet. For Bryan, an Iraq veteran, the upbeat show prompted him to return to drawing after a year spent suffering from depression. For a man who goes by "Dustykatt," it means a utopian world where good always reigns and mistakes always become lessons. Dustykatt also has plenty to say about rigid gender expectations: "We're supposed to chug beer, ride motorcycles, be degrading to women and like explosions. That's what's ingrained in our brains from the minute you are born and put in a blue crib. Well, I like what I like…and that's all there is to it."
Critic's Grade: B+
SEE IT: A Brony Tale is at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium. 8:15 pm Thursday, July 17. Director in attendance.