I really like Pinkie Pie — which is bizarre, because I usually hate characters like Pinkie Pie. Perky, bubbly characters tend to irritate me. For example, I am the only person on Earth who actively dislikes Kaylee from Firefly.
Yeah, I know; I’m a heartless bastard.
But back to the main topic; why does Pinkie makes me laugh, rather than grimace? More generally, why do so few people hate her? Pinkie seems like the type of character who would divide audiences — hyperactive genki-girl characters tend to induce a “love them or hate them” response. And yet, it’s pretty rare to find someone who actively dislikes her. Why?
The answer, of course, is complex, and I don’t have a complete one. But her introduction showcases two reasons why her character works so well; she’s usually paired with a more serious foil, and her actions, while bizarre, are always comprehensible.
First of all, the setup for her intro is really well-done. In fact, I suspect that little scene helped hook the adult audience, and it did so in an intriguing way; it exposed them to something they didn’t understand.
Until we first saw Pinkie, the pilot had been predictable. I pretty much knew where they were going with everything; shut-in doesn’t want to make friends besides her one best friend and assistant, is being sent somewhere to learn the value of friendship, yadda yadda yadda. For most scenes, I could tell you (generally) what purpose it would serve later on.
That’s not necessarily bad, mind you — it doesn’t matter if something’s been done a thousand times, if you do it really well (and FiM does) — but there wasn’t much that was really challenging the adult audience.
And then, this happened:
There is really no reaction to that scene other than “wait, what!?”. It’s clearly a setup for something — but damn if I knew what. Pinkie’s behavior makes no sense (moreso than usual, I mean).
And when people are exposed to something that doesn’t make sense, we naturally want to understand it. And we do that by paying more attention to it. Hence, this scene helps keep the adult audience around.
Of course, a hook is pretty useless without a payoff. Fortunately, Pinkie’s proper introduction delivers:
This scene demonstrates the first reason Pinkie isn’t annoying; the show generally pairs her with a more serious foil.
Remember when I talked about Applejack’s role as the straight-mare? Pinkie’s intro is another fantastic example of that principle, but this time it’s Twilight acting as straight-mare — and damn, is she good at it.
As a result, the scene is far more than the sum of its parts. Pinkie Pie’s bubbly ramble, like most bubbly rambles, threatens to cross the line from “amusing” to “obnoxious”. Meanwhile, Twilight’s role on its own is downright boring — she’s just walking, looking annoyed, and pouring herself a drink.
But when the two are combined, the resulting scene is hilarious. When Pinkie’s absurd ramble is acknowledged in-universe as an absurd ramble, it’s no longer just background noise — it’s thoroughly ridiculous and funny. Meanwhile, Twi’s response evokes sympathy — but not so much sympathy that we can’t laugh at her plight.
This is true of Pinkie in general. Indeed, in many of Pinkie’s best moments, the humor doesn’t come directly from her; it comes from other characters’ reactions to her:
Pinkie’s introductory scenes also demonstrate an odd principle of humor: much of humor is based upon learning. That might sound odd, but think about the archetypical “setup-hook-punchline” joke format; really, a punchline is just a statement that changes your views of the setup and makes you understand it in a way you hadn’t before. We like it when things make sense. And when something suddenly makes sense in a way that it didn’t before, humor ensues.
In the party scene, we learn the explanation for Pinkie’s previously inexplicable behavior, and it makes sense (as much sense as Pinkie ever makes, anyway). But even though we understand it, it’s still ridiculous — and thus, it’s funny.
Again, this is generally true. Despite what the popular meme might say, Pinkie isn’t random — her perspective is always odd, but it’s usually comprehensible.
It’s easy for a character like Pinkie to become annoying, if used improperly — but FiM knows how to use her properly. It pairs her with straight-character foils, and it ensures that her perspective, though skewed and bizarre, is always at least understandable — and sometimes even insightful.
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