What was the most important cinema release in Australia last Thursday? Was it the scabrous Irvine Welsh adaptation Filth? Or Olivier Assayas' autobiographical portrait of the artist as a young '70s radical, After May? Perhaps it was the revolutionary teenage dystopia of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?
There’s more and more demand for unique screening opportunities like this
Actually, it was none of them. The correct answer is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – A Royal Wedding. The animated nuptials in Equestria, where Twilight Sparkle's older brother, Shining Armour, was set to wed Princess Celestia's niece, Cadance, was a big event in selected cinemas, if only because it wasn't something associated with the medium.
The popular animated series, which was relaunched with a heightened dedicated to quality under the Friendship is Magic handle in 2010, is a product of television, which is supposed to be eclipsing the cinema, not using its screens.
Is this a result of the Brony phenomenon, the movement of teenage and young adult men who are devoted to My Little Pony and the associated adventures of the Mane Six? Only partially. While Bronies have acquired a sudden mainstream profile, thanks to their fascination with a show some still associate solely with young girls, they are generally a proactive sub-group, if you couldn't already tell from their memes, GIFs and fan fiction.
“That group tends to be fairly self-motivated. They organise their own events,” notes Ben Pollock, the Publicity Manager for Madman, the Melbourne-based distributor for My Little Pony in Australia.
“For these screenings it's primarily mums and their daughters – all the activities around their screenings are pitched at kids coming in for colouring competitions and toy giveaways,” adds his colleague, Hugh Davies, Madman's Product Manager for My Little Pony's owner Hasbro. “There's a small audience of teens and slightly older fans at the screenings, but it's not like at a pop culture event like Comic-Con.”
A Royal Wedding is actually the final two episodes of the second television season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic put together, a season finale that provided a unique screening opportunity for cinemas. Fans were attracted by associated activities such as the aforementioned colouring competitions and toy giveaways, with the community atmosphere supplanting the standard living room experience, while cinemas got a way of boosting otherwise slim Saturday morning numbers with a targeted release for families.
“There's more and more demand for unique screening opportunities like this,” notes Pollock, with Madman also setting up anime events, the recent limited event season of The Turning, or a tour for the surf documentary Uncharted Waters. At a time when we're worried about cinemas solely showing Fast & Furious 9 followed by the latest Marvel universe movie, the blockbusters are being joined by narrow-focus releases that serve a small but passionate audience.
“There's definitely more demand for niche product,” Davies confirms. “Taking My Little Pony as an example. Kids can have a complete experience at the cinema. With [documentary] Storm Surfers, there's a Q&A with Tom Carroll afterwards. There are lots more opportunities to make an exciting event instead of a standard theatre experience.”
Vin Diesel, meet Twilight Sparkle. You're going to be seeing a lot of each other.