Before anyone in the entertainment industry gets it in their head that the positive reception of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic means the world is ready for a thousand slapped-together cash-grab remakes, they may want to consider that MLP:FIM actually had a formula.
Before anything else, consider the core concept on which the series is based. Unlike most TV remakes, MLP:FIM actually has a core concept.
The entire series takes place in the world of Equestria, which is colorful and surreal, but is by no means without order.
In fact, order and harmony are the predominant recurring themes of MLP:FIM. Key amongst them are the Elements of Harmony, around which almost the entirety of the series revolves.
In Episode 1, the Elements are referred to as “the most powerful magic known to ponydom.” In Episode 2, it is revealed that the first five of six Elements are kindness, generosity, laughter, honesty, and loyalty, which are in turn interpreted as being the necessary components of a lasting friendship.
The sixth element, revealed to be magic itself, is revealed in the presence of these five other elements.
This is the significance of the title. In Equestria, friendship leads to harmony and harmony is magic. therefore, friendship is magic.
Most of the fantastic elements of the setting pertain to the fact that, for whatever reason, Equestria’s natural order has all but shut down completely and requires pony magic to keep it moving. This too is governed by harmony and order.
Equestrians come in three variations: Earth ponies, who are naturally attuned to nature and animals, pegasi, who are able to fly and manipulate the weather, and unicorns, who are capable of performing active magic.
Equestria’s rulers, Celestia and Luna, maintain the order of day and night (depicted at left), who, along with contrasting each other as day and night, are also contrasted as a whole by Discord, the spirit of chaos and primary antagonist of Season 2.
Even Equestria itself is contrasted, most notably by the Everfree Forest, an area that the ponies consider to be sinister and foreboding because, unlike the rest of Equestria, its natural order is still running by itself.
For all its craziness and surreality, Equestria is actually a very carefully constructed setting, and while the ground rules for the setting may be nonsensical compared to the real world, they are finite and easily grasped by the viewer.
This spares MLP:FIM’s writers a lot of time that would have otherwise been spent reintroducing or further justifying the concepts and permits them more time to focus on the plot.
And yes, unlike most TV remakes, MLP:FIM actually has a plot.