Toon of the month: Lesley the Pony Has an A+ Day

Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up… whoa?!

Chris Robinson

Web exclusive

Incredibly, a large chunk of people still seem to believe that an animation film necessitates an experience that will be light and funny. And sure, Pixar, Disney and so-called ‘adult’ animation (a vile term that should be eradicated from language), like The Simpsons and Family Guy, have not done much to counter that skewed vision.

Even on the animation festival circuit, where folks are supposed to be more sensitive and sophisticated (ha ha! Now that’s funny!), I routinely hear mild moans and groans about the dearth of ‘funny’ animation films. Often these come from people well versed in the diversity of independent animation.

My response is two-fold. One: please point me to the legal document that mandates animation must be nature be funny. Two: most of the so-called ‘serious’ films frequently possess a good dose of dark humour.

That said… I’d love to show more comic films. I have minimal patience for intelligent, earnest but utterly humourless films (see the Brothers Quay, Simon Pummell). We go through this ride once and if you can’t try to laugh through most of it, you’re fucked.

In general, animators actually don’t make funny films. Yes, they think their film is a gut-buster of comic gold, as do their classmates, teachers and parents, but in truth it’s usually little more than a faded Xerox of a rejected scene from a generic studio production they adored as a teenager.

I like my comedy with a dose of bitterness, a dash of absurdity along with a speckle of truth: and that’s hard to come by, whatever the medium. Which leads me to Lesley the Pony Has an A+ Day, a wonderfully dark and demented piece of silliness that nails the often hilarious, surreal and hyper-violent world of children’s drawings/creations – made, according to the credits, by a fourth-grader named Wesley Núñez*.

Upon first viewing, it’s easy to swim in the innocence of Lesley’s song and joyful gallop and emerge soaked from a flood of tearful laughter, but look a little closer and you suddenly see a ghastly horror film about a troubled – and possibly abused – fourth-grader.

It all starts out so innocently. Lesley is en route to see to Merryville to see the Duke. The journey is filled with blissful thoughts of anticipation and wonder (and elves and tulips). This all starts to go haywire once Lesley and the Duke meet and talk turns awkwardly from the pony’s tardiness to the Duke’s troubled love life.

That’s when things start to unravel for our young pony as he gallops on while “emotionally void”, “dying on the inside” before unleashing an unharnessed stream of violence. The screen explodes into a cacophony of chaos and blood-like imagery. When Lesley finally simmers, there are no more elves or tulips. Blood slowly seeps beneath the door that once housed the happy monkeys. A fire burns in Merryville.

I’m scared. Is this about Lesley the pony, or about Wesley the fourth-grader? Is the Duke a stand-in for Wesley’s teacher, Mr. Matuk?

Forget what I said… it’s too much too dark.

Please just sing the song… just sing the song…make the bad thoughts go away.

“Lesley… prancing through the streets of Merryville…”

There… everything will be okay…


*Lesley was in fact made by Christian Larrave as his graduate film at the Rhode Island School of Design – the same school Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane attended as an animation student.

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