Marvelous Apple TV+ children’s show Pinecone & Pony returns for an energetic second season this week. The animated show, based on the popular book by writer and cartoonist Kate Beaton, centers on a hero-in-training in a world based on Viking lore and Lord of the Rings-style fantasy.
The series continues to combine cute animation and vocal performances with good-natured social lessons. It’s a winning and whimsical escape for kids and adults should also have a very nice time indeed.
Pinecone & Pony season 2 review
As the show’s second season starts, Pinecone (voiced by Maria Nash) and her pet pony … Pony … are anxious as all get out to graduate from their school, Little Rumblers. They’re itching to head off into the world and become the kind of heroes that people write books and sing songs about.
That’s tough when you’re only a kid, but Pinecone’s parents (voiced by Karen Robinson and Andy Hull) are supportive, and she has a good outlook. Her best friend, Hawthorn (voice of Chase W. Dillon), is training to be a wizard. And his analytical mind helps enormously when Pinecone’s excitement and confidence don’t leave room for as much reflection.
They make a good pair. And together, they conquer everything from figuring out the identity of a local ghost to unclogging a fountain to mastering the art of the sleepover.
A fun way to look at (and learn from) life’s everyday experiences
The battles here are mostly about the limits of our perception and the way they can provide a roadblock to empathy. Take the hero named Ace (voice of Maia Jae Bastidas), who hired a portrait painter, biographer and singer (voice of Jocelyn Geddie) to make her seem more mighty than she is. Pinecone is initially shocked and disappointed to learn that her hero isn’t everything she claims to be. But Ace confesses it’s because she has own self-esteem issues sometimes, just like Pinecone does.
Then there’s the kid (voice of Ian Ho) who Hawthorn and Pinecone each try to persuade to join their schools as either a wizard or a hero, not realizing he’s happy already doing what he does. Or the moment when Pinecone can’t decide whether to go to one cool event or another. As she tries to decide, she misses out that her schoolmate Oatcake (voice of Vienna Jackson) doesn’t enjoy the options Pinecone does. She decides to do something unselfish, which makes her decision-making easier.
Charming animation remains true to source material
Pinecone & Pony was a picture book spun off from author Kate Beaton’s famous webcomic Hark! A Vagrant. It became one of a handful of success stories from the early days of the internet, when online sensations were a little more homemade and tactile than they are today.
The Apple TV+ show benefits from Beaton’s handmade charm, even if it’s been given quite the slick treatment by animation house Atomic Cartoons, which is responsible for a bunch of recent animated shows like the Night at the Museum and Lego Jurassic World cartoons that debuted in the last few years. Pinecone & Pony‘s got a nice sheen that allows the old-school character drawings a little more life and freedom than they got on the page. (Not that the book isn’t beautiful — it is. This is just an adaptation made with care and respect.)
Beaton serves here as a producer and consultant, which explains the show’s fidelity to its source material. She and showrunner (and former Odd Squad writer) Stephanie Kaliner find a core of loopy sweetness that’s beyond ingratiating. (Incidentally, I think Apple TV+ picked up fully half of the Odd Squad writers’ room for its kids shows.)
Kids’ emotional journeys become mythic adventures
This is a show for fans of early Adventure Time and Steven Universe, where the enormity of our emotional journeys are rendered as mythic superhero business. This both simplifies them and makes them easier for kids weaned on comic books and cartoons to digest and come to grips with. The show is also set in a world of unemphatic racial and sexual diversity and harmony, which is a quietly radical gesture in itself.
Pinecone & Pony is also just funny and entertaining in equal measure, which helps you not see that it’s got serious business on the brain. The jokes are gentle but they work. The show is drawn wonderfully. However, it would be an oversight not to point out how much rests on the vocal performance of young Maria Nash as Pinecone.
Her unbridled enthusiasm is beyond charming. And she holds together a show that features a host of very talented voice actors. (Keith David does a guest spot! It’s a wonderful surprise to hear him voicing a little kid’s hungry stomach.)
This role could very easily make a younger actor stand out. But Nash proves unstoppable as Pinecone — a perfect center of a very cute and warm adventure show for kids.
Watch Pinecone and Pony on Apple TV+
You can watch season two of Pinecone and Pony now on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.