Much to Applejack’s displeasure, Sweet Apple Acres has fallen victim to a swarm of vampire fruit bats: bats that devour the juice of apples and spit out the pulp and seeds as refuse, and she rounds up the girls to get rid of them to keep them from ruining the crop. Although Fluttershy suggests they deal with them by building a sanctuary and tries to point out the natural behavior of the vampire fruit bats will lead to a better crop next year, Applejack and the others want a fast solution that simply gets rid of them. In the end, Fluttershy reluctantly gets coerced into using her “Stare” to attract the attention of the vampire fruit bats so Twilight Sparkle can cast a spell on them that removes their desire to eat apples. Yet the morning after doing so, the crop is still being ruined. The girls stake out Sweet Apple Acres to find the culprit as the bats aren’t eating the apples, and, to their shock, that night Fluttershy transforms into a giant vampire fruit bat herself (“Flutterbat”) and begins devouring the crop. It turns out the Stare caused the “bat-like qualities” of the vampire fruit bats to transfer into Fluttershy when Twilight cast the spell. In the end, Applejack is able to lure Flutterbat in by sacrificing her prize apple, and the girls use her own Stare against her by holding up mirrors while Twilight hits her with a spell to restore her to normal. The girls build the sanctuary as Fluttershy suggested originally to deal with the bats, and a dual “lesson” is written in the journal. Applejack learned the importance of not embracing “short term” solutions, and Fluttershy learned not to let your friends pressure you into doing something you know isn’t right.
To a lot of the fans, this was where Season Four was finally “running on all eight cylinders”. Me? I think I actually liked it better than most people in some ways, but…I still don’t like it as much as other fans overall. Still, I think in retrospect, this was about the time Season Four started to “look good”.
To me, the biggest thing about this episode is that people were so infatuated with Flutterbat that they ignored the relevance of the moral…and I think that’s actually the best part of the episode. This really is the series’ first “environmentalism” episode, and it’s so subtle and well-done without being cliche (featuring some greedy businesspony cutting down trees “for the evils” more or less, for example) that it’s actually rather brilliant.
This episode is essentially an allegory for the situation of ranchers in the Western United States. Various restoration programs have been trying to reintroduce the Gray Wolf into the Continental United States within national parks. This is hard as Gray Wolves are very far-reaching species that need lots of land, and they rarely stay confined inside parks. You’d be hard pressed to find a biologist who would say Gray Wolves aren’t great for the environment. They’re keystone predators. They eat elk and deer to keep their populations under control so they don’t overgraze and ruin natural environments. However, deer and elk also learn to avoid areas they reside in, so some areas of their territory never see deer or elk grazing at all, enabling trees and plants that would otherwise have been grazed to extinction to grow and thrive. They also frequently leave carcasses behind that lots of other species depend on, including scavengers, bears, and other omnivores. They’re basically “good for everyone” in the environment they live in. However, the fact remains if you’re a wolf and you see a strong, lean deer as potential prey or a fat, slow, tame cow…you’re going after the cow. Wolves do damage to ranchers and cost quite a bit of money, in spite of their benefit to the environment. Yet that’s a benefit to the environment but a cost to the livelihood to ranchers, and so ranchers have pretty much continuously been looking for legal ways to have all wolves in their areas exterminated as they were in days past. Implicit with that is frequently painting wolves as dangerous menaces and deadly creatures which the public rapidly eats up, when the fact of the matter is wolves don’t attack humans unless they’re rabid.
This episode is pretty much an allegory for that. I complain a bit that the fact that during “Stop the Bats”, the bats in Applejack’s portion of the song match their actual appearance for the most part, while during Fluttershy’s bits they’re obviously made much more “cute and innocent looking”. The implicit message is that Applejack is the one presenting the “real side of the story” while Fluttershy is just “being romantic”. But other than that, it’s pretty much a representation of reality. Applejack (representing the ranchers) doesn’t want to have to deal with the time and expense to handle the bats properly and just wants them exterminated, painting them as ravenous, good-for-nothing pests and monsters (much as wolves are painted). Fluttershy (the biologist/environmentalist) argues that the creatures are actually beneficial in the long term and deserve some respect as living creatures “trying to get by”. In the end, the short-term solution ends up being even worse for Applejack: she loses even more crops due to Flutterbat and ends up having to sacrifice her prize apple, and Fluttershy is validated.
Most “environmental-based” episodes are the same kind of corniness that Ted Turner dreamed up with “Captain Planet and the Planeteers”. I appreciate the brilliance of MLP handling it in a “mature” way with an allegory that doesn’t beat you over the head.
Aside from that, it’s got standard “goodness”. I was never a huge fan of “Stop the Bats”, but a lot of people enjoyed it. The jokes and characters are spot on.
It has some “badness”, at least for me. Most of it is in Flutterbat. It was an interesting concept that…really didn’t go anywhere other than some interesting artwork and a few over-the-top reactions by Pinkie Pie. An additional effect it had to me was it forwarded the idea that Fluttershy might be the most insensitive pony of the six. Oh, there were episodes like “Putting Your Hoof Down” that started it and numerous incidences of her going violent or angry, but a friend of mind pointed out in the last episode that Fluttershy’s friends being in danger wasn’t enough to “get her angry”…but smacking a random firefly was. And while in this episode it’s pretty clear that there’s nothing of “Fluttershy” within Flutterbat, it still helps forward the “uncaring” idea.
Still, a nice episode for the most part, good moral in the background, and a signal that this season might be “just fine”.
“Stop the Bats” was probably the biggest “hit” songwise of Season Four. During the end of the song, when going over the various “dark looks” everyone but Fluttershy is giving, when they get to Pinkie Pie…they hurry on by her as she’s not “looking dark”. After the song, she’s singing “Fruit bat round up… Fruit bat round up…” to the tune of “Winter Wrap Up”…the second allusion to the Season One song after the Season Four premiere.
Pinkie Pie’s mane is prehensile during the “stakeout”. Later it turns into a drill bit.
Fluttershy’s vampire fruit bat form (“Flutterbat”) was an instant smash hit online. The fans soon made it a separate character and used her in countless vampire-themed fanart and fanfiction pieces, especially among the “darker” fan works. Her design is so “complete” even her Cutie Mark has turned from butterflies into bats.
Twilight’s magic allows her to make a digital grid presentation to explain what went wrong with Fluttershy.
When Flutterbat flies in front of the moon and pauses, that might be an allusion to Tim Burton’s “Batman”.
Although Flutterbat is a vampire fruit bat, and therefore is only a threat to apples, they were clearly trying to give her a “normal vampire” vibe. This is somewhat creepily clear when Applejack cuts open her giant apple to make it start leaking juice like blood so that the scent will attract her. A bit eerie. Similarly, when Flutterbat is confronted by the mirrors, the sequence is similar to the conclusion of an older vampire film when the vampire gets confronted with crosses.
I found the end of the episode to be…puzzling. On the surface, it looks like a gag that’s done in a lot of cartoons, which itself is a knockoff of old horror films. Basically, “everything is ok again…or is it?!” Normally in a cartoon is means nothing…just a little something at the end to goof with the kid audience. However…MLP:FIM isn’t a show that does that. They aren’t the kind of writers to put something like that in and have it mean nothing other than a small gag. Does that mean Flutterbat will return? We’ll see in Season Five, perhaps.
3.5 Stars out of 5