Monday, November 12, 2007

MLP Analysis (sort of)

I've been busy with National Novel Writing Month, so here's something I wrote up a year and a half ago and posted on my livejournal:

I don't generally do this kind of thing, but it's been on my mind for a while, and I want to get it out. One of the few episodes of My Little Pony that I actually remember airing back in the day (that is, not on the Disney Channel in the 90's) was The End of Flutter Valley, though the only parts I remembered involved some of the ponies being captured by bees, trapped in a honeycomb, and being covered with honey, only one of them was also kept in a cage guarded by a bee who couldn't fly. Knowing that it took 10 parts to tell that story (i.e. a whole week's worth of shows), I decided to rent it and fill in the gaps.
The End of Flutter Valley was actually the episode(s) that kicked off the series, and involves the witches from the movie teaming up with Queen Bumble and her bees to destroy Flutter Valley, home of the Flutter Ponies, by stealing the sunstone that keeps the valley verdant and full of flowers. After plenty of complications, the sunstone is recovered and put back in place just in the nick of time, and everything ends happily. A bit improbably, but still happily.
After watching the whole thing, I found myself thinking more about the bees than they probably warranted, especially one of the few named ones, Sting, the bee who defected to the ponies' side. This was originally going to a kind of character tribute to him, but as I rewatched all the bee scenes, I started taking what little info there was and forming theories about the bees and their life before the series. I know, I think too hard about this stuff, but I can't help it.

The bees live in Bumbleland (named after the queen, I assume), a barren, frozen forest where nothing grows, and thus all the flowers have to be "imported" (whether this means they barter with goods, i.e. honey, or just take whatever flowers they find isn't made clear, but I'm inclined to think it's the latter). They used to live in Flutter Valley, but were kicked out for being mean and tough. And here the theories begin.
It seems to me that the whole being exiled from Flutter Valley thing happened long before the episode, about a generation or so, meaning that none of the characters involved in the episode were actually around when it happened. After all, the plan initially came from the portraits of the witches' old relatives, so this obviously happened in the past. Also, the hatred that Bumble has for the Flutter Ponies seems more like the irrational kind that gets passed down from generation to generation than a specific hatred.
Unanswered questions: why did the bees settle in such a cold place? Did the Flutter Ponies threaten them or something? "You stay there or we'll just blow you back again!" I'm assuming that the Flutter Ponies used their "Utter Flutter" (high-speed flapping that can blow things away a hundred times their own weight) power to kick the bees out (how else, really?). And just what did the bees do to get themselves kicked out of Flutter Valley, anyway?

Character Profiles

Only three of the bees are named and have any semblance of a personality: Queen Bumble, Sting (her right hand bee), and Pointer (the captain of the guard). All the rest are just nameless soldiers who don't even get to wear clothes.


Sting is the most important of the Bees (storywise), and he's actually an interesting character, although you wouldn't know this from first glance. We don't really see the depth of his character until after he's assigned to watch Morning Glory (a Flutter Pony who managed to escape, but was recaptured), and ends up telling her his history. More on that in a minute.
Sting is Bumble's righthand bee and bodyguard, and as such knows her best. He's comfortable enough in his position to give her advice (which she doesn't follow), then rub it in when it turns out he was right, and to occasionally question her orders. He also has stirrings of conscience (i.e. seeing how the Flutter Ponies are treated). I get the sense that he knows how rotten a queen Bumble is, but tries to deny it for the sake of his position, the only thing he has going for him in his life. Why do I think that, you ask? It all comes clear when he guards Morning Glory.

Now, Morning Glory is supposed to be on a rescue mission, but was recaptured and placed in a cage on the far outskirts of Bumbleland with only Sting as a guard. Seeing this, she tries to get him to set her free, first by reasoning with him, then by appealing to his conscience, but nothing works. It's only when she tries to convince him that he'd have a better time flying with his friends than guarding her that the sad truth of Sting's life comes out: he's a bee who can't fly. He used to, back in the day, but he was so rotten at it that he "just doesn't do it anymore." A decision made early on, I muse:
Most likely, he was teased by his peers, which is why he gave up flying. Maybe there was a flying coach who made disparaging remarks as well (you know how these things go). To compensate, he built up a tough image for himself, dressing like a biker, wearing an eyepatch, etc. He also built up his physical strength, which is probably how he became Bumble's bodyguard. Maybe there was a competition and he won, and that's how it happened (the underdog overcoming all the odds, and all that). Yet, despite having the second highest position in the land, he isn't really happy, as he can't fly and everyone knows it. But it's been so long that he can't bring himself to even try flying again. And so he lives, resigned to his lot, until a certain Flutter Pony sang a certain song: Stretch Yourself.
Morning Glory encourages Sting to try again with this song, and while the lyrics are supportive, the actions that accompany them are not (or rather, they are, in a reverse psychology sort of way). During the course of the song, Morning Glory tricks Sting into letting her out of her cage, then proceeds to tease him until he gets mad enough to chase after her, and sure enough, his flying is terrible. Still, by the end of it, he's flying with ease, and thanks Morning Glory for her help. He also puts her back in the cage, as he's still loyal to the queen.
Or is he? Sting seems loyal, but we do see some cracks in his loyalty early on, which, when teamed with the pangs of conscience mentioned before, makes his defection to the ponies' side understandable. Although he tells Morning Glory that he does what Bumble tells him to do, and that he can't help her because he's "still a bee," it's clear that he's conflicted. On the one hand, he has Morning Glory, who has only shown him kindness, despite how rotten he's treated her, and on the other, he has Bumble, who doesn't seem to care for him a whit, despite the (mostly) loyal service he's given her.

Still a bee pensive moment
This is driven home when he discovers that Bumbleland has been evacuated due to a sunstone-related fire, but no one bothered to tell him. Searching for the other bees proves fruitless, although they are quick to show up once Sting puts out the fire. By then it's too late, he's made his choice: he turns his back on Bumble and helps the Flutter Ponies. His choice was not made lightly, though, and even afterward he isn't sure he's done the right thing. But having made his choice, he sticks with it, and is instrumental in recovering the sunstone, bringing Meghan from over the rainbow and using his knowledge of Bumbleland to help free the Flutter Ponies.
I find it interesting that right before officially turning traitor, he does give Bumble one last chance. When she accuses him of treachery, he tells her that she's not in the right either, then tells her to "let the Flutter Ponies go and I'll apologize." (She refuses, of course).
Also interesting is that once he's officially on the ponies' side, he makes no effort to contain his bitterness toward Bumble, refering to her as his 'ex-queen' with all the vitrol you might use to describe a nasty ex-girlfriend, then later claiming that she's "too mean to listen to reason," and finally confronting her straight to her face with her faults.
Unanswered questions: when Sting questions an order and Bumble threateningly asks if he wants to continue being her right-hand bee, he considers it and says, " tell ya the truth..." whereupon Bumble whacks him. Was he being serious, or was it just part of him being comfortable in his job? Do they do this kind of thing all the time? And does he really need the eyepatch, or is it just part of his 'image'?

Queen Bumble

Skipping ahead, we come to Bumble, the queen bee, though not what you'd call a good queen in any sense of the word. She doesn't have nearly the depth that Sting does, but she isn't without interest. She also has this weird R-rolling thing going on which makes the way she says "Flutter Ponies" sound really weird.
Bumble is a hard character to defend, since she's basically selfish, shortsighted, and mean. She follows her own moral code where the end justifies the means, no matter what. So what if stealing the sunstone is wrong, and so what if said sunstone sets Bumbleland on fire? It creates flowers full of delicious nectar, and that's what matters. Bumble's all about the nectar, and you can't really blame her: she spends her days ruling a cold, colorless, barren kingdom with only tens of minions at her disposal. What else is there to do but spend her days sipping the available nectar? This is one bored (and spoiled) queen.
Now, I don't want to say that Bumble is dumb (that sounds like the set up for a joke, doesn't it?), but she is no great wit, that's for sure. Unfortunately, she thinks she is, often making unwitty statements that make you wonder, "was that supposed to be a joke?" She also lacks the imagination to think of stealing the sunstone until the witches suggested it (granted, it took a collaboration to actually get the stone, but there's more than one way to distract a Flutter Pony, right?). She even at one point forgets that she's able to fly (of course, it wasn't until the third viewing or so that I noticed this myself, so there you go). And then, of course:
"Is your swarm ready?"
"They but await my special signal."
"A special signal?"
"Proceed after me, swarm!"
"That's the worst special signal I ever heard."
Makes you wonder who actually came up with the idea of trapping the Flutter Ponies in the honeycomb (Probably Sting).
Perhaps Bumble's most defining characteristic is her lack of self-control. Even when she has visitors, she won't (can't?) stop eating, and when given unlimited resources, she gluts herself to the point of discomfort. She raves and rants when she doesn't get her way, and throws out threats on a regular basis. Plus, she annoyingly laughs at people who make unreasonable demands of her (such as letting the Flutter Ponies go free). She's a childish adult who's never seen any reason to grow up, a thoroughly nasty character.
And yet, and yet...she's still the queen. No one's tried to overthrow her, despite how easy it would be, as she falls asleep in every third scene and generally doesn't wake up until mortal peril is involved. What's more, the bees seem to want her respect, even though she doesn't seem to care about anyone but herself. When voicing his doubts about leaving, Sting comments, "I just wanted Bumble to like me" (though this may be to show us that he *is* doing the right thing, leaving someone who doesn't care about him to help someone who does). But still, why this need to be liked by her? Is it Bumble's queenly power, or is there something else going on here?
Unanswered questions: Why does she only roll the R in Pointer half the time? How did the witches know that red clover was her favorite flower when they've obviously never met before? Did she really forget about Sting, or just figure that he was far enough from the fire that he didn't need to be warned, or what? And how the heck does she get nectar out of the STEM of a flower?


Which brings us to Pointer. Of the named bees, he's the one with the least character depth and thus leaves me with the most questions. The only significant things we know about him are that he's afraid of the dark, and has some kind of grudge against Sting. At first, I didn't like him that much, but after really looking at his character, I felt pretty bad for him. Things just don't go his way.
Pointer is the Captain of the Guard, and thus spends most of his time with the nameless bees, guarding the Flutter Ponies, and capturing Morning Glory when she escapes. His main function as a character, however, is to make Bumble appreciate Sting, as Pointer mainly spends the episode being inept and/or a beat behind. Sure, he recaptured Morning Glory, but not before she gave him the slip a couple of times (and all he got for his trouble was a "Very good, you may go now," from Bumble).
While Sting is otherwise occupied guarding Morning Glory, Pointer is the temporary second-in-command and begins his chain of failure. To start off with, he utterly fails to convince Bumble that the sunstone is burning up the flowers, despite having evidence (granted, Bumble was most likely in denial about it, but it still doesn't bode well for Pointer), and then he doesn't even bother to mention it when Bumbleland catches fire. He probably reasoned that Bumble would just shut him down again, and maybe she would have. But it definitely looks worse that he didn't tell her, leaving her instead to find out about it herself. He leads a worthy rescue effort, heading to a nearby lake with the other bees, but their aim stinks and the only thing that gets drenched is Bumble, who, having had enough already, proposes they wait for the fire to burn itself out somewhere else.
As I mentioned before, Pointer has something against Sting. Mostly likely he resents the fact that Sting got to be Bumble's right-hand bee when he can't even fly, and feels that he should be the one in that position. Although seeing how he handles things when he does get the chance, is it any wonder why he's merely captain of the guard? At any rate, after Sting turns against Bumble, Pointer cries out "I've been waiting for this chance!" The chance to get rid of Sting for good? To take over his role as Bumble's right hand bee? That's the most probable answer, but it's never made explicitly clear what the reasoning really is. (For the record, Sting's reply is "Well, now you've got it!" which indicates that Pointer's grudge was no secret. He's probably been making veiled comments for years...) Now, the one advantage that Pointer has over Sting is his ability to fly, so he's allowed some incredulity at the sight of Sting actually flying. In fact, the way he states his shock at this turn of events is more like "Sting can fly?! That's not fair!!!" The rules have been changed on him, and it doesn't take long for Sting to beat him up not once, but twice (again, this is probably why Sting became Bumble's right-hand bee in the first place), getting knocked in the mud, also splattering the queen. Bumble is not amused. Following that, he even fails at recapturing a Flutter Pony, being bucked off immediately. It's just not Pointer's day.

Still, one thing Pointer is good at (apparently) is finding flowers, though he's quick to point out that without the sunstone (Sting knocked it down from its pedestal and it buried itself deep in the earth), flowers are harder to come by. Bumble, however, has a plan: have the Flutter Ponies dig up the sunstone. She puts Pointer in charge of this so that she doesn't have to pay attention herself, which will prove an unwise move. Being in charge mainly means that Pointer gets to use a big crane to try and grab the stone while yelling at the Flutter Ponies. But one of the Flutter Ponies outsmarts him and takes control of the crane herself, grabbing Bumble (who fell asleep again) and her throne. Pointer comes to her rescue, but his method (sawing through the rope that holds the crane's claw) leaves much to be desired.
At this point, the rescue team headed by Meghan arrives, and Pointer's luck gets a turn for the better. Meghan insists that they have Bumbleland surrounded, but Pointer calls her bluff and knocks her towards the hole, almost knocking her in. Sting immediately takes after him, and they fence with their stingers. Amazingly, Pointer wins out, knocking down Sting's stinger and sticking him with his own. Morning Glory pulls it out, but it doesn't matter since everyone is recaptured shortly afterward.
Later, everyone escapes down the hole, and Bumble calls on Pointer to lead the way after them. This is where we learn that he's afraid of the dark (or at least, 'not very good' with it. I imagine something ala Mendo in Urusei Yatsura ^_~) when he balks and manages to convince Bumble (with some very obvious flattery, though she lacks the wit to discern it as such) to go first. And yes, the writers do go there. Pointer gets her out, but this is getting close to spelling the end for Pointer. His attempts to cool down Bumble's rage at losing the sunstone are utterly fruitless, and he has no choice but to go along with her plan to get the sunstone back. Thus ends Pointer's part in the story, as his last act on screen is having his attempt to take out Sting thwarted by a Flutter Pony.
After all that, is it any wonder that Bumble gives in to Sting's demands, just to have him back?
Unanswered questions: Just what did Pointer have against Sting? Why's he afraid of the dark? And who the heck did his voice?

Now, what really lead to this whole entry was the improbable ending, and my attempts to make some sense of it. My first inclination was that it might work if there was some romantic tension, but really, it's not there. And even if it were, that still wouldn't make the ending work.

I'll be nice!
The end goes thusly: after the Flutter Ponies get the sunstone back, Bumble leads her swarm to go and get it back for herself. Sting is unable to convince her to give it up, so finally Rosedust, queen of the Flutter Ponies, basically goes up to her and says, "If you leave us alone, you can take all the flowers you want." Now, immediately after this, Bumble's personality does a one-eighty, and whereas she spent most of the episode filled with wrath, she is suddenly meek. Sting even gets her to agree to be nice, and they head back to Bumbleland with her crowing about what a wonderful day it is. (I note that she pushes Sting as she says, "Let's go home." Romantic tension?)
Anyhoo, what puzzles me most is Bumble's sudden shift of attitude. Maybe if someone had reminded her that the sunstone set her kingdom on fire previously, it might make more sense, or if she had even taken just a moment or two to consider Rosedust's offer, or something. Maybe it was the queen-to-queen connection, but still. I'll probably never find a satisfying answer.
Possible theories: It was 'that time of the month' for Bumble; she suddenly realized she loved Sting or something; she suddenly realized that if she didn't take Sting back, she'd be stuck with Pointer as a right-hand bee; the sudden change in the BGM did it.

Romantic Tension
Now, I mentioned that I originally thought some romantic tension could even out the ending (i.e. Bumble would realize she loves Sting and lets everything else slide for his sake), but like I said, it's just not there. However, I think this episode might have benefitted from a little romantic tension. I can see a love triangle type of thing going on between Sting and Pointer for Bumble's affections (which would put more meaning into their skirmishes), although I can't really see Bumble returning either of their feelings (until the end, of course).

As far as I can tell, the bees never showed up in the series again, which is kind of a shame. It would have been nice to know what became of them. I'd like to think that Bumble became a better queen, that she eventually created an heir, and that somehow Bumbleland became a warmer, greener place.

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