Welcome to Part 2 of Pixar-thon, my 13 part mission to review all of the Disney Pixar movies. For this installment, we take a look at what many consider the black sheep of the bunch, A Bug’s Life. But does it really deserve that title? Let’s find out.
Meet Flik, a bright oddball ant whose penchant for thinking outside the box tends to get him in a lot of trouble. He’s constantly creating new inventions that he thinks will improve the ant way of life, but the rest of the colony believes he’s just wasting his time. When one of his inventions accidentally ruins their yearly food offering to a gang of thuggish grasshoppers, they’re given one last chance to gather more food before fall comes. Flik gets the idea to find bigger bugs to help defend them, and through a misunderstanding, returns with a group of failed circus performers. Now Flik and the motley crew of insects must come up with a plan to fight off the grasshoppers once and for all while keeping their false identities under cover.
On the technical side of things, extra measures were taken to make the world beneath our feet seem larger than life. Pixar developed tiny cameras to find out what the world looked like from a bug’s point of view. What they discovered was that to a bug, a group of flowers was as tall as a redwood forest, a stone was like a mountain, and a little bird was as big and ferocious as a tyrannosaurus. With this technology, they were able to make a small island in a dried up lake with a tree and a few patches of grass and flowers seem like an entire world. The colors are incredibly vivid and really pop out at you. Once again, the CG aspects are a lot more noticeable by today’s standards, but I’m willing to forgive it considering the time it came out.
As far as characters go, I was interested in everyone except the ants. Not to say that they were bad, just that they didn’t really bring that much to the table. Dave Foley as Flik was your typical nice guy hero, Julia Louise Dreyfus as Princess Atta was your typical stressed out, overworked woman, Hayden Panettiere as Dot was your typical cute kid, and Phyllis Diller was Phyllis Diller. Everyone else was a ton of fun to watch. I liked the twin pill bugs who spoke in some gratuitous gibber-gabber language, I liked David Hyde-Pierce as the stressed out stick insect (he’s sick of only being used as a prop), I liked Joe Ranft as the fat German caterpillar, and seeing Dennis “I’m an asshole” Leary play an androgynous ladybug is probably one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while. But my favorite role without a doubt is Kevin Spacey as Hopper, the grasshopper leader. I’m probably biased since Kevin Spacey is one of my all time favorite actors, but he really does steal the show here as one of Pixar’s best villains. Cruel but merciful, serious but not humorless, ruthless but not bloodthirsty, he was a lot of fun to watch, and scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.
While A Bug’s Life received universal praise when it came out, its reputation has been a bit overshadowed. Maybe it was because people became so enamored with Pixar’s other movies that this one fell to the wayside. Maybe it was because Toy Story was such a huge success that audiences were let down by their own colossal expectations. Or maybe it was because people started thinking it was a rip-off of Akira Kurosawa’s classic, Seven Samurai. Well to be fair, Pixar did get consistently better after this, but that’s not to say they had a few bumps in the road (but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it). As for the Seven Samurai comparison, I could write a whole paper about that since Seven Samurai is one of my favorite movies, but long story short the similarities are only surface deep. I guess when you get right down to it, A Bug’s Life is kind of like the one child who, despite working hard, gets its accomplishments outshine by its more adored siblings, but remains quietly successful. There were some things about it I didn’t like (The constant bug jokes and puns got a bit annoying after a while… Okay, that cockroach joke that Slim told was kind of funny.), but what it does well is done really well. And in the end, there’s not much else you can really ask for.
So what it all comes down to is that A Bug’s Life is not the best Pixar movie by a long shot, but is still a fairly decent follow-up to the first one. Sure, it’s a tad predictable, but the characters are memorable, the effects are breathtaking, a lot of the things they do with the concept are really clever, and it’s just an all around enjoyable movie. If you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t exactly say you’re missing out on anything, but I would still recommend it nonetheless.
I give A Bug’s Life 7/10.
Two down, eleven to go.