bee movie
, , , ,
90 min.
Release Date
bee movie

If you’re a bee with about a month or so to live, Crud Shoveler doesn’t sound like the most rewarding occupation. After all, you’re resigned to shoveling crud for your brief life. Imagine shoveling crud every day until you die, knowing full well that this is the limit of your existence. It wouldn’t even have to be shoveling crud per se. Any lifeless, uninteresting job like Honey Stirrer could apply. The point is that committing to an unfulfilling career is tantamount to death. And that’s the dilemma of Barry B. Benson, voiced by Jerry Seinfeld, in Bee Movie, a smart and funny animated feature by Paramount’s animation division. Does he concede to being a worker bee, assigned to any number of jobs such as Crud Shoveler, or does he go out and explore the world?

Not surprisingly, Barry decides to shirk his grunt work and slips off with a group of high-flying pollinators to New York City, escaping the confines of the hive. His sense of freedom is overwhelming. So I suppose it makes sense that one way or another he befriends a human woman, Vanessa (voiced by Renee Zellweger). If you’re going to explore, why not explore the boundaries of how two creatures can relate to one another? Bees can speak, you understand, only it’s one of their laws never to talk to humans. But Barry is fascinated by Vanessa, and she by him, so law schmaw. We watch as they chat over a cup of coffee, sharing a piece of rum cake (in Barry’s case, a crumb), which, for him, is heaven. If only they were more physiologically correct for each other.

After considering the bigger picture of human-bee relations, namely how humans force bees into labor and steal their honey, Vanessa, Barry, and his bee-friend Adam (voiced by Matthew Broderick) file a lawsuit against the human race. Defending human interests is Layton T. Montgomery, voiced by John Goodman, channeling a chubbier version of Foghorn Leghorn. His argument is that should humanity accept responsibility for stealing honey, we’d have to accept accountability for every other theft of Nature. Presiding over the case is Judge Bumbleton (Oprah Winfrey), whose verdict shouldn’t come as a surprise, given her character’s name.

Like most animated features, Bee Movie relies on an unhealthy dose of celebrity voicework. The musician Sting makes an appearance in court for using his bee-derived name illegally. Ray Liotta is forced to answer for his own line of honey products. Most notable is Patrick Warburton, better known as Elaine’s on-and-off boyfriend Puddy from Seinfeld, plays Vanessa’s jealous boyfriend Ken, whose disbelief in bee society’s rights could have provided a much-needed skeptic, but instead, he drives us bonkers with his strained shouting. Seinfeld himself, along with other writers, some from Seinfeld fame, create a refreshing story suitable for children and parents, filled with surprising race- and lawyer-coded humor. Fans of the comedian’s work will be in bliss and be able to look past the film’s sometimes formulaic relationships. Seinfeld’s brand of observational humor is in full force, only imbued with more imagination and irony when applied to the bee world.

Intentionally or not, Seinfeld’s team of writers embed an unnamed allusion to Colony Collapse Disorder, the plague currently affecting Western bee colonies in North America since 2006. Bee Movie started production and likely had a script long before the bee disappearances had begun (computer-animated movies typically take years to produce). Even so, we certainly see the effects of a beeless world within the movie. When one part of an ecosystem disappears, we see how others disappear as a result. The message makes the movie better than it might be otherwise.

The Bug World has been almost entirely covered in the last decade or so of computer-animated movies. Ants (doubly), grasshoppers, spiders, and now bees have all been given worlds that compare somehow to our own. Fully realized societies bloom from out of the ground, anthropomorphizing insects and arachnids, or any other species in the animal kingdom, with relatable human stories. A Bug’s Life used Seven Samurai’s model, so cleverly so that Kurosawa’s film didn’t even get the courteous “inspired by” credit. And since I’m comparing insect cartoons to live-action masterpieces, Bee Movie is sort of like Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, in that the pursuit of dreams amidst bureaucracy leads to the realization that dreams can sometimes have dire consequences.

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