A Bug's Life Review

In retrospect, it seems bizarre that, during development, A Bug’s Life was intended to be the studio’s “A” picture, with its stablemate Toy Story 2 initially intended to be a cheap direct-to-video project. Indeed, Pixar’s sophomore effort, a loose re-working of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, remains their least impressive offering to date. This should not be inferred in any way to be a dismissal: the Emeryville CGI house’s worst is still considerably better than most studios’ best. A Bug’s Life, however, had the misfortune of being beaten to the post by a matter of months by rival DreamWorks’ Antz, a suspiciously similar-looking tale about a colony of ants under threat that was actually devised after Pixar’s film but rushed out the door ahead of it. A Bug’s Life, with its bright hues, colourful array of child-friendly characters and patented Pixar humour, is by far the more aesthetically pleasing of the two.

However, unlike Pixar’s other two films from the 90s, the two Toy Stories, its technology dates it – the result, perhaps, of the filmmakers’ ambition exceeding the technology available to them in 1998. Certainly, there are “wow” moments a-plenty, with the Scope aspect ratio perfectly suited to capturing the epic vistas of this computer-generated world. Unfortunately, CG animation being what it was a decade ago, the natural environments tend to take on a plastic sheen – Pixar’s subsequent Finding Nemo achieved a far more convincing representation of the world of nature. A Bug’s Life remains fun and engaging, but comparisons with the rest of Pixar’s output tend to be rather unfavourable. It lacks the confidence and acerbic wit of its immediate predecessor, Toy Story, and ultimately seems geared more towards a younger audience than any of the studio’s other films, save perhaps Cars.

In its high definition debut, the film looks virtually flawless, if a little lifeless due to the crystal-clear presentation of its now dated graphics. Detail is beyond reproach, and the difference between this and the earlier DVD releases is night and day. Of the Pixar films released on Blu-ray so far, Ratatouille is by far the nicest-looking overall, but this is mainly down to the artistic techniques employed, which gave the image a more natural sheen. Certainly, barring some unfortunate artefacting during the rain storm at the film’s climax, I can’t criticise the transfer of A Bug’s Life in any way as far as reproduction of the source material is concerned.

The film is equally well served by a fantastic lossless 5.1 audio track, which ably demonstrates the subtleties of Gary Rydstrom’s sound design and presents no problems as far as clarity is concerned. Optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

In terms of extras, the majority of the included content is replicated from the previous 2-disc special edition DVD. The names of some of the featurettes have changed, and they are organised slightly differently, but virtually everything has been ported over, with the unfortunate exceptions of the two isolated music and sound effects tracks. New features include an affectionate and entertaining look back at the making of the film in the form of a roundtable featuring director John Lasseter, co-director Andrew Stanton and producers Darla K. Anderson and Keven Reher, as well as a brand new visual presentation of the film’s original story treatment, supplemented by narration from Dave Foley (Flik) and some crude animation techniques.

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