Bee Movie Review
If there was such a thing as a bee anti-defamation league, Bee Movie would undoubtedly get a buzzing seal of approval. The animated film, written and produced in part by Jerry Seinfeld and featuring his voice as the lead character, goes out of its way to portray the flying creatures as hardworking, essential to plant life, and reluctant to use their stingers as anything but a last resort (which, of course, it would be since the bee’s death immediately follows). In the midst of all the inner workings of the hive and pollination plot points, the movie briefly gets bogged down as being a teaching tool instead of the funny cartoon it should be. Adding to that bit of tedium is the fact that a great deal of what we’re shown about bees isn’t actually true. I’m pretty sure they can’t even talk.
In the film, the first rule of being a bee is that you do not talk about…anything. It’s forbidden to let humans know bees can talk. Cute enough, I guess. After Barry B. Benson (voiced by Seinfeld) gets restless and ventures outside the hive and into New York City, his life is preserved by a young female florist named Vanessa (Renee Zellweger, but it could be pretty much anyone and you wouldn’t remember otherwise). Bees are apparently polite in addition to their other fine attributes, and Barry cannot let Vanessa’s kindness go without saying thanks. Bee Movie then goes on a series of almost tangential detours along its disjointed little path, but the main thread involves Barry suing various (human) proprietors of honey and the ramifications from his lawsuit.
At times, this can certainly feel more like a stand-up comic routine than a film, where the story bounces indiscriminately for little reason and without a sense of overall cohesion. Four different writers are credited with the script, and this would seem to be evident in the story’s lack of focus. Too many characters pop up for a punchline and then disappear. It plays like an excuse to bring in celebrity voices and mostly results in being a distraction. Modern animated films, especially from DreamWorks, often mistake a movie star as being capable of interesting voice acting just because of their fame, and this approach is shown to be incorrect time and again. Aside from Seinfeld, who’s very good as Barry, most of the other familiar names are entirely forgettable (Zellweger, Matthew Broderick), overbearing (Chris Rock, John Goodman), or downright curious (Oprah Winfrey?).
Despite these shortcomings, the movie works in a similar way as Seinfeld’s eponymous sitcom often did, only far looser and not with as high a level of success. That same unexpected, non sequitur kind of humour is here, where funny things happen out of nowhere and different aspects of the plot bounce around with abandon. The tightness required by interwoven plot lines created and resolved in just 22 minutes, however, is noticeably absent. At roughly 80 minutes not counting the end credits, Bee Movie feels less like the smart creation of a small cadre of funny people than a somewhat stumbling affair diluted by the input of too many opinions. Mention is made in the commentary that the story and several jokes and scenes were repeatedly altered and tinkered with, and I do think this hinders the final product. It’s not fair to expect an extra-long animated episode of Seinfeld, but, given the distinct slant of Jerry Seinfeld’s observational humour and the great critical and popular success that followed, adhering a little closer to that particular brand of comedy might have been a comparatively better plan.
There are a lot of funny gags, to be sure, and the whole bit with Ray Liotta is dementedly hilarious. The animation is dazzling at times and visually superior to the usual DreamWorks standard. Additionally, it’s easy to imagine those who greatly enjoy Jerry Seinfeld’s work similarly finding a lot to like here. Barry B. Benson is a very fun, likeable character and Seinfeld’s exuberant acting is actually better than it almost ever was on his show. I’m fairly forgiving about the movie, but it doesn’t add up to much more than pretty pictures and a few good laughs. I enjoyed some of the weirder little touches, like Liotta and a funny scene involving Bee Larry King, but the potential romance teased between Barry and Vanessa just seemed creepy and out of place. The final wrap-up is pretty ridiculous, too, even for a kids movie. Letting male bees have stingers and help in the honey process is stretching things pretty far, but practising law without a license is downright madness.
The usual liberties taken with facts and reality stand out because Bee Movie is seemingly intended for children, but so many of the best jokes are over their heads. An homage to The Graduate is almost hidden away and even parents of young children probably won’t make the connection (though it is an inspired idea that should have been taken further). Similarly, the level of the humour is refreshingly mature. I don’t want to spoil too many of the gags, but references to bear-shaped honey containers, the girth and ad-heavy quality of Italian Vogue, and the pompousness of Sting are all exceedingly clever. When Winnie the Pooh gets a tranquilizer dart, it’s difficult not to laugh, but kids may not understand what’s going on. On the flip side of all this, the film’s general plot adheres to a predictable formula seen many, many times in animated films. The creative detours and Seinfeld’s involvement save the movie from its many shortcomings, but it’s ultimately quite insubstantial as a whole.
The main feature is progressively transferred and presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen televisions. It looks exceptionally good, pristine even, with bright, vibrant colours and no significant defects. The animation is brilliantly rendered, better than the usual DreamWorks standard and on par with what we expect from Pixar. I believe I saw a bit of edge enhancement, but the transfer is nearly perfect otherwise. Extras-laden disc 1 is dual-layered, while the second disc is single-layered.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is the default audio option and sounds very good. Rear speakers are noticeable on multiple occasions and everything comes through with excellent clarity. An English Dolby Digital 2.0 option is also available, though it seems unnecessary, and French DD 5.1 and Spanish DD 2.0 tracks are provided, as well. Subtitles, white in colour, can be accessed for English, Spanish, and French during the feature and all supplements, including the commentary.
Bee Movie is released in R1 in both single-disc and double-disc editions. It appears that the single-disc includes everything on disc 2 in this "Very Jerry 2-Disc Edition" plus the "Inside the Hive" featurette found on disc 1 here. The retail price difference is $7. It also might be worth mentioning that the UK release of this film was cut due to an incident involving an aerosol can and a lighter. This snippet is, of course, included on the R1 DVD.
A commentary featuring Jerry Seinfeld, the film's two directors Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner, co-producer Christina Steinberg, co-writer Barry Marder, and editor Nick Fletcher is not a particularly enjoyable listening experience. It's very conversational and too often feels like nosing in on a conference call while these people watch the finished film for the first time together. Some tidbits of interesting information are included, but I think the obvious flaws of the movie are actually magnified by learning how manufactured and processed the creative cycle seems to have been. Watching the commentary made me like the movie less, and I wonder who thinks hearing these kinds of crowded tracks will add to anyone's appreciation of the film.
The rest of Disc 1 has a generous assortment of extra features, but most of these are standard fluff. "Lost Scenes" (5:00) consists of three unused scenes that were storyboarded but never fully animated. Jerry Seinfeld briefly provides audio introductions for each one, as he does with the six "Alternate Endings" (14:39), which tend to be repetitive when watching one after another. The best and funniest of the supplements are the 16 "TV Juniors" (23:21) where Seinfeld highlights various details of the Bee Movie process. These run about a minute and a half each and were originally shown in the United States during NBC commercial breaks when the film was heading into cinemas. The strange thing about how they're presented on this DVD is that the first 5 are separate from the remaining 11, even when the "play all" feature is used. The initial TV Juniors are enhanced in anamorphic widescreen while the latter ones are just letterboxed.
Teaser previews using the idea of Bee Movie as a non-animated project can be seen in two "Live-Action Trailers" (4:12), the second of which features studio boss Steven Spielberg. Oddly enough, these are the only trailers for the film included in this set. Finishing up the bonuses found in the first disc, "Jerry's Flight Over Cannes" (3:02) is a quick look at Seinfeld being hoisted in a bee costume and flying from a hotel rooftop at the Cannes Film Festival, and "Inside the Hive: The Cast of Bee Movie" (14:42) is a basic featurette about the famous actors who lend their voices to the film. Previews for Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar: The Crate Escape, and The Spiderwick Chronicles play automatically when the disc is inserted and can also be accessed, along with a Kung Fu Panda Activision Game Trailer, from the menu.
Disc 2 is unquestionably for the little ones and, as such, I hesitate to complain too strongly. Tedious and boring to me might be good fun for an 8-year-old. The special features here include "Tech of Bee Movie" (7:03), a brief piece on the animation, and "'We Got the Bee' Music Video" (2:13), a take-off on The Go-Gos' song from the 1980's with the lyrics altered and sung by someone else. The video is footage of kids dressed up like bees in New York City running wild and, essentially, vandalising things with yellow and black paint. Jerry Seinfeld and New York Mets third baseman David Wright make cameos. There's also the interactive "Meet Barry B. Benson" where Barry answers 11 different questions and very short clips from the movie are shown. The "DreamWorks Animation Jukebox" finishes off the specific bonus features and is just song clips from various cartoons made by the studio, including the Shrek films, Madagascar, Over the Hedge, and Flushed Away, but nothing actually from Bee Movie.
Also on the second disc, DreamWorks Kids targets the educational possibilities of making a movie full of bees. "Buzz About Bees" (7:09) is the only non-interactive portion and shares some basic bee knowledge. The rest of the features are games where kids can learn trivia, pick their own bee job and generally stay busy as a, you know. Additional DVD-ROM content is also included.
Despite the film's many flaws, I did enjoy Bee Movie, but I also found it to be poorly plotted and forgettable. There are several good laughs in the movie, though the funniest ones are reserved for adults, and the animation is visually impressive. Ultimately, I don't think the film really works aside from some funny moments, and might be appreciated best by fans of Jerry Seinfeld's humour. This 2-Disc Edition provides a lot of supplemental material, but the majority of it is either intended for small children or of little interest. The commentary is especially grating. The 16 "TV Juniors" are really the only reason to pursue this more expensive version over the single-disc release.