Following “Antz,” “A Bug’s Life” “Flushed Away” and this summer’s “Ratatouille,” “Bee Movie” is yet another animated flick with a starry cast in which a creature that ordinarily would seem pesky is rendered as not just harmless but even lovable and idiosyncratically human.
There is zero life left in this concept, even if it does spring this time from the fertile mind and absurd sensibility of Jerry Seinfeld.
The comic co-wrote, co-produced and stars in this colourful jaunt as a bee named Barry, who dares to leave the tradition and rigidity of New Hive City for the vast unknown of the outside world specifically, the corner of 67th and Columbus on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Seinfeld’s long-time stomping grounds on TV and in real life.
Sound familiar? This DreamWorks Animation release shares almost the same premise as Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” in which Remy the rat left the safety and comfort of hiding with his family and picking through trash to become a gourmet chef in Paris. It’s an unfortunate coincidence, because clearly both films were years in the making. But the similarity serves as a reminder of the superiority of Pixar’s animated offerings their substance, character development and heart.
What distinguishes “Bee Movie” somewhat is that it’s flooded with Seinfeld’s sense of humour his trademark observations on the ridiculous minutiae of our daily lives. That should keep his fans, and adults in general, relatively entertained. There are some cute lines here and there (and some amusing cameos from Sting, Ray Liotta and Larry King) but because “Bee Movie” is also for kids who have never been the target audience for “Seinfeld” bee puns all too often prevail.
Barry, a recent college graduate, could go work for the Honex Corp. alongside his nebbishy best friend, Adam (Matthew Broderick), making honey as bees have for millions of years. In a highly detailed set-up sequence, he learns he could be a heater, cooler, crud picker or stirrer like his dad (Barry Levinson; Kathy Bates does the voice of Barry’s mom).
“Choose carefully, because you’ll stay in the job that you pick for the rest of your life,” he’s warned, a dig at corporate culture and the closest “Bee Movie” comes to having a point. (Seinfeld concocted the script with Spike Feresten and Andy Robin, former writers on his show, as well as Barry Marder, author of the “Letters From a Nut” books. Simon J. Smith and Steve Heckner provide the speedy direction.)
Instead of settling into a cubicle, Barry boldly goes on a flight with the tough-guy pollen jocks, the only ones allowed outside the hive, who collect nectar and pollinate flowers and look cool in their aviator sunglasses.
After zipping through Central Park, getting stuck to a ball in a tennis match and dodging raindrops in the film’s most thrilling sequence, he meets and falls for a kind-hearted florist named Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), who spares him from being squished on the coffee table by her meathead boyfriend (voiceover veteran Patrick Warburton, who also played Elaine’s boyfriend Puddy on “Seinfeld”).
Even though rule No. 1 of bee existence is never to talk to humans, Barry wants to thank Vanessa for saving his life. Vanessa not only talks back, she befriends him (and the humans’ expressions are distractingly jerky and artificial compared to the bees’ more lifelike characterizations.) Then she helps him sue the entire human race after a trip to the grocery store provides the shocking revelation that people are stealing the bees’ honey, putting it in jars and selling it.
There is an actual trial (John Goodman plays the bloviating defense attorney; Oprah Winfrey lends her voice as the judge) with jurors and TV news coverage and Barry taking notes on a tiny legal pad. And this is where the movie takes an irretrievably silly turn, even for Seinfeld’s peculiar universe.
“Bee Movie,” a DreamWorks Animation release, is rated PG for mild suggestive humour. Running time: 90 minutes. Two stars out of four.