|A Bug’s Life, the sophomore feature-length computer-animated film from Pixar Studios, is pure joy: Not only is it as whimsical, funny, and downright entertaining as their first effort, 1995’s Toy Story, but it builds substantially on that film’s visual palette, creating a world of textures and surfaces that holds up extremely well a decade later. With 10 straight box-office and critical hits to their credit, it has become all too easy to take Pixar’s hit-making genius for granted and thus forget how risky A Bug’s Life was at the time, not only in terms of pushing the technological envelope, but also in terms of living up to the success of Toy Story and proving that computer-animated films were the future, not a one-shot fluke.|
The underdog-fueled story concerns an anthill that is under the control of a group of menacing grasshoppers, led by the maniacal Hopper (voiced with sadistic glee by Kevin Spacey). The grasshoppers demand that the ants supply them with food, and as Hopper makes clear, this is not about eating, but about domination. Fed up with living under the grasshopper’s fascistic control, Flik (Kids in the Hall vet David Foley), the anthill’s clumsiest resident, comes up with an idea: recruit some bigger bugs to fight for the ants and drive away the grasshoppers. Nobody in the anthill buys this idea, least of all Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), who is being trained by the Queen (Phyllis Diller) to someday take her position. But, Princess Atta realizes that if Flik is out recruiting bugs (which she assumes will be a failed attempt), he will at least be out of the way and won’t be able to cause any more trouble.
So, Flik sets off to recruit warrior bugs, and comes back instead with a group of circus bugs who he mistakenly thinks are warriors (if this plot sounds familiar, think of the 1986 Steve Martin-Chevy Chase-Martin Short comedy Three Amigos! as an animated movie about insects). The circus bugs, who have recently been fired from a traveling circus run by P.T. Flea (John Ratzenberger), are a motley group of lovable misfits. They include Slim (David Hyde Pierce), an anal-retentive walking stick; Heimlich (Joe Ranft), an overweight caterpillar; and Francis (Denis Leary), an ultra-masculine ladybug with an anger-control problem. Of course, once the circus bugs realize that they have been recruited to fight rather than perform, they try to get out of the arrangement. But, like the decent bugs they are, they eventually realize that they are needed, and they become part of the ant community as they work together to construct an elaborate fake bird to scare off the grasshoppers.
A Bug’s Life is a marvel on a number of levels. It is a wonderfully told story, unspooling with economy and charm (not a single scene or line of dialogue is wasted). The characters are fully created, but the enjoyment comes from watching how they work together to form a cohesive whole. None of the characters on their own are particularly enchanting (Flik, especially, is one of the more boring lead characters in a Pixar film), but that’s the point. This is an ensemble piece, and none of the characters overshadow any of the others.
Of course, it wouldn’t be right to discuss A Bug’s Life without noting what an astounding technical achievement it is. Like all of Pixar’s films, from Toy Story to WALL•E (2008), it is a visual marvel that took years of painstaking work by an army of dedicated craftsmen and artists who were clearly in love with the material, resulting in an experience that can be enjoyed again and again, with the eye catching something new each time. The details are endless, from the familiar-but-alien-in-close-up texture of tree bark, to the way that light filters through the semi-translucent layers of a leaf. Like the best animated films, A Bug’s Life creates a new world for its characters to inhabit and brings the audience right into the middle of it.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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Overall Rating: (4)
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