Disney // 1998 // 95 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // May 19th, 2009
An epic presentation of miniature proportions.
After the huge success of their groundbreaking computer-animated feature Toy Story, the creative minds at Pixar drew from Akira Kurosawa's epic Seven Samurai and Aesop's fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper" as inspiration for their sophomore film. The result was A Bug's Life, the tale of a colony of ants that get fed up with being exploited by grasshoppers and decide to hire a team of warrior bugs to run off the bullying pests once and for all.
Way back in 1999, A Bug's Life had the distinction of being the first DVD ever transferred directly from a digital source. Now here it is on Blu-ray.
Flik (Dave Foley, News Radio) is a bumbling, nerdy ant from a colony that is terrorized by a gang of grasshoppers. Every year before the rainy season, the ants must give most of their harvest to the villainous Hopper (Kevin Spacey, The Usual Suspects) and his thugs. When Flik puts the colony in danger by accidentally destroying the offering, the queen (Phyllis Diller, Splendor in the Grass) and her daughter Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Seinfeld) send him off to the city to find a group of insect warriors willing to defend them from the grasshoppers. Flik succeeds in his quest, returning to the colony with Manny the praying mantis (Jonathan Harris, Lost in Space), Gypsy the moth (Madeline Kahn, Young Frankenstein), Rosie the black widow (Bonnie Hunt, Cars), Dim the rhinoceros beetle (Brad Garrett, Finding Nemo), Francis the ladybug (Denis Leary, Ice Age), Heimlich (Joe Ranft, Toy Story) the overweight caterpillar, Slim the stick bug (David Hyde Pierce, Hellboy), and pill bugs Tuck and Roll (Michael McShane, The Battle of Shaker Heights). Unfortunately, the warriors are actually a troupe of clowns from P.T. Flea's (John Ratzenberger, WALL-E) circus who think they've been hired to put on a show for the colony.
Whether because it didn't make quite as much money as Toy Story, or didn't spawn a successful line of insect-based toys, or just has too many characters to keep track of, A Bug's Life is generally considered one of Pixar's lesser efforts. It definitely has some structural problems. Flik is a likeable hero, but his relationship with Atta feels undercooked. The gang of clown-warriors is a colorful lot, but only a few of them (Francis, Slim, and Heimlich) stand out as truly distinctive personalities essential to the movie's pacing and plot. These faults are undeniable, but they offer an object lesson in how middling Pixar is still better than most of what other animation studios are capable. It may sacrifice some character intimacy for the sake of its epic story, but it remains witty, funny, fast-paced, and packed with rousing action. Character animation is supple and full of life, and backgrounds are breathtaking in their detailed beauty.
Prior to popping this Blu-ray into my player, I hadn't seen A Bug's Life since I caught it on DVD before the turn of the century. Having seen all of the movies Pixar has made since, I was amazed at A Bug's Life's intensity. It is the only of Pixar's flicks with a vivid and truly frightening villain. Kevin Spacey's turn as Hopper is magnificent. He is vile, sarcastic, and genuinely threatening. Comic relief is provided entirely by Richard Kind (Mad About You) as Hopper's chubby, bumbling, and dim brother Molt, allowing Spacey to play it straight as a heavy. The fog shrouded final showdown between the ants and grasshoppers has action and eerie atmosphere galore. Flik's fireside fight with a crazed grasshopper named Thumper and then with Hopper is intense enough to unsettle sensitive young viewers. For everyone else, it's a payoff that is thematically, dramatically, and logically sound (and that includes one of the most ironically brutal villain deaths in the Disney canon). A Bug's Life is a great story, beautifully told.
On a technical level, this Blu-ray's 1080p AVC transfer is perfect. What's more amazing is that the movie remains gorgeous on an aesthetic level. Since it dates back to 1998, I thought it might not have the same wow factor as more recent Pixar productions. Boy was I wrong. Detail is amazing, revealing fine texture and pure, vivid color. A Bug's Life may have been made over a decade ago, but it looks superior to most non-Pixar computer-animated features made in recent years. Audio has been upgraded to a DTS-HD lossless mix that is clean and precise with a fine-tuned use of the entire soundstage. It's not as loud and dynamic as later Pixar features, but it's a fine track.
In addition to the feature, the Blu-ray offers two short films. Geri's Game is a 1997 Academy Award-winner about an old man playing chess against himself. Grasshopper and the Ants is a thematically relevant 1934 short from Disney's Silly Symphony line. Both are presented in HD.
There are two Blu-ray exclusive supplements. Filmmaker's Roundtable is a 21-minute discussion between director John Lasseter (Toy Story), co-director Andrew Stanton (WALL-E), and producers Darla Anderson and Kevin Reher. It's a charming piece throughout, but its best moments are when the group tells funny stories about Joe Ranft, the story supervisor and voice of Heimlich on A Bug's Life who was killed in a car accident in 2005. A Bug's Life -- The First Draft (10:16) is an animated featurette that uses original storyboards to reveal the movie's intended plot before it was radically revised and streamlined during production. The piece is narrated by Dave Foley and includes an optional introduction by Lasseter.
In addition to the HD exclusives, this BD also contains a ton of standard definition features, all of which have been ported over from the 2003 Collector's Edition DVD. There are five pre-production featurettes, each of which includes an optional introduction by the filmmakers: "Fleabie Reel" (a gag reel created for an internal Disney studio update during A Bug's Life's production), "Story and Editorial" (covers the process of developing and pitching story ideas), "Storyboard to Film Comparison" (provides a look at storyreel versus final render versions of a scene from the film), "Abandoned Sequences" (gives a glimpse of storyboard versions of two scenes deleted from the movie), and "Research Documentary" (is reference video footage shot in order to help animators present the world from a bug's perspective). A group of design galleries provide a look at production drawings of characters and locations as well as concept art. A Production menu option leads to a behind-the-scenes piece (3:42) and featurettes on the voice casting (4:12) and early animation tests (5:25). A quartet of featurettes follows a scene from storyreel, to layout, to animation, to shading and lighting. There's a 13-minute featurette on the film's sound design. A Release menu option takes you to a gallery of poster art and advertising campaigns, two theatrical trailers, and a silly faux interview of Hopper, Flik, Francis, and Heimlich to promote the movie's international release, and both sets of bloopers that appeared during the film's end credits during its theatrical run.
An audio commentary by Lasseter, Stanton, and editor Lee Unkrich, which dates back to the 1999 Collector's Edition DVD, is also included on the Blu-ray.
A Bug's Life is a great movie for kids of all ages. Like all Pixar flicks, it's best seen in high definition. If you own a Blu-ray player, this is pretty much a must-own.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Filmmakers' Roundtable
* Short Films