Someday Judge Victor Valdivia will make an animated film about himself. It will star an adorable little scorpion who stings and kills anyone who gets near him, causing them to die slowly and painfully. Also, there will be dancing.
Honey just got funny.
With Bee Movie, Jerry Seinfeld makes his bid to launch a film career. The film has some funny jokes and some clever ideas but squanders its most promising inspirations in a ridiculously convoluted story. Bee Movie: A Very Jerry 2-Disc Edition promises an extras package laced with lots of Seinfeld.
Facts of the Case
Barry Benson (Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld) is a graduating worker bee who is about to join the hive. His best friend Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) just dreams of a job processing honey. Barry is uncertain that he really wants to spend his life as a worker, and he ventures outside the hive to see what the world is really like. After meeting kind-hearted human Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellweger, Chicago), he discovers that humans harvest and use honey made by bees in farms. Outraged, he launches on a crusade to stop this practice, but his decision to break all the rules of bee society may have significant repercussions for everyone.
Though their films are almost always commercial smashes, DreamWorks' animated films have never gotten the respect and acclaim of other studios, particularly Disney's Pixar division. Much of this has to do with the way their films are assembled. Pixar is well known for crafting its screenplays carefully, mapping out each script in detail, and then finally casting the voice actors, who may or may not be household names. DreamWorks, by contrast, usually hires big-name stars (like Will Smith, Mike Myers, and Ben Stiller) and then builds movies around them. What sometimes results are films that rely far too much on dated pop culture references and star power to carry thin stories and poorly defined characters. Bee Movie doesn't have too many pop culture references and the characterizations are reasonably developed, so in that regard, it's a cut above most of the studio's offerings.
Where the film goes wrong is with the story, which certainly isn't meager. In fact, it's excessively complicated. Though Bee Movie barely clocks in at 90 minutes, the plot is absurdly overstuffed with enough twists and turns to fill a movie three times as long. First, Barry wonders if there's more to life than making honey. Then he discovers the dangers of the outside world. Then he meets Vanessa and is smitten with her. Then Vanessa learns that he can talk and understand English. Then he discovers apiaries and honey being sold in supermarkets. Then there's a lawsuit and a trial. That's all just in the first 50 minutes. That doesn't even include all of the subsequent developments that are needlessly added afterwards, involving ecological apocalypse, a threat to Adam's life, and a crashing airplane. None of those, it should be pointed out, have anything to do with one another.
It's not that animated films should necessarily have simplistic plots. The Incredibles, for instance, also had a fairly complex story. However, that one was carefully laid out and explained. It developed naturally from the characters, and each situation was placed so that it would evolve logically from the previous one. Here, by contrast, all of the twists and turns are haphazardly piled on, with little rhyme or reason. The film becomes a game of "can you top this?," with a crisis occurring, and then a new crisis that has nothing to do with the previous one, and then a completely new one that starts before any of the earlier ones have even been fully explored, let alone resolved. The idea that Barry would want to consider a life different than the one he is offered would, in and of itself, made for an interesting movie. So would the idea that Barry and Vanessa share a special connection despite their biological differences. So would Vanessa's discovery that bees can speak and understand human languages. Each of these is more than enough story for one film, but instead they are all stitched together clumsily and none is ever really explored in detail. Bee Movie prefers to manufacture phony suspense and action rather than examine the many promising and clever ideas it starts out with.
Such a complicated structure means that it becomes harder and harder to care about the characters as the film goes on. Though Bee Movie takes the first 15 or so minutes to meticulously explain the personalities of each character, all of those bits of characterization are abandoned as the film progresses in favor of artificial crises. Even adults will have a hard time working up much enthusiasm about the climax when it seems to have been trucked in from any number of bad action films and has little to do to with the characters we've been introduced to. Consequently, it's hard to imagine that children, presumably this film's target audience, will enjoy it much. The emotions and stories in films like Finding Nemo are easy to identify with and relate to, but here any emotional connection we feel towards the characters evaporates under all the endless plot contrivances. By the time the end credits start, viewers will have forgotten what they liked about the film earlier. Even though the first 15 or so minutes prove that Bee Movie had the potential to be entertaining for both kids and adults, it winds up a disappointment that will please neither.
The widescreen transfer is crisp and clear, with no flaws. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is well-done, with enough oomph during the action scenes, but also some clever ambient noises in the rear speakers during some quieter scenes, like the ones set in the hive.
Though this set is billed as a two-disc set, there are fewer extras than would appear at first glance. Disc one has the best ones, including a commentary by Seinfeld, co-writer Barry Marder, co-producer Christina Steinberg, and directors Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner. Though it sometimes wanders off into tangents and there are a couple of dead spots, it's a solid description of how the film was made. "Inside the Hive: The Cast of Bee Movie" (14:42) contains interviews with most of the voice actors. It's harmless promotional fluff. "Jerry's Flight Over Cannes" (3:02) has video footage of Seinfeld promoting the movie at the Cannes Film Festival by dressing up in a giant bee outfit and sailing over a press conference using wires. "Alternate Endings" (14:39) and "Lost Scenes" (5:00) contain some minor scenes and all six endings that were considered before Seinfeld and the directors settled on the final cut. All of these consist of storyboards accompanied by voice tracks, rather than animation. None are particularly notable, and the filmmakers were right to skip them. "Live Action Trailers" (4:12) compiles the two amusing trailers that were shot as live-action reenactments of scenes in the film, with Seinfeld, Rock, and various others dressed in bug costumes. "TV Juniors" (21:37) assembles all sixteen TV promo spots that Seinfeld made for the film. Rather than show clips from the film, he wrote and performed a series of comedy sketches that ostensibly show behind-the-scenes footage. These are almost all riotous and are reminiscent of Monty Python.
The remaining extras are on Disc Two and, with one exception, are all geared for the very very young. "Tech of Bee Movie" (7:33) is a brief look at the technology that went into animating the film. It serves mostly as a commercial for HP workstations, as it doesn't really go into much detail. The remaining extras are mainly kid stuff, literally, including an insufferably corny music video for the silly Go-Gos parody "We Got the Bee" (2:13), various games and trivia quizzes related to bees, a "Meet Barry Benson" quiz that has a few more jokes from Seinfeld, and a promo reel of musical numbers from other DreamWorks films.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Visually, Bee Movie is perhaps the best of the DreamWorks films. The animation is fluid and the direction is lively. One scene, where Barry leaves the hive for the first time and joins the pollen collection squad (nicknamed "Pollen Jocks") is exhilarating. Full of bright colors and vast epic vistas, shot and timed perfectly, it perfectly captures the intoxicating feeling of freedom that comes from taking a big chance that pays off. It's the most thrilling moment in the film, and it's too bad that the rest of it doesn't deliver on that scene.
The voice actors are also well-cast. Some of the other DreamWorks films (Shark Tale in particular) used big-name stars who turned out to not be particularly good at voice acting. Here, Seinfeld (who gives an enjoyable performance) is surrounded less by household names than comic actors with great voices. Larry Miller (as Adam's boss), Rip Torn (as the commander of the Pollen Jocks), and John Goodman (as the attorney for the honey companies) are all fantastic, if underused. Zellweger isn't quite up to their standards (she mostly gives the same frazzled neurotic performance she always gives) but is an acceptable Vanessa. Chris Rock, as a loopy mosquito named Mooseblood, is hilarious, but despite what the marketing would have you believe, has barely a cameo here; his scenes add up to a grand total of two minutes.
Most viewers, especially children, will find Bee Movie tortuous and unsatisfying. Add the rather paltry extras on the DVD and it's hard to recommend this to anyone who isn't a hardcore Seinfeld or DreamWorks fan.
Guilty of wasting talent, clever ideas, and funny jokes on a meandering story that isn't even interesting.
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