Contrary to popular rumors, Judge Clark Douglas is not a bee. These yellow and black stripes are simplyzzz...bzzzz. Buzzzz?
Born to bee wild.
"We're very proud of you son and a perfect report card; all B's!"—Father Bee Martin Benson
Facts of the Case
At a first glance, Bee Movie looks like just another animated movie about animals that act quite a lot like humans. At a second glance, it is confirmed that Bee Movie is precisely that. It's not anything special or particularly innovative, despite the fact that it features voice work and writing from the ever-popular Jerry Seinfeld. As films like Shark Tale, Antz, An American Tail, and so many others have done, Bee Movie takes animal behavior and tries to shape into something that mirrors some form of human society. Bee Movie does this by using the expected methods: bee-related pop culture references, cutesy production design, etc.
As these things go, Bee Movie is entertaining enough, especially early on. We learn a bit about the life of bees…for instance, they do nothing but work at the exact same job their entire lives. One bee named Barry (Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld) is quite unhappy with this and determines to see the world outside the hive and do some soul-searching. He begins by tagging along with a group of bees that are pollinating flowers but soon gets lost. After a lengthy and creative action sequence, Barry winds up inside the home of a friendly human female (Renee Zellweger, Leatherheads). They start talking and become friends.
"Hold on a second, Judge Clark Douglas. Did you just tell me that the bee was talking to the human?"
Yes. Somehow, for no particular reason, bees have the ability to speak English. The reason we never hear them do this is because it's against the "bee rules" to do so. That's probably a good rule, because Barry decides to use his communication abilities to cause trouble. He attempts to sue major food corporations for stealing honey from the bees, beekeepers for enslaving bees, and even Sting for using a copyrighted bee term as his stage name. The results of this court case are disastrous for both the humans and the bees, and Barry then sets out to learn his lesson, fix everything, and bring about some sort of heroic ending.
Despite the fact that Bee Movie seems to fall considerably short of Jerry Seinfeld at his finest, the movie has some merits. The dialogue is clever and fresh at times, and there's some terrific voice cameos (particularly the bits from Larry King and Ray Liotta as themselves). Seinfeld provides a sizable chunk of unpredictable humor, and his jokes tend to come at you sideways rather than straight-on. Zellweger is charming, Matthew Broderick (Wargames) does his nervous sidekick thing, and Chris Rock (I Think I Love My Wife) has a couple of good lines as a mosquito. Patrick Warburton (The Emperor's New Groove) is also memorable as Zellweger's angry boyfriend, and John Goodman (Barton Fink) bellows and gasps as a chubby southern lawyer.
What really makes the film worthwhile on Blu-ray is the animation. This is a remarkably detailed and complex animated world, bursting at the seams with eye-catching images. The hi-def transfer really allows the film to sparkle on a visual level, capturing the vast amount of detail in a way that standard-definition is simply incapable of. The Bee Movie transfer compares favorably with Ratatouille as one of the strongest animated transfer Blu-ray has offered so far. The sound mix is quite strong in terms of dialogue and sound effects, but I felt like the music was dialed down a little too low in many scenes.
The amount of extras included here is also quite impressive. Everything from the 2-Disc DVD version of the film has been ported over, and there are a few Blu-ray exclusive extras, as well. Some of the featurettes and odds and ends are little more than dull promotional material, but there is some stuff worth checking out here. The best bonus is a collection of "TV Juniors," which run a combined total of 23 minutes. These were produced for NBC as promotional items for Bee Movie, and almost all of them are laugh-out-loud funny. Each brief sketch features Seinfeld and other notable folks such as Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ray Liotta, and Brad Garrett. A couple of "Live-Action Trailers" are very funny, featuring Jerry attempting to turn the film into a live-action epic. A series of alternate endings and deleted scenes are worth checking out, even though they're only storyboards combined with voice work.
Unfortunately, the biggest draw turns out to be one of the more disappointing extras. The commentary by Jerry Seinfeld and several of the filmmakers is quite dull much of the time, featuring a lot of meandering chatter and very little of real interest. Fortunately, this Blu-ray disc compensates for this by providing a couple of excellent trivia tracks. One focuses on trivia about bees and nature, the other offers loads of information about the making of the film. Both are very well done, and each offers far more substance than the commentary. Additionally, there's a cool option to watch animator's storyboards (a picture-in-picture feature) as the film goes along. The rest of the extras are either interactive features for kids or uninteresting EPK padding.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The much-too-familiar story is rather ho-hum and starts to wear a bit thin by the final act. This disc does everything it can to add some sparkle to the film, but the weak plot just barely manages to keep the whole thing from caving in on itself.
There are fun bits in Bee Movie for grown-ups, but ultimately, the question here is "will the kids like it?" To help answer that question, I took my nearly-two-decades-younger brothers (ages 8 and 6) to the film with me when it was in theatres. After the movie, I asked them what they liked about it. One brother responded that he like the scenes with "that crazy lawyer" and "the part where they pollinated all the flowers." The other said, "I liked that scene with that guy, Ray Liotta." And they both concluded that it was "as good as Meet the Robinsons, but not as good as Ratatouille." I must concur with my fellow junior critics.
Thanks to a generous batch of bonus features and an excellent hi-def transfer aiding this merely average film, not guilty. However, Mr. Seinfeld is capable of far better and is warned that he will not receive such a lenient ruling next time.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Jerry Seinfeld and filmmakers
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