Disney / Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life” (1998)

IMAGE: Disney / Pixar, Wikipedia.org

It’s a Bug, Bug World for a Bug, Bug Film…

STORY –

The story is better than I remember. I initially thought a lot of the plot relied a lot on “the liar revealed” cliche, but it actually is pretty well paced. The first twenty minutes establish the world and stakes very well, introducing pro- and antagonists neatly. The latter half of the film is paced as well, with twists, turns, and betrayals alike, including a good montage too. The climax is fantastic in this regard, one of Pixar’s better finales. Flik’s journey outside the island is my one big hangup. What should be a fantastic city and some cool circus acts are uninteresting and pathetic. While this seems to be on purpose, I was bored and underwhelmed. On the whole, scenes with the grasshoppers are gripping, the ant scenes containing some good emotional beats, and the circus bugs are just comedic relief. There is a weak through-line of a romantic subplot that doesn’t really have much of a payoff. The morals and themes on teamwork and perseverance also ring true and serve as great lessons for younger and older audiences alike.

My STORY RATING is 7 / 10.

CHARACTERS –

Flik (Dave Foley) is this film’s huge-brained everyant.. He just wants to help in any way he can (he thinks). While his quick thinking and big ideas may come at inopportune times, they somehow manage to work themselves out. He also is incredibly awkward at times, providing some humor, especially when talking to Atta. I do appreciate his quick-thinking inventions, they’re creative.I especially like his confidence growing throughout the film. Good character development.

Dot (Hayden Panettierre), Princess Atta (Julia Louise-Dreyfus), and the Queen (Phyllis Diller) are three sides of a generational triangle. Dot is constantly trying to gain the respect of others, Atta is trying to use the respect given to her, and the Queen is having a ball, having not much respect for how she acts, though is responsible for the ant colony. It’s an interesting trio of characters who all have a similar problem, and by the end of the film, overcome them. I do wish they were a little more complex, though, and had some more screen time.

The Circus Bugs are a really disparate bunch. You can probably cut out half of them and it wouldn’t matter much. They seem to solve problems other characters can fill the role of and to me, are a waste of character, no matter how comedic they can be. Francis (Denis Leary) is the only one with any real character development, getting in touch with his feminine side (this being played off as a joke rather than a good lesson on gender roles, equality, and respect). The rest are one-note aside from the ‘Team Mom’ Rosie (Bonnie Hunt), though I can see some kind of spin-off with Mantis (Jonathan Harris) and Gypsy Moth (Madeline Khan), they have some interesting potential. Slim (David Hyde Pierce) and Dib (Brad Garrett) are wasted talent, Heimlich (Joe Ranft) and Tuck and Roll (Michael McShane as both) are outdated, annoying ‘foreign’ stereotypes. P.T. Flea (John Ratzenberger) is great though, the annoying promoter of the circus, and the ringmaster insane enough to light himself on fire. He is the saving grace of the circus bugs, and I’m glad his actor is a Pixar mainstay. He deserves it.

Hopper (Kevin Spacey) is a really great Pixar villain by voice alone. He’s threatening and intimidating even if you take away the frightening character design. His looming threat of a character is softened by his fake charisma at times, then he verbally twists the knife some more. What little we get of his backstory is a great choice, making him seem less of a character and more of an inevitability. He always exudes anger boiling under the surface or disgust at those beneath him, and is usually one step ahead of the good guys, in thought or deed. I’ve missed this kind of villain that has no remorse from his actions or the audience. He’s a sadist, a metal abuser, and a bully. What perfect casting!

Hopper is balanced by Molt (Richard Kind), Hopper’s idiot brother who is actually pretty funny, but you can see what years of being around Hopper has taken its toll on him. I’m glad that he wasn’t truly a villain, but just caught up in it, as some actual people do. Thumper (David L. Lander) is Hopper’s… Pet? He’s the muscle and enforcer to Hopper’s twisted ideas, and he has a few brutal and scary scenes. He does have some funny scenes in the climax of the film, and in the bloopers too.

My CHARACTERS RATING is 6 / 10.

DIALOGUE –

The dialogue includes a lot of well-done long-winded lines, speeches, and monologues. Each character has their own distinct ways of speaking, and while the dialogue isn’t really snappy, it’s more conversational. However, there are a lot of overdrawn puns and jokes that makes me think this script could have used a second pass at times, no matter how good the dramatic dialogue may be. The bloopers during the credits, however, are comedy gold.

My DIALOGUE RATING is 7 / 10.

EFFECTS –

The backgrounds look very good here, and lighting is pretty good too. While not a step down from Toy Story in the visual effects, it’s more of a lateral trade-off. There are points when the ground and rain sometimes looks like plastic, they’re getting close but just not quite there yet. Comedic timing, at least, is also improved on and most movements look faster and more fluid. The characters almost look real, but again, look like plastic instead of insectoid material. Materials in the city scene look great though: cardboard, metal cans, and matches all look great in the shifting light of a fire.

My EFFECTS RATING is 7 / 10.

MUSIC –

Randy Newman returns once again, only with one lyrical piece. The rest of the music is orchestral again, but a little more varied with a little piece composed by the ants. There is a main theme running through the film, though I prefer characters and moments to have their own individual themes, this sounds kind of phoned in. Whenever the grasshoppers show up though, the music gets really terse, tense, and threatening.

“The Time of Your Life” – Randy Newman pulls another song from thin air, and this one is on-par with his work from Toy Story. It leans towards the premise of the film, talking on teamwork and reiterating the themes of the film. It’s very meandering and lazy in a way, but no less pleasant to listen to.

My MUSIC RATING is 8 / 10.

OVERALL –

A Bug’s Life is a film overlooked by most. It tries really hard to amaze with its technology by having dozens of characters onscreen at a time, but that isn’t the highlight of the film. It’s the message of the film, connecting to the studio itself: a seed can turn into a beautiful tree. Pixar totally has become that tree. This, however, is not its best film by a long shot.

The story is good, but relies on several common conventions and cliches to the point where the audience is just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Once it does, the film is great, having an awesome third act, and a pretty good second act. The characters can be cut in half and not waste time with inane jokes, though the conversational dialogue here is great. The effects are pretty good for the time, though water and some ground looks pretty fake. The music is the best part, competently done by Randy Newman, though it could have just a little more life to it.

A Bug’s Life is a pretty okay seed that turned into a pretty good tree.

IMAGE: Disney / Pixar, Disneyparks.disney.go.com

My OVERALL RATING for Disney / Pixar’s A Bug’s Life is 70%.

Next time…

The Blue Blur is back at last!

Stay Tuned…..

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