A Bug’s Life

While watching "A Bug’s Life," I kept marveling at how far computer animation has come since "Toy Story." I remember being impressed by the 64-bit graphics on my computer games, wondering how they could ever improve on the technology.


Now computers are capable of creating believable dinosaurs, awesome acts of nature, not to mention whole movies like "Toy Story" and "Antz."

What really struck me about "A Bug’s Life" was the film’s ability to draw me into it’s microscopic world without one iota of hesitation. From it’s intricately designed depictions of nature to it’s funny and adorable characters, "A Bug’s Life" is easy on the eyes and easy to get lost in.

The polar opposite of the more dark and adult "Antz," "A Bug’s Life" is a cheerful (although at times menacing) concoction that should have no problem connecting with both children and adults. "Toy Story" director John Lasseter returns at the helm of "A Bug’s Life," and even though this film is not on the same level as "Toy Story," it more than holds its own.

While Woody Allen’s hero ant in "Antz" had to fight an enemy within, "A Bug’s Life" hero Flick (voice of Dave Foley) has to summon his courage to fight an enemy from outside the colony.

As "A Bug’s Life" begins, the colony is hard at work harvesting food for the impending visit of the dreaded grasshoppers, led by the cruel and literally inhuman Hopper (voice of Kevin Spacey). As Hopper explains it, there is a hierarchy at work. The ants harvest the food, the grasshoppers eat the food. It’s that whole circle of life thing.

Under the supervision of the colony’s queen (Phyllis Diller) and Princess-in-training Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), the ants have spent all Spring gathering food for Hopper’s visit.

Flick, always the dreamer, believes that there has to be something better in life for the ants, and spends his time creating inventions to make their job easier. More often than not, Flick’s inventions cause more harm than good.

Flick has gained a reputation among the other ants, so when he accidentally loses the harvest, it comes as no surprise to the rest of the colony. When Hopper and his horde arrive, they’re extremely disappointed by the lack of food, but give the colony until Winter to replace the lost food. That means the ants won’t have time to harvest food for themselves.

The colony is angry at Flick, but have no choice. They must do what Hopper says or else. It’s a menacing moment that really kicks starts the film and the fire under Flick’s butt.

Flick realizes that the only way to beat Hopper at his own game is to recruit bigger, meaner bugs to do the ant’s fighting for them. Since everyone else in the colony is eager to see Flick leave, the Queen gives him permission to leave their little "island" and go to the big city.

No one expects Flick to succeed, even Flick. His journey to the big city is filled with lots of adventure and plenty of opportunity for the animators to strut their stuff.

Once Flick arrives in the city, he encounters a group of circus bugs whose shenanigans suggest that they’re tougher than they really are. The circus bugs, a group of thespians desperate for an audience, mistake Flick’s offer as an opportunity to perform, and gladly accept his invitation.

Flick thinks he’s found the "Magnificent Seven," the circus bugs think they’ve found a steady gig. They’re both in for a big surprise.

Unlike the stark, realistic bugs in "Antz," the menagerie of "A Bug’s Life" is much more colorful. Lasseter and his team of animators use a palette of colors that are both vibrant and playful, just like the characters.

The animated characters are so engaging, that after about ten minutes, you forget that you’re watching computer animated images. Once again, the blending of vocal talent and animation is flawless.

Foley, a veteran of "Kids in the Hall" and "News Radio" is adorable as Flick. There’s real earnestness in his voice and animated performance. Spacey is actually quite menacing as Hopper, who delights in being "all that he can be." His little tirade at a makeshift Mexican bar (set inside the remnants of an old sombrero) is priceless. So is Richard Kind’s Molt, Hopper’s goofy brother who knows how to kiss butt with the best of them.

The real fun begins when the circus bugs take center stage. Like a child’s collection of colorful and interesting-looking bugs, the circus bugs come in every shape and size. There’s Slim (David Hyde Pierce at his most obtuse), the walking stick; Heimlich (Joe Ranft), a colorful caterpillar that looks like he walked out of "Alice in Wonderland"; Francis (Denis Leary), the male ladybug with a bug chip on his shoulder; Manny (Jonathan Harris), the preying mantis magician who would use a prayer; his assistant Gypsy (Madeline Kahn), a gypsy moth who works overtime to make Manny look good; Rosie (Bonnie Hunt), a black widow who goes through husbands like crazy; and tuck and roll (Michael McShane), a pair of pill bugs from a foreign language.

They are fun and hammy, and manage to entertain the colony, but are far from the warrior bugs Flick claims them to be. Will the theatrical troupe and the ants manage to rise to the occasion when Hopper returns?

The screenplay by Andrew Stanton, Donald McEnery and Bob Shaw is filled with comical and exciting situations, witty, innuendo-filled dialogue and lots of in-jokes. The story, based on an old Aesop fable, moves at a brisk pace.

The characters are so well defined that the film maker’s don’t have to waste a lot of time developing their back stories. Randy Newman’s musical score is an adventurous blend of comic and melodramatic notes.

Seamlessly edited, meticulously animated, creatively directed and played out on one of the most colorful and imaginative canvases this holiday season, "A Bug’s Life" is the bee’s knees.

A BUG’S LIFE

The voice talents of Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Madeline Kahn, Roddy McDowall, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce, Jonathan Harris, Bonnie Hunt, Phyllis Diller in a film directed by John Lasseter. Rated G. 88 Min.

LARSEN RATING: $8



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