Hey guys! I hope you all had a good Mother’s Day. Let’s celebrate by talking about what I think is an underrated Pixar film, A Bug’s Life. After the epicness of Toy Story Pixar’s second feature had a lot to live up too. To add to the tension was the premiere of Dreamworks Antz that same summer which I reviewed last week.
With all of that pressure I think they came up with a charming movie with some lovely animation and nice messages for kids. Is it perfect? No but if it was the only Pixar movie I’d still say it was a strong effort.
A lot of people criticize Bug’s Life because it is a formula picture. It tells a story of the oddball character who is sent on a journey where in the end he is finally shown to be special. This is an especially popular formula because of all the writers who no doubt have a similar journey. We also get the liar reveal which we see in lots of movies.
If all that is true then why do I say it’s underrated? Because I think a film doesn’t necessarily have to be original to win an endorsement from me. A movie can follow a formula but do it well and that’s great. One of my favorite movies of all time is You’ve Got Mail and that is a total formula picture. It works because the writing is good and the characters are easy for me to relate too. I think you can say the same for A Bug’s Life.
A Bug’s Life is about a colony of ants that live by a tree surrounded by water called Ant Island. They are a timid species and afraid of any kind of change (even the great twig of 93!). Except for one ant named Flick voiced by Dave Foley who is an innovator and is trying to make things better.
The ants are ruled with an iron fist by a grasshopper named Hopper voiced perfectly by Kevin Spacey. He intimidates them to giving an ‘offering’ every year of food, so it basically works out to servitude but the ants are too scared to fight back.
The ants have their own leadership- a queen voiced by Phyllis Diller and her daughter Princess Atta voiced by Julia Louis- Dreyfus who are both great and 2 of the more dynamic Pixar female characters we see for a long time. We also get little princess Dot voiced by Hayden Panettiere.
Eventually Flick screws up the offering and he is sent away on a seemingly fools errand of finding bigger bugs to help defend the colony.
Through various circumstances Flick stumbles on to a troop of circus bugs he mistakes for warriors and they return to the ant colony. The troop is a total delight with great vocal performances and really funny writing with characters like Francis the ladybug that’s actually a dude (and voiced by Dennis Leary which is so perfect!).
I also love Heimlich the German caterpillar who dreams of being a beautiful butterfly ‘and then everything will be better’. Joe Ranft, who was an animator at the time, did the voice and he gets a laugh from me every time he is on screen.
Like I said at the beginning, the story isn’t really what attracts me to A Bug’s Life. It’s a lot of other things:
1. It’s bright and colorful. It looks great and every scene has texture unlike the brown, brown, brown of Antz. The soil looks like little craters and the grass looks like giant trees because we are seeing it from a bug’s perspective.
2. The voice cast is great. It runs so deep with everyone from Madaline Kahn, Bonnie Hunt, Brad Garrett, Richard Kind and more.
3. Hopper is a terrific villain that is menacing and extremely scary from the point of view of the ants. He also has some great sarcastic remarks.
4. The writing all around is really good. It elevates the more ordinary material. There are a lot of laughs and genuine moments of heart . I particularly like when Flick is trying to convince Dot that she’s just a seed using a rock.
I also really like a scene where the ant children put on a little play letting the circus bugs know what they expect. It’s very funny.
5. The score is some of Randy Newman’s best. I know a lot of people deride Newman but I like his cheerful style and found this to be just the right tone for the story they were telling. The finale song is also great. One of his best.
And that’s enough for me to give it a hearty recommendation. It’s bright colorful, sweet time at the movies. And it’s a movie that will appeal equally to little girls and boys, which can sometimes be hard to find.
Overall I give it a B.
They ended off Bug’s Life with this very cute ‘outtakes’ segment which was kind of a thing in the 90s but I enjoy it.