November 13, 2007

MOVIES: Bee Movie (Steve Hickner & Simon J. Smith, 2007)

This isn't great animation -- it's not in the league of Pixar's movies, for instance -- but it has its moments, and it's reasonably entertaining.

Jerry Seinfeld provides the voice of Barry B. Benson, a bee who's not quite sure he's ready to commit to one job (with the Honex Company) for the rest of his life. Over the objections of his best friend, Adam (very funny and precise voice work from Matthew Broderick), he joins the "Pollen Jocks" on a nectar gathering run. (It's a bit of an odd choice to have the nectar gathering/pollinating bees presented as an all-male, quasi-military unit; in reality, it's the female bees who do that work.)

The somewhat meandering plot finds Barry separated from the swarm; he meets a nice human, Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), and eventually discovers that humans have been stealing the honey the bees make and selling it for profit. He sues humanity to end this injustice, with unexpected, nearly cataclysmic results.

The movie's strong point is the animation of its sets and backgrounds. The world of the beehive, the scenes of Barry and the Jocks flying through Central Park, the colorful fields of flowers -- all beautifully done, and marvelous to look at. There are one or two impressive set pieces, most notably a clever variation on a fencing match. The character animation isn't at the same level as the backgrounds; the faces -- especially on the human characters -- aren't very expressive, and what expression they are given doesn't always seem to match very well with the dialogue.

The voice performances are uneven. Seinfeld plays the only character he can play (though toned down a bit to be more kid-friendly), but the script (which he wrote with a few other writers) plays well to his strengths. John Goodman is a bit broad, but gets laughs as the opposing lawyer in Barry's court case. Patrick Warburton, normally so good in voice-over work, is disappointing as Vanessa's lunkheaded boyfriend; there's a bit too much shouting and ranting for its own sake, and Warburton's usual subtlety is missing. There are effective cameos from Ray Liotta, Larry King, Sting (all as themselves), and Oprah Winfrey (as the judge).

The final message of the movie seemed to me a bit weird for a kids' movie; Barry's attempts to liberate the bees from the monotony of their work life lead to disaster, and everyone winds up happier when they are doing the same repetitive job every day for the rest of their lives. Gee, there's a message that'll have the tiny tots looking forward to adulthood!

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