A Bug’s Life (1998)
Starring: Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce
Directed by: John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton
[originally written on April 12, 2005]
First off, let’s get the technical details out of the way. Like all Pixar films, A Bug’s Life looks fantastic. The animation is bold and bright, giving its anthropomorphic bugs the usual 3D rendering process that Pixar first showed the world with its first picture, Toy Story. Also, the film does a fairly convincing job with fire in the film, a tricky element to capture with animation.
The voice actors all do a great job fleshing out their characters, and do so without upstaging their characters. Unlike other recent animated films, where the animators chose to tailor the animated figure to the actor, the actor tailor their performances to the animated figure. Kevin Spacey as the villainous Hopper is a particular standout, along with David Hyde Pierce‘s comedic performance as Slim.
The story itself is engaging, following the protagonist ant, Flik (Dave Foley), in his attempt to redeem himself in the eyes of the colony by finding other insects to help him ward off the grasshopper gang that torments them. In this attempt, he stumbles across a group of fun and lovable circus bugs (a collection including a male ladybug, a preying mantis, a black widow spider, a gypsy moth, a walking stick-bug, a caterpillar, a dung beetle, and a couple pillbugs), who come back to the colony with him in a misunderstanding. Eventually, everyone teams up to save the day. Flik’s journey to “the city” where he finds these bugs is the funniest part of the movie, and a perfect example of how an animated film can use sight gags for great comedic effect, without having them dominate the entire narrative structure.
My favourite parts of the movie are when the bugs acted like bugs (mosquitoes flying into bug zappers, ants losing it when separated from the colony, flies having 24 hours to live). These parts are quite clever and contribute to some of the genuine laughs of the film. However, while a fun movie, and a great family movie, this movie doesn’t quite capture the high levels of quality of other Pixar works like Finding Nemo or The Incredibles. Of all of Pixar’s films, this one is probably the most kid-centric and has the least to offer for adults. Which, is to be expected since it’s about bugs. Kids love bugs. Because kids are weird.
Which makes it a perfect film for kids, but merely a pleasant film for the rest of us. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it.