Bees lack buzz and humor that stingsIn the age when comedians like Robin Williams and Jack Black line up to star in their own animated vehicles, Jerry Seinfeld has always refused. He wanted to wait, he said, for a project truly worthy of his participation. The result, finally, is “Bee Movie,” and it’s unfortunately not worth the wait.
A bee named Barry (Seinfeld) has just graduated from bee school (“three days of grade school, three days of high school and three days of college”) with his buddy Adam (Matthew Broderick) to find that he doesn’t particularly want to spend the rest of his days in a single menial job. His parents are mortified, and Barry escapes to the outside world with a squad of “pollen jockies” only to get lost and eventually bump into Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a florist with a soft spot for all of God’s creatures.
Barry breaks bee law No. 1 by thanking Vanessa for saving him from her oafish boyfriend Ken (Patrick Warburton), and when he discovers that humans are harvesting and selling honey, he finds his purpose in life ― to sue humanity for damages and stop the honey farming.
It’s just as gripping as it sounds, and the Seinfeld comedy doesn't come close to making up the difference. There are all the typical scripted bee puns, but Seinfeld is at his best when he’s just sitting around and riffing. Alas, animation does not abide much sitting still, and we’re usually hurried along to the next scene before Seinfeld’s humor has a chance to really unfurl. At one point Barry sits in on an interview with “Bee Larry King” and mentions to the bee talk show host that there’s actually also a human Larry King ― it’s one of the film’s funniest moments and all it takes is a few mouth movements. It must be thanks to his vast experience with animation that Warburton’s voice is the only one that really gels with the animated action.
Unfortunately even when the animation is a bit more complicated, it doesn’t move the film above the level of kids’ entertainment.
The designs are typical of DreamWorks animation: crisp and clean with a cartoony but safe sensibility. Visually there’s little discernible difference between Bee Movie and their previous “Over the Hedge.” If anything the animation feels scaled back.
Where Over the Hedge at least had a large cast of unique-looking characters and several very funny bits of physical comedy, Bee Movie bees all look the same ― like bees ― and none of its action set pieces are especially inspired.
If better Seinfeldian humor was out of the question, Bee Movie would at least have benefited from closer examination of its inspiration. Bees are actually incredible creatures, hardworking with a complex social structure.
The structures and societies they build are some of nature’s most fascinating.
But the bees in Bee Movie are just little humans with moms and dads who drive little cars, complain about work and wear neckties. (Not to mention that as workers Barry should technically be female.) The eerily similar “Antz” with Woody Allen, while also not a very good film, at least made a modest attempt to conform to the reality of its subject.
The setting of a park in New York City also oozes lost potential. Streetscapes are far too clean and nature much too sanitized, a far cry from the grittiness of feel-good animated comedy “Tokyo Godfathers” (now also out in Korea) or the stunning, even moving natural settings of “Toy Story 2” or “Finding Nemo.” One can’t help thinking that an artistic crew based in New York and not Glendale, California would have done a better job capturing the city’s inexhaustible charms.
In the end Bee Movie is just like DreamWorks’ older film “Shark Tale,” where Will Smith played a fish who crossed the mob, and many other humdrum animated features over the years.
It’s a safe, forgettable chance for a big star to cut loose and voice a colorful animal character. It’s harmless and pretty but not very funny, with a thin plot and nowhere near the crossover appeal of other recent entries like “Ratatouille.”
It’s a shame that the movie Seinfeld waited so long to make had to turn out exactly like all the films he claims weren’t good enough.
Animation / English
By Ben Applegate Contributing Writer [email@example.com]