REVIEW: A Bug’s Life [1998]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: G | Runtime: 95 minutes | Release Date: November 25th, 1998 (USA)
Studio: Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures / Buena Vista Pictures
Director(s): John Lasseter / Andrew Stanton (co-director)
Writer(s): Andrew Stanton and Don McEnery & Don McEnery /
John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton & Joe Ranft (story)

“Flaming Death!”

When watching A Bug’s Life for the first time in a long while, I couldn’t help but see the comparisons with last year’s Happy Feet. As far as the main storyline goes, they are very similar: an outcast doing what he can to fit in while also attempting to be special. It just goes to show you how much better that film could have been without its liberal diatribe conclusion.

A lot of people disagree when I say that I really like Pixar’s sophomore effort. It doesn’t manage to capture the splendor of Toy Story and the animation isn’t out of this world, but the story is top-notch and the characters are worthy of your time. With plenty of laughs and a moral center to boot, I could watch this one just as much as the studio’s other classics.

There’s a lot about finding strength from within to conquer all odds here. Between our lead Flick needing to keep his self-esteem up to save his colony, the colony needing to open its eyes towards a new way of living for the future, and the circus bugs finding that they are more than just untalented sideshow freaks, everyone evolves into a better bug by the end of the story. Even the villain Hopper is fully fleshed out and menacing for the right reasons. He’s not doing it to be mean; he instead understands the fact that the ants outnumber him 100 to 1. He needs them to fear him in order to not have to worry about them finding out the truth. It is very much a circle of life, but not one that can’t adapt in kind.

The animation is actually quite good too. Compared to Antz, its rival film of the time, A Bug’s Life is much more realistic and less cartoony. The water is rendered nicely, as is the foliage. You don’t have to look much further than the ants’ eyes to see how much detail went into the production as the reflections and moistness, despite their smooth exterior, shows a wonderful sense of realism. The bugs themselves are finely crafted too. The flies in the city and the crazy mix of creatures recruited to save the ants are never skimped on whether for a small role or a more expansive one. It’s in the city where we see the meticulous work on each environment. While Ant Island is nice, it’s just the outdoors. Bug City contains plenty of garbage doubling as buildings and clubs. It’s a great showing of humor and inventiveness to see what the animators used for everything. From the ice cube trays as circus stands, the animal crackers box as circus wagon—complete with full nutrition guide on the side—and crazy compilation of boxes to create a Times Square of billboards and facades, everything is done right.

As for the humor, you have to credit the acting talent for its pristine delivery and inspired role choices. No one could do a male ladybug better than Dennis Leary with his acerbic wit. I dare you to think of someone better. Our leads are great too with Dave Foley as Flick and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Princess Atta, as well as the always-fantastic Kevin Spacey as Hopper. Spacey not only steals many scenes from the movie, but also takes center stage in the bloopers during the credits. Yes, A Bug’s Life was the originator of animated outtakes from Pixar, a tradition that has continued on. With many tongue-in-cheek bug jokes laced throughout, you also have to give props to the huge supporting cast. Full of “those guy actors,” it’s people like Richard Kind, Brad Garrett, and the late Joe Ranft as Heimlich the worm who deliver the biggest laughs.

Overall, it may be the simplest story brought to screen by Pixar, one that has been told in one form or the other numerous times over the years, but it is inspired enough and fresh enough to provide an enjoyable experience. There are joyous moments, sad times, and even action packed scenes of suspense with birds coming in to join the fun. Complete with a couple of my favorite Pixar characters in Tuck and Roll, there isn’t too much I can say that isn’t praise.

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