In sharp contrast to my last post, tonight I watched Bee Movie. This computer animated family film from Dreamworks features a bee named Barry B. Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld) that decides to go outside the hive, try and seduce a human woman, and then sue the human race for stealing honey and selling it (featuring Ray Liotta Private Select honey). Then, when he wins the lawsuit, apparently without consulting any form of basic scientist, botanist, entomologist, or apiologist, realizes that without bees, all plants on earth will die. Hey, how about that? Days later, they manage to re-pollenate the entire earth's stock of withering plants with a stolen Parade of Roses float. Also, he sues Sting (voiced by Sting) because of his vaguely bee-themed stage name. Hooray!
One of the most striking things to me was the choice of Jerry Seinfeld as the main character and hero. It's surprisingly brilliant in some ways, and completely bizarre in others. I've always felt that Seinfeld was words and a voice. On his long-running sitcom, he was, without a doubt, the least physical of all the main performers. He was quick with the quips, but when it came to delivering laughs with a movement, expression, or gesture, he almost always fell flat, seeming staged, stilted, and generally unconvincing. Placing all the emphasis on the voice, and allowing talented animators make the gestures and facial expressions was a genius move. My favorite moment in the movie is when he first discovers Ray Liotta's special brand of honey. He hovers there, hands up, with a "Wha-buh-huh-guh?" expression on his face. In the real world, he could never have pulled that off.
As par for the course in family films, this one is filled with vague "adult" jokes, to make it more palatable for the adults that are invariable dragged to these things by gaggles of screeching, grabby little germ-machines known as children. The movie starts out with a very strong sense of "Work is kind of for suckers, huh?" Apparently, in this universe, bees work in a complicated and efficient Rube Goldberg-esque hive-themed carnival, and must choose one job to do for the rest of their tiny little lives. There's also an idea of insect time-dilation (three days of high school, three days of college, but thank the BeeJesus that he took that day in between to bum around), but once Barry leaves the hive and starts flirting with human Vanessa (voiced by Renée Zelwegger), this time compression idea vanishes.
Speaking of Vanessa and Barry, they share a number of vaguely unsettling and disquieting scenes of intimacy, where one can't help but wonder the ramifications of such a logistically improbably trans-species relationship. Several characters nonchalantly refer to her as his "girlfriend," and his friend Adam (voiced by Matthew Broderick) even states that they "make out." Thank BeeJesus that Barry vehemently denies this accusation, though longs deep in his heart of hearts that it were true.
The voice acting is spot on, especially by the more minor characters. Rip Torn plays a diminutive drill sergeant to the "Pollen Jocks," the squadron of bees that acquire pollen. Patrick Warburton plays Vanessa's human boyfriend Ken, with his classic deep-voiced exuberance with a slight tinge of insanity. Larry Miller plays some strange bee mayor-figure, and it's difficult to explain why it's so great. There's even an appearance by Larry King, as "Bee Larry King," where Barry points out that there's a nearly identical version of Larry King in the human word, in a strange scene absolutely stuffed with meta-references. Unfortunately, there are several jokes that are poorly set up, fall flat, and simply don't deliver (a scene that sets up an especially poor "Drag Queen" pun comes cringingly to mind).
Bee Movie sadly lacks much of what we should really look for in an animated movie. The characters and plot are wild and underdeveloped, and don't seem to follow any sort of set path. Despite the initial message of "Why work so hard for the hive blah blah blah," it eventually reverses itself, telling about "Hey, guess what, nevermind, if you don't do what you're supposed to be doing, the entire ecosystem will break down and life could end as we know it!" Eventually, we're all doomed to succumb to the swelling tide of the working world. Plus, we'll have to listen to Jerry Seinfeld's screeching pseudo-anxious voice most of the time while we're at it.
Meh, three out of five. I'm being pretty generous with that; it's not as good as Disney movies, or other Dreamworks films, but ... yeah, it's just not as good.