BEE MOVIE is a perfectly sweet little film that suffered from audience expectations. Fans of Jerry Seinfeld were, perhaps, expecting the same sensibility in this, his first post-television film project, as they had enjoyed on the series. It wasn’t an unreasonable expectation, Seinfeld and series writers Spike Feresten and Andy Robin were among the films writers. Then there were those BEE MOVIE TV Juniors (all of which are on the DVD), that made sport of the underbelly of Hollywood. Dark, nihilistic, and bitingly funny as that classic series was, BEE MOVIE is a polar opposite, which is not to say that BEE MOVIE doesn’t take some very pointed swipes at capitalism, the legal process, and what humankind has done to its planet.
Seinfeld’s voice stars as Barry B. Benson, a young bee just starting out in the hive, or Honex, which is its corporate name. Hive mentality being what it is, bees as a rule long to become a cog in the great corporate machine, but Barry is different. After realizing that the lot of a bee is to be worked to death and be grateful for the opportunity, he sets his sights on a different sort of life, one that involves the adventure of doing what few bees ever do: leaving the hive. Barry goes AWOL to follow his dream, but the adventures, involving a tennis game, a windshield, and an unlikely friendship with human florist Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), take him where no bee has gone before.
The animation is dynamic and whimsical at the same time. The same is true of the story, which extrapolates reality to its barely logical limits, bee society notwithstanding. Sure, in real bee colonies, the worker bees are all female, sure, there is no nuclear family as depicted here, and sure, bees can’t talk. Never mind. The deleted scenes include a sequence where Barry meets the queen bee, who brings a whole new meaning to the concepts of a femme fatale and the Darwinism.
The commentary, which features Seinfeld, the directors, the producer and what seems like a horde of others, reveals that the original plans for the opening, a Frisbee whacking the hive, had to be scrapped. It’s instructive for pointing up the limits of CGI still are, and it piques interest for what it called for considering the action sequences that did make it into the film. Other brainstorms are up for discussion, some of which can be seen in the deleted scenes section, as well the an unexpected insight into the perils of having human characters look dated before the film is even released, or those of trying to get a bee and his putative human girlfriend in the same shot, even using animation. Instructive is the key word here, because along with the fun, there is an overriding message about the interdependence of all the creatures on earth that they are quick to point up early on, and then get back to the fun. Seinfeld makes much of the fact that the bees have over-defined buttocks, returning with that and other comments to the sort of wry observational humor that is the hallmark of his stand-up career. If there are too many people on the one track to really be able to keep track of who, aside from Seinfeld, is whom, it also reinforces the distinct and refreshing attitude of generosity the star of the film takes with his colleagues. Seinfeld also points out that there is something about the way the bees are rendered that makes them all, more or less, Elvis impersonators.
Other bonus features include the righteously weird live-action recreation of the windshield scene with Seinfeld and company working as much against the full insect regalia as the wind machine, and the deleted Ray Liotta scenes, which I can only hope will be fully animated for a future DVD release. The second disc in this release has a treasure trove of stuff for kids, and strictly for kids. The games might well keep the kiddies amused, but move much too slowly for adults, the snappy answers of “Ask Barry” notwithstanding.
BEE MOVIE is never sappy, often clever, and always great to look at. In short the perfect vehicle to keep the kiddies (and their adults) amused while getting across a well-framed message about species interdependence. If you never look at a jar of honey in quite the same way again, that’s not a bad thing.