A Reel View: Bee Movie

A Reel View
Bee Movie

The press notes for Bee Movie indicate that Jerry Seinfeld came up with the title before he had an inkling what the story might be. Having seen the film, I can believe that. As befits something from Seinfeld's pen, the screenplay contains a smattering of amusing one-liners, but the plot sputters before dead-ending. It's a little weird and a little subversive, but mostly it's just dull. Moreover, while adults may get something out of Bee Movie, it's hard to understand what it has to offer to kids besides the flashy animation and a couple of video game-inspired sequences. On the whole, this is another disappointing animated effort and it resides considerably lower on the totem pole than this year's current non-live action champion, Ratatouille.
As is the case with many animated movies, this one starts by taking us into a non-human society where all the creatures have taken on human characteristics. This time, it's a bee hive, and some of the parallels are clever. Since bees don't live very long, their entire time in school is nine days (three for grammar school, three for high school, three for college). They never take vacations. And conformity is not merely a desirable characteristic, it's a necessary one. That's too bad for maverick Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld), whose insatiable wanderlust leads him out of the hive and into the wild world. On his first foray, he almost gets himself killed but is saved by Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a human woman who owns a flower shop. She is charmed - not to mention a little startled - by the talking bee, and the two of them strike up a friendship. This liaison leads to complications, however, when Barry accompanies Vanessa to a supermarket and discovers that humans are stealing honey from bees. His solution: file a lawsuit accusing the human race of theft. While this allows for some satirizing of the legal system and results in the best line (a mosquito explaining why he's a lawyer), it's where Bee Movie goes into a tailspin.
The movie tries with limited success to incorporate elements that will keep children (and adults) from becoming restless. Since there's really no action to speak of, the animators trump up a little, such as a car ride in the bee hive that's like a roller coaster. Or a short sequence when Vanessa's friend Ken (Patrick Warburton) tries to do in Barry. There are also no song-and-dance numbers, although the film sneaks in "Here Comes the Sun" and provides Sting with a cameo. Most of the humor is Seinfeld-dry and the storyline isn't the kind of thing that's going to enthrall many viewers, regardless of their age. It's just not interesting enough. It's possible to enjoy the movie's satirical bent without becoming enamored of the project as a whole. Bee Movie also has the requisite big-mouthed sidekick (think "Donkey" from Shrek). In this case it's Chris Rock's mosquito named Mooseblood, but his limited screen presence makes him instantly forgettable.
The animation and voice work fall into the "nothing special" category. The CGI is nice but not the kind of thing that's going to have viewers staring agog at the screen. Ratatouille and even Shrek the Third have offered more impressive visuals this year. The directors both have experience in the field, with Steve Hickner having been in charge of Prince of Egypt and Simon J. Smith having helmed Shrek 4-D (the 12-minute theme ride attraction at Universal Orlando), so everything is technically sound. On the vocal side, Seinfeld is an odd choice for the lead role because his voice is so recognizable. It's impossible to look at Barry and not see Jerry. Better selections are Renee Zellweger and Matthew Broderick (as Barry's bff - bee friend forever) - they successfully submerge themselves into their roles.
The film has a moral of sorts, but it's not the kind of thing with a strong real-life application. It's about the importance of bees in the life cycle of the planet. I suppose if one wanted to stretch things a bit, a point could be extrapolated about climate change and global warming, but I'm not sure that's what Seinfeld and company had in mind. The film also has some unflattering things to say about lawyers and the legal system - all of which seem perfectly reasonable, if a little tame, as far as I can tell.
It's fair to argue that Bee Movie ventures onto a road less taken. Certainly, I can't think of another movie in which a talking insect has dragged the entire human race before a judge whose voice is provided by Oprah Winfrey. Nevertheless, while there's something to be prized about uniqueness in a motion picture, that quality is only an asset when it enhances the overall entertainment value - something not evident here. Bee Movie will generate some box office interest because of Seinfeld's heavy involvement, because it is being relentlessly promoted, and because it is an animated feature starring a cute little bee. But it's hard to imagine the picture generating better than mediocre word of mouth. While it has value as a passable diversion, this is ultimately yet another disappointing animated feature in an every-widening pool of them. At least this time it appears that the cause is an offbeat sensibility rather than the laziness and greed that have characterized so many others.

Movie Reviews and Criticism by James Berardinelli, reelviews.net.