A Bug's Life Review

If it wasn’t for Cars, A Bug’s Life would probably get the most votes on the subject of Pixar’s weakest film. I can see why, given its lack of impressive motion sequences and the heartrending drama usually found in Pixar films. A Bug’s Life is much simpler, with a premise borrowed from Seven Samurai and a slapstick sense of humor like that of an old-timey Disney cartoon.

This, however, is an observation that can only be made now, after they’ve rolled out one great film after another. Coming out of the breakout success of Toy Story at the time—as the filmmakers will tell you in the special features—A Bug’s Life was a test to prove that Pixar wasn’t a one-hit-wonder company. That feeling seeped into the film: the main ant, Flik, is an inventor who is shunned because he keeps trying to find new ways to do things. The elders don’t understand why he can’t just do the job like everybody else. “If it ain’t broke,” and all that. It is in many ways the story of Pixar, who struggled to convince traditional Disney that 3D animation was a feasible technology to make a feature film with. Like Flik, they persevered by convincing a team of nobodies scared out of their wits into confidently taking a leap of faith, believing their combined talents would produce results.

There’s a very good reason to get this movie on Blu-ray, and that is the picture quality. The high definition images really make you appreciate the film’s style more. What it lacks in inventive scenes, it makes up for with great widescreen shots that linger on the environment—translucent leaves, floating dandelions, swaying grass, serene ponds. It’s almost John Ford in its approach. Gorgeous stuff, even with the textures showing its age (11 years!), an unfortunate but unavoidable factor in computer animation. Watching it now, I get the overwhelming sensation that this is Pixar's most grossly underrated work.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Also included in vivid HD are the Pixar short Geri’s Game and a 1934 Silly Symphony cartoon called The Grasshopper and the Ants (an early inspiration for the film). There’s also those lovable fake outtakes in HD, as well, where the bugs are animated as if they’re actors in front of a camera.

Most of the features are taken from the 2003 2-Disc Collector’s Edition DVD, which means they’re presented in standard definition. These rehashed extras include the audio commentary and a bunch of behind-the-scenes featurettes. From preproduction to design to casting, you get to see it all. Watch deleted scenes, storyboard comparisons, test reels, etc. Each of these is brief but informational for those interested in the process.

There are only two original features included in this release, but they’re much better than any of the old ones—and they’re presented in HD! The first one is a really fun 20-minute roundtable discussion between director John Lasseter, co-director Andrew Stanton and producers Kevin Reher and Darla K. Anderson. They reminisce, over a decade later, the grueling but fun days of working on the film and the great experiences that came after, including screening the film for former President Bill Clinton.

It’s clear that A Bug’s Life holds a special place to Pixar. They tell a story of how, when the first trailer for The Incredibles mentioning Pixar’s past films came out, it failed to include A Bug’s Life, which caused uproar with the animators. This led to an impromptu A Bug’s Life appreciation week at the workplace, concluding with a live reading of the script in which even some the original cast participated in. It has since become an annual tradition at Pixar.

The second new feature is a cool 2D adaptation of the film’s first draft script, animated as a moving storyboard. The original concept was even closer to Seven Samurai, with the hero being a fire ant named Red in the Toshiro Mifune role, convincing his fellow circus bugs to con the peasant ants. The whole thing is narrated by Dave Foley, who was the voice of Flik. I can see why they had to redo the story, since Red is a really selfish and scummy protagonist, but it makes for an interesting short.

There are enough features for you to flip through (and for the BD-Live equipped, there’s Disney’s usual online supplements) to make it a worthwhile purchase. Owners of the DVD edition might feel slighted, but the two new features are great, and keep in mind that the biggest draw of this release really is the picture quality on the film. Besides, with a digital copy disc and a free ticket to see Up included, how can it be a bad deal?

"A Bug's Life" is on sale May 19, 2009 and is rated G. Adventure, Animation, Children & Family, Comedy. Directed by Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter. Written by Andrew Stanton & Don McEnery & Bob Shaw. Starring Bonnie Hunt, Dave Foley, David Hyde Pierce, Denis Leary, Hayden Panettiere, Joe Ranft, Jonathan Harris, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Kevin Spacey, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind.

May
24
2009
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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