Bug’s Life, A (1998)
Release Date: November 25th, 1998 MPAA Rating: G
Director: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton Actors: Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, Denis Leary, Bonnie Hunt, Brad Garrett, John Ratzenberger
he character designs and concepts in “A Bug’s Life,” fused with the interesting twist on Aesop’s fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper” and Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece “Seven Samurai” (along with pieces of “The Magnificent Seven”), make for an exciting journey into the misunderstood lives of ants and circus bugs. Though an epic approach, full of humor and adventure, the target audience is decidedly more youthful than Pixar’s other, more critically acclaimed features. The animation is keen, despite being routinely bested by subsequent CG pictures, and the voice cast is entertainingly recognizable. At the heart of it all, however, is a tone of childish fancy and immature perils that prevent “A Bug’s Life” from having the depth and emotional reach that has since become the very fibers of a Pixar production.
Flik (Dave Foley) is a clumsy but inventive ant who spends his time building devices to make his life easier – such as a wheat harvesting contraption that inevitably causes destruction. The other ants in his colony, led by the newly appointed Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), don’t appreciate Flik’s nonconformity and look for any chance to keep him out of the way. Ironically, they use a tiny shell as a warning horn – an invention that contradicts their ideas of doing things the old-fashioned way. But they have other problems on their isolated island home: the ants hurriedly gather food for an angry swarm of grasshoppers that continue to take advantage of the tinier insects year after year, maintaining dominance through fear. The gang of orthopterans is led by Hopper (Kevin Spacey), who knows that his stranglehold over the ants is based entirely on keeping his servants in line – and not the steady supply of meager victuals.
When Flik accidentally ruins the nest’s offering to the grasshoppers, he’s sent away on a mission to the city to recruit bigger warrior bugs to fight off the bullies. No one actually thinks he’ll succeed, except for little Princess Dot (Hayden Panettiere), who admires his heroism. In a classic case of mistaken identity, Flik stumbles upon a group of flea circus performers, bringing the “ferocious” clown bugs back to his home to defend against the sizeable invaders.
It’s fascinating to watch older computer-animated films to witness the evolution of realism. The models are all cartoon-like caricatures, smartly straying away from photographic depictions, but the motion is stiffer, the colors are less natural, the textures are simpler, and the details are generally lacking. The rate of technological advancements is staggering, from “Toy Story,” released three years earlier, to “Toy Story 2,” opening just one year later.
On a less technical note, “A Bug’s Life” does creatively poke fun at the activities and traits of insects that audiences are familiar with for intelligent bouts of visual humor. Many of the supporting roles are typical comic relief or generic sidekick bits, but the villain is more menacing and deservedly receives a more violent quietus. Perhaps the wittiest irony is the idea that it’s a “bug-eat-bug world” out there – except that in real life, ants eat grasshoppers and “singing insects” are typically construed as docile, playful, and friendly.
– Mike Massie