A Bug's Life
Is it odd or is it just me? Every family with a child is going this season to 'A Bug's Life' and 'Rugrats' but nobody's going to 'The Wizard of Oz,' just released in theatres for the first time in more than thirty years and without question the greatest children's movie ever made. Certainly I have no problem with ABL and RR, but hey, guys, do your kids a favor and let them see something they'll love for the rest of their lives. Who was it who said bad money drives out good? Or in this case mediocre movies drive out the best. End of sermon.
But A Bug's Life isn't really mediocre. It's substantially better than 'Antz,' mainly because it takes itself seriously as a movie. That is, it has characters, a plot, appropriate motivation, and a thoughtful structure that let us empathize with its people, or in this case bugs. Taking off from a reverse of the Aesop's fable of the ant and the grasshopper, where the ant was providently stocking up for the winter while the grasshopper gamboled his way through the summer days without planning, this film gives us the grasshoppers intimidating the ants into providing for both of them, threatening to destroy the colony if the seed quotas aren't met each fall. It's an odd premise biologically, but what the hell.
Again we have the odd ant -- named Flik, in this case -- who doesn't want to keep on doing things the old way, and wants to stand up to the grasshoppers. He sets out to find some warrior bugs who'll help them fight, and mistakenly finds a flea circus troupe that's in bad shape, who think they're being booked for a gig while Flik thinks they're the fighters he needs. He brings them back to the colony, and though they suffer mishaps and various disasters, they join the ants in routing the grasshoppers and saving the day, as if you didn't know.
What I like about the film is that it's much better written and more relaxed about itself than 'Antz' was, so much so that you quickly forget about the computer animation and focus on the story and the characters. A particularly marvelous moment comes with the presentation by the second grade class of a pageant celebrating the fight against the grasshoppers.
But it's not perfect. There are some problems with the visuals, including an oddly awkward animation of flight, which is herky-jerky instead of smooth, and the fact that these ants have two legs and four arms. Even the grasshoppers have an odd shape, with a strangely foreshortened body that's out of keeping with their animated heads.
Unlike 'Antz,' this film doen't rely on name actors for its bugs' voices, but instead has obviously chosen them for their ability to bring them to life. The closest thing to a name is Kevin Spacey, who is the voice of the lead bad guy, the head of the grasshoppers. If either of these films is to have an afterlife, it will be this one.