A BUG’S LIFE (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: G

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Directed by: John Lasseter

Written by: Andrew Stanton, Donald McEnery & Bob Shaw

Voices of: Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce, Joe Ranft, Denis Leary, Madeline Kahn, Jonathan Harris, Bonnie Hunt & John Ratzenberger

Since its inception in the mid-90’s, Pixar has been entertaining both adults and children in equal measure. They’ve produced some of the best family films of all time and simply dazzled us with beautiful visuals along the way. So it’s a bit disheartening that their sophomore effort feels like a mixed bag when one looks back on it today. There are very good theories for why A BUG’S LIFE isn’t up to the quality that we have come to expect from Pixar, but the biggest (and most plausible) of which is that the studio rushed the film’s production in order to compete with DreamWorks (who released ANTZ that very same year). This is actually one of those rare cases where DreamWorks knockoff beat Disney to the punch with an idea and executed it slightly better. A BUG’S LIFE isn’t bad, but it’s just an okay flick. This is colorful, harmless fun that will entertain far more kids than parents.

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Loosely based on Aesop’s ANT AND THE GRASSHOPPER, A BUG’S LIFE follows Flick. He’s an outcast inventor who’s become an annoyance to his ant colony. After accidentally ruining the food offering left for a band of evil grasshoppers, led by the intimidating Hopper (voiced wonderfully by Kevin Spacey), Flick asks to leave the colony in order to find warrior bugs to defeat Hopper’s gang. Thinking that this idea will buy the colony some time with Flick out of the picture, Princess Atta decides to grant his request. Lo and behold, Flick returns with a band of circus bugs mistaken for “warriors.” The circus bugs soon discover the truth and try to concoct a plan to defeat Hopper as well as keep Flick’s mistake under wraps.

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A BUG’S LIFE is very by-the-numbers in terms of the story. You pretty much know how everything is going to play out as soon as Flick returns home with the circus bugs. While other Pixar films have shaken up their plots into something far more noteworthy and creative, A BUG’S LIFE feels simple and straight-forward. This is especially a disappointment when you consider that Pixar was just coming off of TOY STORY. The animation is astounding to look at though. This is a beautiful film where textures and all sorts of insects are brought to colorful life. The scenes in which Flick ventures into the bug city stand out as some of the best in the entire film. It should also be noted that A BUG’S LIFE turns something as innocent and sweet as a little bird into a beast that you could easily compare to the T-Rex from JURASSIC PARK. Those qualities are very well done.

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Science geeks will have their funny bone constantly tickled with bug-related puns and jokes throughout. These bits include flies complaining about their short life cycles, a flea being insulting by the term “parasite” and a mosquito drinking a drop of blood (Bloody Mary, O positive) at an insect bar. These are just a few of the many (arguably, too many) pun-heavy bits of dialogue that you can find in this film. These jokes really come out of nowhere and don’t have much to do with our main characters (save for a caterpillar who desperately wants to become a butterfly), but they provide a couple of chuckles. The characters of Flick and Princess Atta simply aren’t that interesting though. In fact, I’d go as far to say that none of the ants are very good characters. This is slightly compensated by Hopper being a great villain as well as the circus bugs receiving a majority of solid laughs.

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Overall, A BUG’S LIFE is okay. This is a colorful and, at times, funny Pixar adventure that mostly sticks by a well-worn by-the-numbers sort of plot. Out of all of the films in Disney and Pixar’s catalogue, I can’t imagine that many people would list this as their favorite or anywhere near the pillar of excellence they’ve become known for. There are a few good laughs to be had and beautiful visuals to see, but a predictable plot and bland characters keep this one from not being as nearly as good as it might have been if more production time were spent on it (and not rushing to release it in the same window as ANTZ). It’s okay, but winds up one of the lesser Pixar movies as a whole.

Grade: C+

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