Note: In the following joint review, both John and Dean provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.
The Film According to John:
"Bee Movie" is cute.
No, it's not particularly innovative. We've had CGI movies about bugs for quite some time. And, no, it's not particularly well animated. We've had CGI animations that have looked as good or better for quite some time. And, no, its voice characterizations are not particularly newsworthy. Despite an all-star cast of voice talents, we've had more memorable voices than these in other animations.
But "Bee Movie" is undoubtedly cute.
Jerry Seinfeld co-wrote, co-produced, and stars as the voice of the main character. It's Seinfeld's first major project since the close of his long-running TV show, and it surprised me that he would choose a children's animation to mark his return. Not that it's a bad thing; it's just a departure from most anything he's done before. Part of my surprise, too, was his using his own voice for the main character. He's got a pleasant voice, to be sure, but it's undistinguished. And since this film seems primarily geared for younger audiences, I wonder how many young people would even recognize the voice. Which goes for many of the other voices in the cast as well. I mean, it's nice to have Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Larry King, Ray Liotta, Sting, Oprah, and Rip Torn among the voices, but, really, how many youngsters are going to recognize them? Worse, the film uses most of these folks in cameos; the filmmakers intend for us to recognize their voices and go, "Say, isn't that so-and-so." I doubt that kids would do that.
Even worse, the movie probably won't appeal much to adults who would recognize the voices, because the film is pretty routine and predictable. If you're a fan of Jerry Seinfeld's deadpan humor, that's what we get here. Yet it isn't the same in a cartoon, where the characters need to be livelier and, if I may use the expression, more animated. It's only Chris Rock and John Goodman who seem to deliver any expression at all. The other voices are virtually interchangeable.
In fact, it's hard to believe that this animation came from the same studio, DreamWorks, that gave us "Shrek," which was funnier and more irreverent. Seinfeld's script seems so watered down to meet the expectations of kids that it almost put this adult to sleep on occasion. If you'll excuse another Bee-quality pun, it pretty much just drones along.
Seinfeld voices Barry B. Benson, a bee who's just graduated from college (a mini course) and must now decide what he wants to do with his life. When he sees that he's expected to make honey all day, he balks at the idea. He's got higher aspirations, you see, because he's a nonconformist. His parents don't know what to do with him since he sulks around the house all day or in the swimming pool. In this regard, the film parodies "The Graduate," and that's also a cute bit, but, of course, it will go right over the head of any youngster. Barry's best friend is a bee named Adam Flayman (Broderick), a rather dreary, conventional fellow, who doesn't understand why Barry seems discontented with his lot in life.
Anyway, Barry, bored, decides to fly the hive. He takes off with the pollen jockeys for the big city (New York), where he is almost swatted to death before being rescued by a human florist, Vanessa Bloome (Zellweger), for whom he gets a crush. Then he starts talking to her, and then all the bees start talking to humans, and humans talk back, and the whole thing gets more weird than funny. Why has it taken insects and humans so long to communicate, and how did insects all learn English as a common language? OK, I'm being silly asking.
Barry's adventures in the big city are the highlight of the film; it's too bad they don't last longer. Most of the story is predictable, dealing with Barry's learning that humans steal bees' honey and sell it, for which he tries to sue the human race. The movie even throws in the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena and an airline flight, both of which seem done out of desperation.
In its defense, for kids the movie does carry commendable messages about being one's self, being tolerant of others, being accepting of other people's ideas, and seeking personal independence. I also found myself smiling several times. Yet it isn't enough to overcome a basically watered-down script with precious few laughs. "Bee Movie" tries mightily to be cute and cuddly, and in this regard it succeeds...at least for kids. For adults, though, it's another story and may seem like awfully tame stuff.
John's film rating: 5/10
The Film According to Dean:
I have always felt in the minority when it comes to Jerry Seinfeld. I didn't particularly enjoy his long-running television show and have completely been unable to comprehend how he continues to receive superstar credibility with doing pretty much nothing since "Seinfeld" ended roughly ten years ago. Aside from bit parts in "Pros & Cons" and "The Thing About My Folks," Seinfeld has flown beneath the radar until last year's "Bee Movie," which was written by, produced by and starred Jerry Seinfeld as the lead voice talent. The film performed admirably at the box office and grossed well over $100 million. After finally watching "Bee Movie," I'm tending to think a lot of its success was because of the near-mythical Seinfeld's involvement.
The animated DreamWorks picture is no "Shrek." While it does contain a few very nicely executed laughs, the film suffers terribly from a weak storyline. With the recent unexplained mass deaths of honey bees, I'm not sure if Seinfeld and company weren't trying to create a film with a simple message that if we don't soon learn to understand the bees, we won't have any pollen to keep our beautiful flowers, fruit and vegetables growing. Whether or not Seinfeld intended underlying commentary about the rash of deaths in the world's honey bee population or not, the film's essential plotline is that a young bee decides to not pick a job to do until he dies. He then goes out into the world and befriends a young female florist and realizes he has to sue the world because of their theft of honey. This causes an unnatural balance in nature and the bee must fix things.
To get into a little more detail, Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) has graduated bee high school. He and his best friend Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick) quickly find themselves thrust into the workforce, but Barry doesn't seem to think having just one job for his entire life is a good thing. He takes to the world with some 'Pollen Jocks' and becomes separated from his hive during a rain storm and is nearly killed by a human named Ken (Patrick Warburton), but Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellweger) stops Ken from killing Benson. After some internal toil and discussion, Barry decides that he must break a major bee rule and talk to Vanessa to thank her for saving his life. Of course, she is shocked.
The friendship grows between bee and girl and Barry's breaking of the biggest bee rule causes a lot of problems. The overly stuck-up-on-himself Ken finds himself losing the love of Vanessa. More importantly, Barry discovers commercial bee hives and takes the world to court for reparations to the bees for all of the honey 'stolen' by man and for the poor treatment of the hive bees used by man. A long court battle between Barry and Layton T. Montgomery (John Goodman) results and eventually, Barry makes his case to the court and so much honey is returned to the bees, they never have to work again. This causes nearly all the trees and plants to wilt when the bees stop carrying pollen from one plant to another.
"Bee Movie" has a few very good laughs to help keep its sub-par story from sinking completely. The whole bee-meets-girl, bee-sues-world and then bee-flies-plane series of events are unimaginative and silly considering a singular little bee becomes a savior and a hero with such magnitude. Instead of Seinfeld having his little bees cause problems in a garden or a small community, he thrusts his little been onto the world stage and the character of Barry becomes the single most important life form on the planet. Where other animated films such as "A Bugs Life" or "Antz" provided a big insect world that fit nicely into the confines of a very small part of the world, "Bee Movie" feels overambitious and misguided. Is Seinfeld feeding a gargantuan ego with this storyline?
The voice talent all does a splendid job. Seinfeld brings many characteristics of his brand of comedy to the role of young Barry. He doesn't go over the top and it is somewhat believable that Barry is young and naive to the world. Zellweger brings warmth to her character, but I couldn't help but think I saw her character in "Ratatouille." Broderick and Goodman are also entertaining in their roles, but the underrated Patrick Warburton steals nearly every scene he is in. Ever since his perfect portrayal of the Tick in the live-action series, I've appreciated Warburton's handle on animated and comic-book characters. Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Oprah Winfrey, Rip Torn and Barry Levinson have smaller supporting roles in the film. Sting, Larry King and Ray Liotta parody themselves in the film and I must admit that I'm surprised they took part in the self-deprecating humor.
The computer-animated film looks very good. While DreamWorks cannot compete on the same level as Pixar in the story department, they are narrowing the gap in technology and "Bee Movie" looks very good. Particle effects, textures and lighting are all impressive in "Bee Movie." The hair technology used to bring Barry and other characters hair and fur may not be as awe-inspiring as Sully's fur in "Monsters, Inc.," but the movement of Vanessa's hair flowed naturally. Hair is one of the things that CGI continues to struggle with, but the animators created some great algorithms to handle the effects of wind, body movement and other factors that force hair to move. Water drops were nicely rendered as well. I won't say that "Bee Movie" is the best-looking computer animated film, but it is above average and one of the better non-Pixar films.
A few times I enjoyed a hearty laugh while watching "Bee Movie." There were some very funny moments in the little animated film. I'm not a fan of Jerry Seinfeld's but he had some good laughs, although the supporting cast provided more humor than the star. Chris Rock's line about how a mosquito can become a lawyer with just a briefcase was a great close to the film. Unfortunately, I was less than enthused with the story and pacing of "Bee Movie." I could have loved this film if Barry and his adventures were mostly focused on the bee world and not the realm of man, but Seinfeld intended his little bee to become bigger than the world and that huge plot was just a little too much for such a little bee. I don't feel as if I wasted my time watching "Bee Movie" and I would perhaps watch the movie again at some point. It is just that I wasn't overwhelmed or even impressed with Seinfeld's first true outing since his television show ended in 1998.
Dean's film rating: 6/10
The DreamWorks video engineers transferred the movie to Blu-ray disc in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, using an MPEG4/AVC codec at 1080p. As we might expect in a modern, digitally created animation, the picture's delineation is crisp, with good, if not always too bright, colors and respectable gradations of tone throughout. I found DW's animation technique somewhat less richly detailed than, say, most of Pixar's work, so the look and style of the movie didn't overly impress me. However, I have no doubt that the video transfer does the picture justice, and I can find no wrong with it.
The disc provides an English track in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, which seems like overkill on this movie because there isn't always a lot for it to reproduce. There are a few good surround effects--the buzzing of bees, the roar of a jetliner--and there are spurts of deep, strong bass. Otherwise, like the color and animation, the soundtrack seems fairly ordinary.
The disc contains a ton of extras, many of them carried over from the standard-definition two-disc set, some of them exclusive to the Blue-ray disc, and some of them in high definition. Exclusive to Blu-ray is "The Animators' Corner," a picture-in-picture feature that uses storyboard inserts while you're watching the main feature; "Barry's Trivia Track," a series of informational captions also overlaid on the feature as it's running; customizable character menus, for whatever they're worth; and "The World of Bees," in which you can press one of the buttons on your BD remote to get the inside scoop on characters and actors in the film.
The extras carried over from the SD disc include an audio commentary by Jerry Seinfeld and some of the filmmakers; three lost scenes, five minutes, with commentary, done in rough-draft form (HD); six alternate endings, fourteen minutes, again with commentary and again in rough-sketch form; "Inside the Hive: The Cast of Bee Movie" (HD), a fourteen-minute promo; "Jerry's TV Juniors," twenty-four minutes, little comedy bits with Seinfeld, again to promote the film (HD); two live-action trailers; "Jerry's Flight Over Cannes," three minutes of Jerry in a bee suit promoting the film at the festival; "Meet Barry B. Benson," where you can ask the character questions and get his replies; "Tech of Bee Movie," a seven-minute making-of feature (HD); a music video, "We Got The Bee," somewhat loud and raucous (HD); and a "DreamWorks Animation Video Jukebox" segment featuring the end song from "Shrek" (HD).
Then, there are three trailers for other DreamWorks movies: "Kung Fu Panda," "Madagascar: The Crate Escape," and "The Spiderwick Chronicles," all in high def.
Next, we find a whole section of extras called "DreamWorks Animation Kids" aimed just at children. Here we find "Build a Bee," where you can mix and match hair, eyes, etc. on a bee to create your own character; "The Buzz About Bees," seven minutes of information about bees; "The Ow! Meter," which attempts to explain what it feels like to get stung by various types of bees (from the human's and bee's point of view, as well as how to avoid getting stung; and "That's Un-Bee-Leavable," a series of trivia questions.
The extras wind down with sixteen scene selections but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, and Spanish subtitles; English captions for the hearing impaired; bookmarks; and pop-up menus.
I'll let my esteemed colleague have the last word on the movie's rating, 6/10, as he reviewed it first. Personally, I found "Bee Movie" just short of dull most of the time and tedious at other times. Still, the filmmakers pack their movie with colorful (and cute) characters and a few important messages for younger children. So, for kids, the movie should work; for adults, I'd say it's pretty iffy.