Bee Movie (US - BD)
Gabe isn't too sweet on this movie. Get it? Sweet? Take that Gene Shalit!
Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) finds himself disillusioned with the prospect of having only one career choice for the rest of his life after graduating bee high school. After pseudo-sneaking out of the hive with the pollinating bees, Barry the disillusioned is saved from a squashing by a human florist named Vanessa (Renee Zellweger). Enamoured, Barry talks to Vanessa, and the two begin a strange bee/human relationship. While exploring the human world Barry is shocked to discover that the humans have been stealing and eating the bees’ honey for centuries.
Will Dreamworks Animation ever make a film that stands up on an emotional and narrative level to Pixar’s or classic Disney’s level (without the help of Aardman Animation, of course)? Can the folks working at the studio, many of them ex-Disney employees, write a story that stands up as a story rather than a series of semi-clever pop culture references and quick fire physical gags? Does Jerry Seinfeld make a better computer animated bug with an identity problem then Woody Allen?
The short answer to questions one and two is not yet, and the short answer to question three is no. The film opens with a numbing wave of audio and visual puns, which give way to a series of kids’ movie clichés and more mind numbing audio and visual puns. The characters are set up in seconds, the plot is ironed out in minutes, and the surprises never appear. Strangely enough Seinfeld and the other writers have basically put together an animated bee version of The Graduate (there’s even a few visual references). In short, it’s just another Dreamworks Animation feature. So I’ll skip the expectations and cut right to the animation and comedy.
The jokes don’t get much better than the puns (the ‘drag queen’ joke is a particularly huge groaner), though there is a tinge of that specifically Seinfeldian humour. I’m actually not a fan of Seinfeld’s style so I’m not the best judge of this stuff. Really what we’ve got here is a short (a bee sues humanity for stealing honey) stretched out to feature length, peppered with really obvious racial metaphors (though I suppose the pro-status quo, near apocalyptic final act lesson is a bit of a moral shock). The best gags were in the trailers, actually, in real Dreamworks tradition, the original teaser, which featured the actors in bug costumes, was a funnier few minutes than the whole film. I smirked a few times, but I didn’t laugh.
The character animation is a little inconsistent, but I think that it’s the character designs that really hurt (though the bee clothes are cute). The bees actually have more descriptive features than the humans, and every one of them looks suspiciously like moving chew toys. The animators have a little trouble with scale and eye lines in a few shots, which is understandable. The backgrounds and props are an uneasy mix of realistic and super-deformed, but feature some super-tight details, and make for a fun environment for the many rollercoaster-esque action moments.
All the problems people had with Jerry Seinfeld’s acting in live action aren’t really solved by animated him. The comedian’s distinct vocal patterns are flaccid and incapable of much range. His yelling scenes are grating, but he works well enough for the basic speaking scenes. Either I got used to him or he genuinely got better, because I wasn’t as bugged with him by the end (aw crap, I made a pun). Renée Zellweger does well, and works well in animation, mostly because we can’t see her scrunchy face, and John Goodman and Matthew Broderick don’t sleepwalk. The show is, as per usual, stolen by voice acting pro Patrick Warburton, whose naked voice is actually funnier than most of the writing.
Bug’s Life…I mean, Bee Movie was a casualty of Paramount’s sudden dropping of the HD DVD format. A few folks did get their hands on that initial release (collector’s item!), but I was not one of them. I just have to assume that this Blu-ray release looks more or less exactly the same as the HD DVD release. Hopefully fans of the film with Blu-ray players waited for the Blu-ray release, because computer generated animation was more or less made for the format.
The 1080p detail party comes mostly in the form of backgrounds and props. The hairs on the tennis balls are particularly impressive. Colours are solid, ultra-vibrant, and never once did I notice a bleed or bloom. Edge enhancement is virtually non-existent, though I did notice a few fleeting glimpses of minor compression noise specifically allocated to edges during a few of the action scenes. The vast majority of the film is brightly lit and coloured, so there isn’t a lot of time to enjoy deeper, darker subtleties, but the blacks of the bee bodies are rich and full without any low-level noise or coloured tint.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly tame for a big budget animated feature, only really springing to life during the roller coaster scenes and the end credit music. I turned the system up pretty high, higher then usually, and still wasn’t particularly blown away by the experience. Everything is clean and clear, dialogue is bright, and music is warm, but there’s a distinct lack of distinction to the whole track. The musical score is a particularly forgettable amalgamation of every kid’s cartoon with a decent budget you’ve seen in the last fifteen years, and curiously the musical number has been sent to the very, very end of the credits.
Jerry Seinfeld joins the directors, writers, producers and editors on a shockingly dull commentary track. The problem with the track is the number of people on the track creates a lot of cross talk, and to avoid speaking over each other people just stop talking. There’s also a lot of patting cast and crew on the back (“he was great”, “she was great”, “they were great”), and people saying “This is my favourite part” too many times (you really should only be allowed one ‘favourite part’). The commentators also seem to get bored with the film rather quickly, because the words start slowing to a crawl.
Of the Blu-ray specific extras (which were, I’m told, on the HD DVD release) I could not get the PiP ‘Animator’s Corner’ function to work due to my lack of PiP capabilities (really, screw you Sony), but the Triva Track works swimmingly (even if the facts aren’t particularly fascinating), and the ‘World of Bees’ onscreen text…thing…worked too. It’s sort of a splashy blob across the left side of the screen that has personal facts about the bee characters. The ‘My Menus’ option is listed as ‘customizable’, but it’s really just a choice between four menu themes (each of which takes about a minute and a half to load).
There are three ‘lost scenes’, which are presented as moving storyboards. Each is introduced by Jerry Seinfeld, each presented with finished voice work, and temporary soundtrack. The first is an alternate version of Barry’s first time touring the company, where he interviews before getting his job. The second is a kind of funny sequence featuring the queen bee, who intends on sleeping with and killing Barry. The final scene features Ray Liotta attacking Barry on the Plane (finished voice too, it seems). In all they run about five minutes.
This is followed by no less than six alternate endings. These are also presented as moving storyboards (in various forms of completion), with final voice work, temp soundtrack, and a Seinfeld introduction. I’ll leave these a surprise for fans (there’s a lot of hints towards bee on human action), and just say I actually liked numbers one, three, and four more then the ending in the film. The alternate ending run around fourteen and a half minutes and none of them feature Barry dropping dead of old bee age.
‘Inside the Hive’ is your usual EPK, which probably played on some movie channel between Rambo movies. The focus is on the cast, but there’s some talk with the directors and producers as well. I am surprised with how hands-on Seinfeld appears to have been with the project (though this could all be in the editing of the piece), but it may explain the film’s lack of magic. I’m not saying Jerry Seinfeld is a bad guy or untalented comedian, but he’s not an animator. My favourite bits are the ones featuring Patrick Warburton, not surprisingly. The featurette comes in under fifteen minutes.
‘TV Juniors’ are a series of sixteen mock-featurettes. These are kind of like skits, featuring various celebrities and real Dreamworks dreamworkers doing amusing things with Jerry Seinfeld. I’ve got to say, Ray Liotta acting this ‘wacky’ kind of underscores his funny Muppets in Space cameo, though the girl in the pretend Bee Movie knock off is really hot, so you know, there’s that. Actually, if the movie was this absurdist I probably would’ve liked it. These total about twenty-four minutes.
‘Tech of Bee Movie’ is another EPK, which focuses more on the technical animation aspect of the film. Somehow Bee Movie required a lot of new technology, but I really didn’t notice any of it, except maybe the honey. Visually it’s a really unimposing film. By the end of the featurette you’ll realize you just watched an eight-minute HP commercial.
‘Jerry’s Flight Over Cannes’ is a featurette about the film’s introduction at the French film festival. To promote the movie to the prestigious market Seinfeld dressed as a giant bee and slid down a wire onto a boat. It’s just as awkward as it sounds, and the Cannes folks don’t look particularly interested. ‘Meet Barry Benson’ is an ‘interactive’ ‘interview’ where the viewer has to push a bunch of buttons in order to ‘ask’ Barry the bee some questions, which he answers in the form of animation clips. The disc also houses a bunch of trailers (including the live action ones), a music video, and a Dreamworks Kids ‘jukebox’.
Under the Dreamworks Kids banner are four additional extras aimed specifically at the kiddies. ‘Build a Bee’ is a kind of digital paper doll, which allows you to build a personalized bee, which is slightly animated when you’re finished. ‘The Buzz About Bees’ is a little lesson for the lads and little ladies concerning bee history and basic facts. ‘The Ow Meter’ is an interactive…thing, about bee stings, the bees that are stinging, how to avoid being stung, and how to avoid being killed by a person if you are a bee. ‘That’s Un-Bee-Lievable’ (my God the puns) is an interactive quiz about bees.
I’ve come to expect very little from Dreamworks Animation (when not working with Aardman Animation), and I’m not a very big fan of Jerry Seinfeld, and yet Bee Movie still managed to disappoint me. It’s really bland all the way around, and only barely works from all angles—it’s visually average, it’s only slightly amusing, and I don’t see the story interesting kids. So basically kids and adults are left out on this one. Folks that own and enjoy the DVD release may want to upgrade for the super sharp video quality, but the new extras are only going to work on some players.
* Note: The Images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 3rd June 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Actor/Writer/Filmmaker Commentary, Animator's Corner, Trivia Track, The World of Bees, Build a Bee, Making of Featurettes, Jerry's Flight Over Cannes, Lost Scenes, Alternate Ending, Jerry's NBeeC, Music Video, Dreamworks Jukebox, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith
Cast: Jeff Altman, Kathy Bates, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Mario Joyner
Length: 90 minutes
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