movie film review | chris tookey

Bug’s Life

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  Bug’s Life Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
8.25 /10
With the voices of:, Flik: Dave Foley, Hopper: Kevin Spacey
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Directed by: John Lasseter
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Donald McEnery and Bob Shaw

Released: 1998
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 94

Loosely - and I do mean loosely - it's based on the Aesop fable, The Ant and The Grasshopper. A hard-working but not very imaginative ant colony is terrorised by a gang of greedy grasshoppers (led by Kevin Spacey), who fly into town like Marlon Brando's leather-clad motor-cyclists in The Wild One. The hero is Flik (voiced by Dave Foley), a bright but accident-prone nonconformist, who uses a dandelion pod to fly off in the hope of finding mercenaries to defend his colony against its plundering oppressors.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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So far, this may sound suspiciously like The Magnificent Seven; but there's a lot of humour as Flik hits the big city - a rubbish dump - and encounters the inhabitants, including a disabled beggar with the pathetic sign "Kid pulled my wings off". Most importantly, Flik comes across a circus troupe of motley bugs - including an intellectual stick insect (played by David Hyde Pierce, the brother in Frasier), a couple of Hungarian bug acrobats (voiced by comedian Michael McShane), a black widow spider with a heart of gold (Bonnie Hunt), a pompous praying mantis (Jonathan Harris) and his lovely moth-friend Gypsy (Madeline Kahn) who believes, no matter what, in standing by her mantis.

When these engagingly dysfunctional performers fall foul of their audience and get involved in a brawl, Flik assumes wrongly that they are warrior mercenaries. For their part, the bugs think Flik is recruiting them as a concert party.

A good deal of fun ensues as both parties gradually discover their mistake, with the fine cast making the most of clever lines written by Donald McEnery and Bob Shaw, who were also responsible for the script of Disney's Hercules.

Will the circus troupe abandon the ants to the grasshoppers, or will they decide that doing that would be just not cricket?

No prize for guessing the answer; but the suspense-thriller elements aren't the reason for seeing this movie. It's all about comedy and the inspired, surreal visuals, which repay more than one viewing.

A Bug's Life covers similar ground to Antz. Once again, it's about a colony of ants being saved by a loner, who goes on to win the heart of a princess - but this Disney film is much more child-friendly. Even very small children will be able to follow the story and understand most of the jokes.

Adults will love its visual wit, technical brilliance and (especially) the end titles, which must be the funniest in the history of cinema. Randy Newman's score, heavily indebted to Aaron Copland, sweeps the action along nicely.

How does it compare with Toy Story? It's even more inventive and a good deal more varied in its locales and characters, but it shares a similar style. Everything looks strangely plastic, slightly glossy. I quite like the effect, but it's not naturalistic; and a great deal of thought has gone into making the assorted bugs look cute rather than creepy. The ants' complement of six legs, for example, has been reduced to two arms and two legs.

Those who complain that Disney turns all its creatures into mini-people will have their prejudices confirmed once again; but this is, first and foremost, a children's film. My seven year-old son absolutely adored it, couldn't wait to see it again, and much preferred it to Antz (a fair proportion of whose jokes went over his head).

Technically, A Bug's Life was the most advanced product yet of computer animation. Some scenes, especially the crowd shots where there are around a thousand characters on screen, have a detail and complexity which would have been beyond film-makers before the last year or so. Even with the latest software, the hardest sequences required more than 2,400 hours of effort to produce a second's worth on screen.

Antz, a huge money-spinner for the new Hollywood company Dreamworks, was also impressive visually, but was rushed through production by ex-Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg in an effort to spoil the prospects of his old employers. A Bug's Life director John Lasseter saw this as a betrayal. "Good competition is always good," he has said pointedly. "Sneaky, underhanded competition is always bad."

Actually, Lasseter is wrong. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Katzenberg's actions - and he does seem to have known about the project when he was at Disney - strong competition drives many talented people towards excellence, and that's what has happened here.

A Bug's Life is breathtakingly original and inspired, even if you have seen Antz. The circus troupe element - with all its extra kinds of bugs and showmanship - mean that it has even more colour, variety and sheer gusto than the Dreamworks hit. Besides, there was nothing in Antz as funny as the end credits of A Bug's Life. I shan't describe them for fear of spoiling your enjoyment, but they are an inspired idea, brilliantly executed. But then, so is the whole film.

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