November 4, 2007

REVIEW: Bee Movie (B)

Background: By now most movie fans know that a dinner joke several years ago between Jerry Seinfeld and Steven Spielberg led to the eventual production of Bee Movie, Seinfeld's first foray into filmmaking (he was only the subject of his autobiographical Comedian). Written by Seinfeld and directed by Steve Hickner (The Prince of Egypt), Bee Movie features the voices of Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Matthew Broderick (Election), Renee Zellweger (Jerry Maguire), Patrick Warburton (Puddy from "Seinfeld"), and numerous other actors and celebrities. Jerry Seinfeld reportedly oversaw every last detail of the movie, including the animation, and even had a satellite video feed set up in New York to supervise what was going on in L.A. during production. Bee Movie was obviously distributed by Spielberg's Dreamworks, whose animation department is desperate for a hit outside of the Shrek and Madagascar series.

Synopsis: Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) is graduating from college with his friend Adam Flayman (Broderick). Their graduation ceremony turns into a tour of their future employer, Honex, which is of course the Central Park beehive in which they live. Unsatisfied with his job options in the hive (e.g., stirring honey), Barry joins up with the pollen jocks - the bees who get to leave the hive and pollinate the flowers throughout New York City. On his adventure outside the hive, Barry meets and falls in love with Vanessa Bloome (Zellweger), a human florist who is dating Ken (Warburton), an outrageously obnoxious tennis coach. Barry and Vanessa enjoy an awkwardly normal relationship before Barry sees honey being sold in a store, decides it constitutes theft from bees around the world, and decides to sue the American honey industry. In collecting evidence he meets some new characters, like Mooseblood the mosquito (Rock). The trial arrives, the humans are found guilty of stealing honey, and the bees are left with nothing to do now that nobody is using the honey. Additionally, the non-honey-producing bees are not pollinating flowers anymore, and all of Central Park goes brown. Barry hatches a plan to save the world: he flies (in a plane) to Pasadena, steals a float full of roses from the final Rose Parade, flies back (in a plane) to NYC, and leads all of the bees in repollinating Central Park. Then he opens a law office inside Vanessa's floral shop. That's it.

I Loved:
+ The classic Seinfeldian humor
- "Why do humans wear rings on their toes? Isn't that like wearing a hat on your knee?"
+ The beautiful animation of
the initial tour of Honex, and when Barry first flies out of the hive and through Central Park.

I Liked:
+ The Ray Liotta cameo.

I Disliked:
- That the story really fell apart in the second half.
- The Sting cameo.
- The bizarre dream sequence where Vanessa dies in a fiery crash - that reference went from The Graduate to...?

I Hated:
- That the unbearable Ken (Warburton) was just Puddy on steroids - literally and figuratively.

Writing - 8
Acting - N/A
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 3

Total: 33/40= 83% = B

Last Word: Following the story in Bee Movie was almost like riding on the back of a bee. It went in all directions, hovered, went back, sideways, etc. Nevertheless, I had a fun time watching it, almost entirely because it was like a lost episode of "Seinfeld." Maybe his magic is only in 22 minute episodes, and extending it to 90 minutes is too difficult. I thought the voices were well matched to the characters, and the animation was fantastic, though you don't have to do much to impress me. I'm still amazed at how dazzling computer animation can be. As Bee Movie proves, though, a meaningful story is vital, and Dreamworks has struggled with all of its projects except the Shreks. Pixar, in the meantime, has collected Oscars and reeled off 8 straight hits, from Toy Story to Ratatouille. If Jerry Seinfeld could have developed a better story in they style of Pixar, Bee Movie could have been a hit for the ages, appealing to both kids and their parents. Instead, it will likely soon fade away as another experiment in his career, and another misfire in the political animated movie group (Happy Feet, The Wild). I give Seinfeld credit for trying his hand, however, and I will say that I learned something new about what life could be like as a bee. Look for Bee Movie to be nominated for Best Animated Feature but lose to Ratatouille, which simply has a richer, more meaningful story.

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