I'll be the first to admit that I've become a bit tired of computer generated animated feature films. It's just something that isn't fresh and exciting anymore. What was once new and inventive is now old and tired, and with the odd exception, most of the magic that was ushered in with films like Toy Story and Shrek has been lost in films like The Wild, Madagascar (both of which at one point shared the same source material), Robots, and both the Ice Age movies. I've grown tired of talking animals, and while there have been some surprises in the genre, things have begun to cool off in terms of the animated box office heat.
Going into the latest family-friendly animated feature from the gang at DreamWorks Animation, I wasn't sure what to expect. It had some pros going for it, in that it had one of the best teaser trailers of the past year. The teaser with Jerry Seinfeld and friends in human bug costumes with no footage from the actual film, it came from the mind of Seinfeld, one of the funniest comedians of modern times and was a storyline that hadn't been done before. At the same time, there were no advance reviews and the promotion of the film bordered on the strange, with Seinfeld returning to NBC to plug the film on the show that now sits in his old timeslot. That, and most of the media mentions were about his death-defying stunt at Cannes while very little was known about the film itself.
Bee Movie tells the story of Barry B Benson (voice of Jerry Seinfeld), an everyday honey bee who is just graduating from a long 3 day college career and ready to enter the work force at Honex, the local employer and provider of honey worldwide. This is fine for some bees, but not for Barry, who dreams of so much more. Not one to sit on his stinger, he manages to tag along with a group of pollen jocks tasked with the collection of pollinating the flowers. It's on this trip where he gets lost from the group, and after nearing getting killed, is saved by a florist named Vanessa (voice of Renée Zellwegger). Unsure of what to do, he decides to thank her, which breaks the golden rule of no talking to humans. She's startled, but after a short time a friendship is struck, and it's not long until a trip to a supermarket alerts Barry to the fact that humans are stealing honey from bees. What's Barry to do but file a lawsuit against the human race for theft and to get the honey back for the bees to enjoy!
If it sounds like the storyline aspect of Bee Movie is a little thin, it's because in reality it pretty much is, but what do you expect from a guy who gave us 9 seasons of a show about nothing. Seinfeld, who has admitted that he had the idea of doing a movie about animated talking bees before he knew exactly what the storyline would be, defies all odds and actually makes a decently funny motion picture, or at least one that doesn't seem like a tired retread of other movies. Working with co-writers Barry Marder, Andy Robbins, and Spike Feresten (of Talk Show with Spike fame), Seinfeld has made a film that I felt worked better for adults than it did for young kids. Potshots at celebrity endorsements spoofing Paul Newman with a private luxury brand of honey endorsed by Ray Liotta; comparisons of lawyers to mosquitoes (the bloodsucking aspects); and a series of satirical jokes that mostly go above the kids' heads are among the film's comedic highlights. In terms of entertainment value for kids, there's a chase sequence through crowded New York streets and a rollercoaster-like tour of the honey factory that are sure to wow the film's younger sets of eyes. That said, while the film does bring back the Seinfeld audiences know and love from the TV days, the film doesn't really have much to say about itself. Even some of the morals and lessons that hit at the end seem sort of tacked on to make the movie be about something, other than just a little bee.
I've said it before and I'll say it one more time: part of what can make or break an animated film is the voice performances. Bee Movie doesn't have the best vocal performances, but they aren't lackluster either. Seinfeld sounds like himself as Barry B Benson while Renée Zellwegger does decently as Vanessa. Chris Rock steals his scenes as Barry's mosquito friend, and Matthew Broderick is almost unrecognizable as Barry's best bee friend. Seinfeld also reunites with Patrick Warburton, a strong vocal performer and veteran voiceover actor who gives a Puddy-like performance as Vanessa's boyfriend. Also listen for the queen of daytime TV, Oprah, playing the judge that presides over the trial, and Ray Liotta and Police frontman Sting playing themselves.
DreamWorks' Bee Movie works better for older audiences with its very Seinfeld influenced brand of humor while still providing enough entertainment for younger audiences. Although it's not of the caliber of the best Pixar films, it's a leap above some of the dreck that has made it to screens like the aforementioned The Wild. Will audiences leave the hive to see it? I'm sure they will. Will they come back in droves? I'm not so sure. It's a decent piece of entertainment that exceeded my expectations, but certainly won't go down in history like a Shrek, The Incredibles or, Toy Story 1 or 2. In other words, it's entertaining but not overly memorable.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.