Pixar Review 7- Bug’s Life

bugs life15Hey guys! I hope you all had a good Mother’s Day.  Let’s celebrate by talking about what I think is an underrated Pixar film, A Bug’s Life.  After the epicness of Toy Story Pixar’s second feature had a lot to live up too.  To add to the tension was the premiere of Dreamworks Antz that same summer which I reviewed last week.

With all of that pressure I think they came up with a charming movie with some lovely animation and nice messages for kids.  Is it perfect?  No but if it was the only Pixar movie I’d still say it was a strong effort.

A lot of people criticize Bug’s Life because it is a formula picture.  It tells a story of the oddball character who is sent on a journey where in the end he is finally shown to be special. This is an especially popular formula because of all the writers who no doubt have a similar journey.  We also get the liar reveal which we see in lots of movies.

bugs life5If all that is true then why do I say it’s underrated?  Because I think a film doesn’t necessarily have to be original to win an endorsement from me.  A movie can follow a formula but do it well and that’s great.  One of my favorite movies of all time is You’ve Got Mail and that is a total formula picture.  It works because the writing is good and the characters are easy for me to relate too.   I think you can say the same for A Bug’s Life.

bugs life 7A Bug’s Life is about a colony of ants that live by a tree surrounded by water called Ant Island.  They are a timid species and afraid of any kind of change (even the great twig of 93!).  Except for one ant named Flick voiced by Dave Foley who is an innovator and is trying to make things better.

bugs life10The ants are ruled with an iron fist by a grasshopper named Hopper voiced perfectly by Kevin Spacey.  He intimidates them to giving an ‘offering’ every year of food, so it basically works out to servitude but the ants are too scared to fight back.

bug's life3The ants have their own leadership- a queen voiced by Phyllis Diller and her daughter Princess Atta voiced by Julia Louis- Dreyfus who are both great and 2 of the more dynamic Pixar female characters we see for a long time.  We also get little princess Dot voiced by Hayden Panettiere.

Eventually Flick screws up the offering and he is sent away on a seemingly fools errand of finding bigger bugs to help defend the colony.

bugs life6Through various circumstances Flick stumbles on to a troop of circus bugs he mistakes for warriors and they return to the ant colony.  The troop is a total delight with great vocal performances and really funny writing with characters like Francis the ladybug that’s actually a dude (and voiced by Dennis Leary which is so perfect!).

bugs life 11I also love Heimlich the German caterpillar who dreams of being a beautiful butterfly ‘and then everything will be better’.  Joe Ranft, who was an animator at the time, did the voice and he gets a laugh from me every time he is on screen.

Like I said at the beginning, the story isn’t really what attracts me to A Bug’s Life.  It’s a lot of other things:

1. It’s bright and colorful.  It looks great and every scene has texture unlike the brown, brown, brown of Antz.  The soil looks like little craters and the grass looks like giant trees because we are seeing it from a bug’s perspective.

2. The voice cast is great. It runs so deep with everyone from Madaline Kahn, Bonnie Hunt, Brad Garrett, Richard Kind and more.

3.  Hopper is a terrific villain that is menacing and extremely scary from the point of view of the ants.  He also has some great sarcastic remarks.

4.  The writing all around is really good.  It elevates the more ordinary material. There are a lot of laughs and genuine moments of heart . I particularly like when Flick is trying to convince Dot that she’s just a seed using a rock.

I also really like a scene where the ant children put on a little play letting the circus bugs know what they expect.  It’s very funny.

bugslife55. The score is some of Randy Newman’s best.  I know a lot of people deride Newman but I like his cheerful style and found this to be just the right tone for the story they were telling. The finale song is also great.  One of his best.

And that’s enough for me to give it a hearty recommendation.  It’s bright colorful, sweet time at the movies.  And it’s a movie that will appeal equally to little girls and boys, which can sometimes be hard to find.

Overall I give it a B.

They ended off Bug’s Life with this very cute ‘outtakes’ segment which was kind of a thing in the 90s but I enjoy it.

Antz Review


Btw this is my 300th post on this movie blog!  Can you believe it?  It hasn’t even been a year and 300 posts!

I figured before I review Bug’s Life it might be wise to also talk a little bit about the other ant movie which came out that year- Dreamworks Antz.  I have always felt like Jeffrey Katzenburg was a real snake for going to Dreamworks and clearly spilling the beans on Pixar’s project.  Pixar was such a tight community at that point it’s the only explanation that makes any sense.  So I never watched Antz because I thought it was a lame thing to do and didn’t want to support it.

So I clearly have no sentimental attachment to Antz and was approaching it with a fresh perspective not  knowing much about it but that it is about bugs. I must say rarely have I been left so befuddled by a movie.  I didn’t like it but it is so so strange I kind of admire what they were trying to do with the story.  An ambitious failure perhaps? (although how ambitious can a movie starting out as a copycat be?)

It’s an extremely odd movie.


First of all, the animation has not held up well.  Maybe I’m just biased but I think Bug’s Life looks way better.  It’s brighter, prettier, the characters flow and move better and I can actually tell the characters from one another.  In Antz it is like the UPS drivers designed the art direction of the movie.  Brown, brown, brown, brown and if it wasn’t for the voices I’d have no idea who was who.

There are a few sequences when they get to Insectopia that are fun to look at but for the most part it just looks extremely brown and dated.

antz14The story centers around Z an ant voiced by Woody Allen which is the part of the movie that worked the best for me.  Allen is very funny although extremely inappropriate at times and jokes way over kids head (do kids even know what a shrink is?).  With Allen’s history it is perhaps an odd choice for a childrens movie but this really isn’t a children’s movie (that was kind of an unfortunate trend in mid to late 90s).

The ants are basically living in a dystopian society.  All choice has been taken away from them and they are assigned at birth their role in the colony and nobody questions it.   Z and his 2 friends Azteca and Barbatus (Jennifer Lopez and Sylvester Stallone) have no problem with the situation but Z hates digging as he tells his therapist.

antz9The bad guy is a an ant named General Mandible voiced by Gene Hackman with Christopher Walken oddly playing his henchman (shouldn’t that be reversed?).  He is basically a Nazi.  He wants an all powerful colony of ants, so he develops a scheme to get his army above ground and basically drown the entire colony; thereby, starting afresh at his rule and order. All they need is camps and you’ve got the 3rd Reich.

I’m sorry but that’s a lot for an animated movie to conquer and this movie aint no Watership Down…

Z runs away and kidnaps the princess Bala (after meeting at a bar earlier…).  They of course hate each other at first but warm up as the movie goes on and head towards Insectopia.


One cool thing in the movie is all the insects are to scale but some of the scales seemed odd.  Like the termites are 6 or 7 times bigger than the ants.  Those are some big termites!  Still, the idea was interesting. There is even a termite war at one point.


I liked when they met 2 wasps that were very funny.  Wish they had been in the movie longer (Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtain).

The last 20 minutes start to pick up momentum as Z and Bala return home and try to thwart the General’s plan and save the colony.

There are some good things about this movie.  I like Allen.  I like how it tries to dive into these bigger themes (nobody loves a little romp through political philosophy more than me).  However, there are a lot of problems.

To begin with as I said it is very ugly to look at and the voice performances are another Dreamworks attempt to get famous people rather than the right people for your parts. Someone like Christopher Walken as basically a toadie is bizarre.


As much as I like the attempt at political allegory it just feels too muddled and safe to really say as much as they want it too.  Again watch Watership Down if you want that kind of allegory for adults.

Aside from Allen the characters are all kind of unlikable.  They wine, complain, or we see them so little we don’t care about them.  Pixar is so good at helping you to care about its characters.  Even a hopping lamp we care about in Luxo Jr.

My other major problem is the innuendo and language.  It’s a lot like Road to El Dorado in that way without its racism.  For example, I do not want to see an animated film where a character is referred to as a tight ass.  That’s not going to fly in my world.  There’s also a line about how Z is going to have erotic dreams about Bala and several scenes with characters getting tortured by the General for information.  (Can you believe it but its true!).

Antz is just weird enough that I can see why some like it.  To me it is just too ugly all the way around to enjoy.  It’s not as bad as Road to El Dorado but few animated films are (although that one looks better than Antz).

In the end I don’t think it really is in the same league as Bug’s Life and I certainly can’t recommend it.  (You starting to catch on why I really don’t want to do a Dreamworks Canon series! Just not my cup of tea).

Overall Grade- D+    Content Grade- C

Incidentally for another brilliant movie about ants watch last years Miniscule Valley of the Lost Ants.  It’s so good!