Feb 27, 2015

[Movies] A Bug's Life (1998)

So after the release of Toy Story, a lot of folks were curious as to what Pixar's next project was going to be. It was a landmark movie in itself and it rather changed the CGI animation world and also represented an odd counterpoint to traditional animation development at Disney and other studios. But there were still a lot of people that thought that Toy Story was just a fluke and its success wouldn't immediately be repeated.

Three years later we have A Bug's Life as Pixar's next feature film and it seemed to have a strange concept. Plus around the same time there was the even stranger movie Antz, that actually came out before this one. I remember seeing that movie and feeling all confused as to why this was supposed to be entertaining since it had a heck of a lot of Woody Allen just being, well Woody Allen.

So here was another bug-centric movie and I wasn't sure if it was going to be any good since Antz has been so disappointing. But despite that adverse release environment, this movie just shined through and reminded the world that Pixar truly has a unique voice in the industry.

Synopsis: A Bug's Life was Pixar's second major film release and was directed by John Lasseter. The screenplay had been written by Andrew Stanton, Donald McEnery, and Bob Shaw as based on a story by Lasseter, Stanton and Joe Ranft.

We first meet Flik (Dave Foley), a clever little ant who has a passion of inventing different gadgets that he hopes to help improve the lives of his fellow ants. But when Flik's new grain-harvesting machine not only fails to work properly but also ruins a significant portion of the ant's food supply, things get a lot more serious. The real issue is that a lot of the grain is given to a gang of grasshoppers led by Hopper (Kevin Spacey), who bully the ants for food every year. The grasshoppers given the ants a short reprieve from providing the food, but it's still going to be difficult for them to find a way to make things work.

They then get Flik to go out to seek "warrior bugs" that might be able to turn the tides and defeat the grasshoppers. In truth, they only want Flik out of the way while they scramble to somehow gather enough food to appease the grasshoppers. Thus Flik's journey takes him to a nearby city and he ends up meeting the circus bugs of P.T, Flea (John Ratzenberger). But for one reason or another Flik confuses them for the supposed warrior bugs that he had set out to find and he quickly begs them to come back to the anthill to face the grasshoppers. But for one reason or another, the circus troupe think that they're traveling back with Flik to put on a show for everyone back home.

This second feature from Pixar certainly made sure to paint with the same sort of lighter, happy colors that really have some pop and vibrancy on the big screen. Sure. ants are more typically black or red, but the light purplish tone actually worked out well in a manner that made them a lot more appealing. And everyone generally looks this way apart from the grasshoppers, who aren't just darker but actually sort of look more realistic given the rougher textures of their bodies and such. It makes for an interesting contrast and helps keeps the audience informed of who is who.

And the humor remained pretty spot on for the most part, similar to what we had all experienced in Toy Story with tweaks and tonal changes here and there. And the humor isn't limited to the good guys - even Kevin Spacey made the most of his villainous role with some choice lines here and there. But naturally the circus bugs were really the highlight here. As much as Flik was written to be a little naive and thus could be humorous in that manner, the circus bugs were just killing it. Raise your hand if you totally loved Heimlick (Joe Fanft)!

The overall story was fairly complicated on the surface, but at its core it really was your more basic tale of how to deal with bullies. And that what those grasshoppers represented - the bullies in our lives that try to take things from us. And thus it's just a matter of standing up to them but more importantly standing together in order to face them fully.

This movie was also notable for having a humorous in-credit sequence of supposed outtakes from the movie. Seriously. this speaks volumes of Pixar's sense of humor given how much additional animation work went into creating those bits just to get a few more laughs out of the audience for the part of the movie where people typically step out. And that was quite the moment of brilliance, once that we see emulated in many other animated features. Plus there's that moment of magical belief when some kids might actually think that the movie was filmed instead of just being animated. And I really liked that touch.

A Bug's Life is a lovely little film and at the time it represented the proof that Pixar was more than just a flash in the pan. And it also proved that even with folks creating similar stories, attention to detail and an eye for quality will see you through in the end. Thus the movie gets a good 4 silly circus tricks by the bugs out of a possible 5.

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