Making a movie that kids will like does not, necessarily, make it a good movie. Case in point, Bee Movie.
The thriving metropolis of New Hive City lies in the Sheep Meadow, just off Turtle Pond on the Upper West Side of New York City’s Central Park. Within its honeycombed walls, the latest class of youngsters are graduating from bee school and preparing to start work within the only career open to them, the honey-making conglomerate Honex.
But recent graduate Barry (Jerry Seinfeld) is one bee who wants to be more. He shuns the uber-efficient hive mentality and the prospect of doing the same job for the rest of his life. (In a moment only the adults will get, Barry hides from his parent’s incessant nagging about his indecisiveness at the bottom of a swimming pool of honey, an explicit homage to the famous scene in The Graduate.) Barry finds his chance to escape his preordained existence while hanging out with the “pollen jocks,” macho Top Gun aviators who are the only bees allowed to leave the hive.
Barry’s adventures in the outside world are both wondrous and treacherous. During one encounter, his imperiled life is saved by the kindly florist Vanessa (Renee Zellweger, who even sounds adorable), who is surprised to find bees can talk. Barry and Venessa strike up a friendship that is put to the test when Barry discovers that humans harvest honey for their own consumption. Flabbergasted that they would steal what rightfully belongs to his kind, Barry does what any self-respecting bee would do: he sues the human race. His actions lead to some unintended and disastrous consequences, not to mention a from-left-field moral lecture.
Producer-writer-star Jerry Seinfeld, long sought for animation work, has collected a hive of talent for Bee Movie, but unfortunately, most of it is put to the service of a surprisingly unoriginal and humdrum story.
Bee Movie's largest failing is that it never tries to find its own internal logic, a set of rules that would allow for conversations between bees and humans, much less the increasingly ridiculous events of the latter half of the film. Unlike the inherent logic between, for example, the critter and the human chef in this summer’s tremendous Ratatouille, Bee Movie has moments of wild absurdity that feel out of place, even in a cartoon. The film works too hard for its funny moments and comes away goofy rather than whimsical.
Which isn’t to say that Bee Movie doesn’t have delightful moments. There are funny bits as bugs do what bugs do: become mesmerized by bright lights, smack repeatedly into windows, collect on car windshields, etc. Patrick Warburton, best known for his role as Puddy on “Seinfeld” but also a talented voice actor who stole the show as Kronk in the underrated The Emperor’s New Groove, is great as Vanessa’s beefcake-without-brains boyfriend. There are dozens of humorous pop references in which stars from Sting to Larry King make appearances. And when Barry and his “pollen jocks” squadron leave the duocrome order of the hive for an exuberant flight through a Central Park bursting with color, it is the one moment of the film in which we too soar.
The animal kingdom has always been ripe for cartoonists’ pens. Everything from mice to fish, dinosaurs to birds, dogs to cats has been anthropomorphized with animated relish. The ultimate example of animated insects was undoubtedly Pixar’s A Bug’s Life. But, Dreamworks Animation, no matter how hard it tries, is no Pixar. Its films, while funny and often clever, never rise to the sheer genius Pixar seems to have in spades. Dreamworks’ animated films lack the sort of effortless charm, animated grace and satirical wit that Pixar seems to generate instinctively.
Bee Movie has enough deliriously silly moments that kids should still find it more than enough entertainment, even if their parental chaperones do not. Unfortunately, this is one film that comes close to living up to the pun of its title.