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Movie Review: Bee Movie

Bee Movie
Directed by Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith
Written by Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, and Andy Robin

Dreamworks’ slate of animation has, for me, been the opposite of Pixar in that it has had a long losing streak.  The mild guffaws I got out of Antz and Shrek aside, I absolutely hated Shark Tale, Madagascar, Over the Hedge, and the other two Shrek films.  These films tried much too hard to show how clever everyone involved could be, and I found the obvious made-for-marketing jokes obnoxious.

Or as Homer Simpson put it in the this season’s premiere of The Simpsons, telling summer plots as if they were campfire stories, “There once was an ogre named Shrek Three who lived in medieval times, but he said things that were from today times.”

Now, I was really skeptical of Bee Movie after watching the first animated previews.  The live-action ”we’re making a movie” stuff was pretty clever, but then the actual cartoon previews came out and there was stuff like “Ray Liotta Honey” in there, which is exactly the kind of joke I’m talking about, I began to think even Jerry Seinfeld was going to be wrapped up in the Dreamworks “Look at all these references” extravaganza.  But I was surprised.

Bee Movie starts off like just about any “secret world” computer toon does, by introducing us to things that don’t talk in the real world and making some snarky comments about an average day-in-the-life.  Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld, who co-scripted, and it shows) is, like all bees, about to work the rest of his life in a honey factory.  But as his blue eyes make clear, he’s not going to be happy about it and he’s going to make some waves.  His friend Adam (Matthew Broderick) and his parents Janet (Kathy Bates) and Martin (Barry Levinson) don’t know why he can’t just be happy with his fate.

Before deciding on the job he will have for the rest of his life, he decides to go out with the studs of the bee community, the “Jocks” that go out and collect the honey and spread the pollen at great risk to themselves.  During this mission, he gets lost and stumbles upon human Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellweger), who can actually hear him speak.  And she’s not the only one, or even one of a select few; it’s just a law that bees don’t talk to humans.  Vanessa saves Barry from death by her boyfriend Ken (Patrick Warburton) and they become friends.

But then, Barry finds out that honey is being sold in supermarkets, so he finds a way to sue the human race for stealing the honey, taking bees from their homes to mass-produce the honey, using chemicals to keep them compliant, and for other bee misuse, such as people naming themselves Sting (yep, as himself), or using a bear, a sworn bee enemy, as a dispenser for honey.  He actually gets into court, facing off against lawyer Layton T. Montgomery (John Goodman).

And we find out a lot about how bees are important to our lives, which comprises the third act.  While the movie still has some references that will be dated a decade or so down the road, they aren’t done with the same overbearing down-your-throat style that Dreamworks is known for.  And big points for not doing the whole, “Well Vanessa can hear Barry, but no one else can,” nonsense, which plays into a really good joke later on.

And even when it gets to pop culture references, they’re pretty funny.  There’s a The Graduate reference that is really good mainly because no one is saying something like, “Mrs. Robinson you’re trying to seduce me,” just so you know that it is The Graduate (even better, it’s not even that scene that is getting referenced).  The scenes with Larry King (probably my favorite scene), Ray Liotta, and Sting are good, and a great crack at John Travolta got me laughing.  In the story department, the film does a good job at making the proceedings matter, even though the premise is pretty ridiculous when it comes down to it.  I’m sure there will be quite a few critics who point out that bees in a courtroom is too much (and especially the airplane scene in the big finale), but I dug it.

Seinfeld and Zellweger do great voice work, and although the Dreamworks animation still looks the same after nearly a decade, it serves the story OK.  There’s still a big gap between Dreamworks and Pixar, but at least this time I didn’t feel pandered to.  Good fun.


Comment from H. Wellman
Time: November 1, 2007, 10:12 am

Cool review. I hope it’s as good as you say it is.

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