When you see "The End" appear onscreen at the conclusion of "A Bug's Life,
" stay in your seat, because the show isn't over quite yet. The
filmmakers have added a very clever little treat to the closing credits.
The rollicking "A Bug's Life" is that kind of movie; so bright, clever
and eager to please that it does everything but walk you out to your car.
The computer-animated feature, from the makers of "Toy Story," deftly
combines comedy, action and razzle-dazzle visuals to produce 94 minutes
of pure fun.
Flik ("NewsRadio's" Dave Foley, in a spirited performance) is an ant with
a vision. Eschewing the conformity of the colony, he works on various
inventions, even as his colleagues roll their eyes at his fanciful
notions. They're far more concerned with collecting food for the seasonal
payoff to the grasshoppers; thugs who threaten violence if the ants fail
to present a sufficient "offering." When Flik accidentally knocks over
the bounty, invader boss Hopper (Kevin Spacey) delivers a blistering
edict: if the ants don't collect a double-offering, the grasshoppers will
wipe out the entire colony.
Anxious to atone, Flik sets out, in "Seven Samurai" fashion, to gather a
group of warrior insects to protect the community. He finds what appears
to be a formidable assemblage of bugs and convinces them to accompany him
home. Unfortunately, there's been a major miscommunication: the
"warriors" are in fact a hapless band of circus insects who believe they
have been hired to put on a show. When the truth comes out, things look
disastrous for the colony, but wait... Flik has another plan!
"A Bug's Life" earns bonus points for its knock-out supporting characters.
While the early portion of the film is charming and visually stunning,
things really don't kick into high gear until the wonderfully eccentric
members of P.T. Flea's Circus make their appearance. The ants are a sweet,
but bland, bunch, with only Flik, the Queen (Phyllis Diller), Princess
Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and young Dot (Hayden Panettiere) really
displaying any individual sparks. Even they pale in comparison with the
motley band of circus insects. The group includes a glamorous spider
(Bonnie Hunt), Hungarian acrobat bugs Tuck and Roll (Michael McShane), a
grumpy, misunderstood ladybug (Denis Leary) and prickly walking-stick
insect Slim (a hilarious David Hyde-Pierce).
Best of all is Manny, an aging, narcissistic praying mantis with regal
pretensions, played to perfection by Jonathan Harris. When Harris, the
villainous Dr. Smith from the old "Lost In Space" TV series, was offered
a cameo in this year's big-screen adaptation of the show, he turned it
down, sniffing "I don't do bit parts." At the time, I dismissed his words
as mere prattling from a egocentric has-been. Who knew that the old ham
had a gig this good up his sleeve?
Without minimizing the pleasures of the similarly-themed "Antz," "A Bug's
Life" is a much more satisfying film. The production mixes radiant colors,
a score that echoes epic westerns, and extraordinary imagination in
creating its miniature landscapes. A visit to an insect city is
wonderfully realized, with discarded food containers from the human world
serving as buildings (and, in marked contrast to "Antz," there is nary a
product placement in sight). Following a riotous circus performance, we
get a tour of Bugville, complete with a beggar insect sitting on the
sidewalk with a sign reading "Kid pulled off wings."
The visuals from the computer graphic wizards at Pixar are nothing less
than breathtaking. A scene depicting Flik taking flight, parasailing on a
single sprig of a dandelion blossom, is both lyrical and stunning. The
detail work in the shot shows just how far computer graphics have come in
the three short years since "Toy Story."
Of course, an adventure film can't succeed without a good villain, and
Kevin Spacey does terrific work as Hopper, malevolent leader of the
menacing grasshoppers, playing the character like a swaggering biker from
"The Wild Ones." Listen closely as the grasshoppers prepare to take off
and you'll notice that the audio effect boys incorporate the sounds of
motorcycles revving up into the background noise. Nice touch.
"A Bug's Life" isn't perfect. The secondary ants are unnecessarily bland
and some of the action scenes are too boisterous for their own good, but
these are small quibbles. Warm, funny and thrilling, "A Bug's Life"
represents a powerful stride for computer animated films, as well as yet
another triumph for the alliance between Disney and Pixar Studios. Get
ready for one of the best films of the year and don't forget to stay for
the closing credits.
Incidentally, "A Bug's Life" is preceded by "Geri's Game," a delightful
Pixar comic short about an elderly gent's tricks during a chess game in
the park. Sunny, ingenious and very funny, the feature showcases the best
computer rendering of the human form to date.
Copyright © 1998 Edward Johnson-Ott