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A Bug's Life

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: A Bug's Life

Starring: Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey
Director: John Lasseter
Rated: G
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: November 1998
Genres: Animation, Kids

Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

With the release of Disney and Pixar's _A_Bug's_Life_, the first head-to-head Disney-DreamWorks animation battle has officially taken place. The winner? Well, there isn't one--it's a draw. While their respective studios continue their war of words and massive publicity, _Bugs_ and _Antz_, it turns out, can peacefully co-exist, each carving out their own delightful, distinctive niche in the computer-animated insect milieu.

The similarities between _Bugs_ and _Antz_ begin and end with the facts that they are completely computer animated, center on ant colonies, and that the two main characters are a worker ant (here named Flik, voiced by Dave Foley) and an ant princess (Atta, voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Ne'er-do-well Flik is ordered by the Princess to find warrior insects to help his colony in their ongoing conflict with a gang of grasshoppers led by the maniacal Hopper (Kevin Spacey). Flik finds a willing group in the praying mantis Manny (Jonathan Harris); his moth wife, Gypsy (Madeline Kahn); male ladybug Francis (Denis Leary); walking stick Slim (David Hyde Pierce); caterpillar Heimlich (Joe Ranft); black widow spider Rosie (Bonnie Hunt); rhino beetle Dim (Brad Garrett); and pillbugs Tuck and Roll (Michael McShane). But as warrior-like as these bugs may appear, they are actually gentle circus performers desperate for a gig after being fired by flea circus owner P.T. Flea (John Ratzenberger). Realizing his error, Flik nonetheless tries to make a counteroffensive against the grasshoppers work, lest he let down the colony once again.

The script for _A_Bug's_Life_, credited to co-director Andrew Stanton, Donald McEnery, and Bob Shaw (from a story by Stanton, Ranft, and co-director John Lasseter), lacks the sharp, satirical, sociopolitical subtext of _Antz_. For that matter, neither is the story as hilarious and smart as that of the previous Disney/Pixar collaboration, _Toy_Story_. In telling a simpler story, _Bugs_ holds more kid and general family appeal, but that does not mean that there isn't enough witty dialogue, funny situations, and entertaining characters to amuse the adults in the crowd. (In fact, the film's best gag, which comes during the end credits, is clearly aimed at adults; I wouldn't dream of giving it away, but I will say that, with any luck, it should kill a lazy trend in recent film.) The most memorable characters are distinguished by terrific voice performances: Spacey completely inhabits the menacing Hopper with malicious glee; Louis-Dreyfus is nicely neurotic as Atta; and Ranft fits Heimlich with a hilarious, almost effeminate German accent. As a whole, though, the ensemble here won't make you forget the work of the more stellar cast of _Antz_; Foley does an adequate job voicing Flik, but, not surprisingly, he doesn't hold down the center of the movie as well as Woody Allen in the other film.

Where _A_Bug's_Life_ is clearly superior to _Antz_ is in the visual department. The art by the Pixar crew is stunningly detailed, from the gritty walls of the ant colony tunnels to, most impressively, the insects themselves, namely the amazingly lifelike grasshoppers. Lasseter and Stanton also employ more ambitious camera work than their DreamWorks counterparts, especially during an exciting aerial chase sequence set during a rainstorm. PDI did a terrific job with the animation on _Antz_, but _A_Bug's_Life_ shows that Pixar is still the king of feature computer animation.

And, by default, so is Disney, and, with its broader demographic appeal, _A_Bug's_Life_ should handily outpace _Antz_'s impressive box office grosses. But DreamWorks has already established itself as a worthy contender in the animation field, and the Mouse should watch out when the big SKG fires its next assault, next month's hotly anticipated epic _The_Prince_of_Egypt_.

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