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Friday, Jan. 25, 2008
'Bee Movie' it certainly is
"Bee Movie," the latest animated feature from DreamWorks Animation, is about as funny as its title. B-movie, get it? It's a rather weak pun, more so considering there already was an ironically titled "B-Movie" made in 2004.
A few bottles of good zinfandel must have already been polished off when comedian Jerry Seinfeld dropped the "Bee Movie" joke over dinner with Steven Spielberg, because it was thought so hilarious that Spielberg green-lighted an entire film based on this throwaway gag. Ah, to be a multizillionaire and have your minions indulge your every whim!
Soon, Seinfeld and a team of writers were churning out a script, and directors Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner ("Shrek 4-D," "Prince of Egypt") were assembling a team of digital artists vast enough to make the credits roll longer than "Anna Karenina."
They probably should have kept tossing back the zin, though, for "Bee Movie" displays a dire need for some sort of creative inspiration. This movie positively reeks of Hollywood's desire to forgo the fuzzy unquantifiable creative stuff and reduce it all to a no-risk left-brain formula that works — guaranteed. Y'know, there's a word for that kind of movie: formulaic. And that goes to show that the thing producers so love is also the thing that takes all the joy and thrill out of it for the viewer. Like this movie does.
"Bee Movie" could practically be a case study. It's like the filmmakers sat down and watched "Monsters, Inc.," "Robots" and "Antz" and discovered the primal three-chords of modern animated hits. Like those films, "Bee Movie" creates an elaborate world just like our own, except that it's a magical land of bees going to bee school, driving bee cars, talking on little bee cell phones, and arguing with their nagging Jewish bee mothers. (Bees were Jews: who knew?)
Of course, the presence of such vaguely amusing post-Vaudevillian Jewish humor is part and parcel of the formula: "Monsters, Inc." had Billy Crystal as its lead, "Antz" had Woody Allen, "Madagascar" had Ben Stiller, so Seinfeld is about your last option in that lead-actor category. Apparently, there are even fewer options left for a jive-talking sidekick (think Eddie Murphy in "Shrek"), so Chris Rock gets to reprise his role from "Madagascar" here. (Leave it to Rock, though, to land the film's best line.)
The story involves our hero, Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld), in New Hive City. Upon graduating from school, he isn't thrilled to be going to work at Honex, the honey-making corporation, for the rest of his worker-bee life. Though his friend Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick) tries to dissuade him, Barry is intent on flying outside the hive with the group of macho "pollen jocks," who — and this could only happen in an American movie — extract pollen from park flowers with guns.
While on this excursion, Barry gets blown off course — including the film's best bit, where he gets stuck to an in-play tennis ball — and only avoids being swatted thanks to a kind human, Vanessa Bloom (Renee Zellweger), a florist with a kind streak for bugs. Barry decides he must express his gratitude to her and, in doing so, breaks the cardinal rule: Ape must not kill ape! Oh, sorry: Bee must not speak to human!
Bloom is a bit startled to hear a bee speaking — another of the movie's choice moments — but is soon over it, and the two become pretty fond of each other. You could almost call it "Beauty and the Bee," a pun surprisingly missed by people whose idea of humor is when Barry shows his mom (Kathy Bates) his report card and she says, "perfect — all 'B's!" Hell, they think a cameo by Sting is a joke in itself. But they're off their game — Chris Rock, playing a loudmouthed mosquito, never even gets to mention "B-boys."
The plot's big twist comes when Barry sees a jar of honey in the supermarket and decides to sue mankind for exploiting bees. Yet even the inimitable John Goodman, as a sly and portly defense lawyer for the human race, can barely raise a chuckle. The jokes are just weaker than A-Rod in the postseason, and in the end all the animated razzle-dazzle is just so much empty flash with few real laughs.
Viewers should note that the film's denouement, where bees get lazy and stop pollinating with catastrophic effects on agriculture, is no mere joke: There is a recent phenomena called "colony collapse disorder," in which a colony dies out after worker bees suddenly disappear at an alarming rate, with no one able to figure out the cause (suspects include viruses, pesticides, climate change, and electromagnetic radiation).