Easily the best family movie in the past few years was 1995's TOY STORY.
The Pixar Animation Studios are back this year with their second motion
picture, A BUG'S LIFE, which is another brilliant piece of filmmaking.
Although the script is not quite up to the level of their first film,
the movie is technically and artistically superior to DREAMWORKS's ANTZ,
a film started after A BUG'S LIFE but rushed to market sooner.
Unlike ANTZ, full of Woody Allen's angst-filled musings targeted to some
indeterminate age group, A BUG'S LIFE, with its large doses of
good-spirited humor, will charm a preschooler as well as an
octogenarian. Brightly lit and created with dazzling computer-generated
animation, the film surpasses both TOY STORY and ANTZ in the intricacy
and fluidity of the production.
The press notes say that it took up to 100 hours of computer time to
render a single frame of the most complicated scenes. Rarely has
computing power been put to use more effectively. But the sheer joy of
A BUG'S LIFE comes not from the film's technical prowess but from the
sweet and loveable characters and situations it creates. The script by
Andrew Stanton, Donald McEnery and Bob Shaw is not only delightful, it
is so funny that it had our press-only screening in such stitches that I
missed half the jokes. It was so warmly received that the critics were
applauding in the end, something these normally reticent professionals
The story opens with the ants harvesting food for their archenemies, the
grasshoppers. The long line of ants carrying the food is stopped dead in
its tracks by a disaster. A leaf has fallen smack dab in the middle of
the line, and they have no idea how to cope. Finally, it is suggested
that they might actually walk around the leaf, and, miracle of miracles,
that works. One ants claims that the catastrophe wasn't nearly as bad
as the "twig of 93."
The grasshoppers are led by a mean looking critter named Hopper, done
with a deliciously sinister voice by Kevin Spacey. "Ants pick the food;
grasshoppers eat the food," Hopper keeps reminding the ants of their
place in life. And when ants don't toe the line, Hopper's universal
refrain to his troops is "Squish 'em!" In private, he says that, since
there are more ants than grasshoppers, it would be a terrible thing for
the local insect food chain if the ants ever figured out what they could
accomplish with their vaster numbers.
The story's hero is an ant named Flik (Dave Foley), an inventor who is
always getting the other ants in trouble with his hair-brained schemes.
After he loses all of the grain that they've been storing up for the
grasshoppers, he proposes to leave their island and go in search of
"bigger bugs" that would be a match for the evil grasshoppers. Princess
Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), The Queen (Phyllis Diller) and the council
agree with his proposal. They never expect to see him again, which
would please most of them.
In a classic story of mistaken identity, Flik happens onto the acting
troop from the P. T. Fleas Circus. He hires them thinking that they are
warrior bugs. They, on the other hand, think they've been engaged to
perform circus acts for the ants. The wise script milks this idea for a
long stream of laughs before it lets both sides realize how vulnerable
they are. The colorful bugs include a praying mantis, a monarch
butterfly, a pair of roly-poly bugs and a walking stick. Best of all is
Denis Leary as a ladybug guy named Francis. Francis gets in touch with
his feminine side while being a den mother to a troop of little ants,
called the blueberries.
Although the film contains none of the inappropriate sexual references
of ANTZ, it does have one hilarious line when the lightning bugs
accidentally shine a light at the wrong time. This causes someone to
yell out, "turn your butt off." This is the only even slightly
off-color line in the entire picture.
The marvelously inventive film ends in a celebration in which the ants
even figure out how to create fireworks out of nothing more than some
weeds. This sumptuous ending sequence is a perfect conclusion to a
And then come the ending credits when, in the "outtakes," we see how
hard it is even for animated characters to get their lines right and to
keep a straight face. Whatever you do, don't miss a minute of this
A BUGS LIFE runs 1:34. It is rated G and would be a great choice for
My son Jeffrey, age 9, gave it ****, said it was one of the best
pictures of the year, and thought it was "way better than ANTZ." He had
a long string of things he loved including the animation, the
grasshoppers and the ants' big attack. He can't wait to see it again.
Copyright © 1998 Steve Rhodes