Thursday, November 25, 2010

Film Review: Bee Movie

"Bee Movie" *** (out of ****)

Only Jerry Seinfeld could make us like and care about bees, even when they are suing humans!

If you think about this Dreamworks CGI animated film, conceived and co-written by Jerry Seinfeld, long enough it really asks us to accept a lot. Too much I'd say. More than any movie should. Yet, it might just work for the younger audience.

"Bee Movie" (2007) follows a bee colony and one bee in particular, Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld). Today is his graduation day. He is finally done with school. Now all of his hard work, school last three days, has finally paid off. Today he is a man (is that the right term?). Today he will start a job. A job which will last him the rest of his left, with never a day off. This terrifies Barry. They never told him this in school. The idea of only having one job for the rest of his life puts him in a panic. His entire life is planned. There is so much he wants to do, like leave the bee colony and explore the world around him. His best friend on the other hand, Adam (Matthew Broderick) simply wants to devote his life to making honey. Barry shouldn't think about such adventures.

This concept probably will connect more to any kid who has ever graduated college or any parent that can remember what life was like after college. Now you're an adult. You have your degree. And, if you're lucky, you will immediately find a job in your field. And you will work at that job, if you are lucky, for many, many years. But at such a young age, do you really know what you want to do for the rest of your life? Is it possible you may have made a mistake?

That is one of the messages buzzing around "Bee Movie". It is a message most animated films tell us. Follow your heart. Live out your dreams. Never settle. I suppose it is a good message for kids. But "Bee Movie" starts to complicate things.

Barry does leave the bee colony and embarks upon the human world. He has never had to deal with human interaction. What is the human world like? Barry is not to happy about constantly being attacked by people afraid of bees but he becomes even more furious when he finds out humans eat honey.

Honey is the world to a bee. It is all bees do. They devote their lives to making honey. But beekeepers actually take bees out of their natural habitat and steal the honey they produce. It is then sold and bees receive no compensation. What kind of scam is this! Barry decides it is time to teach the humans a lesson. So he sues the honey companies of America.

Much of the movie, at this point, actually works. A lot of it has to do with Seinfeld and his co-writers, Spike Feresten and Andy Robin, both of whom also worked on Jerry's television show and Barry Marder. Because of Seinfeld's involvement it gives the adults something to look forward to. And because Seinfeld is so talented and funny, the children will laugh too, even if they don't know who Seinfeld is.

Seinfeld, like most comics, actually has a funny voice. He has the ability to say normal things in a funny way. The pitch of his voice. The words he chooses to emphasize. The highs and lows of his voice all are funny. If you never paid much attention to Seinfeld's vocal rhythm before, hearing him voice an animated character, will make you take notice. His voice rather than his physical qualities are on display.

Where "Bee Movie" gets a little shaky is in its romantic sub-plot between Barry and a human, Vanessa (Renee Zellweger). Vanessa saves Barry's life after her husband, Ken (Patrick Warburton, whom shall always remain as Puddy to me) tries to kill him. Barry is grateful and feels an obligation to break one of the bee's laws, never speak to a human. For Barry it is love at first sight. For Vanessa, Barry's offers her something Ken doesn't. How can I possibly accept this? Maybe if it was a different animal. Maybe a dog, a big lovable dog, but how can a woman develop feelings for a bee? We just have to keep reminding ourselves this is a children's movie.

But soon the message of "Bee Movie" starts to change. All things serve a purpose. Nature is built on a law of order. There is a chain reaction. I felt this new message contradicts the previous message. "Bee Movie" is arguing both sides. At first it tells us to be individuals and follow our dreams and then tells us the importance of the social order of things. We all have a job we must do.

As in most animated movies there are a ton a voice cameos ranging from Ray Liotta (as himself) as a celebrity honey manufacturer, Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Richards, Larry Miller and Rip Torn.

A lot of the humor in "Bee Movie" comes from how many bee puns Seinfeld and the gang could think of. They sadly missed a golden opportunity by not having any Bee Gees songs on the soundtrack. Where is a parody of the opening sequence in "Saturday Night Fever" (1977)? We get a "The Graduate" (1967) reference, with Barry floating on a raft in a pool of honey while his parents (Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson) give him guidance. And my guess is children are too young to get the joke and probably have not seen that movie.

"Bee Movie" is fast and funny with a nice message for children and has enough adult references to keep the parents entertained. For the first 45-50 minutes it is quite engaging. A lot of credit has to be thrown Seinfeld's way for his very impressive voice work here and his ability to give both children and parents something to enjoy. "Bee Movie" is no masterpiece but it is nice and pleasant.