More Like a ‘C+’
About a year ago I started seeing teaser trailers for the new animated feature, Bee Movie, starring Jerry Seinfeld. This live action teaser had Seinfeld in an actual bee costume and Chris Rock dressed as a mosquito. The two then found themselves on a larger than life windshield, dodging huge wipers, water sprayers and wind machines. It wasn’t very funny and went on too long. Luckily, the actual movie is funnier and isn’t live action, but still suffers from a scatterbrained plot and not enough laughs.
Honeybee Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) has just graduated from his three day stint in college and now has to choose a career. Distraught about working in the same job for the rest of his life, he takes a sojourn from the hive where he meets a human, Vanessa (Renee Zellweger). After she saves his life, Barry breaks a cardinal bee rule: don’t talk to humans. Once this barrier is broken, Barry has a friend for life. Things get complicated when Barry notices how bees and their sacred honey have been exploited for the human race, and vows to sue.
Seinfeld (The Thing About my Folks) co-wrote Bee Movie, and it has a lot of his trademarks. His observations about the hive and drone existence (much like is stand-up act, or TV show) is funny and compromises the better first third of the movie. Since this is a feature, however, there must be a plot (unlike his stand-up act, or TV show) that develops and Bee Movie flies in all directions once Barry embarks on his weird quest to rid the world of exploited honey. The story goes from observations of life, to romantic comedy, to court procedural, to environmental commentary. It’s too much, and several movies could have been made from all this material. What we get is a big, unfocused mess.
Thankfully, we do laugh. There is one hilarious payoff concerning Barry daydreaming about Vanessa that is almost worth the price of admission. The always reliable Patrick Warburton (Underdog) is on hand as with his trademark bass delivery that is just funny all by itself. I also liked the satirical stab at the efficiency of the hive and the fact that honey is used for everything from fuel to swimming pool filling. That windshield bit from the teaser returns (with an animated Chris Rock), only this time it actually works.
While the animation is serviceable, Dreamworks ain’t Pixar. After being spoiled by years of the Pixar standard, you may find yourself wondering why everything looks so flat, even on a big screen. The colors are bright and everything is cleanly rendered, but it feels more like a comic book than a movie. I guess this could pass as some sort of statement on boring conformity, but I want to be thrilled by what the animators can do and not just pacified.
Bee Movie is not a bad film. It tries really hard, and sometimes succeeds, but can’t quite chew what it bites off. While Seinfeld worked the ‘show about nothing’ dynamic to perfection on TV, a workable story seems to be more elusive. Oh well. Maybe next time.