Pixar is the must successful studio in movie history, with every single one of its releases earning over $100 million. Even more impressive, every one of them is entirely original, not based on a book or classic fairy tale. I have a special affection for “A Bug’s Life,” and so chose it as this week’s DVD pick, in honor of its newest cinematic sibling, “Up.”
“A Bug’s Life” did not get the attention it deserved when it was first released was because it was the second computer-animated movie about ants within a few months. The difference between the two animated ant movies is exemplified by their lead characters. “Antz” had Z, voiced by Woody Allen as — well — Woody Allen, angst-ridden, in analysis, searching for individual identity in a world of conformity. “A Bug’s Life” has “News Radio’s” Dave Foley providing his voice as Flik, an All-American ant-next-door type, inventive, brave, and loyal.
When Flik inadvertently loses the food tribute set out by the ants for the predatory grasshoppers, he must find a way to protect his community. In the spirit of “The Magnificent Seven,” he goes off in search of warrior bugs to fight the grasshoppers. He mistakenly hires a group of unsuccessful vaudevillians from (of course) a flea circus, who think they are being booked for a performance and have no idea he expects them to fight. But they turn out to have just the right stuff to help the ants fight the grasshoppers after all. And Flick gets to prove that he is a hero at heart. The result is a delightful movie that is great fun for all but the smallest kids, who may be frightened by the scary grasshoppers and by some intense action sequences that put the lead characters into danger.
Helped by outstanding voice talent, the characters are quirky and endearing enough to make you forget they are computer-animated. “Seinfeld’s” Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays the ant princess, learning about the responsibilities of leadership. Phyllis Diller lends her raspy voice to the ant queen. Kevin Spacey is smoothly menacing as Hopper, the leader of the grasshopper bad guys, and “Spin City’s” Richard Kind plays his not-so-bad-guy brother. The flea circus performers include the voices of “Frasier’s” David Hyde Pierce, and John Ratzenberger of “Cheers.”
“Antz” was largely brown, but this ant movie uses a paintbox of color to produce stunning images with luminous tones. You’ll need to see it twice to appreciate the scope of the movie’s visual wit and technological mastery. It also has the funniest credit sequence I have ever seen — be sure to watch all the way to the end to enjoy it.
Subjects for family discussion include bullies, and how to deal with them (note Hopper’s view that their power depends more on the ants’ perception than on reality), what makes a leader, the obligations of responsibility, and responding to challenges — including failure.