November 4, 2007

Movie Review: Bee Movie

Bee Movie marks Jerry Seinfeld's return to the public eye. Many years have passed since the shuttering and dismantling of the Seinfeld sets. One could safely assume that the gang was released from their series finale incarceration and have gone on and resumed their life of nothing. While the other cast members have gone on to other projects, with widely varied results, Jerry resisted the return to the small screen or the lure of the big screen. So, what does he finally choose as his return vehicle? A movie about bees. That's right, bees. Seems to be an odd choice for his comeback, but so be it; so long as it is fun! Jerry got together with veterans of the television series and turned out this look into bee society. The end result is a zippy conglomeration of new and stale jokes filtered through Seinfeld's observational humor. It is a case of a film that kids will enjoy but adults enjoyment will be based on how much they like Jerry Seinfeld's comedy.

I like Bee Movie. However, the further away I get from the screening the more it seems to slip. It has leveled off to an acceptable level, but there is no denying that I was more enthusiastic about the movie as I was walking from the theater than I am as I sit down to write this review. As I watched the movie I felt there was something a little bit off, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I was caught up in the nicely rendered animation and the vibrant yellows that infected the palette. On top of that, the script is littered with the expected Seinfeldian quips delivered the only Jerry can deliver. Fortunately, I like his comedy.

Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) is a young bee preparing to enter the working force; although he is a little disturbed by the prospect of one job for life. You see, Barry wants to explore the world a little before being forced to settle down. So, Barry takes up the sarcastic offer of a "pollen jock," you know the type, kind of like the sports celebrities of bee society, to go on a mission outside the hive.

So begins Barry's adventure. We are taken on a zippy flight through Central Park, a car engine and other city locales featuring stunning animation. This early sequence makes me wonder why we didn't get a 3D release; it seems like a perfect fit. But I digress, again.

Barry's misadventure through the city eventually leads him to an apartment inhabited by a human named Vanessa (Renee Zellweger). Together they embark on a forbidden friendship. Forbidden by the bee rule that they are never to talk to humans, and from the humans typical response to shoo the bees away at best or at worst squash them.

Their friendship leads to a discovery that sets Barry off and moves the story from the Seinfeldian humor portion to the plot/message portion. It is the discovery that humanity profits from bees by stealing their honey and then eating it. Barry then embarks on a historic lawsuit against humanity, with completely unexpected results that feed into another eco-friendly message.

This is where my enjoyment came to level off and dip a little bit, the messages. In the end it is not Barry's individualism that wins out, but the need to comply and essentially fall in line. Accept your job and do it because that is what you need to do. Not a terribly cheery message to the youth. Then there is the ecological issue of bees work in the realm of pollination. Without the bees our world of fauna would fall apart. I don't know, there is just something about the way these messages sunk in during my post viewing reminiscence that halted my enjoyment, in particular the Marxist worldview of bee society.

On the other side of the equation there was a lot to like as well. I mean, despite the Marxism and eco-issues I still like the movie! First off is the previously mentioned animation. It may not be at the level of, say, Pixar's Ratatouille but it is still very good. There are some excellent set pieces throughout, and some of the texturing with the fuzz and other objects is very strong. Then there are the voice performances, which are generally very good.

Jerry Seinfeld performs Barry's voice as if it were another episode of Seinfeld, which works for the humor. I guess it helps that he was the chief contributor to the script. Renee Zellweger has never sounded better. I am not her biggest fan, although she is very good more often than not. There is something about her voice that just really got me this time around. There was also standout work from John Goodman as the lawyer for humanity with his Southern drawl, and Matthew Broderick as Adam, Barry's best friend.

There are a number of other celebrity cameos and bit parts throughout that add a lot of flavor. Chris Rock was funny as a mosquito for a couple of scenes. Ray Liotta was brilliant as himself defending his select brand of honey. Then there are Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson as Barry's parents, bringing to mind Jerry's Seinfeld parents.

Let me close this down with a little bit on the advertising. The first two teaser trailers were brilliant. They were live action bits that concluded when Steven Spielberg suggested making it as a cartoon. They were funny, goofy, and a completely different approach to the promotion of the film. Then there were the Bee Movie Juniors that rna all over NBC shows featuring unrelated "behind the scenes" type clips and other Seinfeld related skits. Certainly a strange way to promote an animated movie without showing any animation, but I admire the fact they were using different ways to promote. I am interested to see if any other films get promoted in unusual ways.

Bottomline. The movie is fun, there are plenty of laughs and quips to be had. The voice work and animation is very good. I think the key to your enjoyment is definitely going to be based on how much you like Seinfeld's humor. I may not care for the messages, but I liked the bright colors and the fun. I have no problem recommending seeing this on the big screen.



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