Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Movie Review: "Bee Movie"

Starring the voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Chris Rock and Oprah Winfrey
Directed by Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith

Official Web site

Animated movies with animals have been a long favored genre in family-friendly movies over the years. But one begins to wonder with the seemingly constant stream of them over the past decade if there has been an oversaturation point met. That’s not to say that films, such as “Bee Movie,” an eminently watchable, yet somewhat creatively limited offering, can’t deliver solid entertainment. Still, it would be nice to see today’s animation releases try to divert resources to creating movies that don’t deal with talking animals. (I’ll give a pass to Pixar Animation, which has crafted a very impressive body of work in a short amount of time.)

Granted, I’m getting off the topic here, as “Bee Movie” does have something that no other animated movie has in the past – Jerry Seinfeld, who is the star and a co-writer on the film. Seinfeld voices Barry B. Benson, a recent school graduate who is about to enter into the workforce. Problem is, Barry isn’t ready to settle into a life of performing a repetitive task for the remainder of his life. He wants to get out and see the world, which is a veritable no-no in the bee culture. Unless, of course, you’re a pollen jock – tough bees that fly out of the hive to retrieve pollen. Barry sneaks along on one of the jocks’ outside excursions and, naturally, gets separated from the pack.

Finding himself saved by Vanessa (voiced by Renée Zellweger), a friendly florist, Barry decides to break another rule of the bee society, by actually speaking to a human. This sparks a friendship (with a kind of odd undertone of romance) between the two, as Barry continues to see Vanessa, to the dismay of his parents (Barry Levinson and Kathy Bates) and best friend, Adam (Matthew Broderick).

A bigger problem arises, however, when Barry realizes that all the hard work of making honey by the bees is going into creating products of consumption for humans. The fact that the insects who produce the honey are seeing no financial benefit from their work leads him to sue the human race. This leads to some amusing courtroom antics involving Barry, a melodramatic lawyer (John Goodman) and actor Ray Liotta (voiced by, well, Ray Liotta). Still, the end result of the trial and subsequent scenes that follow make for a weakened third act.

The script, concocted by Seinfeld and several scribes from his hit TV show, generates some laughs, but not as many as it probably should have. Unlike most episodes of his series, Seinfeld and his co-writers have to actually drive a plot for its 90-minute running time. And it’s in this area that the film sags a bit, as there doesn’t quite seem to be enough quality material to sustain it for the entire length.

The voice work by the A-list cast is good, and the animation is also notable, but falls short of excellent. Taken purely on a standalone basis, “Bee Movie” is entertaining, but nothing exceptional. And in an animation subgenre where animals speak, such as in great movies like “A Bug’s Life” and “Finding Nemo” (both Pixar films), the bar should be set high when a talent like Seinfeld gets involved.

Grade: B-
(Rated PG for mild suggestive humor, and a brief depiction of smoking.)

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