Directed by Simon J. Smith, Steve Hickner
Studio: Dreamworks Animation
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 90 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French; 2.0 Surround English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 36.98
Release Date: March 11, 2008
Review Date: March 12, 2008
With the stunning array of acting, producing, and writing talent connected to Bee Movie, it’s astonishing that it isn’t funnier or wittier. Pleasant, mildly amusing, and just a bit hackneyed, Bee Movie could and should have been so much better. After all of the hype, the movie just isn’t in the same class with anything from Pixar (the true gold standard right now in feature animation) in either writing or animation. Cute and sly are about all that can be said for Jerry Seinfeld’s first foray into the field of feature animation.
Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) finds himself with a bee college degree but no idea what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Unlike best friend Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick) who is content to spend the remainder of his life working in the hive making honey, Barry is restless and longs to explore some of the outside world before settling down into one occupation. So, he tags along with the Pollen Jocks, the only bees allowed outside the hive, and in the outside world is saved from assassination by sweet flower shop vendor Vanessa (Renee Zellweger). The two develop something of a crush on each other (a definite problem since she’s human and he’s a bee with a singularly short life span), and despite her overbearing boyfriend Ken (Patrick Warburton), the two begin palling around together. On one of their jaunts to the market, Barry discovers that humans are selling honey which to his way of thinking is stolen property, thus leading to a trial against humankind for grand theft with a sympathetic judge (Oprah Winfrey) and a stereotypical fat Southern defense attorney (John Goodman) who sees nothing wrong with humans exploiting bees.
It’s all silly stuff, good-natured but anemically thought out by Jerry Seinfeld and his co-writers Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, Andy Robin, Chuck Martin, and Tom Papa. With that many names on the screenplay page (and with much ad-libbing by the top comedy star cast which was also incorporated into the film), why isn’t Bee Movie more hilarious? It’s most amusing moments actually come from two performers playing themselves in wildly exaggerated acting styles they’re known for: Ray Liotta playing himself with his own name brand of honey for sale, and Sting playing himself, and with a name like “Sting,” did you think for a second he wouldn’t be in a movie about bees?
Along with the aforementioned Seinfeld, Zellweger, Goodman, Broderick, Warburton, and Winfrey, just look at the cast the producers lined up for this movie: Chris Rock as a jive-talking mosquito trying to stay alive, Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson as Barry’s concerned parents, Larry King as a (what else?) talk show host, Megan Mullally as a tour guide, Rip Torn playing the commander of the Pollen Jocks (in a cartoon version of the character he portrayed in Dodgeball), and Michael Richards as one of the crowd.
Animation fans are likewise going to be disappointed that the CGI animation isn’t more detailed and imaginative. Forget Pixar; this ranks far down the line in Dreamworks’ other forays into the field including the Shrek movies, their first attempt Antz, and even the widely disdained (but not by me) Shark Tale. Neither the interior of the hive nor the travels in the human world of New York City ever quite generate any magic. (I’m thinking of the joyous Paris created in last year’s Oscar-winning Ratatouille. There’s nothing here that remotely comes close.) The voice cast tries hard (a little too hard; Seinfeld and Warburton both do too much shouting and use too much forced emphasis on lines to make sarcastic points), but with a mediocre idea and routine animation, the end result can’t help but come up short.
The film has been brought to DVD in a 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer. Obviously taken straight from the digital masters, naturally there are no problems with dirt, grain, or any other encoding artifacts. Color is bright but not overly saturated, but compared to some other recent animation on DVD, this transfer seems just a tiny bit lacking, a wee bit lackluster. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track seems to emphasize the front channels. There are some discreet sounds which get channeled into the rears, but they aren’t used extensively in the film, and the engaging music score by Rupert Gregson-Williams (supervised by Oscar-winner Hans Zimmer) also gets more of a workout up front than in the surround rear channels. Your subwoofer won’t get much of a workout either in this sound mix. Still, it’s well recorded, and there is some directional dialog used sporadically.
Both discs in this two disc set have a large amount of bonus material. The 1-disc release of Bee Movie contains some material from each of these discs. I have marked with an asterisk (*) the features contained on the 1-disc set.
Disc one begins with an audio commentary featuring Jerry Seinfeld and a host of other people connected to the film all in the same room and often talking at once: one of the directors, an editor, a writer, and a producer. The chatter is very busy, occasionally informative but often just noisy and disjointed. They are very complimentary of each other’s work, have nothing but praise for their project, but sometimes lapse into silence while watching their film. (Jerry admits he’s seeing elements animated for the first time.)
There are 3 lost scenes on the disc each in rough animation or storyboard form, and each introduced by Jerry Seinfeld. They’re in anamorphic widescreen and together run a total of 5 minutes.
There are 6 alternate endings, again done as rough animation or as storyboards again with Seinfeld introductions. The six sequences are in anamorphic widescreen and run together 14½ minutes.
“TV Juniors” are 15 two-minute live action skits that Seinfeld prepared for airing on NBC prior to the premiere of the film. The first five are anamorphic widescreen and the remaining ten are not. Together they run 23¼ minutes.
There are 2 live action trailers for the film: one featuring Chris Rock with Jerry and the other featuring Steven Spielberg with Jerry. Both are anamorphic widescreen and run a total of 4 minutes.
“Jerry’s Flight Over Cannes” is a silly 3-minute stunt Jerry pulled at the Cannes Film Festival dressed in a bee suit and flying over a patch of ground to a billboard advertising the movie. It's in nonanamorphic letterbox.
* “Inside the Hive: The Cast of Bee Movie” is a 14½ minute anamorphic overview of the outstanding voice cast lined up for the film with the stars talking about their characters and with some footage of them recording their dialog. Surprisingly, unlike other animated features, Jerry and some co-stars recorded their lines together rather than the usual practice of doing it separately which led to much ad-libbing which found its way into the finished film.
The disc contains previews of Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar: The Crate Escape, and The Spiderwick Chronicles.
* “The Tech of Bee Movie” is a 7½-minute anamorphic EPK for the film with lots of brief sound bites extolling the virtues of Dreamworks’ latest animated feature.
* “Meet Barry B. Benson” is a question and answer feature where the viewer chooses the questions to ask star Barry and excerpts from the film are played in response to the queries. There are eleven questions which may be asked and answered.
* “We Got the Bee” music video is a combination live action promotions stunt with kids from New York City integrated with clips from the film presented in anamorphic widescreen and lasting 2 minutes.
* “Dreamworks Animation Jukebox” is another bit of self-promotion where the viewer can choose any one of seven Dreamworks animated features (the three Shrek films, Flushed Away, Shark Tale, Madagascar, and Over the Hedge) and see a musical excerpt from the movie touting its availability on DVD.
* “The Buzz About Bees” is an entertaining 7-minute anamorphic featurette of fun facts about bees and also containing instructions on how to build your own bee box.
* “The Ow! Meter” is another instructional section where the viewer can choose a bee, find out some facts about it, and find out how potent its sting is. (There’s also a silly section where you can choose different objects for swatting bees to see how effective they are on bees.) Also included is some information on how to avoid getting stung.
* “That’s Un-BEE-lievable!” is a trivia game of questions about bees. The information is quite interesting (who knew bees can see all colors except red?) though the game gets to be a bit long.
* “Pollination Practice” is a target practice game where the user tries to pollinate flowers using the right directions and the proper amount of force to get the pollen on the flower.
* “Be a Bee” is one more game in which the user is asked a series of questions to see what job he’d be given inside the hive if he were a bee. Fun but once again there are too many questions before one gets to the answer.
* DVD-ROM activities include the same “Be a Bee” along with a demo for Activision’s Bee Movie game and some printables.
It’s amiable without being hilarious, so Bee Movie gets a less than “A” rating. The two-disc set is loaded with extras, but those looking for a bargain will find a nice array of the bonuses on the single disc edition as well.