A Bug’s Life (Blu-ray)
Directed by John Lasseter
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 95 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: May 19, 2009
Review Date: May 7, 2009
Like the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, Pixar’s A Bug’s Life “just don’t get no respect.” Always considered the black sheep of the Pixar animated feature line-up, A Bug’s Life is worthy of reconsideration. It’s bright, beautifully animated, and brimming with wit. True, it’s too crowded with characters, and the story meanders a bit, but the ingratiating voice cast combined with the undeniable Pixar touch in making an audience friendly picture that can entertain on many different levels make A Bug’s Life a wonderfully satisfying experience. This new high definition transfer is merely the delicious icing on an already beautifully tiered cake.
Worker ant Flik (Dave Foley) is always looking for ways to modernize the work process for himself and his fellow ants. His latest invention which allows one ant to harvest and carry multiple seeds at once unfortunately is indirectly responsible for wiping out the annual food collection for an intimidating horde of belligerent grasshoppers led by the tough Hopper (Kevin Spacey). Given until the end of harvest season to have double the quota of food ready for them, the ant colony sends Flik away actually to rid themselves of the pest, but he takes it as his mission to find a group of warrior bugs who will return and fight the enemy for the small ants. He happens on a flea circus and mistakes a group of misfit bugs for the warriors he needs, so he invites them back to the ant island to help defend it. They also don’t understand his proposal to them thinking they’re being asked to make a command performance and eagerly return to the island to perform their acts. Once there, they’re horrified when they realize they’re going to be asked to fight, not perform.
Though the ant colony isn’t populated with ants of great variety (they’re all a rather bland lot even when voiced by the likes of Phyllis Diller, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Roddy McDowall, and Hayden Panettierre), the surrounding characters in the film are terrifically conceived, written, and performed. There’s the stentorian mantis Manny (Jonathan Harris), the male ladybug Francis (Denis Leary), the sweet German caterpillar Heimlich (Joe Ranft), the stickbug Slim (David Hyde Pierce), the lovely moth Gypsy (Madeline Kahn), black widow spider Rosie (Bonnie Hunt), Hungarian pillbugs Tuck and Roll always longing for the spotlight (Michael McShane), and rhino beetle Dim (Brad Garrett), all of them in their own ways individually and collectively hilarious. Scripters Donald McEnery, Bob Shaw, and Andrew Stanton (who co-directed) have given them such fast paced, witty banter that their every utterance is a continual treasure. The picture truly springs to life once Flik stumbles onto P.T. Flea’s (John Ratzenberger) circus.
Director John Lasseter has staged some fantastic action scenes for the film including a scary bird attack and an extended final pursuit that puts many modern action movie sequences to shame. With this being only Pixar’s second animated feature and working with this huge cast of characters in the wide Cinemascope frame for the first time, the picture scores many triumphs with its multiple locations and great attention to detail both in its clever bug inventions (a telescope of rolled up grass and a dew drop; mosquitoes as darts) and the beautifully layered characterizations of many of the personalities in the story (virile-minded Francis turned to mush as a nanny to some kiddie ants, for instance).
A Bug’s Life had the misfortune to come out in the same holiday period as Dreamworks’ first animated feature Antz which featured a more sophisticated story much more adult in tone, though the Pixar film was seen then as more dazzlingly animated but the lesser of the two pictures (except at the box-office where it far surpassed the gross of Antz). A decade after that near-simultaneous release, A Bug’s Life can stand tall with its other Pixar siblings as an entertaining animated comedy with lots of humor and lots of heart.
The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. From the opening moments as the camera pushes in on the ground-level world we’re going to be inhabiting, the details in the grass, rocks, trees, and weeds are breathtaking. Colors are deep and vibrant, and the bright image, taken directly from digital files, is completely pristine boasting incredible sharpness, clarity, and dimension. The film has been divided into 36 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 6.1 audio track is, like all Pixar productions, a masterful assemblage of expertly designed sounds. Dialogue is rooted in the center channel while the other channels spring to life with all manner of ambient sounds making for a vivacious soundfield. (The liner notes denote a 5.1 sound mix, but there is definitely a rear surround channel in this mix.) And when those grasshoppers approach, the LFE channel gets a wonderful workout with deep bass that will really impress.
John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and editor Lee Unkrich take part in a passibly interesting audio commentary. They acknowledge the “stepchild” aspect of the film’s reputation so they bend over backwards to point out the picture’s strengths albeit in very low key but positive fashion.
“Geri’s Game,” the Oscar-winning short that accompanied A Bug’s Life in theaters is presented here curiously windowboxed but still in 1080p. It runs 5 minutes.
Filmmakers’ Round Table finds John Lasseter, Kevin Reher, Darla Anderson, and Andrew Stanton remembering fondly various experiences while making the movie explaining in particular what made the production of this film such a daunting challenge to the filmmakers. It lasts 21 minutes and is in 1080p.
“A Bug’s Life: The First Draft” finds star Dave Foley narrating the original story for the film with existing storyboards used to illustrate it. It’s in 1080p and runs 10 ¼ minutes. It is preceded by an introduction by John Lasseter which can be played or skipped.
“The Grasshopper and the Ants” is the 1934 Silly Symphony presented here in 1080i. It runs 8 minutes.
The Preproduction section of the special features is divided into an Introduction and the Fleabie reel announcing the upcoming production (3 ¼ minutes), Story and Editorial decisions (4 ¾ minutes), a Storyboard to Film comparison of the “Dot’s Rescue” segment (13 ¼ minutes showing just the storyboards, the final product, and then a split screen treatment showing both simultaneously), two abandoned sequences (5 ½ minutes), and the research documentary nature footage (4 ¼ minutes). These are in a combination of 480p and 1080p depending on which segment is being viewed.
Design galleries offer hundreds of sketches, models, and finished computer artwork divided into three sections which the user can step through: Characters, Locations, and Concept Art.
“Behind the Scenes of A Bug’s Life” is a slight EPK overview of the film with brief interviews with the directors and the cast of the film. It’s in 480p (as are the other featurettes in this section) and lasts 3 ½ minutes. Additional featurettes cover the following areas of the film’s production:
“Voice casting” spends 4 ½ minutes with many of the stars of the film talking about their characters.
“Early Tests” is 5 ½ minutes showing the viewer how the look of the film evolved and how the story changed over the course of months of preproduction.
“Progression Demo” shows the 2 ¼ minute “Flaming Death” circus sequence in the four stages of its preparation: storyboards, layout, animation, and shaders and lighting. As the sequence plays, the viewer may use the angle button on the remote to change from one stage to the next instantly to see the progressions from pencil sketches to the 1080p finished product.
“Sound Design” features sound supervisor Gary Rydstrom discussing how the dozens of different wing flapping sounds were fabricated in the sound studio. This 13 ¼-minute shows the finished sounds connected to film clips from the movie in 1080p.
The publicity section of the disc features two theatrical trailers in 480p, a step-through poster/ad gallery, and 2 minutes of character interviews (four of the characters in a roundtable discussion) animated specially for publicity purposes.
Two series of hilarious faux-outtakes were produced to run during the end credit sequence. These two sequences each lasting 2 ½ minutes are presented for viewing without the closing credits running beside them. There is also a 3 ¾-minute introduction to this final section of bonus features.
The disc is BD-Live ready, but the website had not gone live during the review period.
The disc contains trailers for Race to Witch Mountain, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure, Up, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Monsters Inc.
Disc two in the set contains the DisneyFile digital copy of the movie with an instruction sheet detailing how to install the movie on PC and Mac devices.
Also included in the package is a code for going to an internet site for a free movie ticket for Pixar's next film Up.
A Bug’s Life makes a superb case for itself as an entertaining film in this new release, and this Blu-ray package with reference video and audio seals the deal making this a must-buy for animation fans and lovers of fine film comedy. Highly recommended!