Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
November 2007

Sting me

Seinfeld injects his own sensibilities into clever, offbeat 'Bee Movie'

Bee Movie
DreamWorks Animation
Director: Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith
Screenplay: Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder and Andy Robin
Starring: The voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton, Kathy Bates and Rip Torn
Rated PG / 1 hour, 30 minutes
Opened November 2, 2007
(out of four)

As someone who has, dating back to childhood, been morbidly terrified of bees, I've been more than thrilled to hear of the sudden decline of bee populations worldwide and the actual possibility (however remote) of a bee extinction.

Nevermind the incalculable damage to our agriculture. I want the little buggers gone. (Next on the list: wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and any close relatives.)

My unabashed phobia, crossed with my unabashed paranoia, naturally leads me to believe that Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie - the latest concoction from DreamWorks Animation, which still thinks it's competing with Pixar - is nothing more than Apoidean propaganda designed to curry sympathy for these despicable flying, stinging creatures, which are all trying to kill your children.

But somehow, despite the uncompromising terror and psychological torment that bees inflict on us on a daily basis, when they're computer animated and voiced by the pre-eminent detached, cynical, comic voice of my detached, cynical, comic generation, they're far less threatening. Not half-bad. Pleasant, even.

More than anything else it has going for it, Bee Movie works on the strength of the sheer absurdity of its various premises. It finds its own brand of humor and mode of storytelling and follows it through. It doesn't try too hard to have a moral lesson. And while it's very modernized, it doesn't try too hard to be hip. It's too cute to be all that hip anyway. The movie is a refreshing alternative to all the dumbed-down, dim-witted, children-only movies of the animation renaissance of the last few years.

Sure, it's no Ratatouille, but it does have a flair for the sardonic, the satirical and the adult that most animated movies seem to lack.

Seinfeld - who co-wrote the script and has been one of the brains behind the film from the beginning - still has an attention to the trivial-yet-relevant details that is second to none.

Much of what makes Bee Movie work is its approach to the story. Sure, the basic elements that we know and expect from this type of movie are there. But it doesn't just go through the motions - it finds its own way around. When a Ray Liotta reference pops up out of nowhere and then gets punctuated by a hysterical Ray Liotta appearance 45 minutes later, you know the film is doing what it wants to do, with its own sense of humor, rather than pandering to whatever audience Madagascar and its ilk try to pander to.

Seinfeld voices the main character, Barry B. Benson, a recent college graduate undergoing a bit of an existential crisis. Barry isn't content with a world in which he's stuck in one job for his entire life. He's sure there's more "out there" - so he goes looking for it, only to break the principle bee law by talking to a human being, an altruistic florist appropriately named Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellweger).

True to Seinfeldian comic logic, Bee Movie isn't about Barry finding true love or overcoming his greatest fear or saving a princess, but about fighting back against human appropriation and proliferation of the bees' only and precious resource - honey.

The outrage Barry expresses at the fact that bears - harbingers of death and the greatest threat of all to the bee kingdom - are being used to market their delicious honey is pure Seinfeld. And moments such as Winnie the Pooh's cameo appearance are refreshingly reminiscent of the sharp humor that made the original Shrek work so well.

There even seems to be a type of Family Guy sensibility in certain moments, where the bees act like real bees, voicing or acting out non-human logic in a very human way - like when Barry repeatedly flies into a transparent window and convinces himself that "this time" he'll fly through it. (For Family Guy fans, it's like when Lois chases Brian with the vacuum cleaner, or when Peter plays peek-a-boo with Stewie. The contrasting forms of logic play brilliantly.)

The film's story is hardly complex. It opens with an all-too-cutesy introduction to the characters and the story, but as the film goes along it picks up steam. With the help of Vanessa and his best friend Adam (Matthew Broderick), Barry takes the honey industry - Big Honey - to court, facing off against a deliciously charismatic lawyer from the Deep South, Layton T. Montgomery (in a great voice performance by the incomparable John Goodman).

Like most animated movies, the story and characters of Bee Movie are perhaps a bit too easy to read and predict, but the film does such a good job playing with convention and satirizing pop culture - and the animation and production design by Alex McDowell is so strong - that you simply take the cookie-cutter elements as part of the territory. The funniest moments in Bee Movie are more than worth it.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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