Over the last few years, the animation genre has seen a downward spiral in the quality department. The current craze for computer animation has led to an over saturation in the marketplace, and the end results have suffered accordingly. While there have been some great accomplishments (“The Incredibles,” “Ratatouille”), they have been few and far between, and even the mighty Pixar showed it wasn’t infallible with last year’s “Cars.” Sadly, “Bee Movie” does little to change this trend.
The concept of talking insects is nothing new — it has been seen in numerous movies including “A Bug’s Life,” “Antz” and “The Ant Bully.” The plot of “Bee Movie” closely resembles its bug brethren, following Barry Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) who has become disillusioned after learning his sole meaning in life is to make honey. Upon leaving the hive and its rigid structure, he befriends the human florist Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), discovering an exciting new world and a renewed purpose.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is — “Ratatouille” was built on a similar premise. However, where that film excelled — a combination of cute comedy with excellent voice performances and the tackling of sophisticated themes — “Bee Movie” proves no match for. It repeatedly is content to rely on the talents of Seinfeld in hopes that having him involved will miraculously elevate it, but Seinfeld can only do so much.
Seinfeld, who also serves as a producer and one of the writers, manages to integrate some of his trademark humor and wit throughout. This is his first major project since the end of his beloved sitcom, but the fact he selected this to be the one comes as a bit of a surprise. He seems restricted by having to appeal to kids, and it never materializes into the laugh track one would expect given Seinfeld’s track record.
The main reason for this is the story itself, which is so outlandish it’s hard to take the movie seriously. For example, there is a romantic subplot involving Barry and Vanessa — apparently trying to one up “Beauty And The Beast” — and if that wasn’t enough, Barry later sues the human race for stealing the bees’ honey. Whoever came up with these — Seinfeld or not — was clearly not thinking straight. In a movie that already suspends reality with talking bees, they stand above and beyond as nothing short of outrageous.
One of the greatest strengths of Dreamworks Animation (“Shrek,” “Madagascar”) is how they poke fun at our society and pop culture. This is one of the highlights here as well, and it’s fun to see the clever ways they relate the bee world to our own. The string of cameos is also entertaining, especially those by Sting and Ray Liotta. The animation itself, although short of what Pixar has recently created, is well done and showcases the studio’s technological growth in that area.
Another trait of Dreamworks is how it seems to put most of its emphasis on acquiring A-list vocal talent and less developing a compelling story. “Bee Movie” fails to challenge that theory — the voice deliveries are good but not great, and the story is often poorly executed. In the end, this prevents “Bee Movie” from flying above the second-rate nature its title suggests.