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Bee Movie   D

Paramount Pictures / DreamWorks Animation

Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Simon J. Smith, Steve Hickner
Writers: Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, Andy Robin
Cast: Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson.

Review by Rob Vaux

When projects go as severely wrong as they do with Bee Movie, it's hard to pinpoint the exact cause. I suppose we can start with the simple fact that somebody signed off on this wretched collection of inarticulate junk in the first place. In Hollywood, where celebrity trumps all, the splashy presence of Jerry Seinfeld might have been enough to silence any naysayers... who should have been fighting tooth and claw to send the film back to the drawing board. But they didn't and we the consumer must now pay the price.

I admit that Seinfeld's comedic persona, transplanted here into the form of an anthropomorphic bumblebee, maintains some semblance of its former appeal. And fans waiting patiently since the finale of his TV show can be forgiven for accepting his first major project in years with no questions asked. But after spending so long on the sidelines (hey, all that money isn't going to count itself), it's distressing that he would select something so clunky for a comeback vehicle. Beyond its basic concept, Bee Movie hasn't the first idea where to go. Seinfeld's Barry Benson is originally painted as a wistful dreamer, consigned to life as a honey-maker in his inhumanly efficient hive but yearning for more. Hackneyed as it is, it provides the plot's only real impetus, which skips from one focus to another like its protagonist buzzing across a flower bed. First, Barry tries to join the ultra-macho pollen gatherers in the exploration of the outside world, even though he might not be tough enough to handle it (the "believe in yourself" message). Then he meets a kindly human florist, voiced by Renée Zellweger, who saves him from being smashed and strikes up a bizarre friendship with him after she finds out that he can talk (the "don't be afraid of those who are different" message). After viewing jars of honey at the supermarket, he resolves to stop the exploitation of the bees' rightful property (the "let my people go" message) by suing the human race in court (wait... what?!), only to realize that his efforts could stop the pollination of flowers and doom the planet to extinction (okay, I give up; I'll be in the lobby if you need me).

Perhaps realizing that their story is an absolute mess, directors Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith concentrate all their efforts on the visuals, which possess a certain candy-coated appeal, but still lack anything beyond pedestrian distinction. Barry's hive society borrows liberally from the Rube Goldberg clockwork fantasies of Antz and Robots, while the copious shots of bees zooming across New York City landscapes hearken back to Disney's Tarzan and Pixar's The Incredibles. Even the bear from Over the Hedge makes an appearance, ostensibly as an in-joke, but serving mainly as a depressing reminder of how little creativity is on display here. A few predictably lame "grown-up" references lurch their way across the screen (that's twice this year I've found myself agreeing with Ray Liotta when I'm clearly not supposed to), punctuated by excruciating set pieces seemingly flown in from other movies. I'm at a loss to explain how the "passenger plane in distress" cliché ends up here, though I can say with assurance that time has not improved it in the slightest.

Bee Movie attempts to cover that all up through Seinfeld's immensely popular star image: one of the few still powerful enough for such a job. Unfortunately, he has only his voice to work with, married to an animated image that's... well... creepy. All of the bees in this movie have a freakish waxwork quality that turns their intended charm into an ongoing lesson in visual discomfort. A few moments of vintage humor from the comedian himself produce the odd chuckle, but it never meshes with the disjointed jumble of material that comprises the rest of the movie. Corporate thinking can be sadly predictable in such circumstances: starting with a marketing concept and then embellishing it with every hackneyed plot complication bland enough to survive the approval process. Nearly 70 years ago, animator Max Fleischer produced a forgotten masterpiece called Hoppity Goes to Town, embodying the same concept as Bee Movie with imagination and artistry and boundless good cheer. I urge you to hunt down a copy and watch it with your kids. Trust me: you'll all be a whole lot happier than subjecting yourselves to this.

Review published 11.05.2007.

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