Bee Movie
directed by Simon J. Smith, Steve Hickner
(Dreamworks, 2007)

Ever wondered what Seinfeld would have been like if Jerry had actually been the main character on his show instead of the eye in a hurricane of neurotic New Yorkers who could turn a poorly placed "gesundheit" into an O'Neillian psychodrama? Now you've got your chance, thanks to Bee Movie, the Dreamworks animation piece written by Seinfeld and Seinfeld writer Spike Feresten and directed by Steve Hickner (Prince of Egypt) and Simon J. Smith (Shrek shorts "Far Away Idol" and "Shrek 4-D").

In it, Seinfeld voices -- is, really -- Barry B. Benson, a young honeybee who's just about to enter the work force. Life's been quite an adventure already, as he tells his best friend, Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick) on their way to their college graduation: "Three days of grade school, three days of high school, three days of college. It's a good thing I took off one day in the middle and just hitchhiked around the hive."

But life's about to get considerably more complicated for Barry, as he gets exactly one day to pick the honeymaking profession he's going to have to follow for the rest of his days. And while his father, a stirrer who expects his son to follow in his hairy footsteps, is already running off at the mouth about the sticks he's bought for him, Barry doesn't seem thrilled about doing one job -- whether it's stirring or getting rid of crud -- for the rest of his life, short as it may be.

Barry, it seems, has his eyes on the pollen jocks: nectar collectors who leave the hive every day, Air Force-style, to gather the raw materials needed to make the honey -- and who come back covered with pollen, something that never fails to get them the girls, as we learn in one of the film's better sight gags. So Barry turns his back on his parents and his best friend and accepts a challenge from the pollen jocks to fly out of the hive and into the flowery world beyond. And when he does, he's hooked: first to a tennis ball he mistakes for a flower, then to Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellweger), a florist with whom he falls madly in love.

But there's more to Bee Movie than storyline.

There are some wonderful sight gags, most notably the bees testing out new safety gear to protect them from mankind's fiercest weapons: fly swatters, magazines and old shoes. Then there's the dialogue, much of which sounds, no surprise, as if it came from a Seinfeld episode (a good thing, trust me):

"As always watch your brooms, hockey sticks, dogs, birds, bears and bats," flight commander Lou Lo Duca (Rip Torn) tells the pollen jocks as they prepare for takeoff. "Also, I got a couple reports of root beer being poured on us! Murphy's in a home because of it, just babbling like a cicada!"

Which brings us to some great voice-overs performed by a Who's Who of Hollywood: Chris Rock as the bloodsucking mosquito Mooseblood, who teaches Barry how to survive on a windshield (before abandoning it to take on a bloodmobile); Kathy Bates as Barry's mother; director Barry Levinson as Barry's dad; Oprah Winfrey as Judge Bumbleton; and Ray Liotta as Ray Liotta and Sting as Sting. Add to that some very funny minor characters -- most notably Patrick Warburton (Joe Swanson on Family Guy) as Ken, Valery's not-too-bright boyfriend, and John Goodman as corporate lawyer Layton T. Montgomery, a kind of cross between Matthew Harrison Brady in Inherit the Wind and Goodman's own Big Dan Teague in O, Brother, Where Art Thou?

Finally, Bee Movie offers us a spoof of The Larry King Show that's as about as satirical as you can get in 66 seconds:

"You know they have a Larry King in the human world, too," Barry tells Bee Larry King.

"It's a common name," King (voiced by Larry King) tells him.

"No, I mean he looks like you and he has a show with suspenders and different-colored dots behind him and old-guy glasses, and there's quotes along the bottom from the guest you're watching even though you just heard him," Barry replies.

There's more, but you get the idea.

Granted, Bee Movie doesn't push the envelope on animation. It's basic at best. And it's probably one of the few films that could use a little less story: it might be nice if Barry had one less problem to resolve. But when it comes to kooky characters and crack dialogue, Bee Movie rates with the best.

So look less and listen more. Bee Movie will make it worth your while.

review by
Miles O'Dometer

29 November 2008

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