by Mel Valentin
Jerry Seinfeld is back from wherever he's been, in "Bee Movie," a big-screen, family oriented animated film produced by DreamWorks Animation. Seinfeld, who co-wrote the script, essays a character not far from his “Seinfeld” persona, a smart, smartass New Yorker with commitment issues. Here essaying an anthropomorphized bee named Barry B. Benson who dreams of being something other than what’s been planned for him, i.e., a worker drone helping to produce honey for his hive, Seinfeld and his collaborators, co-directors Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith, and co-writers Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, and Andy Robin mine the premise for less than its worth, relying on generic jokes and an inoffensive, bland message to get us from set piece to set piece.About to graduate from college, Barry and his best friend, Adam Flayman (voiced by Matthew Broderick), are faced with deciding on how best to contribute to the future of the hive. Once Barry and Adam pick a job, however, it’s theirs for as long as they live (no take backs or switches are allowed). Barry looks longingly at the “pollen jocks,” bees bred and trained to recover nectar from flowers in the mysterious outside world. Barry, though, has never ventured into outside. Unhappy with the life choices available and hoping to avoid his nagging parents, Janet (Kathy Bates) and Martin (Barry Levinson), Barry joins the pollen jocks the next time they venture outside, which coincidentally enough, is only hours away.
"That unoriginal title? It applies equally well to this disappointing tale."
Outside the confines of the hive, Barry revels in flying freely, exploring the flora outside the hive. Inevitably, Barry’s inexperience and exuberance lead him to an unexpected confrontation with two humans, Vanessa (Renée Zellweger) and Ken (Patrick Warburton), playing tennis. After a narrow escape, Barry finds himself alone in the big city, dodging traffic and wary humans. Worse, Barry gets caught in a downpour (bees can’t fly in the rain), but manages to find refuge in Vanessa’s apartment. Barry narrowly escapes the over excitable Ken’s wrath. Vanessa, however, stops Ken from killing Barry. Grateful for Vanessa’s help, Barry breaks his silence and speaks to her. They quickly strike up a friendship, but when Barry discovers that humans harvest honey from domesticated hives, he decides to sue the human race in the name of exploited, underappreciated bees everywhere.
Story wise, Bee Movie hits all the emotional and dramatic beats we’ve come to expect from family friendly animated fare from one of Hollywood’s busiest animation studios. The “stranger in the strange land” scenario, the intrepid hero’s adventures and misadventures in the big city, an the outsider who becomes a staunch defender of the community’s values while finding a personally and fulfilling niche for himself (occasionally mixed with a mild anti-corporate message) are all elements we’ve seen before in countless family films, no less so than in Pixar’s stellar output, beginning with Toy Story twelve years and continuing through Pixar’s most recent effort, last summer’s Ratatouille. Familiar as these elements are, it’s what Seinfeld and his collaborators do with it that’s more important here. Alas, the answer is: not much, not much a all.
More positively, Bee Movie is visually impressive at best and visually engaging at worst, thanks to the animators at DreamWorks Animation, who may not be Pixar, but are more than serviceable in depicting a richly textured, soft-hued, pastel-colored New York City and the warm, muted colors of Barry’s hive. Co-directors Hickner, Smith, and presumably Seinfeld do well enough with the set pieces, the sine quo non of animated films, most of them involving Barry flying and dodging multiple obstacles at breakneck speed. As well handled as they are, it’s difficult to sense Seinfeld and his collaborators pushing hard to get Bee Movie to the magical 90-minute mark (which they do, if just barely).Sadly, strong visuals and well-executed set pieces just aren’t enough. The concept was there, the visuals were there, but the execution ultimately leaves a lot to be desired. [i]Bee Movie[/i] feels generic because it is and where it should be strongest, i.e., in the rapid-fire jokes we’ve come to expect from Seinfeld and his collaborators, it’s not. Overly obvious product placement or wearisome CGI cameos by Sting, Ray Liotta (seriously, Ray Liotta?), and Larry King don’t help much either. At least Oprah Winfrey and Chris Rock don’t play themselves (Winfrey lends her voice to a judge and Rock to a hitchhiking mosquito). And did we really need a morbidly obese, balding, sweaty Southern-accented lawyer for comic relief during the trial scenes? No, we didn’t and it’s a mystery why Seinfeld didn’t try harder. Fewer stereotypes and a bit more effort next time, please.
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originally posted: 11/02/07 03:29:30