Well, I'll say this: if I'd toplined the most successful TV show in history and happened to be sitting on a few hundred million bucks, I'd like to think that I'd take it easy for a few years before making my computer animated movie about a litigious, anthropomorphic bee. Yup, Jerry Seinfeld was more than happy to let the spotlight shine in some other random direction once he'd packed it in on the sitcom game, and when he decided to give show business another shot, he dove headfirst into making a really clever animated movie instead of banging out some lazy vanity project. It's not the most traditional way to leap back into the limelight, but then again, there's kind of a lot about Bee Movie that shrugs off the usual conventions.
Seinfeld co-wrote, produced, and...nods...even starred in Bee Movie, lending his voice to Barry B. Benson. See, Barry's a bee, so his name has lots of 'b's in it. It's a play on words...or a play on letters...a play on something. Anyway, Barry's fresh out of college, and it's time for him to settle into a career at Honex Industries. If you wanna be part of the hive, you've gotta play for the Honex team, and whatever job you pick is what you'll be hammering away at until you die. Life as an industrious little bee isn't as bad as that might sound -- heck, most bees are chomping at the bit to choose the job that'll define their lives from then on out -- but Barry's not all that keen on the idea. He wants to see what else is out there, so...well, out there he goes. A bustling city like New York isn't exactly the most forgiving place for a bug, though, and he's barely saved from being smooshed by a pair of ten and a halfs by a sweet florist named Vanessa (Renee Zellweger).
Okay, you've probably plowed through enough computer animated movies over the past ten years to know all the twists and turns from here, right? Some big, bad bee is scheming to take over the hive. Barry learns he has to embrace what makes him different...believe in himself...and then all his hopes and dreams are his for the taking. Well...all of that'd be true if Bee Movie were any other computer animated flick ever, but Seinfeld and his gaggle of writers lean away from the traditional, kinda stale cartoon formulas, at least once the movie really starts getting underway.
That's the great thing about Bee Movie: it feels like a bunch of stand-up comedians piling together in one room, pitching one outlandish plot point or left-of-center gag after another, and then finding a way to string them all together for an hour and a half. It feels pretty traditional at first and really doesn't leave any bee-related pun untouched, but once Barry and Vanessa meet cute...? Bee Movie goes nuts. I mean, Barry clues in that giant multinational corporations are swiping honey from enslaved bees and keeping all the loot for themselves, so he teams up with his new pal Vanessa and sues the entire human race. Ray Liotta isn't just playing a honey-peddling badnik who wants to smash Barry...he's playing himself. This is a movie with a love triangle with a beefy, dim-witted guy, his animated-hot girlfriend, and a bee.
Seinfeld's sense of humor -- the movie's biggest selling point -- is especially sharp once the trial's underway. Bee Movie gets some of its biggest laughs when it won't let a joke go, and its extended riffs on everything from bear-shaped honey bottles to the bee-world equivalent of Larry King -- had me howling...and I'm not even all that much of a howler. Although the close of the trial would've been the obvious stopping point, Bee Movie keeps plowing ahead anyway, continually keeping me off-guard while building up to a climax that's some off-kilter hybrid of the Rose Bowl, The Deadly Swarm, and Airport '77. The movie's sense of humor generally doesn't seem like it's skewing too far to any group, not pandering to kids or ignoring the younger set while trying to make Mommy and Daddy laugh.
Critics were kinda split down the middle, and I get it. Bee Movie does spastically string together a bunch of really oddball plots, the first twenty minutes and change are light on any big laughs, and its sense of humor is pretty out there even when the meat of the movie finally gets underway. The stodgy, frowning reviewer in me might see something in Bee Movie that makes me want to jab it a few times with a sharp stick, but as a comedy-slash-animation nut...? I dug it. I laughed a lot while watching Bee Movie, and when a movie's this funny...this clever...what does anything else really matter? Recommended.
Video: C'mon, you knew going in that Bee Movie was gonna score a perfect five stars. Computer animation almost always dazzles in high definition, and Bee Movie manages to impress even more than most. It's an incredibly bright, colorful movie, from the lush, green grass in the park to Vanessa's eye-popping flowers to the arrays of yellow and orange inside the hive. The level of fine detail is unreal; even when the camera eased back, I felt like I could pick out each and every hair on Barry's fuzzy thorax. This is the only time I've watched a movie and been in awe of a tennis ball, fer cryin' out loud. There's a depth and dimensionality to the 1.78:1 image that practically leaps off the screen too. Aside from some light banding I'd be more likely to blame on my display, the direct digital transfer is absolutely flawless, and the AVC encoding never once sputters or stutters. Just perfect.
Audio: Bee Movie's lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is top-shelf too. Since every element of the mix was carefully crafted from scratch in the recording studio, the clarity and distinctness of each individual sound is pitch-perfect, not marred by any hiss, distortion, or background noise. This being a movie about winged insects and everything, it kinda follows that effects nimbly zip from channel to channel, and the scenes with Barry frantically weaving his way through traffic really sound spectacular. All of the pans are silky smooth and natural, and the sound design is teeming with discrete effects to give it all a strong sense of immersion. There's a really meaty low-end too, and it doesn't hurt that Bee Movie sports more in the way of explosions than your garden variety critter-in-the-big-city flick. Nope, no gripes at all.
Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks have also been included in French and Spanish. Subtitles are served up in French, Spanish, and twice in English: one traditional stream alongside another aimed at the deaf and hard of hearing.
Extras: Dreamworks has packed on oodles and oodles of extras for Bee Movie, and just about every last one of 'em is in high definition. Admittedly, though, a lot of these bells and whistles are kind of fluffy and lightweight, sure to leave animation gearheads hungry for something more to gnaw on.
The disc's audio commentary piles together a roomful of directors, producers, writers, an editor for good measure, and...yup, Jerry Seinfeld too. This is the first time most of them had seen the completed, polished movie for the first time, and the track opens with them caught in that afterglow. The commentary isn't as spry or lively as I'd expect from a chat with this many people, but it does get a lot better as it goes along, and there are plenty of highlights: the way Bee Movie nicked sound effects from Saving Private Ryan, mulling over what hairstyles women might be wearing in the far-flung future of 2007 when its characters were first being designed, Renee Zellweger playing Vanessa as a young Maude from Hal Ashby's brilliant Harold and Maude, describing just how Ray Liotta got caught up in this whole thing, and gabbing about just how much material goes unused when putting together this sort of animated movie. What makes it really stand out are the bizarre tangents it'll sometimes careen off on, including a heated debate about cake-and-coffee versus potato salad-and-cole slaw, whether or not blue is a "laboratorial" color, a cameo by Pixar's head honcho on the tarmac, and Seinfeld lobbing out autobiography titles for the crew. It's one of those tracks that's a little better off just playing in the background, but it's worth a listen.
There's also a pretty solid trivia subtitle track that points out who's voicing each character, highlights some of the background gags, is fat-packed with facts about bees, and keeps a running tally of the ::gasp!:: danger situations. There are plenty of keen production notes in the mix too, such as the exact number of locations that had to be designed and how the names for the lighting teams were all nods to Seinfeld. "The World of Bees" is another extra that runs through the entire length of movie and keeps a steady stream of facts running about the voice actors.
Seinfeld and company mentioned repeatedly throughout the commentary that there were so many gags and subplots written for Bee Movie that they wound up tossing out two or three movies' worth of material. Not all that many of those outtakes wound up on this Blu-ray disc, but at least a few deleted scenes have been crammed on here along with a barrage of alternate endings. There are five minutes of deleted scenes, kicking off with a one-on-one interview for Barry at Honex instead of the Universal Studio Tour that made it into the final cut. Ray Liotta also pops up again as an evil stewardess on the plane ride home. The best of these scenes has Barry hitting up the hive's queen for permission to sue the, um, human race, but this seductress is ready to squirt out some larvae and has somethin' a little raunchier in mind. Seinfeld also introduces six alternate endings -- running fifteen minutes in total -- that try to wrap up the kinda-sorta-love triangle with a neat, tidy bow on top. Most of 'em are variations on the same basic idea, running through everything from a Latin-tinged musical number to a jaunt to outer space. None of this footage actually made it into the computer, instead presented as high-res storyboard scans backed by the original voice actors.
It's always appreciated to see a studio promote a movie without resorting to warming over the same few clips in the same stale way, and fist-sized chunks of Bee Movie's really unconventional ad campaign have been piled onto this Blu-ray disc. That includes all of the "Bee Movie TV Junior" promos from NBC, and they clock in just over twenty minutes together. These spoofs on the usual "behind the scenes" clips can be really hit or miss, but the best of them are great, like Seinfeld tearing through the entire Super Chicken theme song. There are also two live-action trailers with the cast clomping around in clumsy bug costumes on oversized sets, riffing on how disastrously Bee Movie might've turned out if things hadn't been dumped onto Dreamworks Animation's lap. The one and only standard definition extra in the set is "Jerry's Flight Over Cannes" (3 min.), and...well, it's pretty much as advertised: Seinfeld dressed in a fuzzy bee costume and swooping down to plug the movie from high above the film festival.
The rest of the extras kinda taper off in quality from there. "Inside the Hive: The Cast of Bee Movie" (15 min.) is a straightahead promotional EPK, aimed more at trying to get folks to shell out $7 a pop at the theater rather than bother with much of anything of interest to home theater nuts who've already picked up this Blu-ray disc. It opens with a decent introduction about how the project started with nothing more than a title and how closely involved Seinfeld was every step of the way, but from there, it's lotsa recapping of the plot and describing each and every one of the characters. "Inside the Hive" is pretty bland for anyone who's actually watched the movie, but it is neat to see so much footage of the voice actors at work in the recording booth.
"Tech of Bee Movie", which runs seven and a half minutes, opens with that same sort of annoying promotional bent...kinda odd since something this technically oriented doesn't really lend itself towards a shameless plug for the flick. As a technical discussion, it's pretty cursory, feeling more like a string of bullet points than an in-depth look: the musclepower of the render farm, the tens of millions of hours behind the finished product, the fiber optic link between Seinfeld's office in New York and the animation team on the West Coast, how tricky it is to render honey in the digital domain, and the challenge of working with hundreds of thousands of bees on-screen at once.
On the marginal interactivity front is "Meet Barry B. Benson", which has Barry fielding eleven questions like "what's the best part of being a bee?", "what is most important to bees?", and "is Mooseblood the mosquito your friend?" It's...yeah, about as compelling as it sounds, punctuating dry quips with a bunch of clips from the movie. There's not anything in there that'll crack much of a smile.
As a slowly aging power-pop nerd, I keep a warm, fuzzy place in my heart for the Go-Go's, and that makes the awful, awful music video spoof "We Got the Bee" all the more depressing to me. There's just nothing all that funny or clever about it, and it's not that catchy a cover besides. Also packed on here is a Dreamworks Animation video jukebox that spits out musical numbers from a big stack of other movies. A handful of trailers for other Dreamworks flicks are on here too.
There's also a "Dreamworks Kids" section with a few other bells and whistles aimed at the junior set. "Build-a-Bee" lets viewers design their own winged little critter. "The Buzz About Bees" spouts off seven minutes' worth of facts about bees, and it's complemented by the trivia game "That's Un-bee-lievable". Finally, "The Ow!" Meter" prompts tykes to pick if they're humans or bees (don't fret: there's no penalty for wrong guesses). People are shown a set of five very different types of bees, describing each bug in detail before ranking its sting on the Ow! Meter. Any bees who are clever enough to work a remote can find out how different things diabolical humans swat at them might hurt. This feature also gives viewers helpful hints on how to avoid getting stung by a bee.
Bee Movie sports a clean, simple set of menus, and it lets users toggle between four different character-themed designs.
Conclusion: Okay, okay...I know the reviews were all over the map on this one, but I was won over by Bee Movie, especially once the movie shrugs off the steady barrage of insect puns and dives into its borderline-surreal sense of humor. Your mileage may vary, but I laughed more steadily throughout Bee Movie than most of the live-action comedies I've given a whirl this year. Its release on Blu-ray is pretty terrific too -- there are a heckuva lot of high definition extras, the lossless audio is first-rate, and the high-def video is total home theater eye candy. The mixed reviews may leave a lot of viewers wanting to opt for a rental first, but...hey, I'm writing this one, and I say Recommended.
The usual image disclaimer: the photos scattered around this review are promotional stills and don't necessarily represent the presentation on this Blu-ray disc.