In Short: So you're wondering, is this 2 DVD set worth $49.99? Read on...
Original Film Review, Written On The Film's Opening Weekend:
The second of the Fall's animated insect projects wasn't nearly as appealing to me as the first. "A Bug's Life" boasts outstanding animation, but a lackluster and predictable plot. Possibly I just felt that way as an adult and maybe it's just my cynical nature, but I doubt I wouldn't have found this film just as predictable when I was younger.
That said, all that's left is to sit back and marvel at the animation put together by the same group that put together "Toy Story" a couple of years ago, Pixar. There's definitely a sense of wonder, terror and awe in the animation in scenes like when a bird comes into the ant colony for an attack, or when one of the ants rides a dandelion spore across a great divide. There's one major difference here in the animation from "Antz", it's that the animation here is rounded and safe, much like the plot and story; in "Antz", structures had interesting shapes and edges; you never knew what to expect next from the film.
This film has great moments, like when the ants can't figure out how to get around a leaf that has fallen in front of them(although I didn't quite get that, since I would think the ants could see over the leaf, but I guess I was putting too much thought into it.) As many great visual moments as the film has, I just couldn't help feel that it's trapped by the Disney formula of one unlikely hero rising above "it all" to save the day. That's definitely nothing new to filmmaking, but there's a certain Disney plot line that makes everything that's about to happen fairly obvious to an adult before they set foot in the theater.
The story is set around Flik, a young inventor ant who is voiced by Dave Foley(TV's "Newsradio"). That's where the film loses bite; "Antz" had an edgy, funny lead in Z(Woody Allen), Foley doesn't bring any of the wit and cynicism that his television character holds. Julia Louis Dreyfuss, who voices Princess Atta, the ant, isn't nearly as funny or sassy as Sharon Stone's ant princess in "Antz". The one character who does turn out quite well is Hopper, the king of the Tyrant grasshoppers, who is voiced by Kevin Spacey, who provides a perfect dose of menace in his voice to make the character interesting.
The film starts out with the ant colony collecting food for the grasshoppers, like usual. In an unfortunate mistake, Flik spills all the food. The grasshoppers, led by Hopper, demand that the ants provide twice the food by the end of Summer; not content to walk away, Flik sets out to find bigger insects in the insect city to help the colony fight back against the grasshopper menace; who he finds are, unknown to him, a band of circus insects, who, in turn, don't know that they're being hired to fight in a war against the grasshoppers.
Again, the animation is wonderful and, to be honest, although it's more safe feeling than "Antz", "A Bug's Life" does do a better job at providing the scope of this miniature world, from the leaves and grass to the stones and ant tunnels. The only thing I didn't quite care for was the way the ants are animated here; they looked more real to me in "Antz", here they look meant to sell a thousand Disney toys. I did like the fact that the film is in the wide 2.35:1 ratio, making the wide spaces of the grassy colony and the insect city more fascinating to watch.
In conclusion, "A Bugs Life" will provide families with a good time for a few hours and actually, maybe I just didn't quite care for this film because I'm simply not its intended audience. The legions of kids seemed to like the film and, in reality, the majority of kids will likely enjoy this film; adults may find it just okay. I'm not sure if either will find it as enjoyable or as funny as Pixar's previous film, "Toy Story", though.
VIDEO: Goregous 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer that is a direct-digital transfer and I really can't think of a disc that has more impressive image quality. As good as "Prince Of Egypt"is, this anamorphic transfer turns out to be just a touch better. Images are absolutely razor sharp throughout the presentation, and detail is absolutely outstanding. There is also a depth and dimension to this image that is remarkable. Don't get me started on the colors; you have to see them to believe how stunning they look. Colors are absolutely vibrant and even breathtaking during this movie. They also look a little bit stronger than one the image quality that was included with the previous, movie-only edition.
There are absolutely no flaws to speak of during this presentation. No shimmer, nothing in the way of artifacts like that at all. If you're looking for a disc that shows off the capabilities of DVD in terms of picture quality, there really isn't anything more perfect than this.
SOUND:Fascinating detail in the sounds of the ants creeping up the stalks of grass in the begining of the film. The sound is not only agressive and full of wonderful effects, but it has a playfulness about it that's incredibly fun to listen to. It's all in the details, though and there are plenty here. Like "Antz", the environment and ambient noise seems to be built with phenomenal attention to even the littlest of details. The sounds of little ants running about is rendered wonderfully and throughout all of it, there's even some nice touches of bass, especially when a bird attacks the insect colony. Dialogue is clear, clean and is integrated nicely. Randy Newman's score sounds wonderful as well. A very pleasing presentation by Disney. What's really amazing on this DVD is the additional sound tracks that you can listen to. On the full frame edition, you can listen to a seperate track that is an isolated effects track, where there is no dialogue or music, but you hear every single sound effect and where it's placed in the sound field. This additional effects track is in Dolby Digital 5.1 and included on the full screen version. On the widescreen version, the extra track is a 2.0 isolated score. I wish the FX track was with the widescreen and the score was with the full-screen, but oh well. What I'll also complain about is that the audio can't be changed with the remote.
MENUS:: Phenomenal animated menus during the disc for the film itself, but even more stunning animation greets you when you first turn on the 2nd DVD, as you're lead through the ant tunnels into the Pixar screening room where you're given an introduction by the director and three other members of the "Bug's Life" crew. Some of the sub-menus are not animated, but most of the main ones are, at least slightly.
Commentary: This is a commentary track from director John Lasseter, editor Lee Unkrich and co-director Andrew Stanton. The trio mainly talk about the inspirations behind the research that the crew did for how their film was going to take a look into the world of an insect. Like the commentary from "Antz", the filmmakers start talking a little bit about the science aspects of the world of bugs, but they cut that topic off and thankfully, focus more about the technical and story aspects of the movie. I didn't find it overall as informative or entertaining as the "Antz" commentary, but there are plenty of cool details and tidbits offered up throughout. I just felt that this commentary talked more about the story than the technical details.
The three are quite funny as well, talking about making the character of Flik a big geek, then going on to mention that "we didn't have to do too much research for that." The group talks a lot about the ideas for Flik and the concepts that they had not only for the character, but how he would interact with the rest of the characters in the story. In terms of story and plot talk, the more interesting details are about what we didn't see , as the animators talk about coming up with story details that didn't make it into the final picture or talking about the process of coming up with the story, as they talk quite a bit about how scenes were thought out and built. If the commentators are going to talk about the story more than the details, I'd rather hear about the meetings behind-the-scenes where the concepts were thought out or what didn't make it into the final plot rather than talking about just what is going on on-screen or what the characters are thinking. It's not a bad commentary by any means, but I lost interest through some parts of the discussion.
DVD TWO: THE EXTRA FEATURES
The additional features on this disc are broken down into sections of the animation process. I'm going to go into detail about what each section contains. This second DVD has a running time of 107 minutes.
"Fleabie" Reel: There is an introduction to this additional feature, where the crew talks about how they came up with this film that showed a strage little character named Fleabie taking the tour of the animation studio where this film was just begining to be worked on. It's hard to explain just what this whole thing looks like, but it's so low-tech and hilariously goofy that I'm sure it'll have viewers rolling on the floor. Lasseter's performance is about the funniest thing I've seen in quite some time.
Story Development Section: Another introduction (If Stanton says that this is the "super genius" version of the film one more time, I was hoping that Lasseter would turn and slap him. If you do see this disc, you'll understand what I mean.)
THIS SECTION INCLUDES:
*Original Treatment: This is the original treatment of the film that Pixar presented to Disney while begining to work on the project. Here, we get a look at the original concepts and more importantly, the original styles that were thought up during this early process and some scenes not only look different, but have a different tone and feel to the animation. How this works is that the viewer clicks through the frames; some provide images and others provide text. Lasseter and Stanton introduce the section.
*Storyboarding Process: Lasseter and Stanton introduce this section and besides just the speaking, the two acutally lead us through an animated sequence of the process of storyboarding. Definitely funny and interesting. The actual section itself is really some very funny stuff as the story artist pitches the animation and tries to act out a sequence(we see the actual storyboard in a "split-screen" format through some of the presentation).
*Storyboard-to-screen comparison: We get to see the comparison between the storyboards for the "Dot's Rescue" sequences to what you see in the final product. The storyboards unfold in the top of the screen, while the final sequence plays out below it.
*Abandoned scenes: A longer scene with the P.T. character firing the other bugs, and an opening that wasn't used in the final product. I really liked the original opening concept, where a band of young ants in the future look back in a sort of "ant museum" at the history of what happened in the story that we're about to watch. The other sequence included doesn't work too well and definitely could stay out, but I almost wish that the museum opening was included. Both scenes present the animation in a rough form.
THIS SECTION INCLUDES:
*Documentary: This is a documentary taking a look at the world of insects, with plenty of footage of blades of grass, flowers and most importantly, bugs, down at their own level. There are also scenes from the movie cut between the footage of the bugs while Lasseter talks about how some of the "bug-cam" footage inspired some areas of the movie. Not only is Lasseter's narration quite interesting, but some of the "bug-cam" footage that was taken is fascinating as well.
Design: An introduction leads us into...
THIS SECTION INCLUDES:
*Characters: Tons and tons of early drawings and concepts for nearly all of the main characters in the story. It's especially interesting to see the early directions that were going to be taken with the Flik character before he was changed into more of a geeky character. Like the conceptual art that was included with the "Prince Of Egypt" or even "Heavy Metal" DVDs, these galleries offer us a chance to see how these characters were changed throughout the production of the movie and I think that's fascinating. The section for each character holds a wealth of images. This area is split into four sections for easy browsing.
*Locations: Again, this section provides an enormous amount of drawings that take a look at some of the concepts that were pondered when the animation team was searching for a visual look to some of the main environments that the characters live in. This area is split into 4 sections: "Ant Island", "The City", "Circus Tent and Wagon", "Hopper's Hangout".
*Concept Art and Color Scripts: The conceptual art is a look at some of the ideas that were thought up for the look of some of the background and more general scenes of the movie. Color scripts provide a more detailed look at the process of how colors are going to be used. Both are also still galleries.
Behind The Scenes: This is a documentary that provides an informative look at the ideas the filmmakers had that came together to make this picture. There are plenty of interviews with the creators of the film, and the general feeling from all of the people who are interviewed is that Pixar wanted to push things even further than what they did with "Toy Story". I was also very pleased to see that this is more of a technical documentary than a documentary that takes a surface look at the film. It's a short little feature, but I found it enjoyable.
Voice Casting: This is a documentary feature about how various actors were chosen for their roles and also, many of the actors do make an appearance here through interviews, giving their feelings and viewpoint about the work they did on this picture.
Early Tests A supervisor on the film leads us through some of the early tests that were made to see if the concepts for this film could actually be brought in a realistic fashion to the big screen. This is also a chance for the filmmakers to work and play with the effects and the lighting and these tests help them to figure out the best way to do that. We're also shown some of the early character models being worked on and perfected. Definitely one of the more interesting sections included on this DVD.
Multi-Angle Comparison: This offers the viewer a chance to see the various stages of a scene and move from one stage to another with their remote control. The various stages of the scenes shown are : Story Reel, Layout, Animation and Shaders and Lighting. One of the most interactive features included, this is also really the section that I found to be the most interesting of the ones included. All of the different stages also have a video introduction by the crew that worked on that section.
Documentary With Gary Rydstrom: This section of the disc is made up of a documentary that is narrated by sound designer Gary Rydstrom("The Haunting", "Saving Private Ryan"), who talks in great detail about where he was able to get all of the insect sounds from in the film. Title cards tell us exactly what we're listening to, while Rydstrom talks about where it came from. Final sequences that used these sound effects are also shown.
Trailers/Posters: The release section includes an area that contains many of the US posters, as well as a lot of the posters from foreign countries. Also in the "release" section are 2 trailers.
Character Interviews: Some very funny additional sequences that were animated by Pixar so that an "interviewer" could be talking "live" to these characters about the movie.
Video Release: Reframing: "A Bug's Life" was digitally re-composed for the full-screen version. A documentary as well as various scenes (the single scenes are shown in a split-screen that shows both the full-frame and the letterboxed version). The examples of the single-scenes shown side by side are more interesting than the documentary.
*All of the outtakes as well as the short film "Geri's Game". Thankfully, the back of the booklet included inside the disc is actually a map of the special features included on the 2nd DVD.
Final Thoughts:The anamorphic transfer is absolutely breathtaking and the sound is excellent as well. The extras section of this disc is enormous and without a doubt, one of the biggest that DVD viewers have ever been presented with. The $49.95 price tag does strike me as being a little bit high, but if you can get this set for less online (where it seems to be selling for about $34.95 at most places), it's highly recommended. Pixar, who put this DVD set together, did a fantastic job.