This past Tuesday, A Bug's Life entered into its third incarnation on DVD. The first was a fairly unremarkable disc, boasting non-anamorphic visuals and minimal extras. The 'Collector's Edition' that followed was a lavish release, overflowing with extras and giving the film the 16x9 enhancement it deserves. Unfortunately, the latter came at a cost, weighed down by the hefty price tag of $49.95. As Pixar's latest, Finding Nemo, prepares to roar into theaters, the list price of the collector's edition of A Bug's Life has been slashed by forty percent. This release retains everything that garnered such extensive praise about the previous two-disc set, tacking on some light promotional material for Finding Nemo to better cash in on its inevitable box office success.
A Bug's Life peers into the unseen world that crunches beneath our feet. Routine and tedium don't make for much of a life, though. In the first glimpse of the ants that litter this digitally-created world, food is being gathered for "The Offering", a tasty payoff for a gang of violent, extortive grasshoppers. The ants march in lockstep, so mindless in their quest that any variable, even something as insignificant as a tiny fallen leaf, seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Not all of the ants are so single-minded, with Flik standing out as that single notable exception. Flik's efforts to more efficiently acquire food go unappreciated, and he doesn't endear himself to his fellow ants any further when he inadvertently causes the Offering to plummet from a cliff. The grasshoppers, led by the unrelenting Hopper, threaten the terrified ants with starvation, demanding that they compensate for Flik's ineptitude with a bounty twice the original size.
The ants quickly return to their old routine, striving to meet their hefty quota before the inevitable torrential downpour dashes any hopes of future harvesting. Flik suggests that they enlist the help of other, bigger insects from the city to duke it out with the grasshoppers, putting an end to the whole mess. Princess Atta doesn't think much of his plan, but since it would get Flik out of their figurative hair, she agrees and sends him on his way. Flik eventually does manage to claw his way to the distant city, where he stumbles upon a group of recently-fired circus performers. Flik is convinced he's found the warriors he's been seeking out. The unwitting insects, on the other hand, are under the mistaken impression that Flik's offering them nothing more than another performing gig. Flik and company eventually realize the grave errors they've made, though it's not exactly at the most opportune time...
A Bug's Life is not the sort of movie that can be easily summed up in a couple of paragraphs because, much like the insect world itself, there's much more that lurks beneath the surface in this intelligent, funny film. A lot of the humor is in the background rather than splattered front and center, and it's the sort of movie where I found myself picking up on more with each viewing. Like Pixar's other releases, A Bug's Life is a family movie in the truest sense, one that can be enjoyed and genuinely appreciated by viewers young and old. Visually, A Bug's Life is stunning, particularly in the immaculately detailed environments in which the insects reside. Its characters are varied and expressive, thanks to the excellent design, wonderful animation, and the collection of talent providing the voices. The actors involved include Dave Foley (The Kids in the Hall), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld), Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects), Denis Leary, David Hyde Pierce (Frasier), Jonathan Harris (Lost in Space), Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond), and quite a number of others.
A Bug's Life is an incredible movie, and I'm thrilled that Buena Vista and company saw fit to reprice this extensive special edition to put it in the hands of more fans.
Video: Like the previous collector's edition release, A Bug's Life is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, alongside a reframed 4x3 version of the film. It's mentioned throughout that A Bug's Life was the first digital-to-digital transfer produced for use on DVD, and though close to four years have passed since that earlier release hit store shelves, the presentation remains indescribably stunning. Just like Pixar's other DVD releases, this reference-quality transfer offers nothing less than sheer perfection. The image is exceptionally sharp, offering an almost incomprehensible amount of detail and a vibrant, varied palette. As A Bug's Life bypassed any intermediate celluloid step, none of the flaws so frequently associated with film transfers are present. The image is similarly free of compression or digital blocking, and the crisp image isn't marred by any edge enhancement or related haloing. A Bug's Life is as perfect a presentation as I could possibly ever hope to see, and I can't gush enough about how phenomenal this movie looks on DVD. Showcase material all the way.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also demo-worthy, featuring crystalline highs, booming lows, and activity roaring from every speaker. There are innumerable pans and discrete surround effects, taking full advantage of the six channels at its disposal. Absolutely wonderful from start to finish. There are several alternate audio tracks, most of which are covered in the "Supplements" section of this review. The one exception is a French dub in Dolby Digital 5.1, available only with the full-frame version of the film. A Bug's Life also includes English subtitles and closed captions.
Supplements: The set's extras are almost entirely contained on its second disc, which begins with a video introduction from the film's producers and directors recorded for this "Super Genius" DVD release of A Bug's Life. The extras ought to ring familiar to owners of the previous set under the Collector's Edition banner.
The extras on the disc one are primarily aural in nature, beginning with an audio commentary with directors John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton as well as editor Lee Unkrich. Interestingly, no mention of the commentary is made anywhere on the packaging that I can find. The discussion shifts its focus away from the technical implementation that brought A Bug's Life to...well, life, saving that sort of information for the featurettes on the set's second disc. Lasseter and company spend most of their time talking about the progression of the story from concept to completion, individual character arcs, the immense amount of research that was performed, and how the look of the film was shaped. The widescreen version of the film is accompanied by a stereo isolated score as well. The full-frame version includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 track with isolated sound effects. Rounding out the extras on the first disc is a THX Optimizer to help provide the best possible viewing experience.
The extras on disc two are broken up into various sections. Not surprising for a film four years in the making, the bulk of the supplements can be found under "Pre-Production".
The "'Fleabie' Reel" begins with an optional minute-long introduction by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Darla Anderson, and Kevin Reher. The reel itself (3:21) is live-action, featuring John Lasseter hamming it up in front of a camera to give Disney an idea of where the project stood, well before there was much of any footage to show off. The plush Fleabie buzzes around the Pixar offices, stopping to take a glance at animation tests, character models, and conceptual sketches.
"Story and Editorial" begins with an introduction by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich (0:56). The first of its features, "Original Treatment", also has its own individual introduction by Lasseter and Stanton, running just over thirty seconds in length. The treatment is presented in a reasonably large plain-text font over a leaf background, interspersed with illustrations. The "Storyboard Pitch" (4:44) begins with a runthrough of the storyboarding process, presented (how else?) in storyboard format. The featurette continues with the actual pitching of one scene, including video of the very animated pitch along with shots of the relevant storyboards.
A "Storyboard to Film Comparison" kicks off with, yes, an introduction by Lasseter, Stanton, and Unkrich, comparing the storyboards of the "Dot's Rescue" sequence (3:56) to the finished product. "Abandoned Sequences" begins with yet another introduction by the three filmmakers (2:21). The first of these excised scenes is the "Original Museum Opening" (1:45), a prologue that took place at some unspecified point in the future and rehashes a lot of the information we already know. "P.T.'s Office" (1:40) is an extended firing of the circus gang. Both scenes are presented as storyreels with voiceovers.
"Research" (5:25) focuses on the Bug-Cam, a tiny camera used to glean some idea of what the world must look like through the eyes of an insect. Most of the featurette consists of footage of their natural environments as well as their fellow bugs.
"Design" begins with yet another introduction by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton (1:07). "Characters" is broken up into four sections -- The Colony, Grasshopper Gang, the Circus, and Miscellaneous Characters -- featuring a lengthy series of sketches and various pieces of artwork for each. 'The Colony' includes Flik (41 images), Princess Atta (18), Dot (14), the Queen (19), and the Ant Council (6). 'Grasshopper Gang' gives Hopper most of the attention, with its 42 sketches and a 43 second video of his 3D model rotating. Molt and Thumper are also featured, with six and nine images respectively. "The Circus" features P.T. Flea (20 images), Slim (15), Heimlich (14), Francis (18), Gypsy (21), Manny (21), Rosie (19), Dim (20), and Tuck and Roll (15). Among the "Miscellaneous Characters" are flies (10 images), city bugs (8), and the bird (10). These images include early sketches, model sheets, and physical reference models, and it's interesting to see how scarcely recognizable some of these characters were in the early stages. The incredibly comprehensive "Locations" features conceptual art of the backdrops for the film's action, with the majority of the 137 images dedicated to Ant Island. The other three locales -- The City, Circus Tent and Wagon, and Hopper's Hideout -- feature around thirteen shots each. "Concept Art and Color Scripts" is a gallery consisting of thirty-six of the former and fifty-four storyboard-ish pieces of artwork.
Naturally following "Pre-Production" is "Production". The first of its features is the promotional featurette "Behind the Scenes of A Bug's Life" (3:30). "Voice Casting" (4:15) features the voice actors talking about the recording process, along with some footage of the lot of them in the studio. "Early Tests" (5:28) is a series of animation tests from various parts of the process, including narration as to the specific challenges that needed to be overcome. The first batch centers more on the environments, including managing large crowds of insects, lighting, and wind. The character tests take a look at Hopper, Rosie, Dim, Gypsy, and P.T. Flea in varying stages of completion. "Progression Demonstration" allows viewers to see the Flaming Death sequence (2:13) from concept to completion through the magic of alternate angles. Each of the four stages -- 'Storyreel', 'Layout', 'Animation', and 'Shaders and Lighting' -- are accompanied by a video introduction.
"Sound Design" (13:10) shines the spotlight squarely on the shoulders of sound designer Gary Rydstrom. This featurette takes a look at the elements used to create the sounds of the bugs in the movie, from sources as disparate as the flapping of 35mm film on a projector, cracking uncooked crabs, kazoos, and a Huey helicopter. The source sounds are played individually alongside an explanation by Rydstrom, then replayed as part of the final mix. Many of the choices are ingenious, and this featurette was definitely among the highlights of the disc for me.
Next up is "Release", which is divided into two sections. "Theatrical Release" begins with "Posters/Ad Campaigns", a gallery of sixteen shots of poster art from various countries. Also included are a pair of trailers, the first running just over a minute, and the second sporting the more traditional length of two and a half minutes or so. Both trailers are letterboxed and feature Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio. Next up is a set of "Character Interviews", consisting of newly-created animation of simulated interviews with the 'cast' as publicity for the film's overseas release. The footage begins with a brief introduction by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, and the interview itself runs just over a minute and a half. The "Video Release" portion focuses on the reframing of the scope frame to fit standard 4x3 televisions. A "Reframing Featurette" (4:28) discusses the challenge of lopping off almost half of the frame without compromising the visual intent, along with Pixar's unique solutions to the problem. "Reframing Examples" (5:15) consists of, not surprisingly, side-by-side comparisons of the original widescreen image and the related recomposed footage.
Just as outtakes close out A Bug's Life in its ending credits, "Outtakes" mark the last of the five main sections on this DVD release. "End Credit Outtakes Featurette" (3:49) delves into the motivation of including outtakes of characters created and animated in a virtual space, including shots of the voice actors recording dialogue for this footage. "Original Outtakes" (2:34) are a larger version of what played under the end credits when the film was first released, and "Alternate Outtakes" (2:33) is another collection of flubbed lines, camera mishaps, and unexpected bursts of laughter. Again, all three are presented full-frame with stereo audio.
The chess-themed Geri's Game, which snagged an Academy Award as the Best Animated Short Film of 1997, is also provided. Geri's Game runs 4:58 in length, sports Dolby Digital 2.0 surround audio, and is letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Unlike many of the widescreen supplements on various Pixar discs, the short is not enhanced for 16x9 displays.
"Finding Nemo: Fishy Facts" gets prominent billing on the box art, but there's little of substance, consisting of one minute and seventeen seconds of footage from the film with a voiceover rattling off facts about fish and assorted sealife. The footage is letterboxed and non-anamorphic, featuring Dolby Digital 5.1 audio.
Finally, "A Bug's Land" is a set-top accessible game with simple matching puzzles and trivia, geared very much towards the younger set.
A Bug's Life: Collector's Edition comes packaged in a standard-sized two-disc keepcase, complete with shiny metallic cover art and a similar slipcase. The set's insert rattles off the thirty-six chapter stops for the movie on one side, with a comprehensive list of the extras on the other. The first disc includes a set of animated 16x9-enhanced menus, while the second disc is a strictly 4x3 affair.
Conclusion: Though its initial fifty dollar price tag may have been offputting to many, this repriced DVD release of A Bug's Life: Collector's Edition is an absolute essential purchase for any animation enthusiast. DVD Talk Collector's Series.