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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » A Bug's Life (Blu-ray)
A Bug's Life (Blu-ray)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // G // May 19, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 17, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
After the great success they had with Toy Story, everyone was wondering if Pixar could repeat their success or if they were going to be the Hollywood equivalent to a one-hit-wonder.  Their sophomore film, A Bug's Life, turned out to be just as strong as their first feature and the rest, as they say, is history.  At long last Disney has gone back into Pixar's catalog of films and started to release them in high definition.  They've done a magnificent job too, crafting a disc with impeccable sound and a stunningly beautiful image.  This is a must buy for all animation fans.

Flick is an ant who lives in a colony that is being tormented by a swarm of grasshoppers.  Every year the grasshoppers decend on the ant hill and steal most of their food, leaving them barely enough to live.  When Flick accidently destroys the food intended for the grasshoppers, he decides to travel to the big city in order to find a group of warriors who will defend his village.  Instead of finding seven samurais however, due to a misconception on his part, Flick returns with a recently fired group of circus insects who know nothing of war or battle.
There are a couple of things that separates Pixar films from the run-of-the-mill 'family-friendly' animated movie.  The technical wizardry and the very tight storytelling are all part of it, but for my money the main thing is that their movies have is heart, sympathetic characters that you can empathize with.  None of their films show this off better than A Bug's Life.  Poor Flick is an everyman (er, well, everybug) who is never appreciated for his contributions and who is punished for every good deed he does.  Who hasn't had a kind gesture backfire or made a dreadful mistake?  He's easy to relate to, and the deeper into trouble he gets the more you feel for him, especially since he has a kind heart.

Added to that is a very tight script, one where every scene serves a purpose and is integral to the movie.  The animation that Pixar creates is very time intensive and they don't want to generate any scenes that won't be in the final product.  Because of that they re-write the movie over and over and over again until the script is perfect.  The process literally takes years, but the result is a well thought out movie where every scene, line of dialog, and even movement has been planned for maximum effect.  Take the scene where Flick tries to cheer up Princess Dot who is down because she's too little to fly.  He can't find a seed for his parable, so he gives her a small rock and tell her to imagine it's a seed.  He compares a single seed to a mighty Oak, stating that there is greatness in even the most unlikely packages.  Dot replies "But it's only a rock" getting a big laugh, but later hands Flick a rock when he's down and thinking he's a failure.  It cheers him up, and perplexes the circus bugs to no end.  This simple segment not only introduces one of the movie's themes, but gets some big laughs at the same time.
Finally there's the animation itself.  While Toy Story was fun to watch, A Bug's Life is a work of art.  Every shot looks like a perfectly composed photograph and the entire film is dazzling to see.  Even without the excellent story this movie would be a joy to sit through because it is so beautiful.  Especially the last shot, a pull away of the small island with a tree where the entire battle had taken place.  

The Blu-ray Disc:

In a nutshell:  it's perfect.  This film looked good on DVD, but this Blu-ray disc is a big step above that.  The 2.35:1 AVC image just leaps off the screen with vivid, brilliant colors, amazing detail, and a total lack of DNR.  The most impressive thing is that every scene has that 3-dimensional feel that the best HD transfers offer.  Every character seems to be in a different plane and the trouble that Pixar went to in order to light the objects really pays off.  Everything, the ants, the plants, and even the rocks, has depth and substance.  The colors are solid and invisibly pass from one shade to another.  There was no posterization or banding which is fairly common in animation, even CGI features.  The folks at Pixar also avoided using any DNR or EE, which was the right choice.  The picture on this disc is absolutely stunning.

Equally stunning is the DTS-HD Master Audio track.  It really brings the movie to life and adds a lot to the film.  The dialog and effects are all crystal clear and the music has a full range and a lot of body.  What's more is the way Pixar has used the soundstage to bring this story to life.  There are a lot of magnificent effects that immerse the viewer in the movie such as when it starts to rain.  The downpour starts behind the viewer and you can actually hear it approach, reach the sitting position, and continue on to the screen.  It's really impressive.  There are a lot of pans and cross fades and the effects are precisely placed around the room.  Everyone I screened the movie with commented on the sound, which is fairly unusual for my family.  A top-notch presentation.
Disney includes all of the bonus material from the 2003 release of the film (with the exception of the the isolated music and sound effects tracks which are not included.) What's more they go a step further and add some BR exclusive content and bothered to upgrade many of these extras to HD (unless noted.)  Other studios should take a cue from this disc.  Way to go Disney! 
The bonus material starts out with a commentary track with co-writer/director John Lasseter, co-writer Andrew Stanton, and editor Lee Unkrich.  I have enjoyed all of the Pixar commentary tracks that I've heard, and this is no exception.  The discussion is lively and they offer a lot of interesting information about the creation of the film and behind the scenes stories about Pixar itself.  They talk about the genesis of the project, the state of Pixar after Toy Story, the casting, story changes etc.  It's an entertaining track and well worth listening to.
This disc has a lot of material that goes behind the scenes and shows how the film was actually made.  These productions (and pre-production) featurettes run over an hour in all and each section features an introduction by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton  (these are a mix of SD and HD.)  They include a primer on the storyboarding process, research films they made of real bugs, a filmed storyboard session where a scene is pitched to Lasseter and Stanton (this was quite interested and featured a few instances were dialog was changed and the changes ended up in the final film), storyboard comparisons, and a bit on the sound design.  These are all fun and informative and none of them are fluff pieces.
In addition there are eight minutes worth of deleted scenes (which were okay but not great), a design gallery and promotional material.
There are a couple of shorts, Pixar's Oscar-winning Geri's Game, a wonderful cartoon, and Disney's Grasshopper & the Ants a classic Silly Symphony cartoon that had an influence on the Pixar feature.
Then there are the BD exclusive bonus features.  First off is a Filmmakers Roundtable with Lasseter, Stanton, and producers Kevin Reher and Darla K. Anderson.  They cover some of the material covered in the commentary track, but there's a lot more new information in this 21 minute bonus.  A fun chat.
The other HD exclusive was really exciting, the first draft of the movie.  Dave Foley narrates the original storyboards that outlined the first draft of the story.  It was quite different than the final product, with a different main character and several new situations.  It runs about 11 minutes and is an interesting look at how the film evolved.
Finally this disc is also BD-Live enabled.  I've never been a fan of BD-Live, but Disney is working on improving the features.  They take a big step forward with this disc by getting rid of the need to log in!  Now novice BD-Live users can jump right in to examining the features without having to register.  (Users can log in if they want, which helps if you're forming a viewing party.)
The BD-Live features are pretty standard for a Disney disc:  There's a movie chat function to synch up movie and watch it with friends in other locations, new avatars, and a trivia game you can play against other viewers, (like the games they have on cross-country flights.
A second disc includes a digital copy of the film.  The first pressings of the disc there's also Movie Cash included good for a free ticket to Pixar's next feature, Up.
Final Thoughts:

A fantastic movie that is often unjustly ignored when discussing Pixar films, A Bug's Life has never looked or sounded better.  A reference-level disc all the way around, this movie will really show off your system.  Added to that are some great bonus material, including a couple of nice BD exclusive features.  This is a great disc all the way around and easily earns the DVD Talk Collector Series rating.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
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