movie review by
Gary Johnson

A Bug's Life


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Life is no picnic for the ants in A Bug's Life. A marauding colony of grasshoppers periodically descends on the ant colony and demands huge portions of the ant colony's harvest--like gangsters insisting on "protection" money. The grasshoppers are sort of like the greedy bandits in The Magnificent Seven (or Seven Samurai). The colony needs a group of warriors to protect them, and therefore our hero, Flik, an inventive-thinking ant who the colony considers a nuisance, strikes out on his own to find a group of fighters.

That's the basic premise for A Bug's Life, the latest computer animated movie about the bug world. Following Antz in theaters by 6 to 7 weeks, A Bug's Life doesn't suffer in comparison to Antz. Each movie has its own advantages and disadvantages (but mostly advantages). While Antz was filled with interesting characters, the characters in A Bug's Life are a little bland in comparison and the dialogue certainly contains fewer choice lines. None of the ants in A Bug's Life are as compelling as the ant voiced by Woody Allen in Antz. However, the story in A Bug's Life is superior to the story in Antz: it introduces us to a wider range of characters and the plot benefits greatly from the variety. While all the main characters in Antz are indeed ants, A Bug's Life gives us a host of other bugs, including flies, a praying mantis, snails, lady bugs, pill bugs, spiders, butterflies, beetles, maggots, mosquitoes, a walking stick, and many, many others. The variety in anatomy helps make the characters more fun to watch. However, A Bug's Life doesn't contain as much adult humor. In Antz, for example, the ants got a buzz by sucking liquid out of the asses of aphids. But in A Bug's Life the aphids are just cute little pets. While A Bug's Life does contain some gross out humor, as when the waiter cries out "Who ordered the pooh-pooh platter?" and several flies frantically attack the tasty morsel, but this humor is aimed squarely at kids.

Created by the same team responsible for Toy Story, A Bug's Life represents a major leap forward in computer animation technology. While the characters in Toy Story looked somewhat blocky (as if they consisted of simple geometrical shapes), the characters in A Bug's Life have more weight. That is, while the animation in Toy Story looked great, it also looked like it was computer generated. In comparison, the animation in A Bug's Life is astonishingly detailed--especially the work on the grasshoppers. The animation in Antz is possibly even more detailed than the animation in A Bug's Life, but whereas the characters in Antz looked like digital creations, the characters in A Bug's Life have depth and volume--as if they're real three-dimensional creations. They pop right out of the two-dimensional movie screen.

Most importantly, however, A Bug's Life is graced with a good story. The ants need their saviors, just like the villagers in The Magnificent Seven, and our hero, Flik (voiced by Dave Foley of TV's News Radio), finds a group of bugs to come to the aid of the ant colony; however, Flik has made a mistake: instead of hiring fighters, he has unwittingly hired a group of second-rate flea circus performers. This misunderstanding leads to several funny developments as Flik's plans start to unravel.

In addition to Foley, you'll also hear Kevin Spacey (as Hopper, the leader of the grasshoppers), Julia Loui-Dreyfus (as a princess ant), Phyllis Diller (as the queen), Denis Leary (as a male lady bug who takes exception when other bugs assume he's a female), Jonathan Harris (as a praying mantis with the heart of a thespian), David Hyde Pierce of TV's Frazier (as a walking stick), and many, many others. Part of the fun of watching this movie is simply trying to figure out who provides the voices for the characters.

[rating: 3 of 4 stars]