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IN SHORT: Heavy duty family fun. [Rated G]
Cranky's only going to do this history bit once this year, so pay attention. 1998 will see two movies about World War II, but the stories are not the same. It has also seen two movies about real people sucked into television shows (if you wait another 3 months it'll be three) and those stories were not identical, either. Ditto to computer animated splendors about creepy crawlies and other bug sized insects; Hundreds of teeny little individually animated creatures and delirious skewed camera angles in the microscopic worlds of fleas and ants and ladybugs, oh my.
Since long time readers know that Cranky is an animation fiend, let's get down to the nitty gritty. A Bug's Life is the "G" rated story, and if you ever wondered about the difference when those ratings kick in, there is no better example than the difference between this years offerings from Disney and Dreamworks. Not only is the language different -- I addressed that in the review of Antz -- but the color palette is different as well. The colors in A Bug's Life are brighter and wider ranging, all of which will please the youngest kidlet. That a huge hunk of supporting cast are "blueberries" (an ant equivalent of the Brownie Scouts) and a significant supporting character is the very young Princess Dot (voiced by Hayden Panettiere) only highlights the demo target. Not to worry, there's enough stuff for us guys and grownups, too.
It may just be a function of age that Cranky was able to nail all the voice performers without referring to notes. It may also be that the voicecast are predominantly sitcom actors who have similar roles on television. Newsradio's Dave Foley is Flik, the insecure ant who ultimately becomes the leader. Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the Princess Atta, indecisive and insecure (don'tcha just know that they're perfect for each other). The story is at heart similar to the Aesop fable about the ant and the grasshopper, only with a 90s twist. The ants do all the work and the grasshoppers bust up the hill and take most of it. As the story begins, Flick accidentally queers the status quo and the bigger bugs up the ante. Hopper (Kevin Spacey) demands a double quota of food in half the time or else. Flik is sent into exile to search out other big bugs to come and defend his poor defenseless ant family.
What Flik discovers in the big city is, literally, a circus (masterminded by John Ratzenberger as P.T. Flea who, not knowing a good thing, has fired his flock). Thinking this merry band of bugs are warriors, Flik returns in triumph to the colony. When he discovers his mistake, it's far too late to do it again. That, of course, means the animators kick in the big bug effects and the audience gets to sit back and wait to go "oooo."
Under the guidance of Toy Story director John Lasseter and co-director, Toy Story's co-writer Andrew Stanton, A Bug's Life teems with spectacular visual effects. The story may aim at the way too small girl kidlet crew for this male's taste, but there's enough motion to keep the little boys happy and Cranky found pleasure elsewhere in the score by Randy Newman which has the feel of a John Ford western. Newman has penned scores for Disney in the past (both on Toy Story and James and the Giant Peach) but he's outdone himself with A Bug's Life.
The rest of the cast includes Phillis Diller as the Queen, Lost in Space's Jonathan Harris ("oh the pain" is in the script. Wait for it), Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce, Denis Leary (as the male ladybug - perfect) and the late Roddy McDowell as a pompous ant politician.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his A Bug's Life, he would have paid...
As far as the animation goes, while A Bug's Life hits it's climax with a Trojan Horse-type flying bird and a rainstorm, the CG animation high bar is still held by the ants in a drop of water scene in Antz. T'ain't no diss to the animators, and they know it. It's just a matter of time until the bar shifts back and we fiends just love it.
Disney maintain a firm lock on the full family market. As for those of us who are waiting for the rest of the world to take animation as a movie form seriously . . . let's just say Cranky has seen Princess Mononoke, the Japanese animated box office equivalent of Titanic. "Epic" would be a good descriptive term. We'll just have to wait and see if some of the Japanese mystical and cultural themes survive the translation and adaptation under the more than capable hands of Neil Gaiman. But that's a couple of months away. Tee hee hee.
God, I love cartoons . . .
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