Pixar Month: A Bug’s Life (1998) Review

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Pixar remake the Seven Samurai but instead of people it is with ants and cockroaches. Instead of the Samurai being effective heroes they are actually circus animals who have misunderstood their roles. The template is there for a film which could be very effective, however A Bug’s Life feels fairly generic.

After the success of Toy Story, it was clear what Pixar’s niche was: computer animation. Other companies and studios were trying to compete but Pixar were still way and above what others could achieve. This means that A Bug’s Life looks smooth and delivers an animation that is crisp and clean compared to it’s counterparts of the time (namely rival movie Antz). This unique selling point also meant that Pixar had the freedom to be slightly lazier with their story-telling and what A Bug’s Life delivers is a movie that is generic and predictable rather than something that offers a clear and unique idea.

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The animation was the movie’s selling point

It doesn’t help that A Bug’s Life is a very loose remake of a film that has itself been remade dozens of times but within that we get an accident prone hero, a clear love-interest, a band of “funny” misfits and a villain who is as menacing as they come. All the ingredients are there but they are the same ingredients for so many other animated movies.

That isn’t to say A Bug’s Life doesn’t have it’s stand-out moments. The circus bugs act going horribly wrong is entertaining, as is the first major set-piece involving a bird attacking the ant’s nest. The film also leads to a very satisfying conclusion that ties the story and it’s threads together nicely. It just doesn’t do any of this in a way that is new or original.

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The characters don’t stand-out enough

Part of the problem is also the characters. Unlike Toy Story, none of the characters stand-out or are likeable personalities that you can build a whole world around. Dave Foley plays Flik ably but he is a generic hero, which is also the issue with Julie Louis-Dreyfus as princess Atta, who becomes nothing more than a staple female lead.

Even the menagerie of circus bugs don’t do enough to elevate the movie. There is plenty of great voice performances, from David Hyde Pierce through to Denis Leary and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger but no characters which stand-out and unfortunately, some like caterpillar Heimlich that are more annoying than they are funny.

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Spacey is an effective villain

The villains are the exception to this casting conundrum. Kevin Spacey is a perfect fit to caterpillar Hopper and his brother Molt, played by the instantly recognisable Richard Kind adds some stupid humour that can’t help but raise a smile. They also add genuine menace and some of the elements to their threat can border on the dark side, a balance which Pixar treads very carefully and effectively.

Overall, A Bug’s Life doesn’t deliver the clever, unique story which Pixar would eventually become renowned for. Instead they rely on their crisp animation which for the time was above all others but now doesn’t offer anything special. A story which is generic and been done before, populated by characters which are forgettable make A Bug’s Life a rare Pixar miss.

Rating – 3

(1 – AWFUL, 2 – AVERAGE, 3 – GOOD, 4 – GREAT, 5! – MUST SEE)

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A step-down from Toy Story

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