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Bee Movie (2007)
Dreamworks Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 3/11/2008
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/12/08
How important are the voices in animation? Obviously, they are very important, second to the art, as they give the characters a personality and soul. Now, how important is it that the voice belong to a well-known celebrity. That's a trickier answer. It's often nice to have a familiar voice in a movie, but it's far more important that the voice match, and more importantly make, the character. Clearly Pixar understands this concept. Just ask Patton Oswalt, the voice of the main character in Ratatouille. Patton who? Conversely, Dreamworks Animation often uses the stars in their films as the primary focus of the marketing. But, the presence of these celebrities don't always guarantee a hit movie. (Flushed Away anyone?) The involvement of a star was the primary focus of Bee Movie, a film which could have used more attention in the story department.
Bee Movie tells the story of Barry B. Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld), a young bee who has just graduated from college and is about to embark on his career. Barry and his best friend Adam (voiced by Matthew Broderick) visit Honex and learn all about the various positions which are available in the process of making honey. However, when Barry learns that he will work everyday in that position until the day he dies, he gets very anxious and takes an opportunity to fly outside of the hive with the bees who collect nectar. Once outside (and in New York City), Barry is amazed by the vastness of the world. He finds himself in the apartment of a human named Vanessa (voiced by Renee Zellweger), who saves Barry from her fiance (voiced by Patrick Warburton) who tries to swat Barry. Despite the fact that it's forbidden for bees to interact with humans, Barry feels that he must thank Vanessa, so he talks to her. At first, Vanessa is shocked and dismayed by this, but she and Barry quickly become friends. He accompanies her to the grocery store and is horrified to see honey on the shelf. He investigates this further and learns that humans take honey from bees. Feeling that the bees aren't being compensated for their work, Barry sues the honey farmers. But, Barry soon learns that humans and bees have a special relationship which shouldn't be interrupted.
At its core, Bee Movie has a creative, and dare I say, cute, story. Barry the anthropomorphic bee lives a life which will be very familiar to most (adult) viewers. His parents are excited about him starting his career, but he's not sure what he wants to do with his life. (Much of this is a homage to The Graduate.) Barry leaves the hive and finds that there's an exciting world outside of his familiar home. He makes friends with a woman and through her, learns of the injustice which many bees suffer. However, his actions have consequences which he never foresaw. I can see this tale being a nice children's book.
The fatal flaw with Bee Movie is that Barry and Vanessa have a romantic relationship! Yes, you read that correctly. Now, there's no kissing (or worse) in the movie, but it's clear that they fall in love. Why?! This aspect of the story is so unnecessary. Why couldn't they just be friends? I can only imagine that if Vanessa's character had been a male, the movie would have given some people a "gay vibe". Better that than some twisted inter-species relationship. Do we really need this? It never becomes the main focus of the film, but there are certain scenes (such as Barry's daydream when he's in the pool) which are simply ridiculous.
That aside, Bee Movie is certainly a serviceable animated movie with the typical pros and cons. The animation is very good here and, even on the small screen, has some of the best 3-D depth shots that I've seen in a computer generated film. The scenes where Barry flies through the city are very well-done. The design of the hive is very creative, and Barry has a nice look. (It's refreshing that he looks nothing like Jerry Seinfeld.) There is some good humor in the film, although most of them are aimed at adults. I must admit, however, I did laugh out loud several times. Unlike Shrek, where the pop-culture references felt like a desperate attempt to be cool, jokes of that nature actually work in Bee Movie. (Although, the use of real-life celebrities in cameos does feel like a desperate attempt to be cool.)
The presence of major stars doesn't really help the film. Is Jerry Seinfeld a funny guy? Sure he is. But, his work as Barry doesn't bolster the film. The jokes would have been just as funny or not if they'd been spoken by someone else. But, it must be said that Renee Zellweger's performance isn't very good. Truth be told, her delivery makes Vanessa sound as if she's mentally deficient. She constantly sounds out-of-breath and her dialogue never has a good cadence. Chris Rock's cameo as a mosquito is pointless and most of what he said sounded like gibberish.
One of the extras on the Bee Movie DVD implies that the film got made simply because Jerry Seinfeld wanted it to. Whether or not that's true, the movie certainly doesn't feel like a vanity project. (Unless, of course, Jerry sees himself as a bee.) While the movie isn't great, I enjoyed it more that I have most of the product from Dreamworks Animation. It's clever at times and the animation is excellent. Still, I have to ask, why did the bee have to fall in love with a human? That's just buzzarre.
Bee Movie flies onto DVD courtesy of Dreamworks Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in three separate releases, a full-frame version, a widescreen version, and a special edition widescreen version. For the purposes of this review, the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. I can only assume that this transfer was taken directly from the digital source material, as it looks fantastic. The picture is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look phenomenal, as we get bold yellows and sumptuous greens. The image has a nice amount of depth and there is a definite 3-D feel. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, but it's the surround sound effects which stand out. The scenes where Barry flies through the city offer very good surround effects as objects swish by. There are a few scenes which deliver good bass response as well.
The Bee Movie 2-disc edition is loaded with extras. Disc 1 starts with an
AUDIO COMMENTARY from Jerry Seinfeld, writer Barry Marder, director Simon J.
Smith, director Steven Hickner, producer Christina Steinberg, and editor Nick
Fletcher. This is an average commentary, but there are moments where everyone
attempts to talk at once. We learn a great deal about the evolution of the film,
as the group is quick to point out ideas from earlier versions of the script
which didn't make it into the film. The DVD features three "Lost Scenes" which
run about 5 minutes. These are in storyboard form and are introduced by
Seinfeld. The scenes wouldn't have improved the film, but there are some funny
moments. Along with this, we get five (!) "Alternate Endings" which run about 15
minutes. Again, these are in storyboard form and they are incredibly redundant,
as we are offered what is essentially the same ending over and over with only
subtle differences. Next up are 16 "TV Juniors" (8 minutes), which are brief
vignettes introuduced by and starring Jerry Seinfeld. I have to assume that
there were shown on TV. They are slightly amusing and often quite odd. The two
"Live Action Trailers" for the film, which feature cameos by Chris Rock and
Steven Spielberg are offered here. "Jerry's Flight Over Cannes" (3 minutes)
shows how Jerry did a wild stunt to introduce the film at Cannes. "Inside the
Hive: The Cast of Bee Movie" (15 minutes) doesn't focus solely on the actors,
but rather is a "making of". Seinfeld talks about the origin of the story, and
we get comments from the filmmakers. Of course there are interviews with the
cast, and we see them in the recording studio.
The rest of the extras are found on Disc 2. "Tech of Bee Movie" (8 minutes) features interviews with the filmmakers explaining how the most up-to-date computer technology was used to create the animation. "Meet Barry B. Benson" is a pointless game (?) using clips from the movie. There's a MUSIC VIDEO for the song "We Got the Bee" (I cringed just typing that.). "The Buzz About Bees" (7 minutes) gives real-life facts about bees...but only uses clips from the movie -- there are no pictures of real bees. The remainder of the extras are set-top games.
On May 20, 2008, Paramount Home Entertainment brought Bee Movie to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. Call your skeptical friends, because you've got a new reference quality demo disc to show them. The visuals on this disc are simply beautiful and are incredibly detailed. Viewing the film on Blu-ray, I saw subtle things, such as reflections, which I didn't see when I saw the film on DVD. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are astonishing and may make some of you weep. The brightness of the picture is perfect and I noted no video noise or artifacting. The disc offers a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, as are the surround effects, most notably during the scene where Barry first leaves the hive. The tennis ball scene provides some nice subwoofer action. The audio isn't overwhelming, but it's a nice compliment to the visuals.
The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are the same as those found on the 2-disc DVD.
Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long