Animated anthropomorphic animals are often at their funniest when they eschew their human characteristics and behave like, well, animals. (Take, for example, Family Guy canine Brian, who’s at his sweetest when he transforms from an erudite would-be novelist to the family pet with just a wag of his tail.) So, despite the creative reinterpretation of a beehive as a state-of-the-art honey factory (complete with divisions called Honeyburton and Honron), it’s when a bee repeatedly flies into window—“This time! This time! This time!” he says determinedly with each try—that Bee Movie is at its most entertaining. Unfortunately, this brainchild of Jerry Seinfeld, who scripts, produces and stars as Barry B. Benson, doesn’t tap into its inner bee often enough.
After three whole days of college, before which he took a day off to hitchhike around the hive, Barry is disillusioned to learn that once he chooses his role in honey production—positions are open in heating, cooling, viscosity, stirring, pouring and removing crud—he’ll work at that job for the rest of his life without ever even taking a day off. Putting off the inevitable, he hooks up with the macho pollen jocks, the only bees allowed to leave the hive, and discovers Manhattan, where the color spectrum spans beyond yellow and black and “the tension level is unbelievable!”
In this spectacular early action sequence, Barry ping-pongs around a tennis court and through a car engine before getting caught in a rainstorm, ultimately finding himself trapped in an apartment with the aforementioned glass barrier. There he befriends Vanessa (Renee Zellweger, her performance as cartoonish as her character), a florist who saves his life from her oaf of a boyfriend (the always welcome Patrick Warburton), and discovers the reason bees have to work so hard: Humans are stealing their honey! As enamored of the species as he is angry with it, Barry addresses the problem in the most human way possible: He sues.
Initially, it’s difficult to reconcile Barry’s relative naivete with Seinfeld’s trademark cynicism. Once Barry’s been out in the big, bad world, the comic does settle into the role, although his brand of humor doesn’t consistently work in this milieu. Also problematic, the film is thematically all over the place, combining an unclear sociological critique with simplistic ecology. Still, Bee Movie is a welcome diversion from DreamWorks Animation’s increasingly trying Shrek series.
Voices: Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Patrick Warburton, Barry Levinson, Megan Mullally, Larry Miller and Rip Torn
Directors: Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner
Screenwriters: Jerry Seinfeld and Spike Feresten & Barry Marder & Andy Robin
Producers: Jerry Seinfeld and Christina Steinberg
Genre: Animated family comedy
Rating: PG for mild suggestive humor
Running time: 91 min.
Release date: November 2, 2007