Friday, November 02, 2007

"Bee Movie" -- * *

I happened to catch "Me, Myself and Irene" on cable the other night, and even in that Jim Carrey vehicle, Miss Renee had a believable edge and charm to her, and she even, amazingly, held her own with Carrey in the humor department. It was a reminder to me that she wasn't always the bland, irritating, unconvincing actress she is now, and it's really remarkable that just a few Oscar nominations (and one win) managed to suck out everything that was interesting about her as an actress. Given that Betty Sizemore, Dorothy Boyd, Bridget Jones, Irene Waters and Barbara Novak are by far her best roles/performances, I was hopeful about her presence in "Bee Movie," since a return to comedy is just what I've been thinking her career needs. Alas, even in animated form, she just radiates insincerity and unlikability. She can't even deliver her dialogue (most of which consists of variations on "Oh my, a bee!") convincingly like a human being, and sounds like she just recorded it on one of her lunch breaks.

But if only Miss Z was "Bee Movie's" only problem. Ever since Dreamworks Animation' "Antz" faced off against Disney/Pixar's "A Bug's Life," the former studio's efforts have always been chasing the latter's success. Now, they've finally equaled them-- they've made their very own "Cars." Like that film, "Bee Movie" is a serviceable animated film that passes the time easy enough, but more often than not settles into a general blandness, and features story elements that consistently reminds one of better films (chiefly "Antz" and "Happy Feet") and a never-ending barrage of eye-rolling jokes. While it's considerate enough to only run under 90 minutes, as opposed to "Cars"'s bloated two hours, for the most part, it just feels flat.

Opening with a text on the underdog nature of bees, we're introduced to our hero Barry (Jerry Seinfeld) as he graduates from school and is immediately enlisted to work for Honey conglomerate Honex, as all bees are. Unsatisfied with this preordained future, Barry slips off with the "pollen jocks" into New York City and becomes smitten with lemon-faced Vanessa (Renee Zellweger) after she saves his life from her bull-headed boyfriend (Patrick Warburton). After witnessing a world where all the humans are "stealing" bees' precious honey, Barry sets his sights on filing a lawsuit against the human race for mass theft.

To its credit, "Bee Movie" made me laugh about four times: (1) Barry repeatedly trying to fly through a glass window, (2) Larry King making a cameo that parodies every aspect of himself, (3) Barry recounting that the closest thing Bee have to Tivo is Hivo, a "horrible disease" and (4) two appearances by Ray Liotta. And there were also a few "almost" moments, like Warburton casually mentioning that he predicted global warming, and an out-of-nowhere homage to "The Graduate."

But for the most part, we either get lame Bee gags (their news network is, you guessed it, BeeNN) or random non-sequitirs Seinfeld couldn't fit into his stand-up (on toerings: "Why do girls put rings on their toes? It's like putting a hat on your knee."). He also fits in a parody of nagging Jewish parents that will probably make those who recognize the stereotype chuckle, even if the actual jokes aren't funny (asking about Vanessa, they ask "Was she beeish? Not a wasp!").

Besides the divine Miss Z, voicework is decent all-around. Hearing Seinfeld's voice will please those who've missed getting their fix in the last 9 years, and it's nice to hear Matthew Broderick show up as Barry's very gay bee best friend. Oprah also shows up out of nowhere as a sympathetic judge (one imagines Seinfeld called in all his favors for this one), while John Goodman hams it up wildly as a stereotypical Southern lawyer. On the other hand, those drawn in by the trailers featuring Chris Rock will be let down that he's in the movie for all of one minute, and though I have nothing against the man, I'll be perfectly happy if I never have to hear Rip Torn's voice again as long as I live. Does this guy voice every animated movie to come out, or does it just feel that way?

On the animation front, I didn't really feel one way or the other about the style utilized, though Barry's early flight through Central Park (however brief) is gorgeously animated and probably the high point of the movie. There are also a couple of cute little visual jokes here and there, and I liked that even a Bee version of Jerry Seinfeld has to wear sneakers (black and yellow of course).

It almost seems unfair this day in age to compare an animated film to any effort of Pixars, but when we're given a piece of animation as brilliant, funny and delightful as "Ratatouille" (as we were just four months ago), it only serves to further point out the familiarity and assembly-line nature of films like "Bee Movie." I'm by no means saying every animated film needs to live up to the standards upheld by Pixar, and like I said, "Bee Movie" is alright, it's an okay way to pass 90 minutes. But when so many other studios/filmmakers are managing to churn out animated fare that's considerably funnier ("Surf's Up"), edgier ("The Simpsons Movie"), sweeter ("Meet the Robinsons"), we deserve better than this and "Shrek 3."


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