By now, you no doubt know the storyline of Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie, which opened theatrically last November and released this week on DVD. Seinfeld co-wrote, produced and stars in the film as Barry B. Benson, newly graduated from bee college and pondering his future.
Dissatisfied with his singular career prospect -- making honey -- Barry decides to explore life outside the hive, gets distracted by all the pretty colors in the world, meets Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a florist, finds out that humans have been stealing the bees' honey, and decides to sue the human race. That's basically the story in a ... beehive .
It's not a particularly original storyline, we've seen the basic outline -- bee/ant/whatever who doesn't quite fit in with the pack leaves to go explore on his own, comes back, and does something mildly heroic to save the day -- many times before, and we'll no doubt see it again, but at least in this incarnation it's fairly tolerable, so long as you don't have an averision to stinging insects or honey.
While it doesn't quite stand up against Ratatouille, which was by far the best animated film of the last year (or more), Bee Movie is cute, colorful and appealing, and the kids who are the film's primary target market seem to eat it up. This is exactly the kind of movie kids (and their adults) love to own on DVD. It's a nice, mostly harmless film, if you overlook the whole thing where the male bees (including Barry) are all portrayed as workers -- gathering pollen, keeping the temperature of the hive constant, gathering nectar, making honey -- essentially, doing all the tasks that in a real honey bee colony are performed by female bees (oh, you knew I was going to go there, don't act so surprised).
Other than that quibble though, I do like the movie overall, and, I must confess, my kids love it and could care less about the whole male/female bee thing. And for the record, my 11-year-old informs me that she read an article that said the filmmakers did know that worker bees are all females, but made them males in the film because they wanted them to look big and powerful next to the smaller, weaker Barry.
But couldn't they have been strong and powerful female bees? That got me a patented pre-teen eyeroll and "Mom, it's a fictional movie, you know? They also live in houses and bathe in honey, and real bees don't do that either. It's made for little kids, and they really don't care." Yeah, I know. This is an animated film, and like many such films, they take a lot of liberties with the anthromorpization of the bees in order to make it appealing to the kiddie set. Bees also have five eyes, not two, but the animators wanted their bees to look "more human," as we learn on one of the featurettes on the second disk, and so they eliminated three eyes from these bees to give them human-ish faces.
The animation isn't quite Pixar-great, but it's still very good. I learned from one of the featurettes that it took over 23,000,000 rendering hours to make the film -- by way of comparison, the first Shrek film took just over 5 million rendering hours. The story is cute, Zellweger is less annoying than she usuallly is, and Seinfeld is quite funny. Matthew Broderick holds his own as Barry's best friend, Adam, and we also have voice work from a bevy of celebs (who isn't jumping on the "cast me in an animated film so I can have at least one film with me in it I can show to my kids" bandwagon these days?) including Kathy Bates, John Goodman, Oprah, Larry King, Barry Levinson, Megan Mulally, Rip Torn, and Ray Liotta. Chris Rock has a turn as a bloodthirsty mosquito who's always desperately seeking his next blood fix -- this may well be one of Rock's funniest turns ever, I quite enjoyed him in this film, and I'm not particularly a fan.
The DVD is available in a one-disc version, or in the amped-up, two-disc "Very Jerry" edition, because you just can't have too much Jerry, right? The two-disc set does come with a lot of nice extras for the kids, though. The first disc includes Jerry and filmmaker commentary, the requisite alternate endings and lost scenes, footage of Jerry's memorable "flight" over the Cannes film festival in a bee costume, the live-action trailers, and a featurette called "Inside the Hive," about the cast of Bee Movie. The second disc is also loaded with sweet extras. My kids very much enjoyed the informative and educational "The Buzz About Bees" featurette, which has lots of info about real bees. They also liked the "Ow!" Meter, which rates the stings of different bees on humans -- and of different bee-slaughtering tools of humans on bees. They were less interested in the music video and the "Practice Pollination" game -- at that point, they just wanted to watch the movie again.
Overall, whether your kids liked Bee Movie in the theater, or you missed it on the big screen, they'll probably enjoy having the DVD for their collection. The extras on this one are fairly cool, so if your kids like special features they can play around with on the computer or with the remote as much as mine do, for my money it's worth buying the special two-disc set on this one. Between watching the movie multiple times and playing with the extras, they'll be as busy as ... well, you know.