Misguided narrative choices prevent Bee Movie, small screen king Jerry Seinfeld’s sociable freshman entry into the animated fray, from fully taking flight. Spinning the story of a young bee who discovers life outside of his hive and sues humankind over their cooption of honey, the movie establishes an identifiable personality but doesn’t carve out a deep and complicated enough setting or provide enough “wow” moments to convincingly lay claim to a franchise identity.
Upon finding out that life presents him only one choice, that of an inevitable career making honey, recent college graduate Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) jumps at the chance to join up with his hive’s “pollen jockeys” (above, scattered) and venture out of New Hive City, a development that baffles his best friend, Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick). Exploring
Breaking one of the cardinal rules of beedom, Barry talks to
Vanessa, and a friendship soon develops. Shocked to find out that anyone can
purchase honey right off the grocery store shelf (even actor Ray Liotta's signature brand), Barry sets out to stop this
injustice — suing the human race for stealing the rewards of all the bees’ effort,
and locking antenna with a thickly-accented lawyer (John Goodman) representing
the honey lobby. Once the case is resolved, however, Barry finds both
animation style is pleasant and uncluttered, most characterized by open spaces
and lockstep synchronicity that help define its hive as a model of efficiency.
Co-directors Simon J. Smith (Shrek 4-D) and Steve Hickner (The
Prince of Egypt) keep things moving at a crisp pace, and a few fantastic outdoor flight sequences, showcasing mirrored and
water-reflected perspective, give the film some much-needed thrill. The movie
also trades in the same sort of secondary visual jokes (“Frisbee hits hive —
internet out” reads one newspaper) that have helped make cross-generational
hits out of the Shrek films as well
as similarly densely packed Pixar efforts.
The difference here is that the story doesn’t exert any sustained
natural pull. It’s no surprise that Bee
Movie comes by its irreverence naturally, but the film’s biggest problems are
a lack of commitment to established story strands and no firm adherence to its
own interior logic. While there’s great attention given to specific jokes (one
recurrent strand involves bees’ recognition of magazine page-count, with the
thickness of Italian Vogue being recognized
as among the most dreaded improvised flyswatters), certain story choices (a
queen bee we never see, for instance, and a cross-country trip to the
Tournament of Roses parade) seem arbitrary at best and forced at worst.
Imaginativeness (clever but errant celeb cameos) and
convenience (the bees’ knowledge of humankind is intricate enough to file legal
paperwork, but not to recognize a tennis ball) combine to run amok over
cogency. In its third act, the movie’s flubs and miscalculations turn especially
egregious. A judge decides the outcome of Barry’s lawsuit in impromptu fashion,
ignoring a seated jury; Barry and Vanessa take over for an incapacitated flight
crew; and pollen instantly revives entire fields of dead flowers, like
sprinkled pixie dust.
Seinfeld injects some amusing signature notes of his own personality
into Barry, and Chris Rock, who previously proved his animated mettle in
Other performers, however, fall prey to pendulum swings in mood and tone; Warburton’s theatrical tendencies don’t quite match Ken’s beefcake fatuousness, and Vanessa is confusingly in and out of Barry’s life, sometimes helping him with the lawsuit, sometimes not, but always oblivious to its consequences. For the slightly longer full review, from Screen International, click here.