So it goes without saying, but “Toy Story” was a gigantic success. Not only was it praised by critics and audiences, but it made over $400,000,000 worldwide, making it the highest grossing film of 1995. With its witty sense of humor, colorful cast of characters and heartfelt writing, it truly transformed how animated movies were made and viewed.
Then they made “A Bug’s Life.”
Now I’m sure this film has many fans who call it an underrated classic. However after such a monumental film like “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life” does appear slightly underwhelming harmless but underwhelming.
This film is directed by John Lasseter and is the second film in the Pixar library. And it’s strange how the most interesting thing about “A Bug’s Life” isn’t the movie itself, but the story behind it.
Shortly after the release of “The Lion King,” Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the big guns over at Disney, left the company due to a power struggle. He would move on to found DreamWorks in 1994, providing Disney with some competition.
After Katzenberg left, he and his team began working on a CG animated film about bugs around the same time “A Bug’s Life” was in development. The movie was set to release Oct. 2, 1998, a month before Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life.”
This was done to directly compete with “A Bug’s Life,” which Jeffrey Katzenberg believed was originally his idea.
When the dust settled, “A Bug’s Life” was the financial victor, grossing over $162,000,000 and becoming the fourth highest grossing movie of 1998.
While I could write a whole column comparing “A Bug’s Life” and “Antz,” here I will simply be judging Pixar’s bug flick for what it is.
Our main protagonist, Flik (Dave Foley), is an ant. He is an outcast in his colony due to his inventions constantly causing problems for the other ants. When one of his antics goes too far, the food stored for the grasshoppers is destroyed. When the head grasshopper (Kevin Spacey) finds out, he is furious and demands that the ants double their workload or face annihilation.
The Princess (Julia Louis Dreyfus) is panicked and wants to punish Flik for his mistake. Flik, on the other hand, proposes that he venture off from the colony in search of warrior bugs strong enough to fight off the grasshoppers.
Fed up with his antics and hoping to rid the colony of Flik, she agrees and Flik embarks on an adventure to find the warrior bugs.
He finds his way to a bug civilization where he meets a gang of Circus performers led by a flea brilliantly named P.T. Flea (John Ratzenburg). Despite his best efforts, his performers are not up to snuff and his circus is the laughing stock of the town.
However, when Flik witnesses the performers getting mixed up in a bar fight, he confuses them for mighty warriors and asks them to come to his colony. They agree, believing he is hiring them to put on a show and the group make their way back to the colony.
Upon arrival, the circus bugs quickly discover that they have been recruited to fight the grasshoppers. From here, it’s up to Flik and his band of misfits to contrive a plan to ride the colony of the grasshoppers without giving away who they really are.
From what I’ve described, this appears to be a fairly competent family film. Its bright and colorful and the sharp wit of Pixar is present. So where does “A Bug’s Life” fall flat?
Well, one of the film’s major weak point is the story. Not that it’s a bad idea for a story, but it’s riddled with overused clichés and tropes that bog down a rather creative premise.
You have the dorky misfit protagonist who gets the girl in the end, the authority figure who just doesn’t understand, the cutesy kid character who only exists to sell merchandise and that dreaded liar revealed cliché. You know the one where the protagonist has a secret which is revealed, is cast out by all but maybe two characters, and ultimately is forgiven in the third act of the film.
This story trope has plagued countless films like “Over the Hedge,” “Rango” or “The Road to El Dorado.” And unfortunately, “A Bug’s Life” is very reliant on clichés like these and many more and nothing new is done with them.
The characters, while portrayed by a talented cast, are rather hit or miss. Flik, for example, is not an interesting protagonist. He’s pretty much your basic dorky inventor. The other ants, aside from maybe the Princess, are just about as bland as Flik.
None of these are terrible characters, but they don’t resonate with me the same way ones like Buzz Lightyear, Sully or Mr. Incredible do. The one exception, however, are the circus bugs.
These characters are where the real entertainment lies. Just to recap; there’s a male ladybug who’s constantly mistaken for a woman, a stick bug who is only used as a stick, who’s only trick is being a stick, a rhinoceros beetle played by Brad Garret, a preying mantis and his wife who are magicians, a scatterbrained spider and a cowardly caterpillar with a thick accent.
These characters and their interactions off of each other lead to some genuinely hilarious scenes. The scene where they realize that the ants want them to defeat the grasshoppers remains the best scene in the whole movie.
Even the villains, while not the strongest of the Pixar lineup, still manage to get a chuckle out of me.
So all in all, “A Bug’s Life” is sort of a mixed bag. It definitely feels like a step down from Pixar’s now legendary reputation, but that doesn’t mean it’s terrible.
“A Bug’s Life” is not “Cars 2” and does have some stand out moments. It’s bright and colorful, well written and possesses great comic relief and a very talented cast. However, it simply needed stronger characters and a more unique story.
It’s perfectly fine for kids as there is nothing flat out terrible in “A Bugs Life”, however it simply consists of things we’ve seen before.
Samuel J. Claude