Monday, May 23, 2016

The Pixar Project: A Bug's Life

Hi there! Welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, a little ant blog alone against a big old grasshopper internet. I'm Dave-El and I'm gonna lather up some spit*. 

*This will get explained later in the post.  

As I documented in this blog post from May 2nd, the El family here at the Fortress of Ineptitude have decided to embark on  a project of watching all the Pixar features in order. After a couple of weeks of delays, we finally got to the 2nd in the Pixar slate of films, A Bug's Life

My wife and I have not seen A Bug's Life in many years after a previous attempt to introduce the film to our then very young daughter did not go over very well.  All the bugs creeped her out when she was little. Now she's a teenage who's into horror games so some CGI insects are no big deal. She is, oddly enough however, still creeped out by bugs in real life. 

A Bug's Life centers around an ant colony that's under duress from a problem with a bunch of grasshopper thugs with a brutal leader named Hopper who insist on taking a bunch of the food the ants collect. Enter an ant named Flik who causes a mishap that destroys the ants' collection of food before the grasshoppers can collect. Hopper is real pissed off about this and gives the ants an ultimatum to gather twice the food...or else. 

This leads Flik to leave the colony to search for bigger bugs who will fight for the ants against the grasshoppers.  In a mess of miscommunication, Flik secures the services of warrior bugs who are in fact circus performers who in turn think Flik is a talent scout hiring them for a performance gig. 

Ultimately, "performance" becomes the key to defeating Hopper and his gang as the ant colony and the circus bugs build a giant fake bird to scare off the grasshoppers. Which is coming along just fine until the circus bugs are exposed for what they really are. However, as Hopper's gang invades the colony, Flik and the circus bugs along with the ants rally to beat back the gang and Hopper is dealt with once and for all. 

Like the plastic toys of Toy Story, the stylized creatures of A Bug's Life are perfect for Pixar's still developing computer animation technology, coming to life within the growing strengths and remaining inherent limitations of CGI.  There are liberties taken with insect design, particularly with the ants who walk upright and are colored blue. Still, there is attention paid to what life is like for bugs so small, especially looking at life from so close to the ground.   

A word about the grasshoppers: Pixar may have done their job too well. Hopper is an especially scary monster. 

While A Bug's Life is a remarkable accomplishment that holds pretty well nearly 18 years after its initial release, it's not as well remembered as other films from Pixar. This may owe something to the story structure and its impact on character development.  Flik is voiced by Dave Foley (Kids in the Hall, NewsRadio) who does a fine job.  But there's no growth for Flik's character. Other than being too over eager to please, Flik is a forward thinking ant who was right all along.  Surrounding Flik are a lot of different characters who get a few moments of attention but there's lack of emotional investment in who they are. Nowhere is that more evident that in the character of Princess Atta, the soon-to-be queen of the colony. Atta is voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus who is an actress of considerable comedic gifts but Atta doesn't really resonate in a meaningful way. 

And not to pick on the princess, this is a shortfall with virtually everyone. Perhaps the Pixar crew felt a more meaningful, emotional connection to the toys of their childhood in Toy Story than did for the bugs on display in A Bug's Life. Emotional depth would be something that Pixar would get better at as more movies were produced.  

Accompanying A Bug's Life was a short called Geri's Game, a geriatric (hey, I just got the pun of the title) man who plays chess against... himself. The CGI creation of a human is getting a big better even if the old man still looks a bit too waxy. A very clever short.  

Also, A Bug's Life is the first appearance of the blooper reel as the characters goof off and screw up takes. My absolute favorite line from the blooper reel comes from Thumper, a feral, snarling grasshopper that Hopper keeps as a pet. Voiced by David Lander, Thumper just growls a lot with nothing to say. Until the blooper reel. Then Thumper says, after a very snarling growl, "You know, I wan't feeling that one. It's not scary enough. I need to make it more scary. Ooh! Ooh! I know! I'll lather up some spit!"   

To sum up: A Bug's Life is an amazing entry so early in Pixar's career but there is a room for improvement. And we will see those improvements in the movies to come.


OK, that's enough for today. Another new post is coming up tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another.   

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