“Bee Movie” review

I have an explanation as to why Jerry Seinfeld‘s Bee Movie (Dreamamount, 11.2) isn’t all that good or funny, and another about why it simply doesn’t work. The answer to the second question is that deep down it’s a movie about death waiting just around the corner, which is obviously a depressing thought for most of us. But that’s a thematic issue that can wait.

The main problem with Bee Movie is the system under which it was made, which is to say the political conditions. The movie is so Seinfeld-y that it’s clear that the men and women who helped this enormously wealthy and super-famous comedian make the movie indulged in too much kowtowing and boot-licking. They did the “right thing” politically, and they made a bad film as a result.

Writing a good screenplay — including an animated fantasy-comedy aimed at the easy-lay family crowd — is a very difficult thing to do. You can’t just “attitude” your way through it, and you can’t just throw material at the wall and use whatever sticks. You have to create an imaginary, spherical, super-detailed world that a typical audience is willing to believe in on its own terms. You need to create a world with rules that make basic sense.

The Bee Movie problem is that Seinfeld — the producer, co-writer and star, and therefore the dominant Big Kahuna — never did any serious undercurrent work on the script. (Which, when done properly, conveys the “things that are there but aren’t said” element that all good films have.) The evidence suggests that Seinfeld and co-directors Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner and the various co-writers (Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, Andy Robin, Chuck Martin, Tom Papajust) just sat around and cooked up two or three hundred clever lines and jokes and said, “We don’t need to get too deep here…this is just a family movie and we’re trying to have fun and entertain.”

Wrong mentality! A good comedy is a murderously hard thing to get right. You have to approach it the way Anton Chekhov approached the writing of The Cherry Orchard. Ask Billy Wilder, ask Preston Sturges…you can’t just goof your way through it.

It seems as if one of the basic ideas was “this is Jerry’s movie, so nobody stand in the way of his humor flow.” Apparently that meant not matching him up with a Brad Bird-level director — a sharp taskmaster who knows what a tough job it is to make a script really work, and would have stood up to Seinfeld every so often and said, “Uhhn, Jerry? This isn’t working. This is a Laugh Factory act, not a movie.” Instead, everyone from Jeffrey Katzenberg on down just stood back and said, “Whatever Jerry wants…!”

Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson‘s Antz (’99) was silly and comical, of course, but the ant world it created for itself had a certain recognizable logic and rhyme and symmetry. But no one did any heavy lifting on Bee Movie. None of it means anything or goes anywhere or digs into anything solid. The result isn’t a “bomb” — Bee Movie going to make lots of money this weekend — as much as a so-whatter.

Nobody laughed very much at last night’s all-media screening. They tittered, chuckled and guffawed here and there….but no haw-haws and no shrieks. And no emotional currents whatsoever. Seinfeld’s quirky-peculiar humor is all through it, of course, and that gives it an amiable personality and all, but the movie has no theme, no bones, no arc and no soul. It’s a Bee Movie about next to nothing.

All it says is that bees shouldn’t involve themselves in litigation against honey companies or worry in general about ownership or worker exploitation or any of those business-labor issues that concern human attorneys. It says that bees should be just be busy, and that they should be content with that.

One of the big Bee Movie problems was a decision not to worry about the believability of inter-species communication through the English language. I didn’t believe it last night and I don’t believe it now. (And I don’t care if Ratatouile had the gourmet rat speak English — I didn’t like that either.) It’s not an agreeably silly idea — it’s seriously moronic. Nor do I believe that the courts would allow a bee to sue the honey companies for stealing honey from bee colonies. Nor do I believe that bees the world over would decide to kick back and become slackers because Barry has been victorious in his lawsuit and therefore forced the honey companies to return all the honey to the hives. Nor do I believe that thousand of bees could lift up the wings of a jumbo jet and help it land at a major New York airport.

I know what you’re thinking — lighten the fuck up, it’s a cartoon movie about bees! But movies like this don’t work unless you can say to yourself, “Yeah, I can roll with that.” I have no problems with a deer being able to talk to a skunk and a rabbit. I have no difficulty with members of an ant colony sounding and reasoning like Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone. But I had huge issues with almost every story element in Bee Movie.

There’s a deeper, more fundamental reason why this thing doesn’t work, though. Seinfeld riffs about everything in the bee world except one huge thing — the fact that worker bees (like his own character, Barry B. Benson) have an average life span of nine to twelve months. Bee Movie is therefore about a character who’ll be shaking hands with the grim reaper fairly soon. It’s The Bucket List without Jack Nicholson or Morgan Freeman acknowledging their cancer. It’s Edmond O’Brien in D.O.A. without his knowing he’s been poisoned. How can anyone identify with a bee who’s going to be dead by next August?

That said, the animation is bright and lively, and Seinfeld and all the the voice actors (Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Patrick Warburton, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson, Larry King, Ray Liotta, Sting, Oprah Winfrey, et. al.) do a fine job of reading their lines.

  • Geoff

    The bee lifespan issue reminded me of A Bug’s Life. If I remember correctly there is a grumpy fly in that film. And I’m not sure, but I also think he acknowledges the fact that he has about a day to live. So there you go, that’s funnier I guess.

    All of your points seem valid but the lifespan thing….eh, big deal. Shit, I mean, I remember nearly crying when I was like 5 and when that brave ant got stabbed by a scorpion trying to protect those damn shrunken kids amidst giant blades of grass.

  • http://fromthefrontrow.blogspot.com Matthew Lucas

    Not having seen “Bee Movie,” I can’t comment on its quality. But regarding the believability issue, was Remy not able to understand the English language when Linguini talked to him in “Ratatouille?” Granted, he couldn’t talk back but he still understood him. And controlling Linguini like a marionette with his hair isn’t “believable” per se, but it works in the world of the movie, and “Ratatouille” is one of the year’s best.

  • p.Vice

    “All it says is …that bees should be just be busy, and that they should be content with that.”

    Oh, that’s it? Just another ho-hum, so-what movie that drills into impressionable minds its themes of not challenging authority, not questioning the world we live in and our place in it, never developing a need for anything beyond the realm of the ordinary, mass-marketed, product-placement world we all know and love, this beautiful planet where narcissism and consumerism march you, hand in jolly hand, right into your blue collar corporate job, your well-manicured suburb, your cutout house, your rapidly aging spouse and your screaming children, and your state of the art coffin, the cost of which ultimately will leave you with a debt to your name and an insurance company that much richer.

    This is the kind of movie that should enrage people — post-Disney fluff in which the utter mediocrity acts as an almost subversive propaganda. Yet Jeffrey’s just bummed that it wasn’t funnier.

    Still, a good Seinfeld beatdown always manages to cheer me up. Way to go T.E.A.M.

  • http://www.alonsoduralde.com MoroccoMole

    You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. The movie’s internal logic is so utterly M.I.A. that it’s difficult to give a tinker’s damn about any of it.

  • D.Z.

    Antz came out in ’99. And I’m kind of surprised you haven’t brought up the issue of those disappearing bees…

  • D.Z.

    Antz came out in ’98. And I’m kind of surprised you haven’t brought up the issue of those disappearing bees…

  • Mgmax

    “He and [buncha people] basically sat around and cooked up two or three hundred clever lines and jokes”

    I think that’s been true with all of Dreamworks’ animated films, actually. Shrek being the quintessential example, although at least it has a reasonably interesting and novel main character. But basically they built “Fairy Movie” around them, a procession of gags. That’s a long way from how Pixar found real emotion and a metaphor for the rivalry between parents and the inevitability of your child moving beyond you in Toy Story, or a sharp satire about political correctness in The Incredibles; and even further from how Walt tapped into the most primal childhood emotions in Bambi or Pinocchio.

  • francinefishpaw

    Seinfeld is irrelevant. Doesn’t he know that? I can’t stand people who are so self-absorbed that they have no idea their time is all up. He was never that funny in the first place and the trailers for this flick are absolute shithouse.

  • Chicago48

    Seinfeld is in reruns and whenever I tune in, which isn’t often, I just don’t get it. It’s about these friends in NY who get into situations and try to help each other out of those situations…is that it? And there’s something about Jerry Seinfeld….he’s funny to a point, but he has an attitude that says “I’m so funny and I know I’m funny and I’m so rich and I know I’m rich” and you just don’t feel that he NEEDS TO WORK AT ALL.
    Other comedians are working the crowd really hard, but Jerry just sits back, like George Burns or Jack Benny and expects everybody to get it…this movie just doesn’t interest me at all…I’m going to see American Gangster….but then again, I’m not a child who will drag my parents into the movies.

  • Rothchild

    It’s 1000 times better than Fred Claus.

  • Rothchild

    Geoff:

    Me too, buddy.

  • christian

    Typically these films are about the lone sole fighting the system and winning, but around that is the incessant consumerism and mixed messages of conformity.

  • http://screenrant.com ScreenRant.com

    Haven’t seen the movie yet but I have to admit that the commercials and trailer didn’t even bring the slightest grin to my face… and I’m a HUGE Pixar fan.

    Vic

  • T. S. Idiot

    Is that just a very good photo of Renee, or has the girl had a tuneup? Watch that hand, Seinfeld.

  • Spicer

    Watching the post-“Seinfeld” output of Jerry and Larry David it seems pretty clear who the brain behind “Seinfeld” was. I would really like to see an animate movie from Larry David.

  • Jean

    Spicer nailed it on the head: Larry David was the true guiding hand behind Seinfeld. I hear Seinfeld’s a dick in person; arrogance is only acceptable if you have the talent to back it up – I sorry, but Seinfeld doesn’t have THAT much talent…

  • bents75

    “Seinfeld is in reruns and whenever I tune in, which isn’t often, I just don’t get it. It’s about these friends in NY who get into situations and try to help each other out of those situations…is that it?”

    Are you serious Chicago48?

    Yeah, that’s it, that’s why it’s called a “sitcom.” As in, a situational comedy. That’s the whole point.

    I won’t make any effort to defend the Bee movie, I’ve seen enough animated films about insects now to last me a lifetime. But anyone who is going to talk smack on the show Seinfeld is f***ed in the head. It was, is, and will likely remain one of, if not the, smartest “sitcoms” ever devised.

  • bord

    very good ralph lauren polo is very cheep
    our polo ralph Lauren is Good quality
    cheap ralph Lauren is very good
    classic polo shirts is very Comfortable
    Beautiful ralph lauren online on sale

    boots chaussures nike is Good quality
    classic nike air max is very Comfortable
    very classic air max is very good
    very cardy nike tn is very Beautiful
    very good nike shox is very cheep

    cheap Ed Hardy is very good
    very good Ed Hardy UK is very cheep
    our Ed Hardy Clothing is Good quality

    cheap Ed Hardy is very good
    very good Ed Hardy UK is very cheep
    our Ed Hardy Clothing is Good quality

    Beautiful abercrombie on sale
    good abercrombie and fitch is online shop
    for sale abercrombie and fitch clothing good quality
    boots abercrombie & fitch clothing is Good quality
    classic abercrombie fitch is very Comfortable
    very classic fitch clothing is very good
    very cardy abercrombie and fitch sale is very Beautiful
    very good abercrombie sale is very cheep
    boots abercrombie clothing is Good quality
    classic abercrombie and fitch uk is very Comfortable

    very classic christian louboutin is very good
    very cardy christian louboutin sale uk is very Beautiful
    Beautiful discount louboutins on sale
    good cheap louboutin store is online shop
    for sale louboutin uk good quality
    boots christian louboutin uk is Good quality

    Beautiful abercrombie on sale
    good abercrombie and fitch is online shop
    for sale abercrombie and fitch clothing good quality
    boots abercrombie & fitch clothing is Good quality
    classic abercrombie fitch is very Comfortable
    very classic fitch clothing is very good
    very cardy abercrombie and fitch sale is very Beautiful
    very good abercrombie sale is very cheep
    boots abercrombie clothing is Good quality
    classic abercrombie and fitch uk is very Comfortable

    Beautiful moncler jackets on sale
    good moncler is online shop
    for sale moncler coats good quality

    boots UGG Boots UK is Good quality
    classic ugg boots sale is very Comfortable
    very classic cheap ugg boots is very good
    very cardy ugg boots is very Beautiful

    boots UGG Boots UK is Good quality
    classic ugg boots sale is very Comfortable
    very classic cheap ugg boots is very good
    very cardy ugg boots is very Beautiful