Sadly, Bee Movie is a forgettable entry in the genre of animated transformations of creatures we normally find irritating into endearing friends of humans.
Co-written and co-produced by comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Bee Movie is the story of Barry B. Benson (voiced by Seinfeld), a recent college graduate who finds mildly appalling the notion that he should now spend the rest of his life mired in a single job in his hive. Barry manages to escape from the hive, befriend a human, and turn the hierarchy of being upside down by bringing a suit against human beings for stealing honey from bees and for hijacking and denigrating bee culture. Evidence for the latter claim? Sting.
The film contains the obligatory clichés about nonconformity, individualism, and the value of all living things. But the film does not take these platitudes all that seriously. There’s a funny line in a courtroom scene about “playing the species card.” The film contains a number of funny scenes but its plot is so flimsy and the dialogue so dependent on audience identification with the actors performing the voices, that it runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way through. Sadly, Bee Movie is a forgettable entry in the genre of animated transformations of creatures we normally find irritating into endearing friends of humans.
In the opening, recent graduates Barry and his buddy Adam (Matthew Broderick) are ushered into Honex Corp. where they are introduced to a variety of occupations. They are admonished to choose carefully because they will hold their jobs for their entire lives. Adam finds this inspiring: “we bees have the most perfectly functioning society on earth.” But Barry is unsettled. He exits the hive by mixing in with the pollen jocks, a group of bee storm troopers sent out of the hive to disseminate pollen.
The best visual touches and the only entertaining actions scenes occur at this early point in the film, as Barry and the pollen jocks soar above New York City and enjoy the flora of Central Park. In a delightfully zany sequence, Barry takes an unintended ride on a tennis ball and ends up being passed through the engine of an automobile.
To avoid a sudden rainstorm, Barry enters an apartment, where he is nearly smashed by one of the occupants. At the last second, he is rescued by Vanessa Bloome (Renee Zellweger). Out of gratitude and curiosity, he decides to speak to her. After her initial shock, the two nonconformists quickly bond. Just as he resisted the occupational determinism of the bee world, so she protested against her parents’ wishes that she become a doctor or a lawyer and instead elected to become a florist.
When the bee first begins speaking to his human benefactor, she invites him to have coffee and he launches into a stand-up routine with punch lines that only make sense in the bee world. When she mentions her toe ring, he queries in Seinfeld-style humor, “Why do girls put rings on their toes? Isn’t that like putting a hat on your knee?”
The presence of Seinfeld with his particular brand of comic commentary is the initial strength but finally the undoing of the film. (In the theater where I saw the film, kids never responded to any of the humor with anything more than a fleeting chuckle.) The best dialogue occurs early in the film; a funny exchange on the windshield of a speeding car with a mosquito (Chris Rock), called Mooseblood (Blood, for short), who laments that mosquito girls are always trying to trade up to dragonflies and who enthusiastically trades modes of transportation when he finds a Bloodmobile. As he joins fellow mosquitoes, he asks, “Did you bring your crazy straws?” These scenes are funny largely because the insects are merely vehicles for situation dialogue between Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock. But that’s also the film’s biggest weakness.
In a take-off on The Graduate, Barry’s parents confront him as he floats in a pool. Wanting to escape parental advice, he submerges himself and dreams of his life with Vanessa — all to the soundtrack of a certain Archie’s song. Suspecting that affection for a woman has derailed his pursuit of a career, his mother laments. “I just hope she’s bee-ish.” Mildly funny, at least for adults. As the plot becomes more feverish, Seinfeld sounds less like the deadpan Barry and more like Jerry in the Seinfeld episode in which he channels the manic Kramer — endurable in small doses but hardly the basis for an animated film intended for kids.