"Bee Movie" is charmingly animated with bright colors, soft edges, and an overall style that reminds of an ultra-advanced CGI version of a "Looney Tunes" episode. The plot is not quite as appealing, a less innovative "Happy Feet
" where a schmaltzy environment-friendly message takes precedence over all else, including the chance for veritable entertainment value. During a sizable stretch in the second half, the film goes from lightly amiable to downright monotonous. Thank goodness for the finale's glorious Sheryl Crow cover of The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun." If nothing else, this ends things on a higher note than what has preceded it.
In the Central Park hive where they reside, Barry B. Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld) and best friend Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick) are bumblebees fresh out of college and preparing to choose the one and only profession they will carry out for the remainder of their lives. Yearning to get out into the world and experience more of what it has to offer, Barry journeys into New York City and forms an unlikely bond with Vanessa (a delightful Renee Zellweger), a human florist who at first thinks she is dreaming when Barry speaks to her. Soon, they have become fast friends, and when Barry discovers to his dismay that honey is being commercially packaged and sold worldwide, Vanessa agrees to help him sue. What neither Barry nor Vanessa anticipate is that the verdict to the case may pose a dramatic threat to the planet's complex ecosystem.
Directed by Steve Hickner (1998's "The Prince of Egypt
") and Simon J. Smith, "Bee Movie" liberally borrows from 1998's "Antz," which also depicted an insect exploring the above-ground world of Manhattan; 2004's "Shark Tale
," which, too, spoofed a pop-culture-laden alternate world inhabited by the title animal; and, of all things, 1980's "Airplane!" which culminated in the two lead characters being forced to land an aircraft after the pilots pass out and the preprogrammed autopilot stops working. As it turns out, the one novel aspect "Bee Movie" has going for it is also rather depressing and problematic. From the first moments, it is established that a bee's life is short, and so their education equates to nine daysthree each for elementary school, high school and college. By this logic, they will be dead in a few more weeks' time, which severely puts a damper on the feel-good ending between Barry and Vanessa. Why bring up this sobering information to begin with if it is so clumsily going to get pushed to the wayside in the end, anyway?
As a family comedy, "Bee Movie" is limper than one would expect from a handful of screenwriters (Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder and Andy Robin) who cut their teeth working on "Seinfeld." The humor is far from cutting-edge, even under the constraints of a PG ratinga bee version of "Larry King Live," har, har!and the pretentious morality plot overshadows what undemanding fun could have been soaked out of the conceit of a heroic bee-centric tale. Meanwhile, the friendship between Barry and Vanessa is sweet and kind of enchanting when it is just the two of them onscreen talking to each other. This is the high point of "Bee Movie," along with the likeability factor built up for an insect protagonist who in real life is intolerable.
Alas, every time "Bee Movie" finds its footing, it tends to lose its grasp directly afterwards. Thus, the somewhat clever opening guided tour of Honex, the subsequent exhilarating flying sequence through New York City, and the initial linking of Barry and Vanessa are in extreme contrast with the interminable courtroom scenes, the chaotic and overlong airplane climax, and yet another dreary subplot revolving around Vanessa's lunkheaded, bee-hating beau Ken (Patrick Warburton). Ultimately, "Bee Movie" is a snazzy-looking mixed bag. Kids will be diverted, adults will tolerate it, and all involved will be expecting something more imaginative than what Jerry Seinfeld has whittled together.