Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson, Oprah Winfrey, Chris Rock, Sting, Larry King
Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith
Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder, Andy Robin
After months of Hollywood buzz, Jerry Seinfeld's "Bee Movie" hits theatres this weekend with as much impact as a ladybug on steroids.
As the story goes, Seinfeld was having dinner over at Steven Spielberg's place one evening when a pun about bees and Seinfeld's offhanded comment about a "Bee" movie followed by Spielberg's essential green light.
Hmmmm. Now if you've ever pitched a film idea (I have), you'll immediately be horrified by the simplicity and lunacy of this process.
Apparently, when money talks good ideas walk.
Fast forward to 2007 and, yes, "Bee Movie" has become a reality. "Bee Movie" is co-written by Seinfeld and at least three other guys and is being released by, you guessed it, Spielberg's DreamWorks.
What a tangled hive we weave.
Okay. Okay. I'm mixing metaphors. At least I'm trying to be creative here, which is far more than one can say for "Bee Movie," a cute idea that could have made an utterly darling short but falls woefully short as a 91-minute full-length animated feature film.
"Bee Movie" tells the story of Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld), a recent college graduate (with PERFECT B's!) facing the choosing of a career that will be his job every single day for the rest of his life. All bees, it seems, work in the honey industry for a Wonkish corporation known as Honex. As we learn, in 3-B, every bee does a little job that contributes greatly to the bigger picture. Well, Barry isn't exactly thrilled with this idea of one job for the rest of his life despite a best friend (Matthew Broderick) and parents (Barry Levinson and Kathy Bates) who seem quite thrilled with the idea.
Barry wants more. One day, he tags along with the ace pollinating crew (think "Top Gun" for bees), encounters freedom and, of course, meets a girl, Vanessa (Renee Zellweger). A REAL GIRL.
It's a cardinal rule that bees never talk to humans, but Barry simply must say something after Vanessa saves his life from her not quite as compassionate boyfriend (Patrick Warburton).
Suddenly, the hills are live with the sounds of love...or, wait, is that pollen?
Beyond the inherent creepiness of Vanessa's foray into bumblebee love, directors Steve Hickner ("An American Tail: Fievel Goes West") and Simon Smith ("Far Far Away Idol") simply do nothing with this friendship/relationship or, for that matter, any other of the film's awkwardly unfunny storylines. The directors and screenwriters quickly make a beeline away from this potentially charming story and further dilute "Bee Movie" into a courtroom drama after Barry discovers that humans are harvesting honey (How this has never come to light considering millions of years of ace pollinators who venture daily into society is never explained). Barry, with Vanessa's support, sues humanity and, while the story is rather silly and illogical, Oprah Winfrey (as "The Judge") and John Goodman (as the honey industry's lawyer) do add some life to the festivities.
There's a huge difference, it seems, between building a 30-minute, FREE, don't have to leave the house to see it television show that is about NOTHING and creating a 90-minute, gonna have to leave the house and pay to see it cinematic experience about nothing...what's reasonably appealing, even funny, in 30-minutes is simply pointless and irrelevant after 90-minutes.
The problem is that, unlike the recent "Simpsons Movie," Seinfeld didn't adapt his approach despite approaching an entirely different medium. The end result is that "Bee Movie" feels like "Animated Seinfeld for Kids Except It's Too Verbal for Kids And Too Simple for Adults."
Now then, "Bee Movie" is such a simple, easygoing and gentle film that it's highly unlikely that anyone's going to actually hate the film. I mean, seriously, unless you get stung by a bee while watching "Bee Movie" there's not much to hate here. Even worse than loving or hating "Bee Movie," you're likely to leave the theatre thinking to yourself "That was cute!" or "Not bad."
It's hard to imagine that Seinfeld and Spielberg sat around at the end of filming "Bee Movie" and thought to themselves "We've got ourselves a winner here." Both men, known for intelligence and talent in their respective fields, had to realize that "Bee Movie" simply doesn't stand out in any way from contemporary animated films.
The animation itself? Quite beautiful, actually, with the exception of a remarkably ridiculous airplane sequence near the end of the film that had me wanting to scream at the screen "STOP ALREADY!"
The storyline itself is stunningly simple, as one could expect from such a trivial idea, but somehow manages to never get in focus. The problem, again, is that Seinfeld doesn't adapt his trademark style for this new medium and for a younger audience. The result is likely to be a story too bland for adults and too wordy for the children who would be enchanted by the film's animation.
Perhaps the film's biggest problem is in the casting of Seinfeld himself as Barry B. Benson, a youthful, energetic, immature and yet downright honey of a bee.
At what point in Seinfeld's career has he projected any of these qualities? Seinfeld's humor and acting style is one of dry, insightful, intelligent and observation.
At the risk of sounding like I'm blasting Seinfeld, he simply is miscast here and his voicework constantly sounds like Seinfeld. Barry needed more energy, more enthusiasm and more sincerity than Seinfeld offers. His scenes with Zellweger's Vanessa play more like Jerry's semi-flirty banter with Julia Louis-Dreyfus from "Seinfeld."
It's a shame, really. Zellweger's certainly up for the role of Vanessa, adding to her a nice enthusiasm and sweetness. Likewise, Matthew Broderick immerses himself into Adam, Barry's more traditonal best friend, while Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson are spot-on as Barry's parents.
Chris Rock shows up with a funny, yet too brief, shtick as a mosquito, and both Winfrey and Goodman elicit laughs. Heck, even Larry King, Ray Liotta and Sting show up to make fun of themselves.
It's not that "Bee Movie," Seinfeld's baby, should have been devoid of Seinfeld. It's simply that such a unique, potentially entertaining idea as "Bee Movie" should have had Seinfeld, the creator, at the helm of the entire project. While Seinfeld's hand was certainly on the script, Seinfeld would have been more effective as the director rather than star of "Bee Movie."
As we learn in "Bee Movie," bees actually try not to sting humans. Bee stings are often fatal to the bee, and a bad sting is a waste of a bee's life.
Wouldn't it be interesting if the same were true for actors?
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic