A Bug's Life
A BUG'S LIFE
Directors:John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton
Writers:John Lasseter (original story), Andrew Stanton(original story), and 4 more credits »
Stars:Kevin Spacey, Dave Foley and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
It looks as if ''A Bug's Life,'' from the computer-animation outfit Pixar and some of the personnel behind ''Toy Story,'' is the best ant colony movie of the year. And that's no small distinction, considering the bug-eat-bug movie rivalry under way. Both this and the uncannily similar ''Antz'' are sophisticated, entertaining feats of animation, but ''A Bug's Life'' has the conceptual edge as a clearly defined family film (as opposed to the more verbally adult, yet visually youth-oriented ''Antz''). As directed by John Lasseter, who directed ''Toy Story,'' and Andrew Stanton, who collaborated on the ''Toy Story'' screenplay, ''A Bug's Life'' makes jaunty, imaginative use of both extraordinary technology and bold storytelling possibilities within the insect world.
At first ''A Bug's Life'' looks disappointingly familiar, as one more line of identical insect drones trudges across the screen. ''Antz'' started with the same collective mentality and then invoked bugs with star personalities (Woody Allen in one of his funniest recent performances) to deliver some zest. But this time the ants' story is more coherent on its own terms, so the audience is more caught up in narrative than in all-star individual characters. Also, ''A Bug's Life'' shows off the same shrewd anthropomorphism that gave ''Toy Story'' so much spark.
Though no children's film is without tyrants these days, and the bullies here are towering grasshoppers (with Kevin Spacey nice and threatening as their ringleader), ''A Bug's Life'' is still relatively benign. It concerns a whimsical, daydreamy ant named Flik (with the voice of Dave Foley) who accidentally runs afoul of the grasshoppers. Clinging to a sprig of dandelion fuzz and blowing off into the wind, Flik sets out to find reinforcements who will help defend the ant colony, but he accidentally comes across a bug circus. With these show-biz types, there's a bit of misunderstanding about what ''knock 'em dead'' means.
The circus clowns (with Denis Leary as a macho ladybug, David Hyde Pierce as a stick-shaped bug, Bonnie Hunt as a black widow spider and Madeline Kahn as a butterfly) show off some hilarious teamwork before being reluctantly dragged into the ant colony's troubles. Meanwhile, Phyllis Diller supplies the voice of an ant queen with a flower for a hairdo, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus frets charmingly as the princess who's sweet on Flik. There's no real need to know more than this except that the material combines pastel colors, natural settings and vibrant, comical insects into a spectacle that lots of children ought to find irresistible. The film's message about standing up for freedom is similar to that of ''Antz,'' but it's delivered with less strife and a lighter hand.
''A Bug's Life'' is being shown with Pixar's Academy Award-winning short, ''Geri's Game,'' in which an old man playing chess imagines a doppelganger partner for himself and is then carried away by the excitement of the game. It's a showcase for the incredible range of facial expressions that make this type of animation more and more invitingly lifelike all the time.
Although ''A Bug's Life'' is rated G, it includes big, scary grasshoppers who are sure to get their comeuppance in the end.