The Films of Pixar: “A Bug’s Life” (1998)

Bug is a klutz. Bug screws up and is sent on a perceived suicide mission to find bugs to help colony defend themselves agains evil grasshoppers. Bug finds what he thinks are warriors. Bug returns to colony and is hailed a hero. Bug finds out that the warriors are actually circus bugs.

In the first paragraph, I’ve summarized the plot of Pixar’s second film, A Bug’s Life, which was made after the success of Toy Story. Toy Story had an interesting concept behind it, the idea of what toys do when we aren’t watching. A Bug’s Life has the premise of a bunch of ants rebelling against evil grasshoppers. Even though Woody was incredibly insecure, he was still likable, while Flik (Dave Foley) isn’t a really likable character. In the early minutes of the film, we see that his ideas are meant to make things easier for the colony, only he makes things harder by destroying the harvest that must be given to Hopper (Kevin Spacey) and his grasshopper colony. He then suggests that rather than trying to get more of a harvest, that it would be a great idea to find bigger bugs to fight Hopper and his posse, which leads him to the big city. There he discovers a ragtag team of circus bugs that includes a male ladybug named Francis (Denis Leary), a stick insect (David Hyde Pierce), a caterpillar that’s an extreme German stereotype (Joe Ranft), a praying mantis (Jonathan Harris), a butterfly (Madeline Kahn), a beetle (Brad Garrett), a Black Widow (Bonnie Hunt) and two Woodlice (Mike McShane). Convinced they are warriors because of a skit they put on in a bar, he decides to bring them back to the colony. There he finds out that the circus performers, who thought he was a talent scout, aren’t actually warriors, but the attention is nice, so let’s keep lying to the Queen (Phyllis Diller) and Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Meanwhile, the grasshoppers dance and sing to “La Cucaracha.”

The problem with A Bug’s Life is that lacks charm to amuse intelligent children and adults. There are jokes that will amuse adults and jokes that will amuse children, but none of them have the same maturity as the ones found in Toy Story or another ant-related CGI film released that year, Antz. What is more aggravating is that the plot drags on for a bit partly because Flik doesn’t ever come across as that engaging of a character. Maybe if the film had been told from the perspective of Princess Atta or even Hopper, it could have been more interesting. It also suffers from the problem of having several characters that seem more like caricatures than characters, including Heimlich the caterpillar, who could be the most annoying character in an animated film if Terk wasn’t in Tarzan.

A Bug’s Life could have been a great follow-up to Toy Story. It features a stellar cast and has great animation, but still trudges along as we set up to the point where the grasshoppers come back for the colony. And when the film gets to its ending, it all happens so quickly that it feels a bit rushed, yet at the same time you find yourself waiting for the plot to wrap up and get to the point where the ants are victorious and the grasshoppers are gone.

Yet somehow A Bug’s Life manages to redeem itself from being the worst film released by Pixar. The benefit of having a terrific group of actors to provide the voices is that they actually play the characters, not themselves. A Bug’s Life isn’t as long as some of Pixar’s other films, which does help prevent the plot from seeming too drawn out. And at the end, it’s satisfying because the good guys triumph thanks to the other ants finally finding their courage. Although this is predicted by Hopper at one point, it still is nice to see that the film doesn’t entirely rely on Flik and the circus bugs to save the colony.

Yes, maybe the ants accepting they no longer have to deal with the status quo is what makes the film somewhat enjoyable. Even in the midst of a movie that seems content to be just another family film, a resolution worth cheering for was still found.

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