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Bee Movie ***½

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Rossiter Drake*

His days of sitcom supremacy behind him, Seinfeld returns as a busy bee in the Big Apple.

(Courtesy of SFStation.com)

Starring: The voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Chris Rock, John Goodman, Kathy Bates. Rated PG.

Like a lot of films putatively intended for children, Bee Movie might seem as ambivalent about its identity as its conflicted protagonist, Barry B. Benson. Barry is voiced by Jerry Seinfeld, who also served as the film’s primary screenwriter and has created here a children’s story boasting the kind of good-hearted sentiment his peerless sitcom so defiantly lacked. Even so, adults shouldn’t be disappointed. Barry’s tale, about a bee who is asked to forsake his freedom for a drone-like existence, has wit enough to appeal to all ages.

Like Z, the Antz character voiced by another famously neurotic standup, Woody Allen, Barry isn’t ready to accept a lifetime of servitude, even if tradition dictates it. Rather than buzzing his life away in the hive, where no worker bee has enjoyed a vacation day in 27 million years, he ventures into the big city. It is there that he befriends Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), a sympathetic florist who introduces him to coffee, TiVo and pound cake. Then she makes the mistake of taking him to the supermarket.

Once there, Barry is horrified to discover that humans have turned honey into a cottage industry. Enraged, he files suit, at which point Bee Movie briefly gravitates toward satirizing lawyers and the system in which they thrive. A strange choice for a kids’ movie, perhaps, but it pays off.

There is an inspired courtroom scene in which celebrity defendants are forced to defend their casual exploitation of bees – Sting, for obvious reasons, and a characteristically short-fused Ray Liotta, who markets his own brand of mass-produced honey when he’s not ratting out fellow goodfellas. It is a sequence driven by sophisticated humor worthy of Seinfeld, though whether that will appeal to viewers 10 and under is anyone’s guess.

Ultimately, it should. Bee Movie is, at its core, a coming-of-age tale about finding independence and love – even in places as strange and overwhelming as New York City – and it is a joyous experience. It is visually daring as it veers between Barry’s elaborately rendered hive and the fertile pastures of Central Park, though it is not as single-mindedly concerned with technical detail as DreamWorks Animation’s meal ticket, Shrek the Third.

And that's fine. Bee Movie is smarter, funnier and conceived with greater emotional depth, even if its comic subtext is geared more toward mature audiences. After all, someone has to take those kids to the multiplex. 

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