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