My opinion right after watching film
My opinion right after watching the film is that it is a bit underrated. Sure, it is a bit predictable, but so is Toy Story, and no one complains about that. Pixar is genius with how they set up atmosphere and setting, which always benefits its characters. Its characters could have been better developed, but with a well-done story, and a family-friendly sense of humor, it is hard to hate the film.
When Toy Story was finishing up in mid 1994, John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft; the head story team for Pixar, met up for lunch to discuss ideas for the next film they wanted to do. This lunch draft meeting is where this film, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo were conceived. They wanted to use this as somewhat of an adaption of The Grasshopper and the Ants, and while they were showing an early draft of Toy Story to Disney in 1995, they approved the idea, and production on the film really took off.
There was an issue with the story in regards to the circus bugs, who were initially in the film to con the ants, but when the grasshopper decided to take the food from the ants, that they would stay and help the ants. It was not really believable that the circus bugs would go through such a rash personality change, so they changed the premise of the circus bugs to what we know them as today.
I could spend a lot of this section talking about how Katzenberg may or may not have stolen the idea for Antz from A Bug’s Life, but I do not feel like it because it is redundant, and I am not in the mood to start a war of the topic in the comments. It became a public feud while both films were in production, and nothing about any of the accusations have been confirmed.
The story starts with a colony of ants collecting food at the cried creek that they reside in. Their queen-in-training Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who is a worryrat, and gets paranoid over every single detail. Her mother (Phyllis Diller) tells her to calm down, and consistently reassures her daughter. Once again, this first scene sets the perfect atmosphere for the ants, how they interact with one another, and how they live. The loner and inventor named Flik (Dave Foley) ends up cutting a grain stock that falls on Atta, who is less than thrilled. No one in the tribe likes Flik’s inventions, and his weird and overbearing personality. The only person who likes Flik is Atta’s little sister Dott (Hayden Panettiere).
Flik returns, and his machine causes all of the food stock to fall into the stream, so when the grasshoppers led by Hopper (Kevin Spacey) arrive, they lose their mind, threaten the ants, and tell them that they will need to double their stock for them when they return in the fall.
We are then taken to a circus act, who is……. by all means……. a piece of trash in regards to their performance act. Their greedy and pathetic ringmaster P.T. Flea (John Ratzenberger) makes it even worse when he lights up the circus, and everything gets out of control. The crew are soon fired, and go to a bar to make themselves feel better. Flik goes to a city (which is really a bunch of trash under a trailer, but it is neat how it is all set up), and ends up bumping into a circus crew, who is about to get into a bar brawl. He ends up speaking to them about his dilemma, and they accept, thinking it is another gig.
The colony is struggling with many ants passing out on the job, shocked when Flik returns, and with the people he promised as well. This is not the best for them, since Flik was not supposed to come back. Soon enough, the bugs come to the realization of what the ants expect of them, and everything starts to blow over.
Dott and Francis the ladybug (Denis Leary) end up being chased by a bird, and stuck in a crack, which results in the bugs saving them as the other ants watch. Everyone starts to prepare for this fake birds, and everyone grows close within the next few months. The circus act wants to remain at the colony even after the fall, and Atta starts to get pretty close to Flik to the point of having a crush. It is a bit convenient, but it is not much of an issue, and it is very easy to gloss over.
Meanwhile, the grasshoppers are residing in a sombrero, where there is more than enough food, and they are all having a brilliant time. Hopper tells them that they are going back to the ant colony to get their food, and his brother Molt (Richard Kind) tells him that they don’t have to go back. Hopper loses his mind over this, because he tells them that it is not about food, but about power and keeping the ants in line, since they outnumber the grasshoppers, and could turn on them if it is realized.
So you can guess the rest of the film from here. Grasshoppers show up, Flik is convinced to return by Dott (who snuck to leave with them), he stands up to Grasshopper, everyone sides with him, there is an epic battle for a climax, so on and so forth. The plan with the bird almost works until the stupid ringleader wants attention, and decides to light it on fire. The Grasshoppers get some hope until a real bird decides to eat Hopper to death. The circus bugs are making their rounds of goodbyes to all of the ants while Heimlech (Joe Ranft) turns into a butterfly, with the intention of returning to the tribe the following summer. Atta becomes queen, with Dott next in line to the throne, and it is easy to assume that Flik is dating Atta.
What I will say about these characters is that as a group, they are great, and pretty brilliant. When you look at them individually, there is some work that can easily be done to make the film better.
I simply do not feel like talking about anyone else individually because they have too little of a role, and there is too many people. All of them have their little quirks that add some humor, but that is really it, and nothing to expand on individually.
What I will say about the animation is that you can tell the company improved a lot in the 3 year time-span between the films. There ate still some slight texture issues, but overall, the insects look (for the most part) like insects, though I do notice that some parts of the backgrounds have been tweaked to make the atmosphere look a bit more appealing. Blockiness is not really an issue in this film.
The music in this film is very similar to the one in its predecessor, and that is because Randy Newman tends to have a very distinct style when he creates music for a film. Very melodic, relaxing, some slight jazzy themes to it. The score is pretty strong.
Reception at Release
When the film was released on November 25th, 1998, it made $162 million domestically, and made $200 million overseas, with a worldwide total of $363.3 million. It outgrossed Antz, all of its animated counterparts for the year (including Mulan), and made roughly the same amount as its predecessor, continuing Pixar’s success, and the company not being a one film success story.
It was well-received critically, though there were naturally comparisons to Antz, since it was released almost two months beforehand. People liked the comedy, adventure, characters, the belief of “what ifs” in regard to non-human objects or beings, and how they tell the story. Many people liked Toy Story more, but it is by no means a shot against the film.
Like Toy Story, the film was nominated for countless awards, and won a lot of awards. It won countless awards for Best Animated Feature (though Iron Giant beat it for the award at the Annies), and won some other awards that included editing, sound, and stuff like that.
In regards to its reception today, it is quite weak. Pixar has grown exceptionally since the release of this film, and most of their product has been better as well, so it is not shocking to find out that this film is often forgotten, and seen as one of the weaker Pixar films (though most do not see it as the weakest). It is one of the few Pixar films that does not have a sequel that has been released or currently in production. Many compare it to Antz, but otherwise, not many people talk much about A Bug’s Life, though it is not looked at negatively.
= 30.5/40 = 76%
15 thoughts on “Pixar Animation Studios review: A Bug’s Life”
Good review and like you said, it is underrated. Although, I don’t think it’s THAT underrated. I like it.
It really isn’t that underrated. Just a little bit. Thanks.
Even though A Bug’s Life may not be one of Pixar’s best films, it has something that most Pixar films don’t have and that is a great and memorable villain. Pixar may make great films, but just like Walt Disney Animation Studios and Dreamworks Animation, Pixar does have their own weaknesses and one of them is the inability to create really outstanding villains. In most Pixar fims the villains are often the least interesting characters.
I definitely agree that Pixar generally has weaker villains. A part of this might have to do with the fact that they do not like black-and white villains, or scenarios involving villains. Hopper is one of the better villains for sure, and I cannot remember many of the villains from Pixar.