Directed by Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith. Voices by Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson, Oprah Winfrey, Rip Torn, Larry King. (2007, PG, 90 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Nov. 2, 2007
In his first major film venture and his largest-scale project since the conclusion of his watershed TV show in 1998, Seinfeld has made an animated movie that's only little more than "about nothing." Granted, his TV show remains such an indelible cultural landmark that no matter what Seinfeld chose to undertake as his next move, the comedian was always going to find himself in the position of being a tough act to follow. Bee Movie (which Seinfeld produced, co-wrote, and stars in) is a respectable follow-up – an agreeable though tame animated picture that more than does the trick but is unlikely to become a super buzz flick. When turning his persona into an animated creature, it's curious that this comic selected, as did Woody Allen with Antz, a colonized insect whose driving impulse is to break away from the monotony of the pack. Seinfeld plays Barry B. Benson, a bee who, having just graduated from college (with "perfect grades – all Bs"), must choose a career. The opening segments of the movie which introduce us to the well-ordered life of the hive contain some of the film's most imaginative moments. Yet, visually, Bee Movie never fully capitalizes on the reality-bending possibilities of the animated form, settling more for some basic gags about things like the use of antennae as phone receptors and occasional references to meta-movie things like the pool scene from The Graduate and John Travolta's aviation skills. The film's dominant color palette is a Simpsony yellow, and the story zips along at a fast clip so that the nifty and not-so-nifty moments are swept along in its current. Bee Movie works best when it sticks to the insect world; when Barry leaves the hive with the Pollen Jocks and breaks the cardinal rule of beedom by speaking to humans, the film becomes more earthbound and prosaic. Barry develops a crush on the wasp-waisted human florist (Zellweger), who saves his life and helps him mount a lawsuit against the human race for stealing the bees' honey. Unfortunately, in animated movies as in live-action movies, courtroom sequences can be plodding affairs. Even with the vocal aid of Broderick as his attorney, Goodman as the Southern windbag lawyer for the defense, and Winfrey as the presiding judge, the courtroom shenanigans devolve into silly he said/bee said arguments. Although Barry winds up winning the case, the overall consequences result in the unforeseen upending of the ecological balance of the universe. Without leaning too heavily on the message, Bee Movie makes a good case for equanimity among the creatures of the earth (or at least New York City, because it seems you can take Seinfeld away from television, but you can't get him to leave Manhattan). No nectar of the gods this, but we can still be thankful that Bee Movie is a sweet morsel that's devoid of any jokes about bee farts and poop.