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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bee Movie

I’ve always loved bees. I don’t know why. I suppose it’s because I admire anything with the chutzpah to wear horizontal stripes in yellow and black and not care if it makes them look fat. At least I’m assuming they don’t care since they all do it. I’ve never actually talked to a bee. The thing about bees, though, is that when it comes to the movies, they’ve always gotten the short end of the stinger, so to speak. The Deadly Bees, Killer Bees!, The Savage Bees; it’s like nobody in Hollywood has ever had anything nice to say about the little guys, and why? Okay, so they’ll sting you if you scare them, but they make a much bigger commitment than you do in a fight. You might end up with a little bump and a burning itch for a day or two (unless you are one of those rare few who are allergic to their venom), but you’ve driven the poor bee all suicidal bomber in the process of swatting at him and he’ll rip out his innards to keep you away. He dies and you feel so smugly superior. Shame on you!

If that’s not enough, all the Puritan blood that runs deep through our culture has also saddled the poor bee with one more stigma it shouldn’t have to bear. We drag the poor little guys into our
refusal to talk to our kids about sex by calling it “the birds and the bees.” What the heck have birds and bees ever done to us except pollinate flowers and carry seeds where they need to go. Yeah I know the birds crap all over your newly-washed car, but let’s stick with the bees, okay? They’re cute and they hum.

It took someone as famous as Jerry Seinfeld to come to the bees’ defense, and it’s about time. I know you’re waiting, so I won’t keep you in suspense and longer. The obvious question is: “To Bee or not to Bee?” and the answer should come as no surprise that, yes, you should definitely “Bee.” By that, of course, I mean you should buzz on down to the
Essex Cinemas and check out Bee Movie, which is not really a B-movie at all, but a solid A. Then again would you expect any less from Jerry Seinfeld?

Who didn’t like “Seinfeld”, his self-named series that ran on NBC for nine years, from 1989 until
1998? Supposedly, it gave us a quasi-realistic glimpse into the life of comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his somewhat eccentric friends whose lives went nowhere. Now, after four years of work, a budget of over $150 million, and dozens of top-notch animators from DreamWorks Studios, Jerry and co-writers Spike Feresten and Andy Robin (from the old “Seinfeld” series), along with newcomer Barry Marder have created a honey of a story about a bee named Barry whose life is going nowhere and whose friends are all somewhat eccentric.

Bee Movie is a sharp comedy, but it manages to land its jokes without stinging insults or double éntendré meanings snuck in to entertain adults while the kids remain clueless. Instead, Seinfeld and company have written a story clever enough that adults will become engaged without the need for gratuitous content. The 90 minutes fly by in no time and the grown-ups will enjoy matching the characters in the film to the voices of the very famous friends Jerry has recruited to be a part of this endeavor.

Bee Movie truly is a star-studded feature, even if you don’t actually see your stars, but only hear them. In the main role is Seinfeld himself as Barry B. Benson, who is graduating after his nine day education, and must now make a decision, along with best pal Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick; Deck the Halls), as to what he wants to do for the rest of his life. As he has recently realized, he is at that point when he must pick the one job that he will do every day until he dies (as a guide for the Honex Corporation gleefully explains to the new graduates while they tour the facility).

The Honex Corporation is that industrial plant within the hive responsible for the making of honey, which, of course, is what all of the bees work at in some capacity. The graduates tour Honex in rolling multi-seat observation cars similar to those used at Epcot Center to move large numbers of people from exhibit to exhibit. This provides them (and the audience) a wonderful view of the panorama of complex organization and advanced civilization living in this single beehive. It looks like a trip to Oz, but instead of an overdose of green everywhere, the bees have naturally settled on decorating in a shade of golden honey.

What Barry finds are a lot of jobs posted on an ever-changing board (hey, the life expectancy of bees isn’t all that, you know) which include everything from Reguritater to Fuzz Shaver. Barry’s dad Martin (producer/director Barry Levinson; Man of the Year), and his mother Janet (Kathy Bates; Fred Claus), want Barry to follow in Martin’s footsteps and become a Stirrer. Dad’s even gotten him a new pair of spoons to stir the honey with day after day after day. What fun! But, alas, as much as Barry loves his parents, his heart isn’t into stirring honey for the rest of his days.
So Barry does the unthinkable. He doesn’t sign-up for a job. He becomes a slacker and roams th
e hive looking for something better to do than stir. It’s during one of these forays that he meets the Pollen Jocks, those pilot bees that fly outside of the hive to gather the necessary ingredients to make honey while pollinating the flowers around their flight path. In no time, Barry gets himself outside and into the adventure of a lifetime where he meets and falls in like with an understanding florist named, appropriately, Vanessa Bloome (Renée Zellweger; Miss Potter). He also encounters a plethora of characters featuring those amazing celebrity voices, including Chris Rock, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton, Ray Liotta, Sting, Rip Torn, Megan Mullally and even Oprah Winfrey.

The story in the outside world is a totally over-the-top saga that is strictly the stuff of fairy tales as Barry ends up suing the human race for stealing and selling bees’ honey and enslaving them across the world. This is played for hysterical, if stereotypical, laughs as Goodman throws himself into the role of “Good Ol’ Boy” Southern defendant representing the largest honey companies in the US. He flounces about shamelessly and is funny as hell, even though he is every bit an insult to white southerners as a Stepin Fetchit character would be to blacks. I’m surprised there haven’t been groups wailing about this in the media already. There seems to be people howling about everything else.

There is one “teachable moment” as the movie bogs down for a few minutes in the last third when we get fed a lesson on the eco-structure, which I’m not sure younger kids are going to understand or care about. Other than that digression though,
Bee Movie is pure fun from start to finish. It’s a honey of a movie to take your Honey to, and you don’t have to bee a WASP to enjoy it.

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