Walt Disney Pictures / Pixar Animation Studios (November 25, 1998), Walt Disney Home Entertainment (May 27, 2003), 2 disc set, 95 mins plus supplements, 2.35:1 original widescreen ratio and 1.33:1 full screen ratio (reframed for home video), Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, Rated G, Retail: $29.99



A Bug’s Life begins with a spectacular shot of large tree on an island in the middle of a river bed. There, ants are busy harvesting grains and piling them up on a big leaf on top of an altar. One of the royals of the colony, Princess Atta, is nervously overseeing the process as she tries to learn what it takes to be a queen from her mother. Nearby, Flik, another ant and the hero of our story, is trying a new machine that will speed up the harvesting process, but is reprimanded for trying to do things differently. At the sound of an approaching horde of grasshoppers, the ants hurry underground. Flik, still trying to use his new contraption to put grains on top of the altar is struggling to get it to work before the grasshoppers arrive. Unfortunately for Flik and the rest of the colony, his machine knocks down the altar throwing the leaf and all of the grain into the stream. The grasshoppers arrive and break into the ant hill threatening to destroy the colony if by their return at the end of the season when the last leaf falls they don’t get double the amount of offerings. As Flik awaits his punishment, and realizing the injustice of the grasshopper’s demands, he gets the dangerous idea of finding bigger bugs to fight the grasshoppers. In order to get rid of Flik, the colony sends him out on this suicide mission to find these bugs and bring them back to the colony.


Meanwhile, in the city, a group of circus bugs are performing their act to a near-empty audience. The group is made up of a trapeze black widow spider named Rosie, a clown stick insect named Slim, a Bavarian caterpillar named Heimlich, a male ladybug named Francis, a magician praying mantis named Manny, a gypsy moth named Gypsy, two foreign pill bugs named Tuck and Roll, and a large horned beetle named Dim. When one of their acts gets dangerously out of hand, their employer, P.T. Flea, fires them. It’s at a bar when they get into a fight with a couple of feisty flies that Flik finds them and hires them for his colony, and they gladly accept. While the bugs think that they are being hired to entertain the colony, Flik believes that they are warriors that will fight against the grasshoppers.


Once they arrive back at the colony, they are greeted by cheers and wonder by the ants who didn’t think that Flik would ever return alive. The bugs proclaim that they will give the grasshoppers a night they will never forget and that they will knock them dead. A feast is thrown for the brave “warriors” when they find out that they have actually been hired to fight against then grasshoppers, when they thought they had to entertain them. To save his own face, Flik tells the bugs to pretend to be warriors, while he figures out a way to save the colony. As time passes, Flik gets romantically closer to Princess Atta, and the bugs become integrated into a community that admires them and gives them everything that they have ever wanted: applause. All of this happens as the grasshoppers are getting ready to return to the colony to teach the ants a lesson about not respecting the grasshoppers as superior species.

The Sweatbox Review:

By 1998, Pixar had become famous for the worldwide success of their first feature, Toy Story, which had become the first fully computer-animated feature to be released in theatres. The company had grown in their success and had already been working on their second feature about an ant colony, a project that was originally referred to as simply “Bugs.” The movie about a grasshopper-threatened ant colony whose only hope lies in a group of misfit circus bugs, went through several versions before hitting theatres in the fall of 1998. When it finally came out, critics and audiences fell in love with the movie. While it was generally regarded to be inferior to Toy Story in many ways, critics recognized it as a great movie, and it is still considered a great movie today. Despite another movie featuring computer-animated ants coming out just a few months prior to its release (DreamWorks’ Antz), the movie became a box-office hit grossing about 160 million dollars domestically.


The talented group of individuals at Pixar included directors John Lasseter (Toy Story) and Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo). The movie also featured a talented and funny cast including Dave Foley as the misfit, but ingenious ant, Flik, who gets the idea of hiring bugs to save the ant colony from the evil grasshoppers. For the role of Princess Atta they hired Seinfeld actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and for the villainous grasshopper Hopper, they hired Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey. Rounding out the rest of the talented cast were Phyllis Diller (as the Queen), Bonnie Hunt (Rosie the black widow spider), David Hyde Pierce (a stick insect named Slim), Hayden Panettiere (Princess Dot), Richard Kind (the grasshopper Molt), Joe Ranft (Heimlich the caterpillar), Madeline Kahn (the gypsy moth Gypsy), Dennis Leary (Francis the ladybug), Jonathan Harris (Manny the praying mantis), and John Ratzenberger (P.T. Flea, the circus owner). It also featured music by Academy Award winner Randy Newman


For its first DVD release, Pixar gave A Bug’s Life its best treatment and after making the first computer-animated feature film, they continued to push the envelope by creating the world’s first DVD created directly from the digital source. They also did their best to preserve the filmmaker’s original intent by specially reframing the movie to fit full screen (4:3 ratio) televisions. The collector’s edition was an incredible, or, as director Stanton called it, “a super genius”, two-disc edition with an in-depth look at the behind the scenes of the movie. The set was re-issued with new packaging just in time for the theatrical release of Pixar’s Finding Nemo, and on the trails of Toy Story 1 and 2 returning to the vault. The result, like the first time, really was a super-genius edition of a good story.


There are some truly spectacular and breathtaking animated sequences in this movie. The creators have managed to create a lush and colorful world for the ants. To find inspiration for the movie, they built a “bug” camera and filmed the world through a bug’s point of view. To their surprise, the result was a world of translucent leaves and flowers that gave the world a more colorful look and feel. The first sequence when we zoom in to the tree is intricately designed as we see the world in greater detail as we get closer. There is some improvement over the animation found in Toy Story in terms of the texture of the characters where many characters had a rubbery-looking complexion (granted most of them were toys). While some characters, particularly the ants, still have that rubbery look, there is some improvement such as in the grasshoppers that have a crab-like shell that looks perfect. The animators also tackled new special effects shots such as extensive fire and rain sequences, with great results. In short, the movie is beautiful.


The story is solid with many great lessons in it about working together, believing in, and standing up for one’s self. The story is tightly knit with no plot holes and great pacing. Like other great Pixar films, it has just the right amounts of humorous, dramatic, and endearing moments that should please viewers. Those who enjoy trivia will enjoy picking up on different animation trivia throughout the movie, such as the name of P.T. Flea’s cart as well as the location of the bug city. For those that know Pixar movies, they will also know that John Ratzenberger, who has appeared in every Pixar movie to date, lends his voice to the circus owner. Also, make sure that you stay for the credits of the movie since the first set of outtakes from the movie is attached to it. This was the first Pixar movie to feature outtakes and it became such a success that Pixar attached a second group of outtakes during the film’s theatrical run. The full set of outtakes can also be found on the second disc.


Is This Thing Loaded?

The second (bonus) disc begins with an introduction for the “super genius” edition by Lasseter, Stanton, and the two producers of the movie. From there, the main menu takes you into the different parts of the making of the movie. There are special sections for “Pre-Production”, “Production”, “Sound Design”, and “Release.”


The Pre-Production area of the DVD features Fleabie Reel, Story and Editorial, Research, and Design sections. The Fleabie Reel is a short film that outlined the idea behind A Bug’s Life for Disney. This is a cute little comedic documentary-styled film that features a small puppet named “Fleabie” that follows Lasseter and the rest as they talk about bugs. The Story and Editorial section features the original treatment of the story using storyboards. There is also the storyboard pitch, where they use a storyboard to explain the storyboard process. Lasseter and Stanton also narrate this part and show a storyboard pitch by one of the artists, as well as the final product. There is also a Storyboard to Film Comparison for the Dot’s Rescue sequence. Here you will also find the Abandoned Sequences including the original opening for the story, as well as an additional scene in P.T. Flea’s office. Both of these are done by using storyboards for the sequences. For the Research section of this area, the directors talk about the findings of their research and they show the footage they filmed with the bug camera. Finally, in the Design section, you will find individual character, location, concept art, and color script designs. Note that all of these sections have short introductions by Lasseter and Stanton, as well as some other people involved in the making of the film.


The Production area features a short Behind the Scenes of A Bug’s Life (3:30), which actually is very disappointing, a featurette about the voice casting (4:15), early test footage (5:28), and an animation progression demonstration. The animation progression demonstration goes from the very early stages of story reels, to layouts, to the animation, ending up with the shaders and lighting. The sequence they choose to show is the Flaming Death sequence. It’s really interesting to see how the sequence progressed, and I recommend this feature to anyone. You can actually just use the angle button on your remote to flip back and forth between the different stages of the sequence.


The Sound Design area features a thirteen minute featurette on the different sounds used in the movie. There are plenty of bug noises used in the movie, but many of those sounds were made by non-living objects. These range from plastic straws to helicopters. The sound designer goes through the different characters and demonstrates how he tried to capture that character’s personality by using a different type of noise.


The Release area features information on the theatrical and video releases. In the theatrical release section, you will find posters and ad campaigns, two trailers, and character interviews used as a promotion for the movie. In the video release section, there is a reframing featurette (4:28), where they explain why they had to reframe it and how they did it. There are several examples and it is very educational for people who do not understand what changes from full screen to widescreen. There is also an example reel of different sequences (5:15).


The other special features are the outtakes, the Academy Award winning short Geri’s Game, Finding Nemo: Fishy Facts promotional featurette, and A Bug’s Land Game. In the outtakes section, there is a featurette on the outtakes (3:49) where the filmmakers talk about why they included it and where the idea came from. It includes both the original and alternate set of outtakes that were released a few weeks after the movie came out. Geri’s Game is a very cute movie about an old man playing chess against himself and how he gets carried away with it. Finding Nemo: Fishy Facts is purely a promotional featurette (1:17) for the movie, and it just talks about the character of Bruce the Great White Shark. A Bug’s Land Game is made up of two little games narrated by Heimlich. There are two games. One is in the watermelon patch where Heimlich asks you to mach different watermelon shapes so that he can crawl through it. The other one is a trivia game that enables you to find Francis. Both are short and easy with nothing coming after the end. It will only be entertaining for the smallest children.


Case Study:

When Disney first released A Bug’s Life on DVD, it was released in a double-sized case that gave the feeling of a special, oversized package for collectors. The same approach was used at the time for other Disney releases. However, for the re-release they opted for the narrower two-disc case more common nowadays. The packaging comes with a cardboard slip with a small sticker promoting Finding Nemo. The cover has a metallic sheen and features Princess Atta, Flik, Heimlich, Francis, and Dot peeking out over a leaf. The back comes with a list of bonus features and a picture of Tuck and Roll. An insert gives an overview of the bonus features (not a navigation guide) and a scene list. Overall it is a standard job that does a good job of updating the previous release in a smaller package.

Ink And Paint:

As mentioned above, this was the first DVD created entirely from the digital source, so it naturally has perfect video and sound. The video quality of this release is truly incredible with a perfect image free of dust and hair particles. It is, of course, THX certified. I think it was a great idea to reframe the movie for standard 1.33:1 televisions. They probably felt they needed to do this since the original aspect ratio of the movie is the CinemaScope 2.35:1 widescreen ratio. Lasseter decided to use CinemaScope to show more of the beauty in the world from a different perspective. Both of these versions are found on the first disc and both look great. For the reframing process, the technicians used four different techniques. For many of the sequences, they added backgrounds and animation to fit the screen when the shot needed to be wide. They also restaged some scenes by moving the characters to fit the screen. Of course, they also used panning and cropping. Having the filmmakers themselves aid in the process was a great idea and it kept the original intent of the movie.


Scratch Tracks:

There are a total of five, yes five, different tracks for the film on the first disc. Curiously enough, they are for different versions. There is a 5.1 Surround English track for both the widescreen and fullscreen versions. The widescreen version also features a 2.0 Stereo music-only track and the audio commentary with John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich. The fullscreen version features a 5.1 Surround Effects-Only track, as well as 5.1 French Surround track. English and French subtitles are also available.

Before I get to the commentary track, I have to say that this is one of the best sounding DVDs I have heard in a while. The quality of the sound is near-perfect. It truly is a dynamic soundtrack that fully takes advantage of the surround sound. Randy Newman’s Academy Award-winning score is a great listen, but the one that is truly amazing is the surround effects-only track. It is really fascinating listening to the different sounds used in the movie, and it’s great when they are flying and you feel like they are really in the room, or at least that you’re there with them. The commentary track is also one of the best I have listened to with Lasseter, Stanton, and Unkrich doing a great job of keeping us entertained. They go into depth about the making of the movie, the different actors, and the concepts used in the movie. It is really great to hear from them on how they developed the story.


Final Cut:

This was actually the only Pixar Collector’s Edition that I was holding out on. The previous collector’s edition (almost the same content) was much more expensive and I’m glad that they’ve repackaging this one and lowered the price. The only thing this edition has that the other one did not is the Finding Nemo: Fishy Facts featurette and the game, which really does not add much to this edition. It really is one of the best DVD editions available with amazing sound and image qualities. The special features are just as extensive as they have been on other Pixar DVD releases, and it is top notch. I thought what made the special features so great was that Lasseter personally introduces each section which gave it a personal touch as well as more enjoyable to sit through. A Bug’s Life is actually my least favorite Pixar movie, but what’s really great about that is that they have all been really good. It’s an exciting adventure story with beautiful designs, and memorable characters. It also is a great uplifting tale about rising up to one’s potential and working together.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?