I’m a big fan of Jerry Seinfeld and his eponymous sitcom from the 1990’s. And obviously I’m a big fan of animation. So when I heard the two were joining together my first thought was “That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!” Animation, Seinfeld’s humor, and DreamWorks’ propensity for pop culture references – what could be better? Maybe a movie about nothing rather than the jumbled story and flat jokes we get in Bee Movie.

A bee/human relationship is a little too far-fetched.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Bee Movie follows new graduate Barry B. Benson (Get it? “B” and “bee”! Prepare for this joke to rammed down your throat for the next ninety minutes.) as he prepares to join the work force. For bees this is an important time because the job you choose now is the job you do the rest of your life. Barry doesn’t understand why it has to be this way, especially since most of the bee jobs are so dull and monotonous. After a run in with some pollen jocks, specially bred bees who have the most glamorous job and get to actually leave the hive, Barry gets a chance to go on a mission with them. While enjoying the freedom of the outside world, he gets separated from the group and is almost swatted by a mimbo before being saved by the brute’s girlfriend, a friendly florist named Vanessa. Barry develops a crush on Vanessa, discovers humans steal their honey, and yada, yada, yada the film ends.

As I walked out of the theatre eating my left over Jujyfruits, I tried to pin down exactly what overarching problem the movie had that I had trouble putting my finger on. It took some time but it eventually came to me: this was a TV series movie. Instead of one film, this was three episodes of a show spliced together. We have that episode where Barry finally gets to leave the hive and meets a new friend. Then the episode ends and we have a new one where Barry discovers humans steal honey and decides to do something about it. In this new episode the previous episode is hardly mentioned nor do things the audience saw or learned matter anymore – almost like everything was reset. And finally a third stand alone episode, where Barry has to save the bee and human worlds, is shoved together with the other two. I don’t know how much hand Seinfeld had with the writers. But while this is forgivable for a TV series and understandable with a TV movie, there is no reason for it other than lazy writing on a big screen feature. (BTW – I am aware that a lot of films use a three act format. What I am describing is much more pronounced.)

Ignoring the episodic nature of the story, other elements of the writing also will leave you screaming “Serenity now!” Just minutes into the film you start to sense that something is wrong. The jokes are are so childishly constructed and fall so flat that you can hardly believe you’re hearing the voice of Jerry Seinfeld delivering them. And while a film about talking bees obviously requires a certain level of suspension of disbelief, you can’t just drop the wildest plot points into the audience’s lap and expect them to just go along with them. The biggest example I can give of this without spoiling any of the movie is the relationship between Barry and Vanessa. Really, what are we supposed to think about them? Are we supposed to believe they are a couple in the romantic sense? A bee and a human? The story glosses over any uncomfortable details, because, seriously, what could they say or show? But even just the implication is a little far-fetched for an audience to accept.

Barry is not happy about humans’ thieving ways.
“No honey for you!”

The animation, for the most part, is on par for a DreamWorks film. Scenes from the bee perspective, such as those while in flight, can be spectacular. But I had a hard time getting over the animation of Vanessa. Her body seemed to morph on and off-model depending on what she was wearing. But worse for me were her facial expressions. Something about her eyes made her look like she was viewing things off focus which occasionally gave her face a blank almost ditzy expression. This may have been due to DreamWorks artists trying to draw humans in a more stylized, less realistic way than they have in their previous films.

Voice acting was actually pretty good in this film. I admit going into a DreamWorks film expecting to hear big name stars and not necessarily their characters’ voices. But Jerry Seinfeld, while having a very distinctive voice, melded very well into his character – though this may have had more to do with the talents of the animators. Renée Zellweger does a very good job not only of voicing the overall character, but of delivering some of the rapid fire, back and forth, Seinfeldian jokes. John Goodman, as a southern style attorney, proves he can give a great vocal performance that isn’t just his everyday voice. Patrick Warburton, almost obligatory in animated projects these days, pops in and does what he always does, earning a hive-five in the process. And Chris Rock, as a mosquito, makes you wish they had maybe made Mosquito Movie.

While I have panned Bee Movie pretty good, I have to admit that there is some fun to be had if you just don’t think about it too much. There are a few good gags and kids will probably like the fun visuals. And it’s great to hear Jerry Seinfeld again. But overall this is a project that should have been left in the vault and hopefully won’t be double-dipped with a sequel. Try catching that showing of Rochelle, Rochelle in the theatre next door instead.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

Bee Movie
Paramount/DreamWorks Animation
November 2, 2007
90 minutes
Rated PG
directed by Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith