DreamWorks may have messed up on the title for Bee Movie. Oh they got it half right, it is about bees after all, but it’s not so much a movie. Instead, Jerry Seinfeld has jotted down a few fairly obvious bee observations and then paid a bunch of incredibly talented artists to animate them. There’s not much of a story to string those observations together and what story there is, well it’s bee-buzzingly silly.
Actually, silly may be a somewhat generous term for what’s going on here. Stupid may be a better one. It starts rationally enough, with the movie taking us inside the secret lives of bees inside a bee hive. Barry B. Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld) is a newly graduated bee about to select the job he’ll do in his hive, a job he’ll do until the hive quite literally works him to death. Barry, unlike all the other buzzing bugs around him, finds this prospect somewhat unsatisfying and the film seems on the verge taking its audience down the path of some grand social statement about corporatism and working a life of drudgery for very little reward. It’s also sort of funny, with the Seinfeld co-written script making cute bee related gags, about on par with the sort of corny gunk you’d see on an episode of The Flintstones, only with a much funnier, wry, Seinfeld twist.
Then in a moment of pure cinematic exhilaration, Bee Movie tosses all of that as Barry flies out of his hive for the first time into a wide open world; a world where quite literally everyone is certifiably insane. I’m not just talking about insane from the point of view of a bee; I’m talking all American, grade “A” crazy. Bee Movie stops making any sense. Barry starts talking to a human named Vanessa (voiced by Renee Zellweger). Vanessa reacts appropriately, with utter shock and amazement. They form a relationship, and Barry talks her into helping him sue honey manufacturers for stealing bee honey. That’s right, this is a courtroom movie. With almost no effort Barry is suddenly arguing before a human judge and jury, who unlike Vanessa, are surprisingly accepting of the notion that bees are intelligent and can not only talk, but make a pretty mean legal argument. Before long even Vanessa has lost her head, and she dumps her boyfriend in favor of dating Barry. I guess she has a thing for stingers.
Bee Movie goes from cute and funny to bizarre in an instant. The film’s universe is inconsistent, topsy turvey and I’m not sure what it’s trying to do. It keeps on making those giggle-worthy little bee-related observations, and they’re enough to keep it entertaining, but the story doesn’t make sense by any standard. It morphs from the bee version of Toy Story into some sort of wacky Looney Tunes cartoon, complete with John Goodman doing a Foghorn Leghorn impression as opposing council and an erratic plane crash sequence governed by the laws of Bug Bunny-style physics. I love the Looney Tunes, but Bee Movie needs to pick a tone and stick with it. One minute it’s a more realistic, epic animated film in the vein of Ratatouille, the next it’s Space Jam. Any pretense of sensible plot progression is abandoned in order to put Barry in common human social situations where he’s given the opportunity to insert a randomly funny comment on human/bee relationships. The result is a lot of great Seinfeldian bee jokes, but they come at the expense of more basic things, like say logic.
The baffling thing about Bee Movie’s wildly weird behavior, is that it’s hard to figure if the script is simply that bad, or if there’s some sort of wicked genius at work here. Yes the film is completely illogical and absolutely all over the map, yet I think maybe it’s on purpose. It’s as if the Bee-team said screw all that normal stuff and let’s just focus on entertaining ourselves by having a lot of fun with bees, doing whatever the heck we want. And so they did. The grand, uplifting theme about individuality and grabbing your dreams hinted at in the beginning is a red herring that never goes anywhere, as is any other sensible thing in the film you might grab on to. Bee Movie is what it is: an amiable black and yellow collection of rather silly, mildly amusing jokes thrown together with some great animation and a few pulse-pounding bee-flight sequences. Utterly ridiculous? Absolutely. But maybe that’s not so bad.