A few years ago, Jerry Seinfeld and Steven Spielberg were having dinner, throwing around movie ideas. Spontaneously, Seinfeld said, “Why don’t we make a movie about bees? Like a ‘bee’ movie, get it?” This moment of inspiration would blossom into a festering pile of animated junk known as “Bee Movie.”
“Bee Movie,” a computer-animated picture about the world of bees, is the latest release from CGI juggernaut DreamWorks Animations. In the past few months, it has launched a gargantuan media campaign with numerous teasers, trailers and TV spots (woe to he who catches “Bee Movie Juniors” during commercial breaks of NBC’s “The Office” and “30 Rock”).
Seinfeld — who also co-wrote the screenplay — voices the character of Barry B. Benson, a bee who has recently graduated from college and is about to start working at the hive’s sole corporation, Honex, which makes — you guessed it — honey. But no, our bright protagonist is too ambitious to spend the rest of his days stirring honey. And so, in a contrived turn of events, he finds himself outside the hive in the middle of New York City.
During his travels, he meets and falls for Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a sweet, thoughtful florist who discovers that Barry can talk to human beings. As she educates Barry about the world of man, he discovers the enslavement of bees for the production of honey (look for the beekeepers who behave on par with Nazi commandants). In his state of umbrage, Barry proceeds to sue the humans, and inanity follows.
The movie is riddled with enigmas, such as the physics of a scene where a multitude of bees absurdly support a Boeing jet in the air. Furthermore, the relationship between Barry and Vanessa is hazy at best. Are they a couple, or are they just friends, and what would be the inter-species implications of their (incapable of being consummated) love?
Although the plot is recklessly ill-designed, Seinfeld’s clever, observational brand of comedy garners a few laughs here and there, actively reminding us that this is a Seinfeld vehicle. But this Seinfeldian phantom severely detracts from the character development of Barry, who appears as nothing more than a shrunk-down Seinfeld with wings and a stinger. The audience almost hopes that George and Kramer will appear in their own little bee costumes. In a similar fashion, Matthew Broderick shows up as Barry’s best friend Adam, essentially reprising the angst and neuroticism of his role as Leo Bloom in “The Producers.”
The ennui of Renee Zellweger’s Vanessa is a clear-cut sign that she should avoid voice over roles. Although a usually excellent screen actor, her handicap is clearly her voice, which strips Vanessa’s character of any appeal or substance.
The rest of the cast includes an always entertaining Patrick Warburton as Zellweger’s rabid, vociferating maniac of a boyfriend, John Goodman as a stereotypically amoral Southern lawyer and Chris Rock as an obviously typecast blood-loving mosquito. Ray Liotta and Sting (playing himself) briefly show up in agonizingly unfunny cameos that leave the plot to languish.
On the other hand, the animation is artistically marvelous. The bright colors and groomed textures of Central Park look paradisiacal, and the view of New York City is an aesthetic treat. A shot from Barry’s point of view as he leaves the hive for the first time is dazzling and almost overwhelming.
Yet these spectacular few minutes are clouded by the contrivances and irrationalities pervading the rest of the film. Perhaps if it had come out in another year, one that hadn’t produced winners like “The Simpsons Movie” and “Ratatouille,” “Bee Movie” might have been another fun look at a world within our own.
But can you expect a movie built off a pun to be any good?