A Bug’s Life (1998) FILM REVIEW
Written by Jambareeqi
Posted 2nd June, 2018
Flik is a quirky creative ant, who is looked down upon by his more conservative colony, who are harvesting food for themselves and the grasshoppers who bully them, but their stock is accidentally knocked over by Flik’s new invention. When the grasshoppers arrive, led by the menacing Hopper, they are angry to discover that there’s no food for them, but give them a second chance, only with MORE food to be owed to them this time.
Princess Atta and the royal council don’t know what to do with clumsy well meaning Flik, until Flik offers to retrieve bigger stronger insects from the city to come protect the colony. Seeing this as an opportunity to rid off Flik during harvesting, the princess encourages him to go, and the colony cheer at Flik’s departure.
While out searching for tough bugs in the city, Flik mistakes a troupe of circus entertainers for heroic warriors, he asks them to come save his colony, and these performers assume Flik is a talent agent needing actors for a new play. However, when the circus bugs arrive in the colony’s home, things start to add up, they realise that they’re being asked to fight grasshoppers, and decide to abandon Flik at his time of need. It’s not until the circus bugs become enamored by these ants, that they consider staying behind, and let Flik stage a way for them to not fight.
Growing up, I found this to be one of my favourite animated films, I loved watching it with my family whenever it came on TV. Re-watching it as an adult, while I don’t think it’s particularly bad, I wasn’t that impressed by how well the film had aged, finding it less charming or funny than I did as a child. I think out of all the Pixar films, this is the one that’s mostly aimed at very young kids, maybe around the range of 3 – 8 year olds, and I did struggle to find the appeal as an adult.
In all honesty, I didn’t find myself empathising with the ants, as they come across as cranky, and spend most of the film complaining or worrying. Flik maybe inventive and brave, but I wouldn’t say his personality was particularly charismatic (his over-cheeriness could get annoying too), while Princess Atta is gratingly short tempered due to personal royal pressures, and her little sister Dot maybe courageous for her age, but she’s still just as whiny as the other ants (not to mention, it’s her cuteness that makes the film too saccharine at places).
Yeah, it’s not fair that these little guys are being pushed around, but a little more endearing development for them would have gone a long way, if the film really wanted my condolences. Although, the cheeky queen was pretty cool, being the most chilled out ant, and I liked how she’d laugh off things. I kind of wish more of the ants had her attitude, or at least toned down their nervous crabbiness, because then I’d find it easier to get along with them, and see appeal to their personalities.
Not even the circus bugs won me over, all being one joke caricatures like “The Fat One”, “The Ladybird who isn’t a lady”, “The Stick insect who gets mistaken for a stick”, and other unimaginative tropes that can only generate the same repeated jokes. I also felt that the circus bugs’ attachment to the colony was done too fast, mainly told through a quick montage that brushes through their stay, and I ended up not buying that they had fallen in love with the ants.
As shocking as it is, I was most engaged in the film whenever the villains came on screen, because these grasshoppers are pretty damn intense, and even framed in an almost horror-esque light in some scenes. There’s a screeching pale grasshopper called Thumper, who will terrify young audiences, Hopper’s easily excited brother Molt (the character that got the most laughs out of me as an adult), and the deviously cunning Hopper himself.
I find these characters far more interesting and fun than our heroes, to the point where I kind of guiltily wanted them to win the day, which isn’t a good sign when the ants are supposed to be the victims. From the tense relationship between the brothers, to the insecurities hidden behind the manipulative Hopper, these antagonists brought some much needed edge to a very twee movie, and their scenes had the most dramatic strength to me.
To be fair, the film isn’t exactly harmful, it’s messages are very valuable for kids! It teaches audiences to not underestimate yourself or others, that even the smallest or most vulnerable can achieve great things, and these are excellent principles to teach children at a young age. In spite of the film’s inability to impress me, I can’t deny how much heart it has, with it’s characters learning to discover their hidden abilities, while also recognising what the rest of their community can do.
The animation is very colourful, embracing it’s sunny summer atmosphere with joy, while also giving the environment some rich plantlife, adding sharp angular detail to the harshly rough grasshoppers, and providing the circus bugs with lush vibrancy. However, I don’t think that the ants’ models have stood the test of time, with their very plastic textures, plus they have designs that are too similar to each other, to the point where I sometimes couldn’t tell the difference between a supporting character or Flik himself. To be fair, this is a very early Pixar production, the second one produced in fact, but it was easier to look over such technical shortcomings when the characters were toys.
To Conclude, “A Bug’s Life” is good for what it is, as I can appreciate it’s well meaning messages, found the villains to be a blast, and would say that it could be fun at times of peril. It’s just that it’s the Pixar film that’s trying the hardest to pander to kids, resulting in a film that’s just too sickly sweet and cutesy for my tastes. Sure, kids will really love this one, maybe parents will too (mine did), but I can’t in wholehearted sincerity say that it’s Pixar at their best, as it’s just too “Okay” for their usual standards.
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