Walt Disney Pictures/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 91 mins .
G . PAL
It’s the film which single-handedly made many of us think twice before squishing any bugs we happened to come across ever again – after all, who knew they were all so darned cute before A Bug’s Life? Well, except perhaps for those nasty old grasshoppers... And finally we get to partake in the extras-laden feast that is the ‘Collector's Edition’, with a whole second disc of goodies to add to one of the greatest animated films ever created.
As we zoom into the world of the ants, we find them gathering food to get them through the rainy season. Ah, but if only it were that simple. They also have the dubious pleasure of having to collect nibblies for the grasshoppers - insect standover merchants led by the super-nasty Hopper - who threaten these hard working little folk with squishings should they not prepare them an offering. Yes, every year it’s the same – they come, they eat and they leave. That is, until this year...
"It’s a bug eat bug world out there – one of those circle of life kind of things."
For there’s the little matter of Flik, a worker ant who wants to make a difference. Despite an admirable industriousness, he happens to be a bit of a klutz, so when he has a little accident and sends the pile of food made to appease the grasshoppers cascading down a bank into the water, well, needless to say that when greeted with no grub on arrival the grasshoppers aren’t too jazzed. Faced with grave consequences should they not prepare double the offering in next to no time, Flik isn’t exactly the most popular ant in the colony. He offers to leave their little island to seek help, much to the joy of the rest of the colony who are just happy to see the back of him. After all, how could he survive that big old unknown world beyond their little piece of the Earth?
To infinity and beyond!
But survive he does, making it to the big city and coming across what he believes to be a band of tough warrior bugs who can help save the day. The only problem is that they’re actually a fresh out of work circus troupe, but hey, a gig’s a gig – until they discover what they’re up against...
A heart warming, often inspirational tale of hope, dignity and how one being really can make a difference, every second of this “epic of miniature proportions” is a joy to behold. Featuring absolutely delightful characters brought to life by a superb voice cast – including two tragic losses to the world since the film’s completion in Jonathan “Dr Smith!” Harris and the captivating Madeline Kahn - combined with a simple (the more cynical out there (boo! hiss!) may say a tad hackneyed) but timeless storyline which pushes all the right emotional buttons, A Bug's Life is by far the best thing Disney have had a hand in for years – managing a perfect balance between pathos, humour and edge, a triumvirate so sadly lacking in all of those boring historical epics they’ve been pumping out of late – and reason enough for them to kiss the ground any of the bods from Pixar tread upon.
Fierce warrior bugs...
Featuring a transfer direct from super-big computer hard drive to DVD master, the original release of A Bug’s Life was utterly magical to behold – either in its 16:9-enhanced cinematic ratio of 2.35:1 (yay!), or the fiddled about with full frame version (boo!). This re-release only features the “yay!” version, and it is every bit as sumptuous and simply beautiful as that which was on the first release. It’s rare we can safely use the word “flawless” in describing a transfer in a DVD review, however here it can be done without any fear of over-hyping. It’s all absolutely brilliant, and really it seems quite pointless fumbling about in attempts to say any more. So I won’t.
Where's the food?!
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix afforded the original release was utterly superb, however this time the House of Mouse has gone one step further by providing a DTS 5.1 option as well. No matter which version you plump for you’ll be in sonic heaven, with fabulous use of the whole front and rear sound stages, plus full-on assaults from a subwoofwoof scarcely given time to take breath between outputting thumpy noises. Once again further rambling seems superfluous, this may not be an all-out action blockbuster, but it delivers a sonic mix which will knock the socks of anybody you wish to show off your super-funky sound system to.
For those unaware, the soundtrack comes from that bloke who must have some serious dirt on Disney big-wigs in Randy Newman. While the most overrated muso in Hollywood’s score during the film is often quite delightful and always apt, the inclusion of a song where he actually opens his mouth and attempts to sing in his gruff yabber over the end credits is possibly the only let down in an otherwise sublimely gorgeous aural and visual experience.
A Bug's Menu
The only cause for disappointment when the original release of A Bug’s Life hit this big old world of ours was the lack of extras. That oversight has been well and truly seen to with this two-disc 'Collector's Edition' set, which is stuffed to bursting point with bonus goodies. In fact I hate to act like the sky is falling, but it packs so much that if too much detail is gone into then this review will never end. And I won’t get to eat dinner. Then I’ll be rather cranky, as will my tummy. So hopefully what follows will give enough of an idea as to what’s in store...
First things first – do we have a selection of lovely, subtly animated menus? Yes we do. But that’s not enough for us extras-starved junkies, is it? So it’s good that this first disc also features a commentary with directors John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, plus the supervising film editor Lee Unkrich. They’re a wacky bunch of guys, so this vibe permeates a commentary which is equal parts silliness, useful information and not necessarily so useful but fun to know anyway kind of stuff. That’s not the only bonus in the audio department, however. There’s also a music only track, which is pretty self-explanatory. It’s only in Dolby Digital 2.0, but we’re talking Randy Newman here, so... Rounding things up is a Dolby Digital 5.1 sound effects only track, which is great fun for giving the old system a workout, but kind of weird to watch – the mouths they be movin’, but they all be sayin’ nothin’... kind of like a certain episode of Buffy.
Ah, the meaty little shiny disc – well, the movie one’s pretty meaty, but this is the meaty extras disc. Hmm, dunno why I went there really, but anyway, on with the show. This special edition - or “super genius version” if you prefer - is truly super-stuffed with bits and bobs for anybody with even a shooming-by-at-a-great-rate-of-knots interest in the world of computer animation. But those of you who just like cooing, “ooh, pretty!” at brightly coloured things on your telly should find plenty to inspire too. With more menus, sub-menus, sub-sub menus and even sub-sub-sub menus than you could poke a stick insect at this probably isn’t exactly going to be fun to explain. But I’m an intrepid kinda gal, so here goes...
Oh yes, on disc start up there’s a message from Lasseter, Stanton, Unkrich and producer Darla Anderson which is kind of a nice thing.
First off the rank here is the ”Fleabie” Reel. If you’re (quite rightfully) wondering WTF a “Fleabie” is, it’s a hand puppet. “Why is there a hand puppet on a CGI movie disc?” you may also quite rightfully inquire. Well, during production of A Bug’s Life, or simply Bugs as it was known back then, Disney wanted an update on where Pixar were up to. This 3:23 presentation is it, featuring some early renders, shots of models and lots of silliness, all hosted by said Fleabie. This, like most of the featurettes included, is preceded by an intro, generally from one or more of those behind the scenes-type folk mentioned just above, usually offering intriguing insights into the processes involved in bringing an animated feature such as this to the big screen. This one just happens to run for 1:04.
Next up is Story and Editorial. After a 57 second intro, we get a peek at how Pixar found their movie, with an Original Treatment (complete with 39 second intro) – basically a story outline bolstered by some lovely hand rendered sketches. Now it’s on to the Storyboard Pitch (4:45), which explains the process by using the medium, before popping off to some split screens showing actual boards from the film and story peoples acting silly. A Storyboard to Film Comparison ensues (intro = 1:47), using utilising a split screen to show Dot’s rescue (3:57) as it is in the final film, with storyboards for the relevant scenes. Rounding out this sub section is Abandoned Sequences (intro = 2:22), whereby two unused scenes are presented in slightly animated storyboard format. For those dying to know these are Original Museum Opening (1:46) and P.T.’s Office (1:41).
Coming to the plate next is Research, a 5:26 featurette delving into the Pixar team’s efforts at delivering a realistic bug’s point of view in their creation – both of the world they inhabit and the little critters themselves.
The final subset of pre-production is Design (intro = 1:08). Pop in here to check out the development of Characters, itself divided into four sections - The Colony, Grasshopper Gang, The Circus and Miscellaneous Characters, each of which is stuffed with all manner of sketches tracing the bugs we grew to love from sometimes absolutely hideous beginnings. Locations follows, offering a selection of sketches of such places as Ant Island, The City, Circus Tent and Hopper’s Hideout. Finally we get to Concept Art and Colour Scripts - the first being a selection of ideas bandied about during production, the latter a lovely collection of art.
Things open with Behind the Scenes of A Bug’s Life (3:31), A decidedly fluffy promo piece which gives us all manner of interviews with voice cast and behind the scenes boffin-types squished into its decidedly brief running time. Apple nerd Steve Jobs even bobs up. Speaking of the vocal talents employed, Voice Casting (4:16) sheds more of a spotlight on the likes of Kevin Spacey, Kid in the Hall Dave Foley, Julia Louis Dreyfus and David Hyde Pierce, with more interviews and behind the scenes footage. Early Tests (5:28) is another feature with a fairly self-explanatory title, whereas a collection of those fabulous clever computer types behind the film speak of creating atmospheric and lighting effects and similar pixelated treats. Completing this section is a Progression Demonstration. Covering four stages of the animation process – story reel, layout, animation and finally shaders and lighting – this features brief intros explaining each stage (totalling 4:25) before diving into the “Flaming Death” scene of the film, whereby the angle button on the DVD remote can be used to flip between each of the four stages.
Ah, an easy one... This consists of a 13:12 featurette delving into the search for sonic source material, concentrating on the many, many wing flap sounds utilised within the film. With many very weird and wonderful sources erm, sourced, we get examples of the raw sounds and how they were used in the finished Flik – oh, heehee, flick.
Divided into two parts, the first is Theatrical, consisting of a selection of posters and ads from all over the world in the logically named Posters/Ad Campaigns, the original teaser trailer (1:06) featuring unique and very cute footage and Character Interviews, whereby Hopper, Flik, Francis and Heimlich get the interview treatment, let down only by the complete yutz doing the interviewing. The second half of this particular section is Video, with a Reframing Featurette (4:29), which tells of the great effort gone into moving characters and backgrounds around and stretching bits and pieces in order to fit the film properly into a boring old 4:3 frame and Reframing Examples, utilising a left/right split screen view to deliver us 5:16 of before and after examples.
As featured on the original DVD release, these are the two sets of specially created “outtakes” used in the theatrical run, both Original and Alternate. Each running for 2:35, they are accompanied by a brief End Credits Outtakes Featurette (3:49), with the usual array of interviews and footage from said outtakes. While these custom-made segments are indeed fun, some – namely me it would seem – may argue that their insertion in the film takes away some of the magic of the whole tale. Still, on their own like this they’re quite a delightful little diversion.
Animated short - Geri’s Game
Mercifully without a Spice Girl in sight, this is the very same 4:46 tale of an old man, his schizophrenia and his love of chess that graced the original release of A Bug’s Life, in a 1.66:1 ratio (un-enhanced).
Ladies, gentlemen and larvae of all stages...
As perfect as can be in every respect, if you have a child, or ever were one, then this re-release of A Bug's Life is an absolute necessity for your DVD collection.
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "