Jerry Seinfeld managed to make a hit television show “about nothing,” but making a movie proves to be a bit trickier. Technically, his feature film debut may not be “about nothing,” but it is not about much more than the puny pun in the title. However, BEE MOVIE is no B-movie; rather, it’s a typically over-indulgent computer-animated comedy, in which no expense has been spared to create long-winded and pointless action sequences that jolt the lethargic narrative but deliver few if any laughs. The handful of good jokes are about enough to fill a five-minute SATURDAY NIGHT LIGHT sketch, and one can only conclude that this is an example of a successful talent being allowed to pad out a small idea because no one was willing or able to say, “This really isn’t enough for a movie.”
The slim storyline has newly graduating bee Barry B. Benson (voiced by Seinfeld) feeling uncomfortable with a future as a worker drone in the hive; in essence, it is the premise of the previous Dreamworks animated effort, ANTZ (1998), with a change of insect species. Barry heads outside the hive for a glimpse of the world at large, where me meets a florist named Vanessa (Zellweger) and apparently falls in love. (The film tentatively jokes around with the impossibility of consummating such a relationship but ultimately leaves the issue unresolved.) After Barry discovers that humans sell honey, the story shifts into a legal drama, as the upstart bee launches a class-action suit to retrieve the stolen product. This leads to an unconvincing third act in which bees worldwide lapse into inactivity and boredom after winning back their honey (the film seems to assume that no bee will ever have to work again, as if there were now an infinite supply of honey). Flowers cease to bloom, because bees are no longer pollinating them while searching for nectar. Needless to say, Barry sees the mistake he has made and figures out a way to rectify it, leading to a mechanical and mostly irrelevant action-suspense set piece in the final reel.
The screenplay is rather obviously patched together from bits and pieces, desperately introducing new plot elements in order to stretch the idea to feature length and padding the whole thing out with unfunny action sequences. By the time Jerry and Vanessa end up piloting a jumbo jet (after the real pilots have been knocked unconscious), BEE MOVIE is feeling like a flick that has been ground through the Hollywood development Hell. (“We need a big action scene for the climax – how can we work one into the script?”)
The computer-animation is pretty much standard for this sort of thing. There is much more emphasis on special effects animation (Barry bouncing around the insides of an internal combustion engine) than on crafting memorable character designs and performances. The bees are not particularly endearing (that flat, two-dimensional bees seen in the closing credits are actually more cute), but to be fair, the human characters look a bit less robotic than usual (even industry leader Pixar often has problems in this area – their toys, monsters, fish, and insects always look better than their people).
Seinfeld’s gift has always been for observational humor: looking at the ordinary world around us and seeing how strange are some of the things we take for granted just because we have grown used to them. When it comes to creating a fantasy world, in which bees can effortless talk to humans, he is much less successful. The typical banter is still there, but it’s not particularly funny coming from an anthropomorphized insect. His gift for gags provides a few drops of sweet nectar here and there, but after all the artificial Hollywood ingredients have been added the result tastes more like saccharin than honey.
BEE MOVIE (November 2, 2007). Directed by Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith. Written by Jerry Seinfeld and Spike Feresten & Barry Marder & Andry Robin. Voices: Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Christ Rock, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson, Larry King, Ray Liotta, Sting, Oprah Winfrey, Larry Miller, Rip Torn, Michael Richards.