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A Bug's Life
Pixar creates a swarm of six-legged stars
A Bug's Life
Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures
Directed by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton
USA, 1998
It would be hard to review A Bug's Life without mentioning the startling similarities to that other recent computer-animated bug film, Pacific Data Images' Antz. Antz features a misfit ant who has the hots for the colony's princess and struggles to be accepted in a society that puts "we" over "I". However, his idiosyncratic ways prove to be useful when the whole colony is threatened. A Bug's Life features Flik, a misfit ant who has the hots for the colony's princess and struggles to be accepted in a society that blah blah blah.

Look, that's really not important. What is important is that Pixar Animation Studios, the guys who gave us Toy Story, haven't rested on their laurels. Without copying themselves or relying on proven formulas, they've created a solid, entertaining film. The Disney crew could learn a few lessons from Pixar; a wonderfully ironic idea, considering that John Lasseter, director of Toy Story and co-director of A Bug's Life, learned his craft at Disney.

The basic storyline is a variation of the fable about the ant and the grasshopper, the difference being that the grasshoppers, led by Hopper, are vicious brutes who have terrorized the ants into foraging for food to support them. When Flik accidentally botches the annual grasshopper offering, he desperately tries to organize the ants and some other bugs into facing up to Hopper and his ilk.

In some ways, A Bug's Life is a standard tale: maverick partly causes crisis; maverick tries to fix crisis; maverick saves the day, learns a lesson, teaches a lesson, gets the girl.

As with Toy Story, the real pleasure is in the details. While all the characters are entertaining, there are three who steal the show: Flik (Dave Foley), who has so many inventive ideas he can barely keep them contained; Francis (Denis Leary), the ladybug who is eternally pissed off at everyone thinking he's a she; and Hopper (Kevin Spacey), who viciously threatens and humiliates everyone around him.

In fact, Kevin Spacey's snarling performance, combined with the animators' fine work, makes Hopper one of the more frightening animated villains to come along in some time. Hopper is pure rage given form. when his fury explodes towards the end of the movie, he's less a villain and more a malevolent force of nature. It's a fine piece of acting that proves that Toy Story was no fluke; Pixar's moviemaking talent combined with Disney's distribution and marketing resources will be a force to be reckoned with for some time yet.

Originally printed in the Montreal Mirror (November 19, 1998)