1995’s Toy Story ushered in a new era of cinema with the advent of computer-animated films as that film was the first feature-length computer-animated film ever made. The success of that film helped Pixar Animations studio as they were set to create various new projects that would help build the studio and their relationship with distributor in Walt Disney Studios. For their second feature film, the studios chose to create a film that mixes Aesop’s fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper and Akira Kurosawa’s legendary 1957 film The Seven Samurai into A Bug’s Life.
Directed by John Lasseter, with additional direction by Andrew Stanton, and scripted by Stanton, Donald McEnery, and Bob Shaw that was based on a story by Lasseter, Stanton, and Joe Ranft. A Bug’s Life tells the story of a worker ant who seeks help from other insects to fight off against grasshoppers whom they had been gathering food for. Unaware that the insects he hired are circus insects, he teams up with them to fight off the grasshoppers they had been slaving for. With an all-star voice cast that includes Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere, Kevin Spacey, Denis Leary, David Hyde Pierce, Phyllis Diller, Madeline Kahn, Bonnie Hunt, Brad Garrett, Roddy McDowall, and John Ratzenberger. A Bug’s Life is a fun yet adventurous film John Lasseter and company.
With ants gathering food for grasshoppers before the harvest is to end, Flik (Dave Foley) is an inventive ant who tries to get things better only to cause trouble as his latest invention has him causing an accident. The accident has upset Hopper (Kevin Spacey) who demands that the ants work double-time before he and his group of grasshoppers return for harvest’s end. Wanting to find a way to keep things going and get rid of Flik, Flik suggests getting other insects to help rebel against Hopper and grasshoppers. Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) likes the idea thinking it will get rid of Flik as she lets him go. Upon his journey to the city, Flik encounters a group of fired circus performers he believes are warriors as he asks them for help.
The troupe takes the job thinking it’s a gig as they’re welcomed by the ants led by the queen (Phyllis Diller) as she along with many believe are the warriors that will help them. Yet, the troupe realizes through a celebration of what they’re asked to do as Flik learns that they’re really circus performers. When the queen’s youngest daughter Dot (Hayden Panettiere) is in danger from a bird, the troupe and Flik save her as they decide to stay. Realizing that Hopper is afraid of birds, Flik and the troupe create a bird with a group of ants to stop Hopper and his gang. With the plan working, everything seems to be in place until the arrival of the troupes’ former boss P.T. Flea (John Ratzenberger). With Hopper finally returning and the ants worried, it’s up to Flik and the troupe to remind the ants who are the stronger species.
The film is about an ant who rebels against a group of grasshoppers by hiring a group of circus performers to help him and the ants out. Yet, it’s a plot that is sort of similar to Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 epic The Seven Samurai that is about a group of villagers asking seven samurai warriors to fight against rebels. Still, John Lasseter and his team of writers do create a story where an ant is trying to make up for his mistakes while trying to win over the acceptance of a princess who is groomed to become the next queen.
Then there’s the circus troupe who are a very eccentric, lively bunch. There’s the intellectual stick-bug Slim (David Hyde Pierce), a male-centric ladybug named Francis (Denis Leary), a fat yet hungry caterpillar named Heimlich (Joe Ranft), a black widow named Rosie (Bonnie Hunt), the moth Gypsy (Madeline Khan), Manny the cricket (Jonathan Harris), Dim the beetle (Brad Garrett), and twin ticks who barely speak English (Michael McShane). They’re just a bunch of insects needing a job while using their talents to fight off against Hopper and his gang while being accepted by the ant colony. Yet, they become more than that as the script allows them to develop and forge an alliance with the ants. The grasshoppers may be villains but that’s only because their leader Hopper is a ruthless insect who is aware of how weak his species are and tries to use his wit and power against the ants.
The direction of John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton is definitely very broad as they shoot everything with wide angles to let the audience be enraptured by the locations the characters are at. Since this is the first film from Pixar to use the widescreen format, it allows Lasseter and Stanton to go for bigger compositions and to create more ants to help fill in the frame. The action sequences allows the directors to move the camera move and create some exciting sequences. The overall work is definitely phenomenal as John Lasseter, with additional help from Andrew Stanton, creates a lively yet magical film.
Cinematographer Sharon Calahan does some fantastic work with the lighting for many of the exteriors of the ant hill as well as its surroundings while the inside look is truly gorgeous. Editor Lee Unkrich does a great job with the editing by creating wonderful rhythmic cuts for the film’s action moments along with more relaxed cuts for the dramatic and funny moments. Production designer William Cone, along with art directors Tia W. Kratter and Bob Pauley does a wonderful job with the look of the ant hill and city that Flik goes to along with the interiors of the ant colony itself. Sound designer Gary Rydstrom and sound editor Tim Holland do amazing work with the sound from the grasshoppers breaking through to the circus event where P.T. Flea create a fiery stunt.
The film’s score by Randy Newman is definitely a highlight of the film as its orchestral score is thrilling with loads of pieces to complement the emotions and adventurous moments of the film. Even as it features another Newman original song in The Time Of Your Life to play up the joy and humor of the film.
The voice cast that is assembled by Mary Hidalgo and Ruth Lambert as it features various voices such as Frank Welker as the scary grasshopper Thumper along with the bird plus Edie McClurg as the young ants’ teacher Mrs. Flora and Roddy McDowall as one of the ants’ key top figures in Mr. Soil. Other notable small roles include John Ratzenberger as the greedy P.T. Flea, Jack Angel as a bunch of flies, and Richard Kind as Hopper’s dim-witted brother Molt. For the roles of the circus troupe, there’s standout performances from Michael McShane as the foreign-talking ticks Tuck and Roll, Brad Garrett as the sensitive beetle Dim, Madeline Kahn as the exotic moth Gypsy, and Jonathan Harris as the dramatic Manny.
Joe Ranft is hilarious as the overweight Heimlich who sports a German accent and has an insatiable appetite while Denis Leary is really funny as a tough ladybug who eventually gives in to his feminine side when he spends time with the little ants. David Hyde Pierce is really good as Slim, a stick-bug with a wonderful intellect who wishes he wasn’t just a prop while Phyllis Diller is great as the queen who is trying to maintain her colony’s safety while prepping Atta for her big role. Kevin Spacey is superb as the villainous Hopper who is smarter than a lot of his grasshopper minions while trying to realize that he has to be smart unless the ants realize how powerful they are.
Hayden Panettiere is wonderful as the queen’s youngest daughter Dot who is determined to fly while seeing Flik as a role model as someone who doesn’t quit. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is excellent as Atta, a princess who is trying to become a leader as she learns the importance of trust. Finally, there’s Dave Foley in a brilliant voice performance as the everyman Flik who tries to make a difference while being the one to stand up against Hopper.
A Bug’s Life is an extraordinary film from John Lasseter and Pixar studios proving that they have ambition and do big ideas. While it may not be up there with more revered films like the Toy Story trilogy, or the films that other Pixar directors like Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, and Pete Docter has done. It is one of the essential films of their large collection of films as it help set the stage for the ambition that the studio would do in later films. In the end, A Bug’s Life is a glorious yet entertaining film from Pixar studios.
Pixar Films: Toy Story - Toy Story 2 - (Monsters, Inc.) - (Finding Nemo) - The Incredibles - Cars - Ratatouille - WALL-E - Up - Toy Story 3 - Cars 2 - Brave - Monsters University - Inside Out - The Good Dinosaur - (Finding Dory) - (Cars 3) - Coco - Incredibles 2 - Toy Story 4 - (Onward) - Soul (2020 film) - (Luca (2021 film)) - Turning Red - (Lightyear) - (Elemental (2023 film)) - (Elio (2024 film)) - (Inside Out 2) - (Toy Story 5)
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