Title: A Bug’s Life
Release Date: November 20, 1998
Director: John Lasseter
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Pixar’s follow-up to Toy Story shows all the signs of sophomore slump. Unlike Toy’s Story’s timeless humor, A Bug’s Life is a product of the 1990s, relying on the irreverent and referential humor that was “edgy” at the time but feels tired now (not unlike The Emperor’s New Groove). The movie has it’s moments but it lacks the magic of most Pixar films.
The story focuses on a colony of ants who are forced to gather food as tribute to bully grasshoppers. An inventive but clumsy ant named Flik (Dave Foley of Kids in the Hall fame) proposes finding bigger bugs who can protect the ants from the grasshoppers (very much the premise of Seven Samurai). Flik inadvertently hires a team of circus performers (from a “flea circus,” of course) instead. Nevertheless, the ants and the ants and the circus performers team up to fight the grasshoppers in a fairly predictable manner.
The humor is slight and repetitive. For example, a lady bug voiced by Dennis Leary gets angry every time he is mistaken for a female, because misgendering is apparently hilarious. It’s clear why Toy Story can still provide successful sequels 25 years after its debut, but A Bug’s Life was never fodder for sequels. I suppose we can be thankful for it working out the, er, “bugs” in the Pixar formula leading to the string of greatness in ensuing films.
I remember when A Bug’s Life came out it went head-to-head with the DreamWorks animation film Antz. The latter cast Woody Allen in a family film despite allegations of his sexual abuse of his daughter Dylan Farrow. Not to be outdone, A Bug’s Life was directed by John Lassetter who lost his position at Disney due to sexual misconduct and stars Kevin Spacey as the chief bully Hopper, who has his own litany of sexual assault accusations. Somehow these men found a way to make movies about insects even creepier.