A Bug’s Life (1998)
Directed by: John Lasseter & Andrew Stanton
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere, Phyllis Diller, John Ratzenberger
Pixar has had nothing short of an illustrious career. Despite more recent criticisms caused by sub-par sequels, such as ‘Monsters University’ and ‘Cars 2’, Pixar still manages to hold a place in the hearts of a generation that grew up watching them. I still remember watching ‘Toy Story 2’ in the cinema at the age of 8. Over the course of 17 films, Pixar has told relatable, human stories in mostly inhuman worlds; none more inhuman than 1998’s ‘A Bug’s Life’.
‘A Bug’s Life’ follows Flik (Dave Foley), a tiny ant with big dreams, who must save his colony from greedy grasshoppers, led by the terrifying Hopper, voiced brilliantly by Kevin Spacey. Without any other insects to help defend against the impending attack, Flik goes off in search of warriors, but only manages to find a lovable band of circus troupe misfits.
One could argue that ‘A Bug’s Life’ has had something of a shorter shelf life in comparison to Pixar’s other films. While ‘Toy Story’, ‘Monster’s Inc’, and ‘Finding Nemo’ remain firmly in the zeitgeist as some of the best animations ever made, ‘A Bug’s Life’ is often forgotten, relegated to only being a part of Pixar’s Golden age rather than being a driving force of it. It’s easy to forget ‘A Bug’s Life’ was only Pixar’s second ever release at the time, but there is a very simple explanation for this. ‘A Bug’s Life’ is as well-written, as funny, and as enjoyable as any of Pixar’s greatest efforts, but the reason it lost its attention is a man named Woody Allen. You might have heard of him.
Not long before ‘A Bug’s Life’s release, Woody Allen released his first and only venture into animation, ‘Antz’. On the face of it, the two bear a striking similarity. Both have out of their depth ants as protagonists, and both plots involve protecting their colony from an impending attack. Though while ‘A Bug’s Life’ was a Pixar classic of bright colours, funny quips, and slick animation, ‘Antz’ was a different beast, and much rougher around the edges. Where Pixar remains as light as possible, ‘Antz’ was unafraid to go to dark places, epitomised by a harrowing ants vs termites war scene that terrified me as a child and still creeps me out to this day. Criticism of ‘A Bug’s Life’ mostly came from it being an inferior film to ‘Antz’, a point with which I heartily disagree. ‘A Bug’s Life’ was merely released at a bad time as ‘Antz’ was still on the public’s mind. Had ‘A Bug’s Life’ been released first, ‘Antz’ would have been criticised for being an inferior film to it. That’s the way it goes.
‘A Bug’s Life’ excels on most every level. It has the customary Pixar quality we came to expect; it has terrific voice acting from the likes of Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Hayden Panettiere, it has genuinely laugh out loud moments (“This is nothing compared to the twig of ‘93!”), it has memorable characters (Tuck and Roll, the Hungarian, acrobatic woodlice are a personal favourite) it has quotable lines (“I’m a beautiful butterfly!”), and it has some fabulously entertaining set-pieces, namely involving a bird that keeps terrorising the colony. Said bird becomes a crucial plot point as Flik, who fancies himself an inventor, fashions a Trojan Horse-like creation in the shape of the bird to combat the grasshoppers’ aerial advantages. As with every Pixar film, such references will be lost on its main, young target audience, but Pixar creates films that entertain people of every generation, and will continue to do so for many years.
‘A Bug’s Life’ overcame adversity of a similar, inferior film and remains one of Pixar’s best films, though when being one of Pixar’s best is in the company of at least 9 other films, it’s a difficult task to stand out from those around it. Though it was only their second ever release after the all-time classic ‘Toy Story’, Pixar avoided the difficult second album and established themselves as an animation studio to be reckoned with.