Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on May 21st, 2009
It’s hard to imagine that this was only Pixar’s second ever feature length CG animated release. While Toy Story was the first, this was actually Pixar’s first film as an independent company. So, for many of us it feels like their first film. There must have been a tremendous amount of pressure on the young team. Toy Story was a break out smash hit that captured the hearts of audiences of all ages. Now on their own the team led by John Lasseter was determined to prove that Toy Story was no fluke and that they could stand on their own feet and continue the tradition of excellence they established from the first frame of their first picture. The film never approached the status of Toy Story, but it would prove that these guys were for real. The film broke new ground with its realistic environments, expressive characters, and solid writing. No one was going to be surprised as the company cranked out exceptional movie after exceptional movie. A Bugs Life fit the Pixar mold perfectly.
Flik (Foley) is a rather inventive ant. He’s always coming up with new and improved ways of doing things. Unfortunately, many of these ideas just miss the mark and end up causing more harm than good. His efforts aren’t helped by the fact that he has the hots for the Princess Atta (Louis-Dreyfus). Mr. Soil (McDowall) has the ants very busy gathering food to offer up to the grasshoppers, who depend on the ants for food to keep them through the winter. Failure to deliver is not an option, at least if the ants don’t want some serious beat downs from the grasshopper gang, led by Hopper (Spacey). The last bit of food is finally gathered just as the gang is about to arrive. But at the last minute Flik inadvertently dumps the cache into the water. When Hopper’s gang arrives, there’s no food. Hopper gives the ants until the last leaf falls from the trees to deliver their winter food or he will kill the Queen (Diller). Of course, everybody blames Flik, so when he comes up with an idea that he should go out into the world in search of warrior bugs to help them defeat the Hopper gang, Princess Atta goes for the idea. She doesn’t expect him to succeed, but at least he’ll be out of the way while the ants try and gather enough food for Hopper and themselves. But Flik does succeed …almost. He encounters a troupe of circus performer bugs, and through a series of misunderstandings sets off back home with his new friends in tow. He believes they are great warriors. They think he’s taking them home to play a circus gig. The warrior/circus bugs include: Slim (Hyde Pierce) a walking stick, Heimlich (Ranft) a German caterpillar, Francis (Leary) a sexually confused “lady”bug, Manny (Harris) a preying mantis with a flair for Shakespeare, Gypsy (Kahn) a moth, Rosie (Hunt) a black widow spider, and the two identical pill bugs Tuck and Roll. When they arrive home, the ants are overjoyed with Flik’s unexpected success. That is, until they discover that the “warriors” are merely performers when their boss Mr. Flea (Ratzenberger) rolls into town looking for them. When the Hopper gang arrives, they have no choice but to put up a fight, led by baby Dot (Panettiere) and her scouts.
The story is actually a retelling of two well known tales. The obvious connection to The Grasshopper And The Ant is further demonstrated by the inclusion of the 1934 Disney version of the fable on the disc. One can’t ignore the obvious connection to the famous tale of The Seven Samurai. Did you happen to count the warrior bugs? Tuck and Roll count as one. That’s not to say the story isn’t an original one. It is. But it owes some of its roots to these popular tales.
There’s so much to like about this movie, as with nearly all of the Pixar efforts. The voice cast includes legends from the past in the way of Roddy McDowall and Jonathan Harris doing a very Doctor Smith-like performance. The cast also includes future stars like Dave Foley and the cheerleader from Heroes who needs saving, Hayden Panettiere. There’s not a weak link in the cast. The characters display a wide range of motion and emotion due to the stable of brilliant animators at Pixar. Wrap it all up in an incredibly detailed world and you have that winning Pixar formula running on all cylinders.
So, the question becomes: How does this all look on Blu-ray in high definition. The DVD looked pretty great and was actually the first home release of a digital source, master, and final product. Surely, it couldn’t be that much better. Wrong! A Bug’s Life is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This is an amazing 1080p image brought to you through a strong AVC/MPEG-4 codec. This image is as close to perfect as I dare you to find. Colors are magically brilliant. Sharpness is so razor sharp that you just might need stitches after watching this one. Black levels are not only solid with great inky shadow definition, but there is a sheen texture to some blacks, particularly Rosie, that add a dimension I’ve honestly not experienced before in my own theater. Since this is indeed a digital product from beginning to end, there are no print defects or flaws whatsoever. If you are not completely blown away by this picture, call your eye doctor, because it’s definitely time for a checkup. Buy this disc and you just bought your newest show-off piece when you want to impress your friends with your setup.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track is nearly as perfect as the image. I’m most amazed at the level of sound separation achieved here. From the fluttering of a grasshopper wing to the crackling of a fire, everything has a perfect place in which to exist. When watching the grasshoppers swarm you’ll be able to pinpoint which wing is making which sound simply by some careful observation to both the image and sound. There is that level of detail. The immersive experience is there. You’ll hear the dialog just fine. Oh and don’t forget the wonderful Randy Newman songs. They won’t sound any better on CD with any stereo system. My only complaint might be there’s not quite the sub dynamic I might have liked. While there’s not enough rumble in the film itself to make this quite the show-off presentation, it holds its own against anything out there.
There is an Audio Commentary with John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich. These guys always have a ton of energy. Their passion is evident here as it is on the screen. Always worth the second run through to hear it all.
Geri’s Game: (4:55) HD: You’ve seen this Pixar short a few times before, but it’s here for the first time in HD. It’s about an old guy in the park playing chess against himself.
Filmmaker’s Roundtable (21:00) HD: This is a wonderful sit down with John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Darla Anderson, and Kevin Reher. They are looking back after 10 years on the movie and where Pixar was at that time. There’s some nice behind the scenes footage added on here as well. They cover a large area of topics and have loads of fun doing it. This new feature is a must see for Pixar fans. There’s a very heartwarming recollection of Joe Ranft, who passed away in 2005. He was one of their creative team and the voice of Heimlich in the movie.
A Bug’s Life First Draft (10:51) HD: The piece comes with an optional John Lasseter intro. The film originally featured a red ant that was not part of the community. He was the hero who got the warrior bugs. John Foley narrates this animated storyboard look at the original story idea.
Grasshoppers And The Ants (8:28) HD: (1934) Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and the Grasshopper fiddled while winter approached and didn’t gather any chow. Now it’s the hardworking ants who have the last laugh. For the first time in HD.
Behind The Scenes: There is a ton of material broken up into 3-6 minute pieces. Unfortunately they are not combined into a play all feature that would have made this so much better to watch. Each short segment comes with an optional SD intro. Most of the actual feature is in HD. It covers every possible aspect of the film from beginning to end. It’s cumbersome but worth the effort. If I could just plead that Pixar put this together into a better flowing feature next time.
Digital Copy and BDLive
If films like this don’t bring out the 10 year old in you, then you should schedule an appointment with your cardiologist, because it’s very possible your heart just stopped. No one does it any better, and the formula has been attempted with varying degrees of success by other studios. It’s fitting that Pixar aligned themselves with Disney, first as a distribution partner and eventually through merger. They’ve now become part of that 70 plus years of animation innovation. Here’s to another 70 years of watching the best in “children of all ages” entertainment. You guys make the movies, and “we’ll all just use our imaginations”.