Endearing & Underrated: A Bug’s Life

endearing and underrated, this happy place blog film series

I’m super thrilled to welcome the uber talented, Morgan Ditta (seriously Disney hire her already!), to join in the underrated film series with her first look at a Pixar film.

When people talk about Pixar films, the ones that immediately pop up as being the “best” or somebody’s favorite are the usual suspects: The Incredibles, Toy Story, Finding Nemo, etc. For me? The Incredibles is definitely numero uno. But if that film didn’t exist, my second favorite would be bumped up to the top: A Bug’s Life. Now a lot of folks, from my understanding, don’t consider this film one of Pixar’s best. Most critics place it in the middle-tier, or even the bottom-tier of the Pixar film hierarchy. While this film may have been knocked down some ranks as the studio grew (in more ways than one), it doesn’t stop me from loving it as much as I do.

The film holds a special place in my heart. And no, not because I watched it while getting rigged up for a heart-monitor in the hospital in 6th grade. I honestly don’t remember seeing it in theaters but I do remember watching the heck out of it on VHS at home. I even remember the day we bought it at Costco after seeing the large displays for it, where there were different characters on the covers. (I chose Princess Dot, if you’re curious.) I remember playing with my Flik and Princess Atta figures, and decorating a poster from a cereal box with stickers. And playing the Nintendo 64 game on my neighbor’s console and only getting as far as when the grasshoppers invaded the anthill. (Remember, GOLD BERRIES are the BEST!)

…Okay, sorry for going off on Memory Lane for a bit. Back on track!

Let’s take look at the film first before I explain WHY I like it, other than having fond memories of it.

Pixar’s second feature film focuses the magnifying glass on an ant named Flik (voiced by Dave Foley), a resident of a large colony on Ant Island.  The colony is run by its laid-back Queen (voiced by Phyllis Diller) and overly-stressed Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Drefyus).  The colony has done the same routine every spring: they harvest food for themselves and a traveling gang of grasshoppers. When Flik accidentally disposes of the grasshoppers’ share, the ants are threatened by the gang’s leader Hopper (Kevin Spacey) to double the amount they normally harvest by the time “the last leaf falls”. In an effort to keep the accident-prone Flik away while the colony tries to meet Hopper’s demands, they send him on a quest to find “bigger bugs” that can fight Hopper and keep him away for good.  While Flik takes his quest seriously, the leaders of the colony believe it will be nothing but a wild goose chase. He soon embarks on a journey and hires what he thinks are brave warriors. In actuality, they are recently-fired circus bugs that evidently can’t harm a fly.

While the story is simple in nature (a different take on The Ant and the Grasshopper), it’s the characters that make it so memorable for me! Each one is lovable in their own way, even the smaller roles like P.T. Flea or Mr. Soil or even the cockroach-cab! The vocal talent really shines in this film and helps to define each character. This is one of the few animated movies where I don’t go, “Oh that’s so-and-so voicing this character.” When I hear Kevin Spacey as Hopper, that’s Hopper– nobody else. Pixar has an excellent track record for picking actors that fit the characters and not the other way around. As a voice-over fan, I greatly appreciate that.

Flik especially stands out for me, and not just because he stands out from the rest of his colony. He’s the oddball. The outcast. The weirdo. Growing up, I too was considered the same things, so I definitely sympathized with Flik in that respect. Also like him, I was creative and always trying to think of other ways to tackle a problem. Overall, I just admire him- he’s seriously one of my heroes. His speech to Hopper at the end of the film is just fantastic and I still applaud it to this day.

Speaking of speeches, the writing in this film is just all-around wonderful. I should know- I have this movie memorized. Remember how I mentioned earlier I watched this while getting rigged for a heart monitor? Guess who got stares from the nurses for quoting along with the movie from start to finish? HINT: It was me.  There are just SO many great lines in this film. Nowhere near the quotable greatness of, say, Emperor’s New Groove, but still has a fair amount. “Burn ‘em again!” makes me laugh every single time. “I die…die…die…” and “But it’s a rock” also never get old.

There are even some bits of animation that I love to death, either because of their posing or because of their subtlety. For instance, when Flik shows Princess Atta, Thorny, and Cornelius (the old crotchety ant) his new invention of a telescope, he could’ve easily presented it in a simple fashion: here’s a blade of grass, toss a drop of water in, and oh hey you can see stuff far away now. Instead, he’s so, well, ANIMATED about it! The way he finally presents it, “A TELESCOPE!” is priceless, and Dot’s added giggles make the scene even more charming. Even when *I* watch him create a telescope from a blade of grass and a dew-drop, I get so enthralled in his pitch. I even slowly reach for my phone to place an order for one in XXXXXL.

There are a lot of tiny details I love about Flik, such as when he’s explaining to Princess Atta why he and the “Warrior Bugs” need to have a top secret meeting. He nervously rubs his fingers on a blade of grass while coming up with excuses. It’s a small thing to note, I know, but it’s a great little gem.

There’s the scene at the end where the ants just found out that Flik lied, and the members of the Royal Court are panicking. Princess Atta and Flik aren’t part of the conversation; they’re just staring at each other and nobody else, but you can tell exactly what they’re thinking. “I can’t believe you did this”, is probably what Atta is saying to him, with her glossy-eyes. Flik is most likely begging for forgiveness “I’m so, so, sorry- I never meant for this to happen.”

While technically not part of the film, I’d like to acknowledge the Pixar Short Geri’s Game. It also happens to be my favorite Pixar Short and no, not because it was paired up with A Bug’s Life. I don’t know what it is exactly about this short that I find so fascinating. I mean, it’s just a (possibly senile) old man playing chess with himself. Yet the way it’s edited together, you’re tricked into thinking there really are two old guys playing chess by the end of the short. This was also Pixar’s first major foray into realistically animating and rendering human skin and cloth, as Geri was their first main human-character. Remember Pixar’s previously animated humans in Toy Story? Compare Andy to Geri. Want a bigger comparison? Try the baby from Tin Toy.

Does it upset me that this film gets overlooked in favor of Toy Story 2 or Finding Nemo? A little bit. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t break my heart just a teensy bit if somebody told me they never saw this film and saw Antz instead. If you are one of those heartbreakers, don’t make me go back to the cardiology-ward and go see A Bug’s Life as soon as possible!

P.S. Watch the credits all the way through!

(Pictures from disneyscreencaps.com)

3 thoughts on “Endearing & Underrated: A Bug’s Life

  1. Great review! My very top favorite Pixar films are a tie between Ratatouille and Cars, but A Bug’s Life is right up there. So many awesome moments, including my favorite, the kids putting on the skit — “We are the grasshoppers! Where’s our Food?”

    Thumper is possibly the scariest character to ever appear in an animated film, and the voice cast was perfect, including Phyllis Diller and Julia Louise-Dreyfus. And, as you said, Flik is a terrific hero.

    The film is, indeed, under-appreciated, but at least it got its own land at California Adventure and the “Tough to Be a Bug” show on both coasts (I love how startling that show is to first-timers!) 🙂

  2. I’m so glad this one got included. While not my favorite Pixar (Monsters Inc. and Up vie for that title), I also think this one gets forgotten about. And it’s so much fun for all the reasons you mentioned.

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