[Screen It]

(2007) (voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger) (PG)

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Animated comedy: Fed up with them taking advantage of his kind, a bee decides to sue humans for stealing and selling their honey.
Barry B. Benson (voice of JERRY SEINFELD) and his best friend Adam Flayman (voice of MATTHEW BRODERICK) live in New Hive City and are recent graduates, meaning they're expected to work for the rest of their lives like the rest of the bees employed by Honex Industries producing honey. Yet, while Adam is excited about having one permanent job, that doesn't sound enticing to Barry who doesn't want to end up being a stirrer like his father. Instead, he longs to be a pollen jock, one of the bee flyboys led by Lou Lo Duca (voice of RIP TORN) that get to go out of the hive and pollinate flowers.

Through a combination of pluck and luck, he manages to go out flying with them on a mission, but then ends up being separated and crash-lands in a human apartment during a rainstorm. The tennis player there, Ken (voice of PATRICK WARBURTON), tries to kill Barry, but Ken's would-be girlfriend, Vanessa (voice of RENÉE ZELLWEGER), stops him. Accordingly, and despite their number one rule being that they're not supposed to talk to humans, Barry feels he must express his gratitude to Vanessa, a florist, for saving his life.

The two end up forging an unlikely friendship, and that's when Barry learns that humans have been enslaving his kind for years, taking their honey, and selling it for themselves. Accordingly, he decides to sue the human race for that, thus putting him at odds with pompous lawyer Layton T. Montgomery (voice of JOHN GOODMAN) who vehemently defends the human honey industry. From that point on, Barry and Vanessa try to fight the good fight, unaware of the repercussions that are to follow.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Although it's yet to set off any sort of ecological or economic warning bells among the general public, the dramatic and yet-to-be-explained disappearance of a significant portion of the world's honeybees certainly has those in the know concerned. After all, the resultant reduction in the world's honey supply is small sweet potatoes compared to the impact that reduced pollination would have not only on the plant world, but also the animal one, including humans.

Accordingly, and if not for the amount of time it takes to bring a computer-animated film to the big screen, one might think that "Bee Movie" was nothing more than a propaganda film put out by the organization Stop Terminating Insects Now Good-golly, better known as STING.

After all, it features a concerned and plucky bee -- voiced by Jerry Seinfeld -- who not only strives to stop bees from being exploited by "the white man" (an exact term used in the pic) but also the ramifications should bees stop doing their job. In fact, it makes "An Inconvenient Truth" seem like a not so urgent PSA.

Okay, that's not exactly true, but it does sound like some deep material for a film that's otherwise a colorfully "drawn" (or rendered to be more accurate) comedy aimed at kids. And maybe it's because of that very fact that it isn't as good as one might expect, especially considering that Seinfeld also co-wrote the screenplay with Barry Marder and former "Seinfeld" writers Spike Feresten & Andy Robin, from which Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner direct.

Those expecting the brilliance of Seinfeld's TV sitcom of the same name will only occasionally find this offering up to snuff with the observational humor that's in play. Some of the better bits involve questions of why honey is sometimes sold in molded shapes resembling bears (rather than bees), and why rock/pop singer Gordon Matthew Sumner is better known by his bee-based moniker, Sting.

The filmmakers also include little bits of subject related humor as is often found in such pics that feature non-human characters, such as what it's like for insects who end up plastered onto windshields, various newspaper headlines and TV news coverage, and the like. Once upon a time, such details were highly inventive and quite entertaining due to their novelty. Nowadays, they're pretty much old hat and certainly are to be expected, thus making some viewers (mainly meaning movie reviewers) wish/think/demand that they be brilliant.

Here, they're mostly just competent and/or good (including a brief spoof of a scene from "The Graduate"), which feels like something of a letdown, a feeling shared with the overall film. While the action scenes (such as a bee's chaotic trip through an entire car, and avoiding a human bathroom attack, etc.) are entertaining enough in their own right, if nothing terribly special, the rest of the film feels too mundane and occasionally labored in trying to create this niche world and elicit laughs from it.

Another issue is that having Seinfeld voice the protagonist doesn't always work, mainly because his distinctive sound, vocal delivery, and comedic timing remind us too much of the real-life comedian (and thus, how he appeared on his TV show). I was going to say, "Not that there's anything wrong with that," but there is as the character thus comes off as Jerry rather than Barry B. Benson the protestor bee. Although the same would seem to apply to him, Chris Rock steals the few scenes he's in doing a fast-talking mosquito bit.

On the other hand, Matthew Broderick also doesn't do much for the best friend character, but Renée Zellweger is good voicing the human florist, and Rip Torn and Patrick Warburton get decent results from their vocal work, even if their voices also sound familiar. Of course, that will be an issue mostly for adults, while children probably won't notice and/or care. That also holds true for the computer animation that, while light years ahead of the primitive-looking version of the recent "The Ten Commandments," isn't anywhere up to snuff with the latest Pixar offerings, especially the gorgeous-looking "Ratatouille."

Accordingly, kids will likely find the film more entertaining than most adults, not only because it lacks storytelling sparkle, but also due to Seinfeld (as writer and vocal star) not delivering the comedy brilliance that so many will likely be expecting, particularly concerning his track record on stage and, of course, that legendary TV show bearing his name.

Okay, but unlikely to bee (sorry, be) anyone's favorite animated film of the year or the start any sort of grass roots movement to find out what's happening to the world's honeybees, "Bee Season" occasionally delivers the goods, but the yield isn't as sweet as it should be. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 30, 2007 / Posted November 2, 2007

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