It’s been nearly a decade since Jerry Seinfeld ended his era-defining namesake show. Since then we’ve barely seen him, apart from the odd commercial, YouTube short or documentary on stand-up (if you have region 1 DVD). Many mistook the public ‘retiring’ of his show for retirement altogether, but the comic did still want to work. Never a fan of his own acting, Seinfeld wanted to a) perform new material, and b) not do it in front of a camera. The answer became obvious, and here we are, with a new animated effort from Dreamworks.
Wisely, we open on a nice piece of natural absurdity. A narrator points out that bees shouldn’t, by any human understanding of aerodynamics or logic, be able to fly, but that bees have never really cared. So we’re happily launched into Barry the Bee’s colourful, impossibility-free life, in a hive full of rollercoaster roads and colourful, vaguely Jetson-like homes. From there, it should be easy.
Bee ventures outside, bee meets girl (human). So far, so good. Bee discovers humans are harvesting honey from bee farms. Bee decides to sue. Cue courtroom drama, visions of slavery and upsetting the delicate balance of the ecosystem among the usual guest voices and pop covers of old songs. A strange brew indeed…
This sprawling tale creates problems with its characters. The more personalities that appear, the less time they have to develop, and it’s testament to the depth of talent in the voice cast that they remain even as memorable as they do. There are many enjoyable games of ‘spot the celeb’ to be had: Chris Rock is instantly recognisable as a mosquito, while those who know Rip Torn’s work will enjoy his ever-likeable presence as a flight commander. Strangely though, it’s the human characters who shine this time. Patrick Warburton – aka Elaine’s mechanic boyfriend Puddy in Seinfeld – is as great as ever, and John Goodman is good value as always, this time as an oily southern lawyer. But it’s Renee Zellweger who deserves special mention, making something out of nothing as Barry’s only human friend, getting by on pure sparkle.
Which brings us to the leading man himself. Initially there concerns whether Seinfeld could shoulder a whole movie, but those are answered early on, as his breezy manner gels with the bright colours and silly shapes. His style is as much a pleasure as ever it was – if you’re familiar with it. But what about the target audience?
Like its competition, Ratatouille, Bee Movie’s biggest hurdle is that it’s pitching to an older market. It’s more a ‘7 and up’ plotline, dense and occasionally dealing with rather sweeping issues. There are child-friendly puns, but it’s also crammed with Seinfeld’s trademark observational humour (making up for his loveable but limited acting range – even vocally). That will keep parents happy; five-and-under’s however, may get a bit antsy in the gaps between the simpler, but no less funny, gags (including a terrific mess-around with Dreamworks’ logo).
There, however, is where the similarities to Pixar’s movie end, and the ground to be caught up by every other animating studio becomes screamingly obvious. In terms of visuals, Bee Movie simply doesn’t cut the honey mustard, with a soulless, dated look. It’s a pity, and yet another reminder of how high the bar on the ol’ cartoons is these days. Don’t let that put you off altogether, but this is more a feast for the ears than the eyes.