What's the deal with celebrities lending their voices to computer-animated films? Is there really a demand for Robert De Niro to voice a shark or Bruce Willis a raccoon? Fortunately, Bee Movie, Jerry Seinfeld's first substantial work since Seinfeld, delivers what has been lacking in many celebrity-loaded animated projects: comedy.
Bee Movie follows Barry B. Benson (voiced by Seinfeld), a disillusioned bee who just graduated from college and isn't looking forward to his future as an assembly line worker at Honex-the hive's honey manufacturing plant.
When the opportunity to go outside the hive with the flower-pollinating "pollen jocks" presents itself, Barry makes it out of the hive for the first time and takes Manhattan by the stinger. He ends up bee-friending a florist named Vanessa (voiced by Reneacute;e Zellweger), after she saves his life from some swat-happy humans. In a shocking turn of events, Vanessa is the only person who can understand Barry's bee-speech and the two enjoy a cross-species friendship. As their relationship blossoms, Barry learns that humans are stealing the bees' honey and making a profit. Outraged, he decides to avenge his fellow honey makers by suing the entire human race.
The film has been in the works since 2003 and Seinfeld said in an interview with The Beacon that, without a theory from Albert Einstein, Bee Movie would not be possible.
"He said something like 'If there were no bees, people would live for only four years.' But really, there's just something about bee culture. They're so sophisticated and interesting," said Seinfeld, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
If it sounds like this film could end up being a science lesson from an apiculturist, don't worry, it's not. No self-respecting beekeeper would fill his fictional beehive with WASP jokes and references to significant others being "bee-ish enough" to bring home to parental insects.
The film's directors, Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith, have collectively worked on The Prince of Egypt, Shrek and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but the production of Bee Movie was a much longer, more harrowing process. Hickner and Smith said the necessity of keeping the film's ever-evolving CGI up-to-date and Seinfeld's tirelessly-tinkered script made development a great, but difficult experience for the two.
"I think they should give out awards for just finishing movies," Hickner said. "But we ended up getting everything we wanted into the movie."
Recognition will not be a problem for the two directors and their completed work. The computer animation in Bee Movie is nothing short of dazzling. They've managed to create two brand new worlds. The society inside the beehive and Manhattan as the outside world complement each other wonderfully. Seinfeld explains that this happened while writing the story.
"The beehive reminded me a lot of how Manhattan is," said Seinfeld, referencing the city's renowned frenetic energy, which inspired an insanity that came out brilliantly through the characters on his '90s sitcom.
The animated Manhattan in Bee Movie is so vibrantly colored and safe-looking that Rudy Giuliani's campaign is sure to try and take credit for it. The first time Barry flies out of the hive and discovers a new world, the audience shares his exhilaration.
Once you get past the human-bee relationship, which, admittedly, requires more than a little suspension of disbelief, Bee Movie could only have come from the mind behind (or inside) Seinfeld.
"We wrote it the same way we wrote the sitcom," said Seinfeld, who shares writing credits with Spike Feresten and Andy Robin, two former writers for Seinfeld.
It shows. The precision of the observational humor is straight out of the show or his stand-up routine, with fresh insight on life, only with an emphasis on yellow and black insects instead of being "master of your domain."
Co-director Simon J. Smith thinks that Seinfeld's humor translated perfectly to the screen for the PG set.
"[Jerry] doesn't go for low hanging fruit when it comes to his comedy," Smith said. "He's above that sort of thing."
The film isn't all a family affair, though. Two of the funniest scenes involve references that only those familiar with pop culture can appreciate. In one, Barry lies on a float in a honey-swimming pool while his parents (voiced by Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson) grill him about his future, so goes for a swim while Simon Garfunkel plays on the soundtrack, a la The Graduate.
In the completely irreverent courtroom scene, Barry puts everyone on the stand that has ever wronged Bee Culture-from Sting (get it?) to Ray Liotta (whose animated character owns a honey business, "Ray Liotta's Private Select Honey" and comes off as a tad psychotic while clutching an Emmy he recently won). The two are obviously good sports about the lampooning, as they voice themselves.
Wacky humor and bee puns aside, the film is really about sticking up for the little guy-err, insect. With impressive, stylized computer animation and the return of Seinfeld's wit, Bee Movie is not to be missed.