Let me tell you how things are supposed to work. The sun grows the food, the ants pick the food, and the grasshoppers eat the food.
One might consider "A Bug's Life", the follow-up to "Toy Story" from Disney/Pixar, a kinder, gentler, and less-sophisticated version of Dreamworks' "Antz", which arrived in theaters two months earlier. At first glance, it is easy to see the numerous similarities between the two computer animated productions. Both stories have a lowly worker ant who neither stands out from his numerous peers in the colony, nor manages to fit in. Both stories send this unlikely protagonist on a journey that ends up profoundly changing the social environments of their respective colonies. Finally, both films have an aging queen being threatened and a princess for a love interest. However, despite the similarities, there is enough in the second 'ant movie' of the year to justify a look.
I feel like they're all watching me and...
Waiting for me to screw up.
Flik (voiced by Dave Foley) is a lowly worker ant who sees himself as an inventor. Unfortunately, his independent spirit has earned him the disdain of his rule-abiding peers in the colony, and this is further reinforced when one of Flik's inventions ends up ruining a food offering for a marauding band of grasshoppers. When the grasshoppers arrive for their yearly visit and find nothing waiting for them, their leader Hopper (a malicious and delicious voicing by Kevin Spacey of "L.A. Confidential") takes the Queen (Phyllis Diller) to task and demands that the ants prepare a second offering by the end of the summer. Despite the protestations of Princess Atta ("Seinfeld" alumnus Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who argues that there is not enough time for the colony to collect a second offering and gather their stores for the winter at the same time, Hopper is not interested in hearing excuses, and leaves with a stern warning not to fail again.
We can find bigger bugs, bring them back here to fight! Then we'll be rid of Hopper and his gang!
Upon Hopper's departure, all eyes turn towards Flik, who has become persona non grata. While pondering what to do with him, Flik comes up with an idea to go out to 'the city' and find other bugs to fight against Hopper's gang, "Magnificent Seven"-style. Seeing this as an opportunity to get rid of this non-conformist troublemaker, Princess Atta puts Flik in charge of this 'vital mission' and sends him on his way.
What's the point of me going out there... they'll only laugh at me.
That's because you're a clown!
While in 'the city' (actually, the debris field below a trailer), Flik mistakes a group of third-rate flea circus rejects for 'warrior bugs', and immediately recruits them to defend the colony. Thinking that Flik is some high-powered talent agent, the out-of-work circus performers take Flik up on his offer, and return with him back to the colony.
Hello there girly-bug!
Shoo fly, don't bother me.
These would-be warriors include: Manny (Jonathan Harris, the original Mr. Smith of "Lost in Space"), a praying mantis mystic; his wife Gypsy (Madeline Kahn), a moth; Francis (Denis Leary), a belligerent ladybug; Rosie (Bonnie Hunt), a black widow spider; Slim (David Hyde Pierce of "Frasier"), a walking stick insect; Dim (Brad Garrett); a dim-witted rhino beetle; Heimlich (Joe Ranft), a happy-go-lucky caterpillar with an insatiable appetite); and Tuck & Roll (Michael McShane), a pair of unintelligible pill bugs. Of course, the misunderstanding is soon uncovered, and Flik's plan for saving the colony becomes quickly undone.
When your grasshopper friends get here, we're gonna knock them dead!
"Antz" seemed more appropriate for adult audiences, given its use of Woody Allen for the protagonist's voice, some of the adult humor, and the on-screen violence. In contrast, "A Bug's Life" is clearly targeted towards younger audiences, with cute characters, kid-friendly confrontations, and songs by Randy Newman. However, despite the G-rating, adults will still find plenty to like here, with much of the humor working on two levels. Furthermore, the animation itself is a visual treat, portraying the world of the ants as a vibrant and verdant place, a marked contrast to the dark and dreary world seen in "Antz". And while "A Bug's Life" does not have the star power in the voice department, the House of the Mouse has created dozens of instantly likable characters and cast the voices appropriately, with Spacey's sneering villainy and Leary's combative performance topping the list.
It's not about food... it's about keeping those ants in line.
While "A Bug's Life" is not as sophisticated and star-studded as "Antz", it certainly has enough humor, visual delights, and feel-good sentiments to make it worthwhile. If you have kids, take them to go see this. If you don't, go anyways. And don't be surprised if you find yourself with a silly grin throughout the entire movie.
They come, they eat, and they leave. It's our lot in life... it's not a lot, but it's our life.