Bugs peer out from behind a leaf. From the poster.


Original medium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: Pixar
First Appeared: 1998
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Computer animation on a Disney-quality level of production values goes back as far as the 1982 release Tron, but apparently the technology wasn't quite ready for it. Tron was only partly animated — the rest was live action. And computing technology was the subject matter as well as the production method — the storyline was intimately concerned with technology, and was even partly set within a world generated by computer graphics, like that of Reboot. It was as if the techniques weren't yet ready to deliver a picture that was entertaining in its own right. In this way, Tron was the Shatter of animation, produced in a way the technology wasn't quite ready for. It was only in the '90s that a movie that didn't remind viewers of computers, yet …

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… produced with their assistance, could find a place in the world. Toy Story (1995) was the inaugural production of Pixar, a start-up company that specialized in CGI, which stands for "computer-generated imagery" — which can easily be adapted for use in animation. Pixar's It's a Bug's Life was released November 25, 1998.

From the start, Pixar was allied with Disney as closely as All-American Publications was with DC Comics. Disney didn't just handle their distribution — in some ways, Pixar's films were considered Disney films. In fact, Disney, like DC, wound up purchasing the less well-known company, so within a few years, Pixar films effectively were Disney films.

The actual title was "A Bug's Life," but it was often called by the full phrase, "It's a Bug's Life." In some ways, it was reminiscent of the 1934 Silly Symphony The Grasshopper & the Ants, but it would be more accurate to think of it as an insect-oriented remake of Akira Kurasawa's Seven Samurai (1954), with a cartoon-like comedy of errors grafted onto the plot.

In that plot, the improvident grasshoppers, instead of merely envying the more industrious ants and being unexpectedly invited to share in their bounty, organized themselves into a criminal gang to prey on them. Like in the Kurasawa film, the ant community (in the person of an innovative and kind of nerdy ant named Flik) hires what he thinks are the equivalent of masterless samurai (or "warrior bugs") to deliver them from their oppressors. But instead of warriors, Flik mistakenly recruits a bunch of flea circus performers. The mistake is eventually discovered, but not before personal interaction involving Flik; the grasshopper chief Hopper; the Queen's young daughter Dot; Dot's older sister Atta; Hopper's younger brother Molt; and circus boss P.T. Flea. The circus performers stay and help anyway. Hopper gets eaten by a bird and the rest of the grasshoppers are driven away.

Next Spring, the performers, who have been the ants' guests for the winter, depart with Molt, who now regrets his earlier evil ways and has joined the troupe. Flik and Atta, now queen, live happily ever after.

Flik was voiced by Dave Foley (who has played similar roles in Toy Story and Cars). Atta was Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Miss Felter in Hey Arnold!). Hopper was Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor in a couple of Superman video games). Other voices included Richard Kind (Roger in The Penguins of Madagascar), Phyllis Diller (Peter's mom in Family Guy), David Hyde Pierce (Baron von Lichtenstamp in Mighty Ducks), Madeline Kahn (Gussie in An American Tail) and John Ratzenberger (The Abominable Snowman in Monsters Inc.). It was directed by John Lasseter (Tinker Bell), who is said to be a Kurosawa fan; and Andrew Stanton (Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures).

A Bug's Life was subject to the usual merchandising that accompanies a modern animated movie — video games, "making of" specials, home video versions, that sort of stuff. Like most Disney/Pixar movies, we can expect it to be seen on TV and/or rereleased from time to time.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Pixar.