Amir here. With Brave’s release on the horizon and Nathaniel writing a lot more about animated films lately, I’ve been thinking about Pixa. Let's talk about a film not many people talk about these days. Counter programming!
If the collection of Pixar films were a large family, A Bug’s Life would be that one child whom everyone always seems to forget. He just never comes up in conversation. It’s not that he’s in any way less than the other children. Quite the contrary, he’s interesting and handsome and courteous, but of all the sisters and brothers and cousins, he’s the one who sits in a corner in Christmas gatherings; he’s happy on his own and nobody bothers him either. That’s A Bug’s Life, essentially. It’s a story as well told as any other Pixar film; its characters are as memorable as anything else they’ve created; it’s exciting, colourful, intelligent and mature. But ask around and see how many people cite it as their favourite Pixar.
I’m not sure what happened in the time between the critical and box office success of the film at the time of its release and today, but something prevented A Bug’s Life from becoming a cultural phenomenon like the rest of the studio’s oeuvre. Is it because this film is more about pure entertainment than the grand ideas discussed in WALL-E and Toy Story 3? Say, more of a kids cartoon than an animated film for adults? Is it because Bugs’ greatest asset – its magnificent visuals – were trumped by Pixar’s return to nature in Finding Nemo and the rapid advances in technology that have so significantly improved the look of CGI animations? Or is it because they followed this up with Toy Story 2, part of a trilogy that still dominates the Pixar conversation?
Irrespective of those arguments, A Bug’s Life is as entertaining today as it was when I first watched it. Revisiting it this week, I found it to be one of Pixar’s most unhinged moments: imaginative in bringing an impossibly distant world to life but also adding an extra-saucy dimension to its anthropomorphic characters, richly detailed and attentive to landscape and the insects without sacrificing the vibrancy of the atmosphere and the journey. Everything about it just comes together perfectly, from the cinema’s only German caterpillar to the consistently zappy humour to the exhilarating frenzy of the finale, from the endearingly clumsy anti-hero in Flik to his monstrous arch-rival Hopper (voiced by Kevin Spacey whose immense talent for voice acting was utilized to carry a film more than a decade later in Moon).
The fact that A Bug’s Life doesn’t feature on the “Best of Pixar” lists frequently is more a product of the consistently high quality of the studio’s output than any shortcoming on the film’s behalf. So if you haven’t seen it in a while, pop it back in the DVD player. It’ll be a fun ride.