Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Film Yap: Pixar Talk -- A Bug's Life

Every week Austin is going to have a chat with Victoria Disque about a Pixar film. This is all leading up to a speech Austin will be giving about Pixar at the E.B. and Bertha C. Ball Center in Muncie on November 18th. Victoria is a producer of The Reel Deal and is currently majoring in telecommunications at Ball State University.

Austin: Here we are, back again, another week another Pixar film. I’m going to start with the same question: When was the last time you’ve seen “A Bug’s Life”

Victoria: Probably a year.

Austin: How was it different for you now?

Victoria: I definitely don’t love it as much as I did when I was a little kid. This was the first Pixar film I saw in theatres and I was in awe back then. I thought it was funny as I grew up and now I don’t think it has held up.

Austin: I would agree. It doesn’t have as many iconic lines. It has a lot of great characters but the story isn’t as strong as “Toy Story”.

Victoria: The story is, I think, darker than “Toy Story”. I mean it’s about tyranny, basically.

Austin: Exactly! It’s funny. I’ve been watching hours of bonus features and they never mentioned this movie. It’s very similar to “The Seven Samurai”, the Akira Kurosawa film with a small village under a similar problem and they find some warriors, this ragtag team of samurai. Not circus performers, but they aren’t the best samurai in the world.

It’s still so interesting about how likable the movie is. The characters are so simple, yet so likable.

Victoria: The characters are well though out. We have this huge caterpillar who is a total idiot—and German!

Austin: Very German.

Victoria: And we have the stick bug who looks like he can’t take anyone on. He’s the smartest one in the group. Then the ladybug, who is not a lady which is the ongoing joke.

Austin: It’s almost a replacement for the Mr. Potato Head jokes. It’s the go-to joke to take a pause from the plot. Dennis Leary, great casting choice. He’s very funny and masculine, in an angry sense.

Victoria: Loved David Hyde Pierce as Slim.

Austin: This is another great cast. We have Madeline Kahn, Bonnie Hunt, Dave Foley—I love Dave Foley. Never would imagine him to be a lead in…any film really.

Victoria: Such a great voice, though. Did you see “Prep and Landing”? The half hour show they play around Christmastime? He’s the voice of the head elf. It’s so great. I wish that Disney would come out with a new one every year.

Austin: I know he’s going to be in one of the new ones. I think the upcoming dinosaur one. He’s such a great voice. I love “NewsRadio”. Also we have Kevin Spacey as a great villain.

Victoria: That’s his best roles, playing villains.

Austin: Apparently they met him at the Academy Award nominee dinner. They were nominated for “Toy Story”, he was nominated for “The Usual Suspects”. They asked if he wanted to be in an animated film and he said “Sure, why not!” He was even there after playing a villain. Oh. Spoiler for “The Usual Suspects”…

Also we have Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Phyllis Diller…

Victoria: And Hayden Panettiere! She was Dot.

Austin: That surprised me.

Victoria: That was before she was Hayden Panetteiere.

Austin: I think she was a better actor when she was 9. Again, all the characters are so sweet and you understand their motivations. Flik is a great main character. He’s the earnest, stumbling underdog. But there’s still something missing from the story.

Victoria: Yeah, I agree.

Austin: It feels like so many things should work. They have these great moments when he flies on the dandelion across to the city. There are exciting action scenes, this convoluted circus performance and they are fun to watch but I still don’t remember them. It doesn’t last as much. I still don’t know why.

Another thing I noticed is this movie is so technically impressive. The jump of animation quality skyrocketed since “Toy Story”. It almost seems like they were too ambitious. There were too many locations, too many characters. There are a billion ants always moving.

Victoria: And they all hook arms at the end against Hopper. I was very impressed with that.

Austin: All different animals, too. With “Toy Story” they had models to base them. We all know what Mr. Potato Head looks like. This was a chance for them to make all these new specific characters. They look great, especially in Blu-Ray. The colors are really strong.

Victoria: Speaking of locations, I loved the ode to Times Square. They set up the Chinese boxes, they have the bugs that look like taxis, the lightening bug switching between the two Christmas lights directing traffic. That’s one of my favorite parts now; it’s so creative. When I was little, obviously, I didn’t know this was supposed to be Times Square but now I just think it’s brilliant.

Austin: Those are the Pixar touches I love. It makes you understand the world and all the nuances of it. Yet there is one time when that didn’t work for me in this movie. It was one of my favorite scenes as a kid, but now it didn’t work at all. It’s the opening joke with the leaf

Victoria: I love that joke.

Austin: I did too. I laughed, but the more I watched the ants walk around normally it doesn’t seem like it’s the same ants. They aren’t so conformed with their day to day life. They can pick their own seats for the speech, they can hang out together on their own path. It never seemed like the same ants who would see a leaf and not know where to go. Even though it’s a really funny idea for a joke. I was upset it didn’t work for me this time.

Victoria: I can see that now that you’ve brought it up.

Austin: Now that I’ve ruined it for you?

Victoria: I wouldn’t say “ruined”. I still love the “This doesn’t compare to the twig of ’93!” Love that line.

I like how the humor is still funny. I love the adult jokes they have like when the mosquito sits down at the bar and orders a Bloody Mary O-Positive. There’s also the humor my niece and nephew would laugh so hard at. Like when Francis is flying Slim through the trees and he loses him. “Where are you?” “I’m the only stick with eyeballs!”

Austin: That’s really funny. I love how they didn’t choose to animate the character. The audience can’t find him, either.

Victoria: I always look for him too.

Austin: Also the joke where Francis hits Slim with the wing, he falls down and says “Slapstick!” That makes me laugh.

The thing I laughed at the most, and this is what my dad was obsessed about. He would talk to people for weeks. “Did you see Bug’s Life? Did you stay for the credits?” These outtakes are the greatest idea.

Victoria: I don’t think I’ve ever seen them…

Austin: You never finished the credits?!

Victoria: This is news to me!

Austin: They made these animated outtakes of characters messing up their lines.

Victoria: I know they did it for “Toy Story 2”…

Austin: They did it first with “Bug’s Life” with the boom mic falling into the frame, the characters purposely mess up their lines to mess with other people, props fall down, they hit the camera which smudges the camera. It’s such a clever idea. They wanted to do it for “Toy Story” but they ran out of time. It’s such a fun thing to do, which is so simple and it works so well.

Victoria: I think one of my problems with the movie is that I never remember the ending. As I was watching it today, I can never remember what happens after Hopper is put in the cannon. He flies and grabs Flik…then Ada comes to his rescue…then I really don’t recall any of that happening.

Austin: It’s been a weirdly nostaligic week for me. I’ve seen “Toy Story”, “Lion King” and now “Bug’s Life”. For the first two I remember every character and every scene even though it’s been many years since I’ve seen them. This one, not as much. I know what has to happen for the story to function.

Again, I don’t know why this happened. It’s a beautiful movie. I love the opening when it pans down on the grass.

Victoria: I still don’t understand when I get on Entertainment Weekly and I look at how they rank the Pixar movies. “A Bug’s Life” is always the last one. I wouldn’t go that far.

Austin: Exactly. Because “Cars” and “Cars 2” still exist. Well, this just bugs me for a lot of storytelling but when the main conflict is when someone is telling a lie. That means by the end of the film, the lie will be revealed, the person will get upset, and then everything will be better.

Victoria: Yep. They never get away scot-free. It never goes according to plan.

Austin: Exactly. So there will be this ten minute part when everyone is upset with the main character. Then there’s a new plan and everything is okay. Every romantic comedy ends that way especially when it doesn’t make sense. Like “Hitch”…

With this, it really didn’t work for me. “Oh they are circus bugs!!!” Then the Queen decides to get food again. They just built a giant bird!

Victoria: That’s going to work!

Austin: It’s impressively built. Really impressively built. Yet every one gives up and finds seeds and hopes Hopper doesn’t kill them all.

Victoria: What did you think of P.T. Flea? Our John Ratzenberger cameo.

Austin: You know, I forgot who he was in the movie. So when I heard the voice it was a treat. He’s really funny. I love how manically he jumps around. Probably my favorite joke in the movie is after the big circus disaster, there is one of the flies in the audience yell “Burn him again!” He’s just a fun dirtball of a character.

Victoria: I view him a secondary villain because he seems to really enjoy tearing them all down. How many times did he ruin stuff for them? He comes in and tells everyone they are circus bugs…

Austin: He does fire them…after he was burnt.

Victoria: They have Plan B which is to use the bird and he lights it on fire. What is the matter with this dude!

Austin: He’s very oblivious. He’s like what we talked about with Sid. Sid is not mean to Andy. So he doesn’t know he’s being mean to real characters. Whereas, Hopper is trying to kill the queen, enslave all the ants, run a random resort.

What did you think of his brother?

Victoria: I love how the voice, Richard Kind, looks exactly like him. I thought he was a great match for that character. It was a bit cliché though. It always seems like, especially in animated films, the villain has someone who is a complete idiot. That’s what he’s there for. He’s the comic relief to make the villain look better or something.

Austin: I think it creates more distance with the grasshoppers. Not all grasshoppers are evil, just Hopper. It really sets him up as a villain when he pens the brother against the wall and says “If I didn’t promise mother I wouldn’t kill you, I would kill you.” It’s such a great line, especially in a G rated film. Then ultimately the brother joins the circus at the end.

Victoria: Oh yeah. Again, I’ve forgotten the ending already.

Austin: I keep forgetting they actually go back to the circus

Victoria: I forget that too until I remember Heimlich turning into the weirdest butterfly I have ever seen. So I remember they fly away because Heimlich can’t fly so they all have to carry him. Random bit of trivia, that is one of the animators as the voice.

Victoria: I love it when they do that.

Austin: They kept trying to find an actor, but the guy who recorded the scratch tracks was the funniest one so they cast him.

Victoria: Wasn’t one of the animators Roz from Monster’s Inc?

Austin: I think so. I know Brad Bird was Edna Mode from “The Incredibles” and another was Dug from “Up.”

Victoria: I like when they don’t get celebrities. It’s not needed.

Austin: Exactly. My go-to favorite Disney movie, “The Great Mouse Detective”, only has one celebrity in it: Vincent Price as Professor Rattigan. He’s happily over-acting and bringing a dark sense to the character. The rest are trained voice actors. So you can’t recognize them. So I have only heard them in these roles. They are only Basil and Dawson.

That reminds me, going back to Hayden Panetteiere. I like it when they cast actual kids as kids. That’s what makes “A Charlie Brown Christmas” so special is because they are awkwardly pausing and saying the sentence like a child would. Same with Dot, she has this energy you can only find as a kid.

Victoria: I remember when I was younger, I watched behind-the-scenes of “Monsters, Inc.”. To get the little girl to do the voice, she just ran around the playroom and they followed her with a mic.

Austin: I think that is some of the fun of voice directing. The things they do to get a different read on the line. Again, it’s Pixar having fun and being genuine.

Victoria: To actually get back on topic, I appreciate “A Bug’s Life” for it aimed towards little kids unlike some of the others, like “Up”. My nephew says he loved that one, but he only laughed twice during it. The rest was either adult humor or depressing. So I think this is still good for little kids, but it hasn’t held up.

Austin: It might just be because it’s a simpler story. The other Pixar stories like “Toy Story,” “Monsters, Inc”, and “Finding Nemo”—Nemo is basically a road trip movie but it’s still a complex road trip movie. Then you go to films like “Ratatouille” and “WALL-E” which is structurally complex and memorable because you haven’t seen this story before. This is just a simple underdog story, but done very well. So lower-tier Pixar is still a really good movie.

Victoria: Well yeah, it’s Pixar.


1 comment:

  1. For some reason, I always thought that the voice of the Ladybug was Jason Alexander from Seinfeld. But it's Dennis Leary! Fascinating. This goes to show that I need to watch this movie again. It has been years-maybe over ten years. But I would watch that movie again and again. I love it from what I can remember and would rank it above Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Toy Story 3 and both Cars movies. Obviously, I guess it shows that I enjoy earlier Pixar movies than the later ones, more or less. Does this comment come off as uppity? Christ. I hope not.