The bee, they say, cannot fly. Its wings are too small, its body too bulbous, but fly it does. This is championed as some fundamental triumph of the bee against the establishment. It isn't. Bees are complicated, and smart. Bee Movie, unfortunately, isn't.

The notion that bee flight is impossible opens Bee Movie, and given that it appears in tall letters on a plain background it seems fair to assign it some importance. Now, obviously, bees fly. Bee flight was, for a time, difficult to explain with our understanding of aerodynamics, but now it's relatively well understood (if not exactly common knowledge*). Time has moved on.

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Sadly for Jerry Seinfeld, his comedy hasn't. As a recent college graduate, his Barry B. Benson is faced with his one, defining choice - what part of the vast industry of honey production he will be occupy. Tempted by the prospects of joining the "Pollen Jocks" on their forays outside, he leaves the hive and is rescued from death by Vanessa Bloome, a kindly florist voiced by Renée Zellweger. She is drawn to this sensitive bee, with his distinctive observational comedic stylings, to an extent that produces jealousy from her boyfriend Ken (voiced by Family Guy's Patrick Warburton).

There's stuff about life, and work, a painfully obvious joke about lawyers involving a mosquito voiced by Chris Rock, and a bizarre lawsuit between bees and the honey industry, with Barry as lead counsel for the plucky hymenoptera against the monolithic apiarists, represented by a grotesque caricature of a Southern lawyer (voiced by John Goodman). Most jokes are obvious, and though a good few are genuinely funny they tend to be well telegraphed. This is gentle humour, so gentle, in fact, that it has a U rating (admittedly with a BBFC ordered cut).

There is some stellar casting: Matthew Broderick, Rip Torn and Oprah Winfrey all crop up, even Ray Liotta. Sting makes an appearance that puts his role in Dune into a good light. Much of the problem, indeed, most of the problem, is the script. There are four credited writers, and that's rarely a good sign.

The animation is very good, with some delightful sequences in the honey factory and more than a few sight gags. The soundtrack's pretty solid too, with the Archies and Sheryl Crow featuring. It's not as clumsy, cynical, or depressing as Mee-Shee The Water Giant, but it's far from the heights reached by Pixar, although it does at least manage to strike the balance between kid-friendly humour and knowing references to amuse accompanying adults.

Beyond the stuff about bee flight, Bee Movie plays fast and loose with what pollination actually entails, and credits Jeffrey Katzenberg (of producers Dreamworks) as 'Deus Ex Machina', which is helpfully (and inaccurately) translated as "Hand of God". The credits are actually quite amusing, though audiences are spared the need to sit through them for a hidden scene. There is a brief song from Seinfeld, but their main attraction is little things such as cut-out paper bees buzzing around the words, the credit for a stunt double, and a thanks to real world company Honex for the use of their brand.

Bee Movie is bitty, even patchy, and, unlike the hive it depicts, less than the sum of its parts. That they're high quality parts does a lot to make up for the fact that they don't quite work together.

[*Bee wings don't generate lift directly, instead they rotate as they flap, which produces complex vortices that do the work. It's a fascinating subject, and you can read more about it here.]

Reviewed on: 14 Dec 2007
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A recently graduated bee decides to sue humans for eating honey.
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Keith Dudhnath ****

Director: Steve Hickner, Simon J. Smith

Writer: Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten

Starring: The voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, John Goodman, Chris Rock, Kathy Bates, Barry Levinson, Larry King, Ray Liotta, Sting

Year: 2007

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US

Festivals:

London 2007

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