To see 'Bee' or not to see 'Bee'

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2007


  This undated photo provided by DreamWorks shows Barry B. Benson, right, voiced by Jerry Seinfeld, and Adam Flayman, left, voiced by Matthew Broderick in a scene from "Bee Movie."

This undated photo provided by DreamWorks shows Barry B. Benson, right, voiced by Jerry Seinfeld, and Adam Flayman, left, voiced by Matthew Broderick in a scene from "Bee Movie."

Much has been made of the "Seinfeld Curse," but is there really such a thing? I'm referring, of course, to the stellar lack of success achieved by the cast members of that highest-rated sitcom of all time in the years since its disappearance from the airwaves.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine) has played a variety of leading ladies to critical applause, but considering how quickly her shows have been cancelled, the "atta-girls" are not much consolation.

George's Jason Alexander is a bona fide thespian, but the biggest role he's played in the last few years was in "Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror."

And Kramer. Despite Michael Richard's obvious talent, that racist rant in a comedy club in L.A. will haunt him for years to come.

I suppose you could look at the preceding list of failure and lament the supposed curse, but I think it has more to do with going to the well one time too many. Each of these talented comedians tried to follow "Seinfeld" with another sitcom, to no avail. And it's no wonder people saw them as their former characters and their shows were flops.

You'll note I didn't mention Jerry Seinfeld himself in that list. Jerry did not feel the need to follow his show with another project right away. You could say this was savvy media smarts, but it probably had more to do with the $250 million worth of security he got by selling "Seinfeld" into syndication. He did have an idea, though, and it's one that's kept him busy for the last several years. "Bee Movie," the computer-animated tale of two worlds, bee and human, on a collision course, is not likely to spawn a dictionary full of catch-phrases, nor will it revolutionize children's filmmaking with a witty, self-referential "show about nothing" format. What it will do, however, is provide 90-minutes of inoffensive kiddie entertainment and add another wing on the Seinfeld mansion.

Jerry plays Barry B. Benson, a young bee about to enter the adult world, and a lifetime of work making honey with the rest of his bee brethren. But, while his friends and family delight in the idea of a droning, never-changing life of endless toil, Barry longs for something different. He looks in envy at the "Pollen Jocks," rugged, hunky Top Gun bees who roam the outside world, bringing back the precious nectar to support the hive. Rashly, Barry accepts a challenge that finds him soaring with the Jocks, but also finds him in an unfamiliar, frightening world. Separated from the group following an incident with a tennis ball, Barry ends up waiting out a rainstorm in a high-rise apartment, where he meets Vanessa Bloom.

Vanessa, voiced by Rene Zellweger, is a human, and when Barry thanks her for saving his life from her oafish boyfriend, he breaks a cardinal bee law: Never talk to humans. Oh well. Barry is smitten not just with Vanessa but with the outside world and the adventure to be had. Until a trip to the grocery store. Barry is horrified to find shelf upon shelf of jarred honey, some of it (gasp!) on sale! Vanessa reveals the sad truth there are places where humans profit from the labor of sad slave-bees, forced to work in slum hives for the benefit of their honey-hungry overlords. This cannot stand and so, naturally, Barry decides to sue the human race on behalf of all bees. You can guess how well that turns out.

"Bee Movie" is a silly fable that never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. Unfortunately, it doesn't take the writing very seriously, either, so sections of it, mostly the stuff with humans, are virtually unwatchable for anyone over 8 years old. Zellweger's scenes, in particular, are atrocious, but it's hard to tell whether to blame the actress, the animators, or the writers.

On the other hand, there is a lot of stuff, especially depictions of bee society, that are pretty clever. Seinfeld and Co. essentially throw every "Bee" joke they can think of at the screen and it's a mixed bag. Some stick, like dragging pop-star Sting up on the witness stand to take him to task for blatantly appropriating Bee iconography for profit. Other stuff, like the awkward bee/human "getting to know you" banter is just, well, awkward.

On the whole, "Bee Movie" succeeds at hitting its target audience and disappointing all those who thought that it would be a return to the adult wit we all loved from "Seinfeld." It's not "Seinfeld" and it shouldn't be. It's just a guy making a fun movie for kids that's guaranteed to be successful. I'd say it's a pretty poor curse that can be thwarted by simply making smart career moves.

Grade: B-

"Bee Movie" is rated PG for mild suggestive humor.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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