A Bug's Life

USA 1998

Reviewed by Leslie Felperin


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

On a tiny island dominated by one large tree, a colony of ants gather their yearly midsummer grain offering to appease a marauding grasshopper gang led by the ferocious Hopper. Worker-ant Flik, while demonstrating his new grain-harvesting contraption, accidentally dumps the offering into deep water. An incensed Hopper demands the ants provide twice their usual offering by the time the last leaf falls from the tree. Flik offers to get help from bigger bugs in the mainland city (a rubbish pile). Princess Atta, training to take over from her mother the Queen, agrees to let him go.

In the city, a troupe of circus bugs are fired by their ringmaster P. T. Flea after a disastrous performance. Flik sees them fighting with some flies and mistakes them for warriors, while they mistake him for a talent scout. Flik leads them back to the island. When the misunderstanding is clarified, the circus bugs try to leave, but stop to help save Atta's sister Dot from a hungry bird. Flik is inspired: he persuades the colony and the bugs to build a fake bird to scare off the grasshoppers. But when Flik realises that no one expected him to succeed, he leaves with the circus bugs whom Flea has rehired.

The grasshoppers arrive, intending to squish the Queen. Dot finds Flik and persuades him to return. Flik's fake-bird plan partly succeeds until the bird catches fire. Flik stands up to Hopper and makes the ants realise that they vastly outnumber the grasshoppers. The ants attack en masse, Hopper battles Flik, but is tricked into falling into the clutches of a real bird and is eaten by its chicks. The circus bugs set off, leaving behind Flik, now considered a hero by the colony.


Insects have an impressive employment record in animation. In 1909, Ladislaw Starewicz experimented with animating dead stag beetles, eventually featuring them in Cameraman's Revenge (1911 a variation on the Bride Retires cycle of voyeuristic films), one so convincing critics were amazed that Starewicz had managed to train his tiny cast so well. Animation pioneers the Fleischer Brothers made Mr Bug Goes to Town (1941), a great film maudit which features a colony of urban insects whose home is threatened by the inexorable forces of property development. This was their second unsuccessful attempt (after Gulliver's Travels in Lilliput, 1939) to mount a viable alternative to Disney's monopoly on animated features.

It's tempting to make parallels with the current battle between DreamWorks SKG and Disney circa 1998. DreamWorks, who released their own wisecracking, New York-set ant movie Antz a few months ago, might seem plucky inheritors of the Fleischers' upstart-underdog title if they were not themselves so efficient, canny and corporate. Still, history is repeating itself in the sense that Disney has the upper hand with this co-production (with Pixar) of A Bug's Life - traditionally bucolic, better executed, more tightly constructed and more commercially successful. This latest insect movie uses the same basic plot structure as Antz: a colony threatened by other more powerful insects is saved by ostracised members' ingenuity. A Bug's Life burrows a little less deeply into the muddy individual-versus-conformity soil ploughed by Antz. It's a far lighter film - literally so, with much more of its action taking place above ground rather than inside the anthill (which in Antz made a wonderfully murky, Metropolis-like setting).

It's no accident, though, that an anglepoise (star of award-winning short Luxo Jr.) is Pixar's mascot. Subtle use of light and colour has emerged as director John Lasseter and Co's trademark and their deployment of these elements in A Bug's Life is quite astounding. Where the last film, Toy Story, was set mainly indoors and afforded opportunities to mimic incandescent lighting and sunlight filtered through windows, A Bug's Life goes for an even more complex palette of effects. As the summer wanes and autumn kicks in, the shades darken and the angles of illumination change almost imperceptibly. In this arena, computers really can achieve things cel animation would struggle to get right: it's a matter of mathematical programming to calculate shadows from preset sources. A kind of lapidary realism is generated that would have equally impressed those fooled by Starewicz's stag beetles.

Nonetheless, the film's makers are canny enough to realise the value of stylisation. A Bug's Life really has the edge over Antz in the graphic simplicity of its characterisation. Where Antz made things harder for itself with anatomically correct six-legged ants given almost human-proportioned faces, Pixar's film takes an opposite strategy, reducing faces to huge, white-filled eyes and giving the ant bodies only four limbs. Meanwhile, the grasshoppers (their relentless leader Hopper wittily voiced by Kevin Spacey) have a lobster-shell texture, their joints constantly clicking menacingly, forming a sharp contrast with the soft, incandescent burnish on the pastel-coloured ants. Little of it will wash with entomologists, but A Bug's Life achieves the aim of reducing the squirm factor inherent in having insect protagonists. Nevertheless, the script has fun playing with our common knowledge of insects. The film's best line is a bored fly at the circus dismissing the bugs' performance with, "I only have 24 hours to live and I'm not wasting it on this." This fly would be less likely to say this of the film in which he appears. The rest of the film has similar fun mixing bug-world givens with anthropomorphism.


Darla K. Anderson
Kevin Reher
Andrew Stanton
Donald McEnery
Bob Shaw
John Lasseter
Andrew Stanton
Joe Ranft
Director of Photography
Sharon Calahan
Supervising Film Editor
Lee Unkrich
Production Designer
William Cone
Randy Newman
©Disney Enterprises Inc/Pixar Animation Studios
Production Companies
Walt Disney Pictures presents a Pixar Animation Studios film
Production Supervisors
Graham Walters
Bill Kinder
B.Z. Petroff
Production Office Co-ordinator
Jean Flynn
Scheduling Co-ordinator
Sarah Jo Daughters
Production Manager
Susan Tatsuno Hamana
Brian McNulty
Patsy Bougé
Ruth Lambert
Mary Hidalgo
Additional ADR Voice:
Mickie T. McGowan
Story Supervisor
Joe Ranft
Additional Story
GeeFwee Boedoe
Jason Katz
Jorgen Klubien
Robert Lence
David Reynolds
Story Manager
Susan E. Levin
Story Artists
Maxwell Brace IV
Ash Brannon
Jim Capobianco
Jason Katz
Jorgen Klubien
Robert Lence
Bud Luckey
Bob Peterson
Andrew Stanton
Nathan Stanton
Camera Manager
James Burgess
Camera Supervisor
Louis Rivera
Camera Technicians
Don Conway
Jeff Wan
Lighting Manager
Lindsey Collins
Lighting Co-ordinator
Tom Kim
Modelling/Shading Manager
Deirdre Warin
Modelling Artists
Mark Adams
James Bancroft
Loren Carpenter
Wei-Chung Chang
Michael Fong
Lisa Forssell
Deborah R. Fowler
Damir Frkovic

Shalini Govil-Pai
Brian Green
Mark Thomas Henne
Christian Hoffman
Oren Jacob
Jeffrey 'JJ' Jay
Rob Jensen
Sonoko Konishi
David Lomax
Michael Lorenzen
Kelly O'Connell
Keith Olenick
Joyce Powell
Brian M. Rosen
Dale Ruffolo
Andrew Schmidt
Don Schreiter
Eliot Smyrl
Galyn Susman
Tien Truong
Bill Wise
Kim White
Crowd Technical Artists
Cynthia Pettit
Leslie Picardo
Crowd/Effects Co-ordinator
Kelly T. Peters
Lead CG Painter
Robin Cooper
CG Painters
Yvonne Herbst
Bryn Imagire
Glenn Kim
Supervising Animators
Glenn McQueen
Rich Quade
Animation Managers
Kori Rae
Maureen E. Wylie
Michael Berenstein
Dylan Brown
Sandra Christiansen
Scott Clark
Brett Coderre
David Devan
Andrew Gordon
Timothy Hittle
John Kahrs
Karen Kiser
Shawn Krause
Bankole Lasekan
Dan Lee
Les Major
Daniel Mason
Billy Merritt
James Ford Murphy
Mark Oftedal
Michael Parks
Sanjay Patel
Bobby Podesta
Jeff Pratt
Karen Prell
Roger Rose
Andrew Schmidt
Steve Segal
Doug Sheppeck
Alan Sperling
Doug Sweetland
David Tart
J. Warren Trezevant
Mark Walsh
Tasha Wedeen
Additional Animation
Kyle Balda
Alan Barillaro
Stephen Barnes
Colin Brady
Ben Catmull
Jennifer Cha
Tim Crawfurd
Ike Feldman
Stephen Gregory
Jimmy Hayward
Steven Clay Hunter
Angus MacLane
Jon Mead
Karyn Metlen
Valerie Mih
Peter Nash
Jan Pinkava
Brett Pulliam
Michael Quinn
Gini Santos
Anthony Scott
Adam Wood
Christina Yim
Crowd Supervising Animator
Dale McBeath
Crowd Animation
Davey Crockett Feiten
Patty Kihm
Bob Koch
Robert H. Russ
Ross Stevenson
Kureha Yokoo
Lead Render Technical Director
Danielle Feinberg
Rendering Manager
Victoria Jaschob
Optimization Consultant
Oren Jacob
Animation Software Development Director
Darwyn Peachey
Software Engineers
Brad Andalman
Ronen Barzel
Bena Currin
Tony DeRose
Kurt Fleischer
Lisa Forssell
Thomas Hahn
Mark Thomas Henne
Kitt Hirasaki
Michael B. Johnson
Steve Johnson
Michael Kass
Chris King
Eric Lebel
Peter Nye
Lee Ozer
Bruce Perens
John Singh Pottebaum
Sudeep Rangaswamy
Arun Rao
Drew Rogge
Michael Shantzis
Heidi Stettner
Dirk Van Gelder
James W. Williams
Wayne Wooten
Rendering Software Development Director
Anthony A. Apodaca
Special Rendering Techniques
Tom Duff
Larry Gritz
Tien Truong
Crowd Technical Supervisor
Michael Fong
Effects/Crowd Managers
Nicole Paradis Grindle
Deirdre Warin
Effects Technical Artists
James Bancroft
Keith B.C. Gordon
Mark Thomas Henne
Dan Herman
Christian Hoffman
Leo Hourvitz
Jeffrey 'JJ' Jay
Quintin King
Chris Perry
Bill Polson
Don Schreiter
Brad Winemiller
Adam Woodbury
Crowd Technical Artists
Kirk Bowers
Onny P. Carr
Shalini Govil-Pai
Quintin King
Michael Lorenzen
Layout Manager
Molly Naughton
Layout Co-ordinator
Trish Carney
Supervising Layout Artist
Ewan Johnson
Senior Layout Artist
Craig Good
Layout Artists
Robert Anderson
Kevin Björke
Shawn Brennan
Bill Carson
Wade Childress
Jeremy Lasky
Patrick Lin
Mark Sanford
Adam Schnitzer
2nd Editor
David Ian Salter
Editorial Co-ordinator
Hana Yoon
Additional Editing
Jessica Ambinder Rojas
Mildred Iatrou
Jeff Jones
Ellen Keneshea
Art Directors
Tia W. Kratter
Bob Pauley
Art Department Manager
Katherine Sarafian
Shading Supervisor
Rick Sayre
Shading Design
Tia W. Kratter
Shading Artists
John B. Anderson
David Batte
Lisa Forssell
Keith B.C. Gordon
Brian Green
Ben Jordan
Ken Lao
Daniel McCoy
Keith Olenick
Chris Perry
Bill Polson
Mitch Prater
Brian M. Rosen
Eliot Smyrl
Tien Truong
David Valdez
Bill Wise
Modelling/Shading Co-ordinators
Victoria Jaschob
Mark Nielsen
Sketch Artists
Mark Holmes
Glenn Kim
Dan Lee
Bud Luckey
Lawrence Marvit
Nathaniel McLaughlin
Additional Storyboarding
GeeFwee Boedoe
Jill Culton
Pete Docter
Davey Crockett Feiten
Harley Jessup
Jeff Pidgeon
Norman De Carlo
Jerome Ranft
Character Design
Bob Pauley
Dan Lee
Jason Katz
Bud Luckey
GeeFwee Boedoe
James Ford Murphy
Sanjay Patel
Tasha Wedeen
Visual Development
Peter Desève
Dave Gordon
Steve Johnson
Paul Kratter
Lou Fancher
Jean Gilmore
Bruce Zick
Fred Warter
William Joyce
Kevin Donahue
Rick Maki
Title Design
Susan Bradley
Jonathan Sacks
Don Davis
Ira Hearshen
Executive Music Producer
Chris Montan
Music Production Supervisor
Andrew Page
Music Production Manager
Tom MacDougall
Music Editors
Lori Eschler Frystak
Bruno Coon
David Slusser
Music Recorder/Mixer
Frank Wolf
"The Time of Your Life" by/performed by Randy Newman
Sound Design
Gary Rydstrom
Additional Dialogue Recording
Bob Baron
Vince Caro
John McGleenan
Jackson Schwartz
Re-recording Mixers
Gary Rydstrom
Gary Summers

Original Dialogue Mixer
Doc Kane
Mix Technicians
Gary A. Rizzo
Tony Sereno
Supervising Sound Editor
Tim Holland
Sound Effects Editor
Pat Jackson
Michael Silvers
Dennie Thorpe
Jana Vance
Frank 'Pepe' Merel
Tony Eckert
Mary Helen Leasman
Marian Wilde
Supervising Technical Directors
William Reeves
Eben Ostby
Voice Cast
Dave Foley
Flik, the hero ant
Kevin Spacey
Hopper, badass grasshopper
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Princess Atta, a she-ant
Hayden Panettiere
Princess Dot
Phyllis Diller
the Queen
Richard Kind
David Hyde Pierce
Slim, a walking stick
Joe Ranft
Denis Leary
Francis, a male lady bug
Jonathan Harris
Manny, the praying mantis
Madeline Kahn
Gypsy, a moth
Bonnie Hunt
Rosie, a black widow spider
Michael McShane
Tuck/Roll, Hungarian pillbugs
John Ratzenberger
P.T. Flea
Brad Garrett
Dim, a not-so-bright beetle

Roddy McDowall
Mr Soil
Edie McClurg
Doctor Flora
Alex Rocco
David Ossman
Carlos Alazraqui
Jack Angel
Bob Bergen
Kimberly Brown
Rodger Bumpass
Anthony Burch
Jennifer Darling
Rachel Davey
Debi Derryberry
Paul Eiding
Jessica Evans
Bill Farmer
Sam Gifaldi
Brad Hall
Jess Harnell
Brendan Hickey
Kate Hodges
Denise Johnson
David Lander
John Lasseter
Sherry Lynn
Mickie T. McGowan
Courtland Mead
Christine Milian
Kelsey Mulrooney
Ryan O'Donohue
Jeff Pidgeon
Phil Proctor
Jan Rabson
Joe Ranft
Jordan Ranft
Brian M. Rosen
Rebecca Schneider
Franchesca Smith
Andrew Stanton
Hannah Swanson
Russie Taylor
Travis Tedford
Ashley Tishdale
Lee Unkrich
Jordan Warkol
additional voices
Buena Vista International (UK)
8,533 feet
94 minutes 49 seconds
Dolby digital/SDDS/Digital DTS sound
In Colour
Prints by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011