Bee Movie is agreeably skewed fun. There’s no denying that the jokes in this bedazzling animated feature seem, at first, a bit conventional, if not corny. Jerry Seinfeld, who co-wrote and produced the film, lends his patented nasal-voiced skepticism to Barry B. Benson, a Central Park hive dweller buzzing for adventure. A boyish drone who’s supposed to resemble Jerry, but looks more like Casey Affleck crossed with the young Charles Grodin, Barry gets up in the morning, deliberates before picking a yellow-and-black-striped sweater off a rack hung with a dozen identical options, then sharpens his stinger like a pencil. What lies ahead for him is a life of noble drudgery. The hive believes in making honey, then more honey still, all in a cutely convoluted Dr. Seussian assembly-line bustle operated by — wait for it — the Honex corporation. Which is why Barry is drawn to the Pollen Jocks, strapping daredevils dressed like riot cops whose job is to gather that precious flower dust.
It’s when Barry tags along with them that Bee Movie comes alive. As he flies into the air, the world outside looks so whizzy and strange — acid-trip flashes of sky, leaves, and blinding sun — that it’s as if Barry were being reborn. The movie sticks, with thrilling precision, to a bee’s eye view, as Barry rises out of Central Park and buzzes down a midtown block. The images have a spangly clarity — they make New York look new again — yet there’s a funky bug-world fragility to it all, as when Barry catches a flash of himself in a car mirror or, later, gets plastered onto a windshield, along with other mashed victims. (Chris Rock, as a lowly mosquito, makes each line zing.)
Barry lands in the apartment of Vanessa Bloome (Renée Zellweger), a sweet lady romantically linked, for no good reason, to a lunatic (Patrick Warburton) who never speaks lower than a scream. Barry and Vanessa become friends; he even develops a crush on her. If that strikes you as odd — shouldn’t Barry have some honey of a bee girl he’s in love with? — welcome to the loopy eccentricity of Bee Movie, which is just getting rolling. Barry discovers that honey, stolen from bees, is sold to humans in supermarkets; that many of his fellows are kept in slave labor camps (i.e., honey farms); and that no other bees know about it. Seinfeld, voice rising to that nifty incredulous whine, perfectly channels our hero’s dismay. Bee Movie is about how Barry saves the world, and without giving more away, let me just say that the film is nutty, ecological, antically funny, and moving, all at the same time.
It’s also a fable for our 24/7 worker-bee age. We’re used to animated films like Ratatouille that salute those who don’t go with the flow, but Bee Movie takes a paradoxically fresher tack. In this movie, the power of the individual turns out to be overrated. It’s the system that’s precious, and if that message sounds a tad…reactionary, Bee Movie finds a touching beauty in it. Who’d have guessed that Jerry Seinfeld, the maestro of nothing, would spearhead a fairy tale about the inspiring glory of punching the clock? A-