April 1, 1999

A Bug’s Life (1998)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment

96 mins. · G
Letterboxed / Fullframe · 2.35:1

Format
DVD

Audio
E

Subtitles
None

Extras
2 sets of Outtakes, “Geri’s Game” award winning short film


Review by
Guido Henkel & Lieu Pham


Rating



(1998)

One of the trademarks of all Disney animated films is the fact that they appeal to everyone. Although animated and cute by nature, they don’t appeal to children only and they never have the serious, adult note of many other animated movies of recent time. The Disney trademark has been developed on this very foundation and it has made the company the undisputed industry leader in the field of family entertainment. In their recent collaboration with Pixar Animation Studios, Disney has played once again a very active role, and it comes hardly as a surprise that the result of this effort, "A Bug’s Life" utilizes this well-known and beloved formula, creating an enchanting adventure for the whole family. Whimsical at times, yet earnest and tongue-in-check every once in a while, "A Bug’s Life" is boasting with fantasy, imagination, social criticism and most importantly fun.

Flik is an ambitious ant in a colony of millions. He is an inventor at heart and always tries to find ways to improve the overall community and work for the better of everyone. Clumsy as he is, his inventions usually cause more damage than good however. The same happens one day when the colony is preparing their annual food sacrifice to the grass hoppers in return for their protection. On that fatal day, Flik accidentally spills all the food into a creek and when the grass hoppers arrive for their annual feast, they are more than slightly irritated that there’s nothing to feed on. The hoppers force the colony to collect twice as much food to make up for the impertinence, by the time the last leaf falls.

While most in the colony go to work immediately to collect the contribution, Flik feels it is time to put an end to the suppression and proposes a plan to go and find mighty warriors that would help the colony to fight off the grass hoppers once and for all. Hoping with Flik gone, no more disruptive damage would be done, the colony jointly agrees and soon the courageous and is on his way to the ‘big city’ to find some stronger and larger insects.

Unfamiliar with the big city life and characters, Flik mistakes a troupe of run-down circus artists for real warriors and hires them for the job. When he returns home with the motley crew of insects and finds out the truth, it seems as if the colony’s fate is sealed. To save the entire colony, Flik has devised yet another plan already however, that should, against all odds, help fend off the impending return of the grass hoppers. More colorful than any other production by either Disney or Pixar, "A Bug’s Life" introduces you to the capricious world of the bustling ants. Within seconds the viewer is completely captured by the creatures, their personalities and the gorgeous computer rendered graphics. From the first second of the film all the way to the end, it is remarkable how ‘active’ the film is. There is not a second of slow-down. Every scene and cut is enhanced with gorgeous background animation and elaborate characters. Through its strong comedic feel throughout, "A Bug’s Life" actually becomes one of those movies you have to watch numerous times to notice and appreciate all the elaborate intricacies that went into the production. Take any scene of the movie and just watch it without paying attention to the obvious focus of the scene, and you will notice some hilarious scenes you probably missed while watching the scene with your eyes glued to the obvious points of interest. Pixar does a great job of implementing all these details, yet making sure the eye is always securely lead to and held at the most important areas on screen.

Just as elaborate and stunning as the actual image work done on the film, is the phenomenal script of the film. Pixar have always been known for their good sense of humor in all their works, but "A Bug’s Life" tops them all. There are some of the funniest dialogues and events in this movie that beautifully caricature our culture, behavior and attitudes. It never does so in a blatant, in-your-face way, but always charming with a subtle sidekick that actually makes you think - if not embarrassed - while you are laughing. This film presents us with family oriented screenwriting at it’s best, always clever, witty, intelligent and layered to speak to a wide variety of different ages. If you liked Pixar’s "Toy Story", "A Bug’s Life" will steal your heart!

Disney Home Video has released "A Bug’s Life" on DVD now in a very interesting edition. For the first time the company presents a film in a widescreen version and a fullscreen version on the same disc. To accommodate both versions, they used a dual layer disc that allows you to select the version you wish to see from the disc’s main menu without having to flip the disc over. This is a very nice touch and seems to become more and more popular among DVD publishers. While still not 16x9 enhanced, the widescreen version of the film restores the film’s theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio, which is gorgeous to behold. The true jewel of the disc is found in the fullscreen version however. I am usually not very fond of fullscreen versions of movies, because they very often butcher the image by cropping it at the sides. In this case, Pixar actually went back to completely re-edit certain scenes so that they match a standard TV set’s 4:3 aspect ratio. If you want to learn more about the details on this procedure, please take a look at our extensive interview with the graphic gurus from Pixar, which we conducted earlier. In the case of "A Bug’s Life" for the first time ever, I actually prefer the fullscreen version over the original widescreen transfer. While the latter is true to the theatrical presentation, I cannot help but appreciate the effort Pixar put into the fullscreen transfer. Clearly, this is nothing you can do for every film, but in this case, they made sure that every viewer has the chance to get the most out of the film. By re-compositing scenes, re-rendering them and completely re-arranging some of them to accommodate the 4:3 aspect ratio, they were able to create an experience that is as epic as the letterboxed transfer, yet allows you to become much more part of the film. After all, TV and movie theaters are two different beasts, and in this film it is very easy to see the difference.

The other thing that immediately strikes you is the clarity of the image. There is not a bit of noise to be seen in this film anywhere. Pixar created a direct digital transfer for this disc and all film grain and film artifacts are gone. It is breathtaking to see how sharp and well defined the image is, how powerful the colors are and how stable and clean the image itself appears. It looks like someone glued the image right on the glass screen of your TV set.

The same is true for the disc’s soundtrack. Consisting of a very good score and very well produced sound effects, the disc makes good use of the 5.1 channel Dolby Digital format. Spatial integration is very good with effective directional effects. While some of them are exaggerated due to the nature of the film, there is always a very healthy layer of ambience throughout the film that helps bringing the ‘synthesized’ pictures to life. The superb voice acting in this film also helps to bring the characters to life, and I found it hard to believe that these dialogues have been recorded in dry recording booths without interaction of the actors with each other. The timing in the delivery of the lines is impeccable like in true acting performances. Don’t miss the bloopers supplied on the disc. One set is running over the end credits, but you can nevertheless access both sets of blooper reels independently from the main menu. If nothing convinces you, these scenes will! I guess I could go on raving about this movie forever but it’s time to come to an end. "A Bug’s Life" is simply phenomenal and the DVD version of this film is unbeatable. The picture quality is unparalleled and so is the overall production of this disc. Although thin in the supplements department, this disc is fun and entertainment at is purest - everything Disney stands for. There’s an old Chinese saying that goes like this "Take a good thing when it comes along" and this is perfectly true for "A Bug’s Life". This release is a disc every DVD owner should have and there is no reason to pass on it! Come to think of it, maybe it was an old Egyptian saying… or Arborean…

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