Bumbling 'Bee Movie' Needs More of Jerry

By Desson Thomson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007

Hey, Jerry Seinfeld, mind if we call you "Jerry" or "Jer"? After all, we've logged in so many hours on the sofa watching you and the crew on TV's "Seinfeld," we feel we know you.

Unfortunately, we also feel a sense of ownership, like we know what's best for you. Which is our way of saying, hey, we saw the bee movie, which is actually called "Bee Movie," and we had some, uh, thoughts. Mainly this: We have seen real bees and you -- Jer -- are no bee, let alone a funny one. If it helps, we weren't that impressed, either, when Woody Allen tried to be an ant in "Antz."

Here's one problem, Jer. Comedians are their faces. When we enjoy your comedy, we get the full benefit of you narrowing your eyes, raising your eyebrows and generally using your face as a medium of expression. So it doesn't tickle us in the least to see you portrayed onscreen as a computer-animated bee with the kind of cheap, plastic-looking face you'd find on a giveaway figurine in a cereal box. Sure, we still get your distinctive Jerry voice, but a comedian needs 100 percent of everything when he, or she, performs: timing, delivery and physical presence.

Even if we got over this muzzling of your mug, there's the movie itself. We don't want to declare that "Bee Movie" is unpleasant to sit through. Parents and their children could do worse than enjoy an inoffensive, computer-animated movie and experience some moderate chortles watching a bee that -- in our revised view -- is under the delusion it's Jerry Seinfeld.

But what about this premise, Jer, that a sweet-natured bee called Barry (you) would become so outraged about food companies profiting from honey that he would take humanity to court. So people are "stealing" your honey and exploiting bees because . . . ? We're not getting that one. And we're even more befuddled by the love connection that springs up between Barry and a human florist called Vanessa (voice of Ren┬┐e Zellweger). Jer, you're a bee. Why would you become smitten with a human?

Putting dumb logic aside, when do we start laughing at the endlessly bee-labored plays and puns on the word "bee"? ("Was she bee-ish?" asks Barry's insect-parents when he tells them he's met someone.) And is it really funny that Sting (the singer) makes a voice cameo in your film simply on the basis of his stage name?

To us, this would have worked better as a wacky conceit in a "Seinfeld" show. Let's say a bee stings George on his rear end. Being George, he has an over-the-top allergic reaction and while he recuperates, he gets this idea for a bee movie in which his pal Jerry plays the lead insect and -- you see where we're going? The idea would be so ridiculous it would be funny. Except you thought the idea was a good one and, well, here we are.

As fans of everything computer-animated, from "Toy Story" to "Over the Hedge," we thought that subgenre could do no wrong. But Paramount's DreamWorks division, whose animated features -- witty satire for the grown-ups, slapstick for the kids -- never failed us before, just became formulaic. "Bee Movie" feels phoned in on every level. The images, usually computer animation's biggest draw, are disappointingly average. And as for the funny stuff, well, that's where you were supposed to come in.

Yes, there are some funny moments when you-as-bee-commentator make pithy observations about winged life. But when the best material comes from Chris Rock as a funky mosquito, who claims that his species is "trading up" by dating moths, and John Goodman as an over-the-top Southern lawyer, you know something ain't right.

Maybe we needed this. We thought -- after the amazing success of "Seinfeld" -- you could do no wrong. We loved the way your shows were routinely funny and how they commented so brilliantly on the minutiae of everyday life. But the comedy here, the element that most adults and "Seinfeld" fans would look forward to, isn't happening. And the more "Bee" progresses, the more we realize how much your voice sounds like a droning bee -- the kind you want to swat away.

Bee Movie (91 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for mildly risque humor.

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