Jerry Seinfeld's celebrated sitcom was famously about nothing. It's proved a tough act to follow.
Nearly ten years since Seinfeld called it a day, the key creatives haven't exactly flourished. Only the show's co-creator Larry David has thrived with his reality-style Curb Your Enthusiasm. Michael Richards crashed and burned just last year, while the highlight for Julia Louis-Dreyfuss was probably playing ant princess Atta in A Bug's Life. (Jason Alexander played Lightning, the wonder dog, in 101 Dalmations II).
Following their lead, Jerry has written himself off the screen and into a voice-artist role. In Bee Movie he's Barry B Benson: a small pest with a target for a backside. Freshly graduated from college, Barry must now settle down and choose a career. Honey is the only game in town, and whatever aspect of its production he selects, it will be a job for life.
Instead, Barry takes off, bumming lifts with hippies, kayaking down the Colorado River, then heading up to Alaska and into the wild. Just kidding.
Actually Barry talks himself onto a pollen-fertilizing mission with a squadron of ace flyboys. But he's hopelessly unprepared for the realities of life outside the hive, and loses contact with the group during a rain shower. Which is how he meets kindly florist Vanessa Bloome (Renée Zellweger). They shoot the breeze, share a cup of coffee, and before you know it she's his new honey. And this time I'm not making it up.
Not content with exploring the complications of this sticky star-crossed romance, Seinfeld piles on the plot improbabilities: Barry is shocked to discover that humans are siphoning off honey and bottling it, without due recompense for the industrious worker bees. So he sues the entire human race - with devastating results, not least for the comedy, unless you imagine animated guest spots for Larry King, Ray Liotta and Sting are inherently mirthful. (They're not.)
Safe to say that story is not Seinfeld's strong suit. It's not that Bee Movie disregards the laws of nature, but it never clearly establishes its own internal logic, at least until it recognises bee rights, and then it ties itself up in knots trying to figure out who is going to pollinate all the flowers, and why they should. (Ants did a far more convincing job of Marxist micro-management.)
There's plenty of Seinfeld's trademark off the cuff humour, much of which will sail over the heads of the little ones (like the riff on The Graduate); but then Dreamworks seems convinced the prime animated market is kidults. I enjoyed Chris Rock as an angry mosquito, and Patrick Warburton has some good moments as Vanessa's pompous boyfriend Ken, but have to admit to a certain diffidence regarding Barry himself.
Bright and buzzy in patches, Bee Movie winds up a bit of a Zzzzzzzzz-movie.
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