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A BUG'S LIFE

by: Scott Renshaw

A BUG'S LIFE deserves better. It deserves better than to be held up to that other computer-animated insect film from earlier this fall. It deserves better than to be compared to that other feature from Pixar. It's virtually impossible to talk about A BUG'S LIFE without invoking ANTZ and/or TOY STORY, but it deserves better. Films with this much wit, energy and imagination are too uncommon to diminish this one with such petty comparisons. A BUG'S LIFE is not just a delightful computer-animated family film about insects. It's a delightful film.

Not that it's a perfect one. It gets off to a slightly sluggish start, introducing an ant colony forced to collect a winter food supply for Hopper (Kevin Spacey), a grasshopper gang leader running an entomological protection racket. Our protagonist Flik (Dave Foley), a dreamer whose innovations tend to cause aggravations for the Queen (Phyllis Diller) and her successor-in-training Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), inadvertently destroys the grasshopper offering one day, endangering the entire colony. Thus Flik takes it upon himself to head out from Ant Island and find warriors who will defend the ants when the angry grasshoppers return.

A BUG'S LIFE doesn't really take off until we meet the "warriors" Flik eventually finds in the big city. In actuality, they're a band of disgraced bug circus performers Flik mistakenly assumes are warriors, including put-upon walking stick bug Slim (David Hyde Pierce), clownish caterpillar Heimlich (Joe Ranft) and the hilarious, imcomprehensible acrobatic pill bug tandem Tuck and Roll (Michael McShane). The botched circus sequence in which they are introduced recalls Warner Bros. cartoons at their most rapid-fire anarchic, with the cast of colorful performers all delivering laughs. Though Foley is a pleasant enough presence, his redemption storyline isn't nearly as interesting as the circus performers' search for an adoring audience. He serves much the same function here as he does on TV's "NewsRadio," acting as the sane center around which more charismatic characters can do their thing.

He's also the center around which the animators can do their thing, and they do more than enough things to make for a wonderful ride. The throwaway gags in Flik's visit to the "big city" -- an annoying street mime mimicking Flik's every move, a cricket panhandler with a sign announcing "Wings pulled off by kids" -- are consistently appealing to viewers of all ages. Meanwhile, the big action set pieces, including an attack by a hungry bird, offer splendidly-paced thrills. Director John Lasseter has an uncanny eye for setting up a scene, and a comic sensibility most directors of live action should be willing to kill for. Nowhere is that more evident than during the closing credits, when Lasseter pulls out the kind of brilliant conceit that makes really good films feel like great films. Miss the final five minutes at your own peril.

Sure, it would have been nice if A BUG'S LIFE had had a story as tightly constructed as the buddy bonding of Woody and Buzz in TOY STORY. It would have been nice if the lead character had had as distinctive a personality as Woody Allen's Z in ANTZ. Those are the nit-picking details you have to come up with when a film offers as much pure fun as A BUG'S LIFE. Silly enough for kids, smart enough for adults, grandly-staged enough for anyone who loves movies, it offers entertainment that deserves a different kind of comparison. Understand that there probably haven't been a half-dozen better films of any kind this year, and you'll be on to the kind of comparison A BUG'S LIFE really deserves.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 bug-y rides: 9.

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