November 8, 2007

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Bee Movie (PG)
Jerry Seinfeld returns (at least, his voice does) as a bee with big dreams in Bee Movie, a delightfully silly romp through color and comedy but, as it turns out, maybe not a particularly entertaining movie for kids.

Me? I laughed. Sometimes I laughed at sight gags (Bee Larry King, for example). Sometimes it was at the daffy tone in Renee Zellweger’s voice or the pleasure of hearing Seinfeld once again interact with Patrick Warburton (formerly Puddy), who here plays Zellweger’s overly emotional chef boyfriend. And, yes, the Ray Liotta Private Select brand of honey is hilarious. But at a certain point, I noticed that most of the laughter I was hearing was mine or that of some other adult. And when my seven-year-old stepson asked the question that is the death knell of movies — “Is it going to be over?” — I knew that all the jokes that were landing so squarely for me were flying right over his head.

Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) has finished his three days of high school and his three days of college (taking one day off to hitchhike around the hive) and is headed to graduation/the first day of work. There he finds out that not only is his future in honey but the job he’ll pick will be the one he has for the rest of his life. While Barry’s friend Adam (Matthew Broderick) seems positively buzzed about this, Barry longs for something more. A chance encounter with a group of pollen jocks has Barry suddenly thinking about the world outside the hive. He joins the jocks — those nectar-collecting bees — for one of their missions and bursts into Central Park and a world of color and adventure.

When rain threatens to cut that adventure short (bees can’t fly in the rain), Barry heads to a window ledge and creeps into the apartment of Vanessa Bloome (Zellweger), who saves Barry from a squishing by Ken (Warburton). Barry becomes enamored (a scandal because while she’s not a wasp, which would just kill his parents, she’s also not bee-ish) and decides to break one of the cardinal laws of bee-hood: he talks to a human.

After initially thinking herself crazy, Vanessa, a florist, kind of accepts the conversing Barry and begins to hang out with him. They go to her shop, walk the streets and even head to a grocery store together. It’s there, however, that Barry is struck by a horrible sight — jars and jars of honey (even, indignity upon indignity, some in bear-shaped bottles; don’t humans know how destructive bears are?). Why, this is the honey his parents and his thousands of cousins work every day of their lives without rest to make. And the humans have cavalierly stolen it — usually, to make matters worse, after stunning with smoke the inhabitants of the man-made hives where these slave bees are forced to produce.

Barry is apoplectic. He decides to take humanity to court, suing them to stop not only their honey thievery but also their generally dismissive attitude toward bees. Barry even tries to get Sting (Sting) to change his “prance-about stage name.” But what will happen if Barry wins and the bees really can rest on their laurels of already-produced honey? Who will pollinate all the world’s plants? And from what will the bees themselves find purpose in their lives?

As you can imagine, these questions, when presented via bee characters in a courtroom full of bee plantiffs and an Oprah Winfrey-voiced judge, can actually be quite entertaining. There is a Seinfeldian quality to the humor that is refreshing and much-missed but that doesn’t ever turn in to Seinfeld with bees. I can say from the first giddy moment to the final sunny scene, I thoroughly enjoyed the film’s mix of silliness and smart.

I enjoyed it. But as I mentioned before, the kid at whom one might think this movie was actually aimed was ready to leave about halfway through. And he wasn’t the only one. I heard screeches, restless movement and requests to be taken to the bathroom from all over the theater.

Bee Movie is well constructed for the parents who buy the tickets and drive to the theater but it doesn’t provide quite enough goofiness for the kids who might actually initiate the trip, particularly kids in those early elementary school years. Scenes of a mosquito (voiced by Chris Rock) hanging onto windshield wipers and dodging the blue spray of wiper fluid seemed to get the little kids’ attention with their loud dialogue and pratfalls. But the rest of the movie relied too much on the kind of funny that tickles adults more than kids. And, as any adult who’s ever taken a kid to a movie knows, if they don’t want to watch the movie, you’re not going to get to either. B

Rated PG for mild suggestive humor. Directed by Steven Hickner and Simon J. Smith and written by Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder and Andy Robin, Bee Movie is an hour and 40 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Paramount Pictures.