The second feature film released by Pixar and to be directed by John Lasseter, A Bug’s Life has become something of the forgotten man of the animation houses history. Sandwiched between Toy Story and Toy Story 2 it is rarely mentioned in the same breath as its book-ending brethren, but at the time of release it took over $363m at the box office form a budget of $60m. The film is loosely based on a Disney idea from the late 1980s and with heavy influences drawn from Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper as well as the legendary Kurosowa film Seven Samurai.
A Bug’s Life sees ant Flik (Dave Foley) and his colony terrorised by a villainous grasshopper called Hopper (Kevin Spacey) who demands that they harvest food for them before harvesting for themselves. Flik, a wide-eyed dreaming inventor clumsily looses the food that has been harvested and volunteers to go out into the world and find warriors to come and defend the colony from Hopper’s gang. Upon his first visit to the city he finds a troupe of insects who he mistakenly thinks are hired hands and brings them back to the colony to help, unaware that they are actors, magicians and circus performers.
The plot has been well-covered in Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, but it is a comedic take, the 1986 film ¡Three Amigos! that A Bug’s Life owes it’s influences. Unlike the more serious versions, the hired insects have no idea they’re being recruited to fight grasshoppers, allowing for some very funny moments of realization from both sides. Like Toy Story before it, A Bug’s Life plays off the most simplistic comedic elements like slapstick (there’s even a joke about it in the film) and the long distance visual gag. Also like all other Pixar films, the voice cast is superb to the point where you can’t imagine anyone else voicing each character.
Highest praise should be awarded to Spacey for his turn as Hopper. Channeling his inner James Woods, Spacey is able to walk the fine line between utterly evil and insecure power-hungry antagonist with sublime skill. In stark opposition to this portrayal are the troupe of circus insects voiced by a variety of recognizable voices, each sad failures in their own way and each given the chance at renewed hope and confidence. But this is primarily Flik’s story, and Dave Foley, best known for his work on The Kids in the Hall and cameo appearances on Scrubs and Will and Grace, deftly walks the line between wide-eyed naivety and inspiring command perfectly.
So why then is A Bug’s Life less fondly remembered than its peers? Well, the story lacks the surface originality of a Toy Story or a Monsters, Inc. drawing as heavily as it does on other films for its basic narrative. Sadly the films it is imitating are classics, leaving A Bug’s Life as the third best interpretation of the ˜hired guns save a poor village’ story.