Running Time 82 minutes
Written by Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Barry Marder and Andy Robin
Directed by Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner
Starring Jerry Seinfeld, Renée Zellweger, Matthew Broderick
Bee wise. Bee smart. Beehave, my heart. Apologies for the bee in my bonnet, but I’ve just seen Bee Movie, and I’m bee-sotted.
High time, too. Just when you were ready to give up movies for Lent five months early, here, in the middle of an avalanche of autumn violence, war and suicidal depression, comes Jerry Seinfeld’s adorable animated adventure about all those busy, buzzing little fashion statements in black-and-yellow striped sweaters by Ralph Lauren. It is mercifully less than 90 minutes long, but make that an hour and a half of witty, captivating enchantment. The ad logo that announces “Honey Just Got Funny!” pretty much says everything that needs to be said. But I will say more.
Premise: On the morning of his college graduation ceremony, a bright, precocious and very amusing little bee named Barry B. Benson (Jerry Seinfeld) rises as usual, his wings whirring like micro-helicopters, sharpens his stinger, spikes his antennae with trendy fuzz gel, wolfs down a bee propolis breakfast shake and meets up with his best friend Adam (Matthew Broderick), who shares the latest scoop about the premature demise of a classmate. “Everybody knows you sting someone, you die,” says Barry. “I’m not wasting it on a squirrel!” After graduating with honors (all B’s, natch) Barry is expected to join Adam and do what every young bee does—go to work for Honex, a giant corporate hive where bees test technology for surviving bears, insecticides and fly swats. Adam is a conformist. But Barry, appalled by the fact that bees have never had one day off in 27 million years, is restless. To the dismay of his long-suffering parents (Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson) he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in a honey factory. He knows there’s gotta be something more in his destiny than being part of the most perfectly organized, misunderstood and underappreciated species on earth. Hiking a ride with a gang of macho “pollen jocks,” he leaves the safety of the hive, heads for Central Park, narrowly survives hairy encounters with a broom, a taxi, a tennis ball and an overturned bottle of root beer, and ends up breaking every bee rule by actually talking to Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), the nice lady who saves him. Shazam! She turns out to be a florist. It’s love at first sight, but as the old joke goes, “A bird may love a fish, but where would they live?”
Meanwhile, Barry b-z-z-z’s between the drones back in New Hive City (“Would it kill you to just make a little honey?” pleads his mom) and his new home in Vanessa’s flower shop at 67th and Columbus. He discovers a world of sugar, pie filling and cake frosting. But he also survives a few new horrors dreamed up by humans, like bee-squashing with rolled-up magazines (“I lost a cousin to Italian Vogue once”), and learns windshield wipers can be daunting. But the most crunching blow of all is the revelation that people eat honey! Following a supermarket delivery truck to a honey farm that is like a Nazi work camp staffed by slaves, Barry is mortified by this criminal behavior. “Nobody works harder than bees—don’t they deserve to profit from their own honey?” he asks, and convinces Vanessa to help him sue the human honey industry in a honey trial in the courtroom of Judge Bumbleton (Oprah Winfrey). (The evil prosecutor who hates bees is an obese villain played by a hilarious John Goodman.) Barry becomes a world hero and gets interviewed by a Larry King with wings on BeeNN. His goal: to fix it so that every time a human walks in and says, “Honey, I’m home,” he’ll pay a royalty. Trial witnesses include Sting, Ray Liotta and a hilarious bear who looks and growls like Vin Diesel in Sidney Lumet’s Find Me Guilty. Pay special attention to Chris Rock as a jive-ass mosquito named Mooseblood. LOL. And the movie whirs on.
Mr. Seinfeld spent several years creating this project as a writer, producer and star. Directing credits go to animation experts Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Seinfeld didn’t have a hand in that chore as well. His stamp is certainly evident in every scene. Barry B. looks, acts, and moves his eyes and mouth like Seinfeld, whose dry wit and sardonic humor provide his bee counterpart with a trove of memorable one-liners. (Looking aghast at an arrangement of artificial flowers, who else would say, “Nothing worse than a daffodil that’s had work done.”) And Mr. Seinfeld’s liberal politics are only thinly veiled. The bees could be any oppressed minority being cheated, lied to and disenfranchised by disingenuous bureaucrats, and it’s no secret that the biggest and most evil corporate juggernaut exposed in the headline-grabbing court case is named “Honeyburton.” The manifesto is “Respect what you don’t understand or face the repercussions down the road to your own ruin.” Without pollination, flowers and fruit trees all die, see. Without bees, it’s the end of honey, and what would the Brits do without their tea?
I won’t tell you how the bees save the world with the help of the last fresh flowers on earth at the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena. By this time, the movie has run out of ideas and is just marking time. Since we never actually see the Rose Bowl Parade, it looks like maybe they ran out of money, too. A few clarifying scenes seem to be missing, and I suspect there are animation boards in the design department at DreamWorks that remain unused. It is never clear where the bees are taking the plane or why, but get this for a stinging Jerry Seinfeld finale: Barry the Bee, forcing Vanessa the florist to take over the pilot controls like Doris Day in Julie: “Doesn’t John Travolta fly a plane?” “Yes.” “Then how hard can it be?”
You have to laugh. You also have to go away from Bee Movie with a revitalized respect for bees. (I’m talking furry, sluggish bumblebees who mind their own business, like the ones pictured on bear-shaped honey jars and tuna fish cans, not their nasty, worthless cousins, hornets, wasps and yellow jackets.) I have shared my garden peacefully with these miraculous critters for years. I know how harmless and wrongly feared they are. But I didn’t know they were so vital and lovable until Jerry Seinfeld saved their reputation for posterity. Bee Movie is bee balm for the masses.