Jerry Seinfeld’s “Bee Movie” doesn’t really make sense, even taking into account that it’s a cartoon. The plot is absurd, sometimes so outrageously harebrained that you have to figure Seinfeld and company were doing it on purpose. Other times, you think the whole thing is just a mess and they didn’t know what they were doing.
Both views are at least partially correct. I ultimately come down on the side of liking the movie for its bold disregard for convention (whether it was intentional or not), and also because I laughed quite a bit during it. That said, it’s a minor film. It’ll be amusing once and then forgotten.
Seinfeld hatched the idea and co-wrote the screenplay with some old “Seinfeld” scribes, and he voices the main character: Barry, a bee who has just graduated from school and is preparing to enter the workforce but doesn’t like the idea of doing the same task constantly until the day he dies. Most bees never leave the hive. Barry wants to go out and explore.
He does so, and he’s delighted by the outside world of New York City. He is saved from a squashing by a florist named Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), and even though it is forbidden for bees to talk to humans — apparently, bees can speak English, and they’ve just been hiding it all this time — he feels like he ought to thank her. So he does. And after some initial shock that bees can talk, she becomes his friend.
Because this is Seinfeld, they talk about minutiae, like what’s the deal with women wearing toe rings? It’s like putting a hat on your knee. But more importantly, Barry develops a crush on Vanessa, which is silly, since she is 10,000 times his size. A relationship could never work out. Plus, she already has a boyfriend, Ken (Patrick Warburton), who hates bees. What’s interesting is that in the movie, the boyfriend is the greater obstacle.
The story kicks into high gear when Barry discovers that honey is sold in supermarkets. Since he’d never left the hive before, he didn’t realize what happened to other, less fortunate bee colonies, how their honey was plundered by humans. He is outraged! And so he files a lawsuit against the big honey companies on the grounds that they’ve been stealing what rightfully belonged to the bees.
I don’t think anyone disputes that. I think we were assuming the bees didn’t care, or that, at the very least, they did not speak our language and would be unable to file court papers. If we learned that they were sentient beings who could speak and reason, I suspect it would change a lot of things.
The film gets even more surreal after that. Often, I was laughing at the strangeness of the movie more than at its actual jokes, which are hit-and-miss. Who could have expected a scene where Ken comes home early and is jealous to discover Vanessa eating dinner with Barry? When you have a man envious of his girlfriend’s insect acquaintance, that’s how you know your movie, for better or worse, has gone off the deep end.
The voice cast is plenty of fun, including John Goodman as a conniving Southern lawyer (a role he’s perfect for, you’ll agree), Matthew Broderick as Barry’s worry-wart best friend, and, for some reason, Larry King, Ray Liotta, and Sting as themselves. Actually, Larry King plays Bee Larry King, who has a talk show on a bee cable station. Barry even points out to him what a weird coincidence it is that there’s a human Larry King, too, who also has a TV show and wears suspenders.
What a weird movie. Will kids appreciate its weirdness? I suspect they’ll just find it funny. It’s the adults who will think it’s either a trainwreck or an amusing curiosity.
B- (1 hr., 30 min.; )