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A BUG'S LIFE ($35) is the second fully computer animated film to be produced by Pixar, the company that brought TOY STORY to the silver screen. Personally, I thought that TOY STORY was a marvelous cinematic achievement, and A BUG'S LIFE is certainly a more than worthy follow-up. My hat goes off to the animators at Pixar for making A BUG'S LIFE totally stunning. Like ink and paint cel animation, the 3-D computer world found in A BUG'S LIFE has that candy colored appeal that one associates with classic Disney cartoons. By the nature of the film's production design, one can tell instantly that A BUG'S LIFE was envisioned as a three dimensional cartoon. Even the characters are designed with a distinct cartoon style that is certain to appeal to the film's largest target audience- children (not to mention the inner child in every adult).

The plot of A BUG'S LIFE sort of takes the old fable about the ant and grasshopper and turns it on its ear. Yes, in A BUG'S LIFE, the industrious ants continuously work through the summer season- stockpiling food. However, instead of just idly flitting away the summer days, the grasshoppers of this story are running a protection racket, forcing the ants to gather food for the grasshopper’s consumption. The central character in A BUG'S LIFE is an ant named Flik (voiced by Dave Foley). Now Flik isn't like the other ants in the colony, he's an inventor who doesn’t fit into the ant’s work minded social order. Unfortunately, the other ants can't see beyond their own work ethic and inbred conformity, which usually leaves Flick holding the bag when things go wrong.

When Flick's latest invention causes the colony to loose all the food they had collected for the grasshoppers, their leader Hopper (voiced by Kevin Spacey) gives the ants until fall to come up with their offering or he and his gang will destroy the colony. Since it will be impossible for the ants to gather enough food for both the grasshoppers and themselves, Flik goes in search of insect warriors to fight off Hopper and his gang when they return. Things go from bad to worse when Flik mistakes a group of unemployed flea circus performers for warriors, and is then forced to come up with an alternate plan that will allow the ants to save themselves from the grasshoppers. A BUG'S LIFE is a captivating film that features the marvelous vocal talents of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce, Joe Ranft, Denis Leary, Jonathan Harris, Madeline Kahn, Bonnie Hunt, Michael McShane, John Ratzenberger, Brad Garrett, Roddy McDowall, Edie McClurg and Alex Rocco.

Walt Disney Home Video has made A BUG'S LIFE in both wide screen and full screen presentations on different layers of the single sided DVD. I have to comment on the full screen version because it is neither pan and scan or open matte. The full screen version of A BUG'S LIFE was recomposed in the computer for the 1.33:1 aspect ratio and then digitally redrawn frame by frame. Without a doubt, this entailed a great deal of time for the folks at Pixar, plus it had to have cost some serious bucks. The result is absolutely beautiful and the perfect version of A BUG'S LIFE to show the kiddies.

However, with wide screen televisions poised to be the standard bearer, the folks at Pixar are going to have to recompose and re-render a 1.78:1 full screen version of A BUG'S LIFE for the 16:9 televisions. Speaking of wide screen televisions, I have to reiterate my continued frustration in the fact that Buena Vista remains the only major home video company that does not support the 16:9 anamorphic enhancement. A BUG'S LIFE is a state-of-the-art digital film, so I really can’t understand why the movie would be offered in the digital medium, yet without the one enhancement that truly defines state-of-the-art. Despite the fact that A BUG'S LIFE does not contain the 16:9 component, the wide screen version of the film looks utterly glorious on a 4:3 television.

Perhaps the reason that A BUG'S LIFE looks so marvelous can be attributed to the fact that the film was transferred from the original digital computer files, instead of from a film element. The wide screen version restores the film’s 2.35:1 theatrical framing and has a more dramatic sweep than the recomposed 1.33:1 version. Both versions of A BUG'S LIFE provide amazing clarity and detail. Colors are utterly astonishing in their vividness and perfection. There isn’t a bit of chroma noise or fuzziness anywhere on the disc. Superior DVD authoring disguised all evidence of digital compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack has an aggressive mix that sounds simply fantastic. Fully directional sound effects swirl around the viewer, plus the track boasts a very wide forward soundstage. The rear channels provide not only ambience to extend the depth of the soundstage, but also some interesting pans and split surround effects. Dialogue on the track is clean and precise sounding, which makes it easy to pick out the recognizable voices behind the insect characters. Additionally, the soundtrack’s rollicking bass will put your subwoofer through its paces. English subtitles have been provided on the DVD.

The interactive menus are rather simple, but provide the standard scene selection feature. Through the menus one can also access Pixar’s Academy Award winning short film GERI’S GAME, as well as two different versions of the film’s end credits with the "outtakes" that were shown in theaters.

If you have kids, you have to get A BUG'S LIFE. If you love computer animation, then you will want to own a copy for yourself. Recommended.


A Bug's Life (1998)


DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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