Don’t believe the ‘Bee Movie’ buzz

A lot of people are missing one of the biggest jokes in Jerry Seinfeld’s new animated feature, Bee Movie – its title.

The B-Movie that the title references using a play on words is a second-tier movie, usually produced in the 1950s, that was the bottom half of a double feature. It was a cheaper, less publicized and often simply worse movie than the standard Hollywood films of the time.

The joke is that Jerry Seinfeld obviously sees his movie as much more than a B-Movie – the movie’s publicity is quite literally inescapable and cost a whopping $150 million. Seinfeld believes that by referring to his movie as a second-tier film, we’ll revel in the fact that it’s truly an A-Movie.

It would be a better joke if it were true.

That’s not to say that Bee Movie is not without its subtle charms. The story follows Barry B. Benson (voiced by Seinfeld), apparently the only bee in the entire hive that has a problem with the fact that he will work the same honey-making job every day for the rest of his life. After making a special trip outside the hive, his life is saved by Vanessa (voiced by Renee Zellweger). On a casual trip into the grocery store together, Barry realizes, to his horror, that humans have been stealing honey from bees and selling it for pure profit – and he subsequently decides to sue the human race.

While a majority of the Pixar films and a handful of other computer-animated films such as Shrek managed to find a wide appeal to an ageless audience, it would be hard for anyone over the age of 12 to justify watching Bee Movie without having a small child with them. It’s a brightly colored and easily distracting film but is often as tame as it is meanderingly pleasant.

The film seems to work in separate acts for separate audiences, unlike Shrek which managed to weave the different levels of humor (both children- and adult-oriented) into its plot. While Barry’s initial struggle to break out of the monotonous life of the hive will appeal more to the kids, as the detail going into the knicks and knacks of the works of a fun-to-look-at hive rather than an actual story, Barry’s courtroom drama seems to take a shift in humor given to the parents, as if it feels the need to make up for the lack of any real humor for them.

While adults may be able to appreciate the innocent silliness of its first act, it’s hard to believe that kids will find the humor of putting celebrities Ray Liotta and Sting on the stand.

Still, while the film is as silly as it is forgettable, it has a sense of undeniable charm. Barry is essentially wrong every step of the way on his journey, but the film manages to treat him like, and eventually turn him into, a righteous hero. The movie works in moments: ones of clever or amusing humor that are entertaining enough until the next one arrives. Still, few of them stick in one’s mind from the theater to the car.

The gang of celebrity voices all do decent work. Seinfeld, whose heart was obviously in the right place with Barry, is the most recognizable, if not the most perfect for the role. Zellweger, John Goodman and Chris Rock all seem to have fun with their roles, none of which are really anything more than amusing to listen to.

Bee Movie is a decent attempt at the animated world for Seinfeld, but the film is just a little too much of everything – too many directions, too many celebrity-voice cameos, too many "B" jokes – and as his classic television show proved to the world, Seinfeld has always been a man who is funnier when he works with shows about nothing. So for now, the joke still remains that he thinks that Bee Movie is, in fact, an A-Movie.

It would be funnier, if only it were true.

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