Give points for thouroughness to the drones behind DreamWorks’ latest bid for blockbuster toon supremacy: If there’s a joke that can be harvested from the secret life of bees, they will suck every last ounce of comic nectar out of it. Everything, from our fuzzy friends’ short life spans devoted to hard labor to making nature’s couture of yellow and black stripes look chic, becomes fodder for “funny.” Wink-nudge pop-cultural references swarm the proceedings; if you imagine that Sting won’t show up to be gamely mocked, think again. And all similarities between these born-work-die hive denizens and their clock-punching counterparts in the human world are underlined in bold. Wow, bees…they’re so like us, right?
Corny puns and beating anthropomorphism to death are standard operating procedures for most animated features, of course, and even the dubious procapitalism climax is forgivable. But who’s kidding whom? Bee Movie doesn’t really care about anything—narrative cohesion, character arcs, emotional resonance—associated with savvy modern family entertainment. It’s just a $150 million setup for Jerry Seinfeld to do a weak version of his didja-ever-notice? stand-up act. The suspension of disbelief is stretched to the breaking point, starting with Seinfeld’s Barry B. Benson chatting up a human female (Zellweger) for a potential interspecies romance (seriously: ick!) and ending with barely connected vignettes involving courtroom showdowns, floral apocalypses and landing an out-of-control 747. You might have been able to get away with stuff like this in the pre-Pixar age. Not anymore.