Let me be upfront about this: I like Antz more than I like A Bug’s Life.
Yet, in making that statement, I’m also happy to accept that the reason I’m disposed in that way is probably more to do with my age than the quality of each film. Antz has much more for the adult viewer, where A Bug’s Life is much more kid friendly, I think.
That comparison aside, A Bug’s Life demonstrated very well that Pixar certainly wasn’t a one-trick-pony when it arrived to very positive critical response in 1998.
A Bug’s Life came just three years after Toy Story, yet the increasing sophistication of the visuals and animation in it is far greater than that timescale would suggest.
For me, the film succeeds on a number of important levels, most of which are now Pixar trademarks, such as characterisation and humour. But it also has a lovely design aesthetic running through it, especially in the use of colour and the presentation of nature. From a CGI perspective, it broke entirely new ground in scene complexity and lighting.
From a technical perspective, it was certainly the lighting that stuck in my mind, and a night scene with a mechanical bird stands out in particular, delivering some terrific hues and shades.
Pixar’s other great attribute is its ability to pick the perfect voice talent for its projects, and the star turn here is certainly Kevin Spacey as the villainous Hopper. It’s also the only movie I’m aware of that has the previously untapped terror of death by cute fluffy chicks.
If the film has a weakness, it’s in the predictability of what transpires, which isn’t a surprise to anyone who’s seen any version or variation on the Seven Samurai. But for youngsters who’ve not been schooled in the works of Akira Kurosawa, it’s engrossing enough.
Which bring me to the Blu-ray release, which unusually for Disney these days, came on a single HD disc, with no DVD buddy to keep it company.
What can I say about the transfer? Flawless would be a good word. Animation can make for excellent digital transfers, but A Bug’s Life is just stunning throughout. The richness of the palette that Pixar worked with is faithfully reproduced, and there is a crispness that many films would envy. It was so nice, I couldn’t resist the temptation to keep freeze framing, just to admire the texture and fine details that are lovingly crafted here.
Pixar didn’t take the audio for granted either, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround is as good as I’ve heard on any Blu-ray. I was impressed that it had maintained the channel separation that the movie presentation included, where off-camera characters are heard in the rear speakers, and not just in the dialogue source.
The DTS-HD is exclusively for English speakers, with French and Dutch getting basic DTS, and the Belgians Dolby 5.1 audio. There’s also a stereo track in English describing the action for the visually impaired.
In the last few Disney titles I’ve reviewed, I’ve been underwhelmed by the number of extras, but this disc has broken that run, thankfully.
There’s so much on here I’m not going to bore you with listing it all, but it contains everything we’ve so far seen on the DVD releases, and some of it is now presented in HD, but disappointingly not all.
Disney does make some amends for the SD extras by providing a couple of totally new pieces of material, which are exclusive to the Blu-ray and actually worth seeing. One is a Filmmakers’ Roundtable (21.00, HD), were John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, producer Darla K. Anderson, and producer Kevin Reher look retrospectively at the project in a candid way.
That’s interesting, but the other special inclusion is A Bug’s Life First Draft (10.49, HD), and this details the original concept for the film, which is totally unlike the finished piece. I’m of the opinion that extras should provide insight into the main feature, and these two featurettes genuinely do that.