The origins of A Bug’s Life

Did Pixar really take influence from the all-time classic Seven Samurai when making A Bug’s Life, we wonder?

If you’re looking for inspiration for an animated film, then it’s generally all around you. Disney has mined fairy stories, DreamWorks has been hunting down books too, then there are television series, popular characters and original ideas. Basically, given the glut of animated movies coming out every year, the big companies are looking far and wide for inspiration.

But how many have looked to Akira Kurosawa’s classic movie, Seven Samurai?

The answer, predictably, is one. And the identity of that one? That’d be Pixar.

For its second feature, A Bug’s Life, which we’ve been celebrating this week, Pixar appeared to take Kurosawa’s 1954 classic as inspiration. Certainly, whether the similarities are intentional or coincidental, there’s a lot of crossover between the two movies, even though, in terms of treatment, they couldn’t be much further apart.

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Seven Samurai, if you’ve not seen it, is the story of a village that hires – yes! – seven samurai to protect the harvest from people looking to steal it. Effectively, the farmers of the village hire in outside help to offer some defence to those who come and steal their livelihoods. It’s a stunning film, and, it should be noted, a much longer one than A Bug’s Life.

It perhaps goes without saying, though, that if you’ve never had the chance to catch it, you really should try to. It regularly appears on lists of the best films of all time. Rightly so, too.

So, where does this cross over with Pixar’s second movie? Well, firstly, we should be clear, here: A Bug’s Life isn’t an official remake of Seven Samurai, but it is a film that effectively tells the same story. Only in the case of A Bug’s Life, Pixar put together a team of bugs to carry its narrative, instead of samurai. And the firm also, as you’d expect, put more than enough of its own twist upon matters to give it an identity very firmly of its own.

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To the best of my knowledge, Pixar has never gone on record to talk about the Seven Samurai link. Instead, it cites a different inspiration as sparking the germ of the idea for the film. On its official website, Pixar offers Aesop’s Fables as the starting point for A Bug’s Life, instead.

The firm says that the idea itself came from a chat between co-director Andrew Stanton, and storyboard artist Joe Ranft. The pair were chatting about the fable The Ant And The Grasshopper, so goes the story, and developed A Bug’s Life from that point on. However, Pixar twisted the classic fable, so that the grasshopper who begs for food in the Aesop story decides to just take it in the A Bug’s Life movie. The rest of the narrative was spun out from there.

Yet, for me, it’s the Seven Samurai that seems the most potent influence. You have, after all, the anthill under threat from grasshoppers, who wreak their damage and fly off again (although Seven Samurai didn’t have Kevin Spacey on brilliant voicing duties, of course).

Off, then, goes one of the bugs to call upon a group of people who can protect said anthill, shoring up the defences of a village that previously had none. If you follow the path through, as to who eventually saves the day in both A Bug’s Life and Seven Samurai, there are parallels there, too. In short, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that A Bug’s Life is an homage of sorts.

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The films would certainly make a fascinating, and unusual, double bill, but perhaps, therefore, an appropriate one. And it’d be fascinating to see if more animation studios looked at remakes as potential source material. Personally, I’m no advocate of the remake trend, but can’t shake the fact that I’m intrigued by a firm such as Pixar digging back into the classic films of the 40s and 50s, and putting an animated spin on them.

For now, though, do consider giving the mighty Seven Samurai (a film with no shortage of imitators, to be fair) and A Bug’s Life double bill a go. At the very least, you’ll be giving fresh light to Pixar’s most underappreciated movie.

A Bug’s Life is available on Blu-ray in the UK now.

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