- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- BD-Live (Profile 2.0)
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
- French: Dolby Digital 5.1
- English SDH
- French Subtitles
- Spanish Subtitles
- Audio Commentary with Writer/Director John Lasseter, Co-writer/co-director Andrew Stanton, and editor Lee Unkrich
- The First Draft
- Design Galleries
- Geri's Game
- Publicity Materials
- Grasshopper & the Ants
- Filmmaker's Round Table
- Preproduction Featurettes
- Behind-the-scenes Featurettes
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A Bug's Life (Blu-ray)
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment / 1998 / 102 Minutes / Rated G
Street Date: May 19, 2009
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Cue up Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better…"
Ah, Pixar. You are nothing short of a gift to filmgoers the world over. Through your ceaseless innovation (it's easy to forget, amidst all the 'Shreks' and 'Monsters vs. Aliens' these days, that 'Toy Story' was the first completely computer generated animated film) and imagination, you have brought a host of immortal characters to children and adults the world over. Not content to rest on your laurels, you are constantly expanding what is deemed acceptable for children's entertainment (wordless post-apocalyptic love story? Why not!), and what's more, you're applauded for these bold leaps, both critically and commercially. But before you were the juggernaut you are today (on the eve of the release of their brilliant new film, 'Up'), you were an unsteady upstart, unsure of your role in the marketplace.
And that's where we find 'A Bug's Life.'
Was 'Toy Story' a fluke? That was the question going into 'A Bug's Life,' a tale about an ant named Flik (Dave Foley), who wants to rid his colony of grasshopper oppressors (led by Kevin Spacey), so he travels to Bug City to recruit some warriors. Of course, since he's a bit of a dim bulb, he mistakes a bunch of circus performers (David Hyde Pierce, Dennis Leary, Madeline Kahn, Bonnie Hunt) for the needed heroes. So he brings the circus bugs back to the ant colony, insisting that they're warriors, unaware that his folly could spell certain doom for the ants once the grasshoppers return.
It turned out, no, 'Toy Story' was not a fluke.
'A Bug's Life,' which lacks both the visual and thematic sophistication of later Pixar works (from, lets say, 'Incredibles' forward), is still a whole lot of fun. The movie was directed by John Lasseter, who directed 'Toy Story' and 'Cars,' and was co-directed by Andrew Stanton, one of the brightest lights at Pixar and the man behind 'Wall-E' and 'Finding Nemo.'
The fact that they worked this 'Three Amigos'/'Seven Samurai' plot into a retelling of the Aesop fable 'The Ant and the Grasshopper' is pure genius. Their knack for casting? Already unparalleled. If you're looking for all the hallmarks of a great Pixar film - the emphasis on story, character, and emotional truthfulness; the exposure to a whole new world; technological breakthroughs (in this case the crowd animation and translucency of objects); and the vividness of the experience, well, they're all here. They may not have been as refined and honed as in the later movies, but these benchmarks are all present and accounted for.
When it comes to fully realized, emotionally gripping animated storytelling, well, to paraphrase Carly Simon - Nobody does it better than Pixar.
In a word: perfection.
That isn't hyperbole. That's the truth.
The DVD for 'A Bug's Life' was the first direct digital-to-digital transfer, without any analogue in-between, and it was a sight to behold, for sure. But this 1080p AVC-encoded 2.35:1 transfer is just unparalleled (or at least only comparable to other Pixar Blu-ray releases). Literally.
Colors threaten to pop off the screen (and this is one colorful movie - the ants are blue for crying out loud!), detail is unparalleled (although seeing textures in this clarity makes you realize that Pixar's technical level of achievement wasn't what it is now), definition is strong and sharp, and there is nothing (and I mean nothing) in the way of technical blips- no macro-blocking, no artifacts, no edge-enhancement. NOTHING.
This is just a beautiful, beautiful image. Stunning in every way. I'd like to go into more detail, but this image really doesn't require any more. Perfection pretty much sums it up.
It should be noted that the disc is REGION FREE. Also, it has a neat playback feature if you take the disc out of your player and put it back in, it gives you the option of resuming the movie from where you left off. This is helpful and should be included on more discs.
This lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track has everything you could want from a surround track, and more.
Instead of a normal audio track of a comedy release, which would have all the dialogue in the front speakers, this mix judiciously spreads the voices out amongst the different speakers. Part of this has to do with the sheer scale of the movie - there are a ton of speaking characters, and many more extras. What's more - the dialogue is never drowned out or obscured. This may seem like an odd thing to applaud, but the effect is staggering.
The surround sound really gets a workout, too, in scenes of greater action (with the back speakers really worked vigorously) - Hopper's gang of grasshoppers approaching the ant colony at full mast; Flik's arrival at Bug City, in which everything is alive; the attack by the vicious bird; the rain drops that fall like depth charges from a WWII submarine. For my money, this mix blows away most of the overactive sound mixes of big Hollywood action pictures.
So, in short: this is an atmospheric, immersive mix that will leave you breathless. It's just as magnificent as the video presentation.
Also included are Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes and subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish.
Okay. Deep breath. There are two disappointing factors with these features, but neither one warrants deducting a point (at all) - One, some of the features from the old DVD release are in standard definition and 4:3; and two, there is no behind-the-scenes gossip at all. If you dig hard enough, you can come up with all kinds of stories about the embittered battle between Dream Works Animation (which was making a rival insect movie called 'Antz,' a company founded by former Disney bigwig Jeffrey Katzenberg) and Pixar. One famous story had Katzenberg calling Michael Eisner and saying that he would cancel production on 'Antz' if Eisner would move 'A Bug's Life's' opening weekend (which was going head-to-head with Dream Work's big traditionally animated biblical epic 'Prince of Egypt'). Anyway, it might be too much to ask for the inside scoop, but it would have been nice, especially since Pixar is so unparalleled these days, while Dream Works is content to make the same dull crap again and again and again.
Also note that the different sections of the special features (Pre-Production, Design, etc.) are often mixtures of high definition and standard def. I tried to note which was which as often as I could, but there's such a surplus of content that I may not have made note of everything.
- Audio Commentary with Directors John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton and editor Lee Unkrich A great commentary by some creative juggernauts. They're super smart and funny and it should be noted that Lee Unkrich is the director of next summer's long-awaited 'Toy Story 3.' Well worth the listen.
- Geri's Game (HD, 4:55) This is the Oscar winning Pixar short that features an old man playing chess with himself. If you haven't seen it, you're in for a treat.
- Walt Disney Silly Symphony - Grasshopper & the Ants (1934) (HD, 8:15) Lasseter, in the introduction, says that he begged Disney to let him include this short film on the DVD. It is clear that this was a huge inspiration for the crew of 'A Bug's Life' and is a welcome addition to the special features package.
- Fleabie Reel (SD, with intro - 4:19, w/o - 3:19) This was part of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation reel, but since none of the animation for 'A Bug's Life' (at the time, just called 'Bugs') was finished, it's John Lasseter and other Pixar folks goofing off. It's pretty entertaining.
- Story and Editorial (with intro - 5:33, w/o - 4:41) This briefly takes you through the story process, as well as editorial, in terms of how the movie is shaped initially. In animation it's sort of the reverse of live action filmmaking, where you have to edit everything BEFORE they go into production.
- Storyboard-to-Film Comparison (13:22) This follows the evolution of a sequence called "Dot's Rescue," going from the story reel, to the final render, and finally ending with a split screen comparison.
- Abandoned Sequences (5:34) Here are a couple of sequences that were cut before they ever made it to final animation. So see them here in rough form, with mostly still storyboards. One is called "P.T. Flea's Office" and almost made it to the animation stage, which takes place right after the circus bugs' abysmal circus performance in Big City. The other one is "Original Museum Opening," which saw an elderly docent begin to tell the story of 'A Bug's Life' to a bunch of school-aged ants. Both are repetitive and unnecessary; cut for good reason.
- Research Documentary (5:24) This details the filmmakers as they shot grass, leaves etc. with a tiny video camera. It's sort of like a low budget version of 'Microcosmos,' the great documentary film as seen from a bug's eye view.
- Intro (SD, 1:04) Just a brief introduction to a whole host of preproduction images available in this section.
Galleries Here it is! Character designs, preproduction sketches, environmental layouts - they're all here! This section features tons of amazing images to flick through with your remote.
- Filmmaker's Roundtable (HD, 21) This is one of my favorite features on the entire disc. It's a roundtable discussion with Lasseter, Stanton, producer Darla K. Anderson, and producer Kevin Reher. What makes this so nice is that the majority of the special features on the disc were from the original 2-disc special edition released in 1999. So to see all the principles older and wiser and looking back on the experience is really nice. You get to see that the production of the movie was a nice combination of hard work and silly, silly fun; a must-watch special feature.
A Bug's Life First Draft (HD, 10:49) This is also really, really cool. As introduced by John Lasseter, this is a minimally animated version of the original story of 'A Bug's Life,' which is so far removed from what wound up in the final movie that it's unbelievable. The best part is that they got Dave Foley back to narrate this story reel, which makes it feel like a bedtime story. This is really great stuff, and proof that there should be quality over quantity.
- There are also some 'sneak peeks' on this disc for other theatrical and home video releases from Disney, most tantalizingly the Blu-ray disc for 'Monsters, Inc.,' which was supposed to come out at the same time as 'A Bug's Life' but got bumped back to coincide with the home video release of 'Up.' There's also a disc for your downloadable version of 'A Bug's Life.'
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As with every other Pixar release, this is a perfect disc in every way. You must own it. You must. End of story. MUST OWN. THE END.