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.
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.