A Bug's Life
|A Bug's Life|
Original theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Lasseter|
|Produced by||Darla K. Anderson
|Screenplay by||Andrew Stanton
|Story by||John Lasseter
David Hyde Pierce
|Music by||Randy Newman|
|Editing by||Lee Unkrich|
|Studio||Walt Disney Pictures
Pixar Animation Studios
|Distributed by||Buena Vista Pictures|
|Running time||96 minutes|
A Bug's Life (stylized as a bug's life) is a 1998 American computer-animated comedy adventure film produced by Pixar Animation Studios. Directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Andrew Stanton, the film involves a misfit ant, Flik, who is looking for "tough warriors" to save his colony from greedy grasshoppers. Flik recruits a group of bugs that turn out to be an inept circus troupe. Randy Newman composed the music for the film, which stars the voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere, David Hyde Pierce, Joe Ranft, Denis Leary, Jonathan Harris, Madeline Kahn, Bonnie Hunt, Brad Garrett, and Mike McShane.
The film is a retelling of Aesop's fable The Ant and the Grasshopper. Production began shortly after the release of Toy Story in 1995. The screenplay was penned by Stanton and comedy writers Donald McEnery and Bob Shaw. The ants in the film were re-designed to be more appealing, and Pixar's animation unit employed new technical innovations in computer animation. During production, the filmmakers became embroiled in a public feud with DreamWorks due to a similar film, Antz.
A Bug's Life was released to theaters on November 25, 1998 by Walt Disney Pictures and was a box office success, surpassing competition and grossing $363,398,565 in receipts. The film received positive reviews from film critics, who commended the storyline and animation. The film has been released multiple times on home video.
- 1 Plot
- 2 Cast
- 3 Production
- 4 Rivaling DreamWorks and Antz
- 5 Music
- 6 Reception
- 7 Home media
- 8 Media and merchandise
- 9 References
- 10 Future Reading
- 11 External links
Flik, an individualist and would-be inventor, lives in a colony of ants. The ants are led by Princess Atta and her mother, the Queen, and they live on Ant Island, which is a small island in the middle of a dried creek. Flik is different and always unappreciated because of his problematic inventions. The colony is oppressed by a gang of marauding grasshoppers led by Hopper who arrive every season demanding food from the ants. When the annual offering is inadvertently knocked into a stream by Flik's latest invention, a harvester device, the grasshoppers demand twice as much food as compensation.
Given a temporary reprieve by the grasshoppers, the ants trick Flik into accepting his plan to recruit "warrior bugs" to fight off the grasshoppers. While Flik actually believes in the plan, the other ants see it as a fool's errand to get rid of Flik and save themselves trouble. Making his way to the "big city" (a heap of trash under a trailer), Flik mistakes a group of circus bugs, who have recently been fired by their money-hungry ringmaster, P.T. Flea, for the warrior bugs he seeks. The bugs, in turn, mistake Flik for a talent agent, and agree to travel with him back to Ant Island.
After they arrive, the circus bugs and Flik both discover their mutual misunderstandings. The circus bugs then attempt to leave, but are forced back by a bird. They save Dot, Atta's younger sister, from the bird as they flee, gaining the ants' trust in the process. At Flik's insistence, they continue the ruse of being "warriors" so the troupe can continue to enjoy the attention and hospitality of the ants. The bird encounter inspires Flik into creating a false bird to scare away Hopper (who is deeply afraid of birds) and his gang. While the bird is being built, Hopper reveals to the other grasshoppers how greatly the ants outnumber them and is afraid that they will eventually stand up against them, which is why it is more about keeping the ants in line than taking their food.
The bird is constructed, but the circus bugs are exposed when P.T. Flea arrives searching for them, having had a change of heart. Angry at Flik for lying, Princess Atta orders him and the circus bugs to leave Ant Island for good. The ants desperately attempt to pull together enough food for a new offering to the grasshoppers. When the grasshoppers discover a very little offering upon their arrival, they take control of the entire colony, demanding all of the ants' winter store of food. After overhearing Hopper's plan to kill the Queen, Dot leaves in search of Flik and the circus bugs to convince them to return and save the colony with the bird model. The model nearly works, but P.T. Flea, mistaking it for a real bird, lights it on fire, causing it to crash and be exposed as a fake. Hopper has Flik beaten in retaliation, saying that ants are meant to serve grasshoppers. However, Flik defies Hopper and points out how much the grasshoppers actually need them. This inspires the entire colony along with the circus bugs to stand up to the grasshoppers and drive them out of Ant Island.
Before Hopper can be disposed of, it begins to rain and during the chaos, he kidnaps Flik and flees. During the ensuing pursuit, Atta eventually rescues Flik after the circus bugs fail to save him. As Hopper viciously pursues them, Flik leads him to an actual bird's nest (the same bird that attacked Flik, Dot, and the circus bugs). Mistaking the bird for another fake one, Hopper taunts it, before he is picked up by the bird who then feeds him to her chicks. Some time later, Flik and Atta are now a couple. As the troupe departs with the last grasshopper, Molt, as an employee, and Heimlich as a beautiful butterfly, Atta is crowned the new Queen, while Dot gets the princess's crown.
- Dave Foley as Flik, an ant who is the film's protagonist
- Kevin Spacey as Hopper, leader of the grasshopper gang and the film's antagonist
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Princess Atta, heir apparent to the ant colony
- Hayden Panettiere as Princess Dot, Atta's younger sister
- Phyllis Diller as the Queen, the elderly leader of the ant colony
- Richard Kind as Molt, Hopper's younger brother and self-appointed vice-president of the grasshopper gang
- David Hyde Pierce as Slim, a walking stick who is often used in P.T. Flea's circus troupe as a prop rather than a character
- Joe Ranft as Heimlich, an obese caterpillar who speaks with a German accent
- Denis Leary as Francis, a ladybug who is repeatedly mistaken for a female
- Jonathan Harris as Manny, a praying mantis who is the troupe's magician
- Madeline Kahn as Gypsy, a butterfly who is Manny's wife and part of his magic act
- Bonnie Hunt as Rosie, a black widow who acts as a mother to Dim
- Mike McShane as Tuck and Roll, twin pillbugs who are the troupe's acrobats and speak in a foreign language
- John Ratzenberger as P.T. Flea, the owner of the bug circus
- Brad Garrett as Dim, a dim-witted rhinoceros beetle
- Roddy McDowall as Mr. Soil, an ant with the gift of acting
- Edie McClurg as Dr. Flora, the ant colony doctor
- Alex Rocco as Thorny, an ant who is a member of the ant council
- David Ossman as Cornelius, an elderly ant who is Thorny's assistant
During the summer of 1994, Pixar's story department began turning its thought to their next film. The storyline of A Bug's Life originated in a lunchtime conversation between John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft, the studio's head story team. Lasseter and his story team had already been drawn to the idea of insects as characters. Insects, like toys, were within the reach of computer animation at the time due to their relatively simple surfaces. Stanton and Ranft wondered whether they could find a starting point in Aesop's fable The Ant and the Grasshopper. Walt Disney had produced his own version with a cheerier ending decades earlier in the 1934 short The Grasshopper and the Ants. In addition, Walt Disney Animation Studios had considered producing a film in the late 1980s entitled "Army Ants", that centered around a pacifist ant living in a militaristic colony but it never fully materialized.
As Stanton and Ranft discussed the adaption, they rattled off scenarios and storylines springing from their premise. Lasseter liked the idea and offered suggestions. The concept simmered until early 1995, when the story team began work on the second film in earnest. At an early test screening for Toy Story in San Rafael in June 1995, they pitched the film to Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Eisner thought the idea was fine and they submitted a treatment to Disney in early July under the title Bugs. Disney approved the treatment and gave notice on July 7, 1995 that it was exercising the option of a second film under the original 1991 agreement between Disney and Pixar. Lasseter assigned Stanton the job of co-director; the two men worked well together and had similar sensibilities. Lasseter had found that the workday of a sole-director on a computer-animated feature was dangerous while working on Toy Story. In addition, Lasseter felt it would relieve stress and the role would groom Stanton for a lead directing position of his own.
In The Ant and the Grasshopper, a grasshopper squanders the spring and summer months on singing while the ants put food away for the winter; when winter comes, the hungry grasshopper begs the ants for food, but the ants turn him away. Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft hit on the notion that the grasshopper could just take the food. After Stanton had completed a draft of the script, he came to doubt one of the story's main pillars – that the circus bugs who had come to the colony to cheat the ants would instead stay and fight. He felt the circus bugs were unlikable characters as liars and that it was unrealistic for them to undergo a complete personality change. There was also no particularly good reason for circus bugs to stay with the ant colony during the second act. Although the film was already far along, Stanton concluded that the story needed a different approach.
Stanton took one of the early circus bug characters, Red the red ant, and changed him into the character that would become Flik. The circus bugs, no longer out to cheat the colony, would be embroiled in a comic misunderstanding about what Flik was recruiting them for. Lasseter agreed with this new approach and comedy writers Donald McEnery and Bob Shaw spent a couple of months at Pixar working with Stanton on further polishing. The characters of "Tuck and Roll" were inspired by a drawing that Andrew Stanton did of two bugs fighting when he was in second grade. Lasseter had come to envision the film as an epic in the tradition of David Lean's 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.
The voice cast was heavy with television situation-comedy stars of the time: Flik was Dave Foley (who later stars in Monsters University) of NewsRadio; Princess Atta was Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld; Molt was Richard Kind (who later appeared in Cars, Toy Story 3, and Cars 2) of Spin City; Slim was David Hyde Pierce of Frasier; and Dim, the rhino beetle, was Brad Garrett (who would later star in Finding Nemo and Ratatouille) of Everybody Loves Raymond. Joe Ranft, member of Pixar's story team, played Heimlich the caterpillar at the suggestion of Lasseter's wife, Nancy, who had heard him playing the character on a scratch vocal track.
The casting of Hopper proved problematic. Lasseter's top choice was Robert De Niro, who repeatedly turned the part down, as did a succession of other actors. Kevin Spacey met John Lasseter at the 1995 Academy Awards and Lasseter asked Spacey if he would be interested in doing the voice of Hopper. Spacey was delighted and signed on immediately.
Art design and animation
Production was more difficult for animators during production of A Bug's Life than Toy Story, as computers ran sluggishly due to the complexity of the character models. Lasseter and Stanton had two supervising animators to assist with directing and reviewing the animation, Rich Quade and Glenn McQueen. The first sequence to be animated and rendered was the circus sequence that culminated with P.T. Flea's "Flaming Wall of Death." Lasseter placed this scene first in the pipeline because he judged it was least likely to change. Lasseter believed it would be useful to look at a view of the world from an insect's perspective. Two technicians obliged by creating a miniature video camera on Lego wheels, which they dubbed the Bugcam. Fastened to the end of a stick, the Bugcam could roll through grass and other terrain and send back an insect's-eye outlook. Lasseter was intrigued by the way grass, leaves, and flower petals formed a translucent canopy, as if the insects were living under a stained-glass ceiling. The team would also later seek inspiration from Microcosmos (1996), a French documentary on love and violence in the insect world.
The transition from treatment to storyboards took on an extra layer of complexity due to the profusion of storylines. Where Toy Story focused heavily on Woody and Buzz, with the other toys serving mostly as sidekicks, A Bug's Life required in-depth storytelling for several major groups of characters. Character design also presented a new challenge, in that the designers had to make ants appear likable. Although the art department and animators studied insects closely, natural realism would give way to the film's larger needs. The team took out mandibles and designed the ants to stand upright, replacing their normal six legs with two arms and two legs. The grasshoppers, in contrast, received a pair of extra appendages to appear less attractive. The story's scale also required software engineers to accommodate new demands. Among these was the need to handle shots with crowds of ants. The film would include more than 400 such shots in the ant colony, some with as many as 800 ants. It was impractical for animators to control these ants individually, but neither could the ants remain static for even a moment without appearing lifeless, or move identically. Bill Reeves, one of the film's two supervising technical directors, dealt with the quandary by leading the development of software for autonomous ants. The animators would only animate 4–5 groups of approximately 8 individual universal ants. Each one of these universal ants would later be randomly distributed throughout the digital set. The program also allowed each ant to be automatically modified in subtle ways (e.g. different eye color, different skin color, different heights, different weights, etc.). This ensured that no two ants were the same. It was partly based on Reeves's invention of a decade and a half earlier, particle systems, which had let animators use masses of self-guided particles to create effects like swirling dust and snow.
The animators also employed subsurface scattering—developed by Pixar co-founder Edwin Catmull during his graduate student days at the University of Utah in the 1970s—to render surfaces more lifelike. This would be the first time that subsurface scattering would be used in a Pixar film, and a small team at Pixar worked out the practical problems that kept it from working in animation. Catmull asked for a short film to test and showcase subsurface scattering and the result, Geri's Game (1997), was attached alongside A Bug's Life in its theatrical release.
Rivaling DreamWorks and Antz
During the production of A Bug's Life, a public feud erupted between DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Pixar's Steve Jobs & John Lasseter. Katzenberg, former chairman of Disney's film division, had left the company in a bitter feud with CEO Michael Eisner. In response, he formed DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen and planned to rival Disney in animation. After DreamWorks' acquisition of Pacific Data Images (PDI)—long Pixar's contemporary in computer animation—Lasseter and others at Pixar were dismayed to learn from the trade papers that PDI's first project at DreamWorks would be another ant film, to be called Antz. By this time, Pixar's project was well-known within the animation community. Both Antz and A Bug's Life center on a young male, a drone with oddball tendencies who struggles to win a princess's hand by saving their society. Whereas A Bug's Life relied chiefly on visual gags, Antz was more verbal and revolved more around satire. The script of Antz was also heavy with adult references, whereas Pixar's film was more accessible to children.
It was clear that Lasseter and Jobs believed that the idea was stolen by Katzenberg. Katzenberg had stayed in touch with Lasseter after the acrimonious Disney split, often calling to check up. In October 1995, when Lasseter was overseeing postproduction work on Toy Story at the Universal lot's Technicolor facility in Universal City, where DreamWorks was also located, he called Katzenberg and dropped by with Stanton. When Katzenberg asked what they were doing next, Lasseter described what would become A Bug's Life in detail. Lasseter respected Katzenberg's judgment and felt comfortable using him as a sounding board for creative ideas. Lasseter had high hopes for Toy Story, and he was telling friends throughout the tight-knit computer-animation business to get cracking on their own films. "If this hits, it's going to be like space movies after Star Wars" for computer-animation companies, he told various friends. "I should have been wary," Lasseter later recalled. "Jeffrey kept asking questions about when it would be released."
When the trades indicated production on Antz, Lasseter, feeling betrayed, called Katzenberg and asked him bluntly if it were true, who in turn asked him where he had heard the rumor. Lasseter asked again, and Katzenberg admitted it was true. Lasseter raised his voice and would not believe Katzenberg's story that a development director had pitched him the idea long ago. Katzenberg claimed Antz came from a 1991 story pitch by Tim Johnson that was related to Katzenberg in October 1994. Another source gives Nina Jacobson, one of Katzenberg's executives, as the person responsible for the Antz pitch. Lasseter, who normally did not use coarse language, cursed at Katzenberg and hung up the phone. Lasseter recalled that Katzenberg began explaining that Disney was "out to get him" and that he realized that he was just cannon fodder in Katzenberg's fight with Disney. In truth, Katzenberg was the victim of a conspiracy: Eisner had decided not to pay him his contract-required bonus, convincing Disney's board not to give him anything. Katzenberg was further angered by the fact that Eisner scheduled Bugs to open the same week as The Prince of Egypt, which was then intended to be DreamWorks' first animated release. Lasseter grimly relayed the news to Pixar employees but kept morale high. Privately, Lasseter told other Pixar executives that he and Stanton felt terribly let down by Katzenberg.
Katzenberg moved the opening of Antz from Spring 1999 to October 1998 to compete with Pixar's release. David Price writes in his 2008 book The Pixar Touch that a rumor, "never confirmed", was that Katzenberg had given PDI "rich financial incentives to induce them to whatever it would take to have Antz ready first, despite Pixar's head start". Jobs was furious and called Katzenberg and began yelling. Katzenberg made an offer: He would delay production of Antz if Jobs and Disney would move A Bug’s Life so that it did not compete with The Prince of Egypt. Jobs believed it "a blatant extortion attempt" and would not go for it, explaining that there was nothing he could do to convince Disney to change the date. Katzenberg casually responded that Jobs himself had taught him how to conduct similar business long ago, explaining that Jobs had come to Pixar's rescue by making the deal for Toy Story, as Pixar was near bankruptcy at that time. "I was the one guy there for you back then, and now you’re allowing them to use you to screw me," Katzenberg said. He suggested that if Jobs wanted to, he could simply slow down production on A Bug’s Life without telling Disney. If he did, Katzenberg said, he would put Antz on hold. Lasseter also claimed Katzenberg had phoned him with the proposition, but Katzenberg denied these charges later.
As the release dates for both films approached, Disney executives concluded that Pixar should keep silent on the DreamWorks battle. Regardless, Lasseter publicly dismissed Antz as a "schlock version" of A Bug's Life. Lasseter, who claimed to have never seen Antz, told others that if DreamWorks and PDI had made the film about anything other than insects, he would have closed Pixar for the day so the entire company could go see it. Jobs and Katzenberg would not back down and the rivaling ant films provoked a press frenzy. "The bad guys rarely win," Jobs told the Los Angeles Times. In response, DreamWorks’ head of marketing Terry Press suggested, “Steve Jobs should take a pill." Despite the successful box office performance of both Antz and A Bug's Life, tensions would remain high between Jobs and Katzenberg for many years. According to Jobs, Katzenberg came to Jobs after the success of Shrek (2001) and insisted he had never heard the pitch for A Bug's Life, reasoning that his settlement with Disney would have given him a share of the profits if that were so. Although the contention left all parties estranged, Pixar and PDI employees kept up the old friendships that had arisen from spending a long time together in computer animation.
The soundtrack album was produced and released on October 27, 1998, by Walt Disney Records. The album's first track is a song called "The Time of Your Life" written and performed by Newman, while all the other 19 tracks are orchestral cues. The album is no longer manufactured into physical media, but is available for purchase on iTunes. The time duration is 47 minutes and 32 seconds. Out of five stars, Allmusic, Empire Online, and Film Tracks rated the album three stars. Movie Wave rated it four and a half. The score won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition.
The film received very positive reviews upon release. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 92% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 81 reviews, with an average score of 7.9/10. The critical consensus is "Blending top notch animation with rousing adventure, witty dialogue, and memorable characters, A Bug's Life is another Pixar winner." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated a score of 77 based on 23 reviews."
Todd McCarthy of Variety gave the film a positive review, saying "Lasseter and Pixar broke new technical and aesthetic ground in the animation field with Toy Story, and here they surpass it in both scope and complexity of movement while telling a story that overlaps Antz in numerous ways." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying "A Bug's Life, like Toy Story, develops protagonists we can root for, and places them in the midst of a fast-moving, energetic adventure." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying "Will A Bug's Life suffer by coming out so soon after Antz? Not any more than one thriller hurts the chances for the next one. Antz may even help business for A Bug's Life by demonstrating how many dramatic and comedic possibilities can be found in an anthill." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times gave the film four out of five stars, saying "What A Bug's Life demonstrates is that when it comes to bugs, the most fun ones to hang out with hang exclusively with the gang at Pixar." Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film four out of four stars, saying "A Bug's Life is one of the great movies – a triumph of storytelling and character development, and a whole new ballgame for computer animation. Pixar Animation Studios has raised the genre to an astonishing new level".
Richard Corliss of Time gave the film a positive review, saying "The plot matures handsomely; the characters neatly converge and combust; the gags pay off with emotional resonance." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B, saying "A Bug's Life may be the single most amazing film I've ever seen that I couldn't fall in love with." Paul Clinton of CNN gave the film a positive review, saying "A Bug's Life is a perfect movie for the holidays. It contains a great upbeat message ... it's wonderful to look at ... it's wildly inventive ... and it's entertaining for both adults and kids." Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three and a half stars out of four, and compared the movie to "Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai" (with a little of another art-film legend, Federico Fellini, tossed in)." where "As in 'Samurai,' the colony here is plagued every year by the arrival of bandits." On the contrary, Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post gave the film a negative review, saying "Clever as it is, the film lacks charm. One problem: too many bugs. Second, bigger world for two purposes: to feed birds and to irk humans."
A Bug's Life grossed approximately $33,258,052 on its opening weekend, ranking number 1 for that weekend. It managed to retain its number 1 spot for two weeks. The film grossed $162.7 million in its United States theatrical run, covering its estimated production costs of $120 million. The film made $200,600,000 in foreign countries, pushing its worldwide gross to $363.3 million, surpassing the competition from DreamWorks Animation's Antz.
A Bug's Life won a number of awards and numerous nominations. The film won the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards for Best Animated Film (tied with The Prince of Egypt) and Best Family Film, the Satellite Award for Best Animated Film and the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition by Randy Newman. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and the BAFTA Award for Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects.
Critical comparisons to Antz
PopMatters journalist J.C. Maçek III compared the two films and wrote, "The feud deepened with both teams making accusations and excuses and a release date war ensued. While Antz beat A Bug’s Life to the big screen by two months, the latter film significantly out grossed its predecessor. Antz made almost $91 million domestically against a $105 million budget (with a worldwide haul of almost $172 million) while A Bug’s Life made almost $163 million domestically against a $120 million budget (with a worldwide haul of over $363 million). Rip off or not, Antz‘s critical response has proven to be almost exactly as positive as what A Bug’s Life has enjoyed."
American Film Institute
A Bug's Life was released on VHS and DVD on April 20, 1999. On May 27, 2003, another DVD was released as a 2-disc Collector's Edition. This DVD was fully remastered and has substantial bonus features. On May 19, 2009, the film was released on Blu-ray.
Media and merchandise
Attached short film
The film's theatrical and video releases include Geri's Game, a Pixar short made in 1997, a year before this film was released.
A game, based on the film, was developed by Traveller's Tales and Tiertex Design Studios and released by Sony Computer Entertainment, Disney Interactive, THQ and Activision for various systems. The game's storyline was similar to the film's, with a few changes. However, unlike the film, the game received mixed reviews. A Bug's Life was met with mixed reviews. Aggregating review website GameRankings gave the Nintendo 64 version 54.40%, the PlayStation version 51.90%  and the Game Boy Color version 36.63%.  GameSpot gave the PlayStation version a 2.7/10, concluding that it was "obvious that Disney was more interested in producing a $40 advertisement for its movie than in developing a playable game."  IGN gave the Nintendo 64 version a 6.8/10, praising the presentation and sound by stating "It was upbeat, cheery look and feel very much like the movie of the same name with cheery, happy tunes and strong sound effects but again criticised the gameplay by saying the controls were sluggish with stuttering framerate and tired gameplay mechanics". while they gave the PlayStation version a 4/10, criticizing the gameplay as slow and awkward but praising the presentation as cinematic. 
Theme park attractions
A Bug's Land is a section of Disney California Adventure that is entirely dedicated to A Bug's Life. One of the main attractions is the 3D show It's Tough to Be a Bug! which is also in Walt Disney World Resort's Disney's Animal Kingdom. The Disney California Adventure show World of Color features a segment that includes Heimlich, the caterpillar from the film.
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