Rated G - Running time: 1:36 - Released 11/25/98

Among the several children's releases on tap this December, none is more spectacular so far than A Bug's Life, written by John Lasseter and Don McEnery and directed by Lassiter and Andrew Stanton. The second cartoon trip to the anthill this fall (after October's Antz), this Disney feature also has funny characters, great music, and the awesome computer-generated animation we have come to expect from Pixar, the company that pioneered the genre with Toy Story (1995).

The story focuses on a colony of ants whose queen (voice of Phyllis Diller) and princess Atta (Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus) are overseeing the colony-wide effort to collect food for the annual offering to the grasshoppers. Led by Hopper (Kevin Spacey), the big, nasty creatures bully the ants into feeding them every year because — hey — they can. "It's our lot in life," says the queen, early in the film. "It's not a lot, but it's life!" Followed by the patented Diller laugh.

In the meantime, Flik (NewsRadio's Dave Foley) is perfecting his newest invention: an automatic seed harvester made from a blade of grass and worn on his back. Flik is known for his inventions, which usually almost work but always cause large disasters. When he knocks over the offering stone just before the grasshoppers arrive, dumping all the collected seeds in the pond, Hopper is not amused. He gives the ants until the end of the season to collect double the normal quota, or else.

Since Flik caused the problem, he offers to solve it by finding a bunch of warrior bugs who can help the ants defend themselves against their oppressors. Happy to get him away from the colony, Atta agrees to send him on the quest, thinking she will never see him again. He leaves the security of Ant Island and soon arrives in Bug City.

Looking for "tough bugs," he witnesses a band of out-of-work circus insects defending themselves against some unruly flies. There are a host of celebrity voices present, such as Frasier's David Hyde Pierce as Slim, the stick-bug who wants to be cast in a more demanding role; Denis Leary as Francis, the male ladybug who must use attitude to compensate for his feminine markings; Bonnie Hunt as Rosie, a black widow spider who nervously discusses her deceased husbands; and several others. Through dumb luck they beat the flies, and Flik is convinced they are just the type he needs to stand up against Hopper and his minions. When he approaches them about their "performance," they think he caught the latest show and wants them to do their act for the colony, so they agree.

Flik returns triumphant, but soon everyone discovers his error. The circus bugs are no match for grasshoppers and they know it. But when they band together to save young Dot (Hayden Panettiere) from a bird, it seems there may be a chance after all. Soon they are drawing up battle plans with Flik in charge.

A Bug's Life is packed to the exoskeleton with fun, and the crisp, clear animation is something that must be seen to be believed. Another great feature (and rare among animated films) is the inclusion of phony "out-takes" during the end credits--scenes of the characters blowing their lines, breaking out laughing, etc. You know a company's got money when they pay the animators to spend an extra week doing pretend flubs.

Disney's got some serious problems when it comes to their recent non-animated films, but there's no doubt that they (and their pals at Pixar) can deliver when it comes to tooney goodness. *****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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