No sting in this gentle tale
WATCHING the new DreamWorks animated film Bee Movie, in which Jerry Seinfeld, who co- produced and coscripted, voices the character of Barry B. Benson, a bee with attitude, I was reminded of an old 78rpm recording I played as a child. British comedian Arthur Askey sang about the pleasures of being ‘‘ a busy busy bee whiling away the passing hours sipping all the pollen from the cauliflowers’’.
Seinfeld’s Barry is much like Askey’s hero, though Seinfeld takes the humanising of the Apis mellifera a stage further by allowing the insect to connect with humans, much like the amiable rat did in Ratatouille .
The hive in which Barry has evolved is described as ‘‘ the most perfectly functioning society on earth’’. Having graduated from high school with his friend, Adam, who has the voice of Matthew Broderick, Barry looks forward to a life slaving away for Honex, the bees’ honey monopoly: employees of the company haven’t been given a day off in 27 million years. Barry, though, is a rebel. He wants to see the world outside the hive and the only way to achieve this is to become a ‘‘ pollen jock’’, bees who venture out like air force pilots on dangerous missions.
Outside, Barry finds life extremely dangerous, especially since he isn’t keen to use his ultimate weapon, his sting, for fear it will kill him. He finds himself batted about on a tennis court, swatted, stuck on a car windscreen. Humans are pretty violent towards the harmless bees, except for Vanessa ( Renee Zellweger), a florist who saves his life and becomes his first human friend. Barry’s adventures in the world of humans conclude with a wonderfully strange sequence in which he goes to court to sue the human race for stealing honey from the bees.
The humour here is, as you’d expect, wry and gently amusing, with few opportunities to satirise the world of the American celebrity overlooked. Oprah Winfrey and Larry King are referred to, while Ray Liotta is criticised for marketing his own brand of honey and Sting is mocked for his name. The funniest character by far is a quarrelsome, fast- talking grasshopper, voiced by Chris Rock, but he isn’t given the screen time he deserves. The animation is skilful, and the various characters are depicted with amusement and affection, but the film is not as laugh- out- loud funny as some of its predecessors in the animation genre.
The bar for this kind of film has been raised so high that it’s difficult to find something really fresh to add, and Seinfeld and his collaborators, including directors Simon Smith and Steve Hickner, while providing an amiable entertainment, haven’t come up with a classic. FOR much of its length, 1408, an old- fashioned horror film about a haunted hotel room, is a showcase for the talents of John Cusack, who plays a cynical ghost- story writer. Based on a Stephen King story, the film establishes Cusack’s character, Mike Enslin, as a smart- arse who has betrayed his early promise as a writer to churn out a series of uninspired bestsellers about the world of ghosts.
We discover later that his cynical exterior hides a troubled soul, but by that time Enslin is deep in a nightmare of his own creation. He regularly receives information from members of the public about ostensibly haunted sites and is intrigued when he gets a postcard warning him not to enter room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in Manhattan.
At first he assumes it’s another attempt by the hospitality business to market creepiness in place of comfort; he notes that the numbers add up to 13. But he becomes intrigued when he’s unable to reserve that particular room for any night at any price; he is forced to evoke a federal law to be given access and even then the hotel manager ( Samuel L. Jackson) warns him that, during the past 95 years, 56 deaths have occurred in the room. Despite this advice, Enslin checks into the room prepared to scoff, but he soon finds that the warnings were not frivolous and that something implacably evil does, indeed, inhabit the room.
For most of the film Cusack is alone on screen facing the mounting horrors that surround him, and here the actor’s considerable skills are on full display. In the end, though, 1408 falls well short of being a classic horror film, not least because King seems to be repeating himself. ( There’s more than a suggestion of The Shining here.)
Director Mikael Hafstrom came to the fore in his native Sweden four years ago with Evil, a drama set in a boys boarding school, and made his Hollywood debut with Derailed in which rail commuter Clive Owen found himself in a nightmare of his own making. These films share with 1408 an interesting premise that is not satisfactorily resolved; like them the new film is full of intriguing, impressively realised elements, but a better movie should have resulted from these ingredients.
Honey in short supply: The animation and characterisation in Bee Movie is skilful, but the film not as laugh- out- loud funny as some of its predecessors in the animation genre