The bird and the bee

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews - MICHAEL DWYER

“BIRDS do it, bees do it/Even ed­u­cated fleas do it/Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.” So wrote Cole Porter in the lyrics of one of his most en­dur­ing songs. The prob­lem for Barry B Ben­son, the ed­u­cated bee voiced by Jerry Se­in­feld in the com­put­eran­i­mated Bee Movie, is that he falls in love with a hu­man, Vanessa (Renée Zell­weger), a florist who can af­ford a Man­hat­tan apart­ment with a rooftop view over Cen­tral Park.

Re­gard­less of the fact that Vanessa is a WASP, it is against bee law, we learn, even to talk to a hu­man. Barry, how­ever, is a non-con­form­ist bee. Un­like his tie-wear­ing best friend (Matthew Brod­er­ick), he is un­will­ing to face the life of a drone when they grad­u­ate from bee school. As the movie de­picts the ro­botic ex­is­tence of the worker bee, its pro­duc­tion de­sign re­calls the in­dus­trial land­scapes of Fritz Lang’s Me­trop­o­lis and Charles Chap­lin’s Mod­ern Times.

When Barry de­ter­mines to dis­cover the out­side world for him­self, he ex­pe­ri­ences the kind­ness of strangers such as Vanessa, who saves his life. How­ever, he is shocked to learn that honey is sold in hu­man su­per­mar­kets and that mil­lions of bees are im­pris­oned in hives to pro­duce it.

It goes with­out say­ing that a bee’s got to do what a bee’s got to do, and Barry goes the dis­tance, su­ing the hu­man race. He cites Sting as an ex­am­ple of bee cul­ture be­ing stolen “for pranc­ing around the stage”. And Ray Liotta has to take the stand for sell­ing his own brand of honey. Barry says he never heard of Liotta, who bran­dishes the 2004 Emmy award he won for a guest ap­pear­ance in ER.

Bee Movie is not just about cham­pi­oning the rights of a species down­trod­den by hu­mans and swat­ted with such lethal weapons as Ital­ian Vogue. As it pro­ceeds breezily along to en­ter­tain adults and chil­dren alike, it’s even more con­cerned with us­ing more apian puns than most hu­mans could ever imag­ine, if so in­clined, and drop­ping in even more movie al­lu­sions – to, among oth­ers, The Grad­u­ate and Air­port 1975, when Barry asks: “Isn’t John Tra­volta a pilot? How hard can it be?”

A buzz in the air: Barry and Vanessa

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