Unless there’s a first-grader in the house intrigued by the perhaps-problematic changeover from socialism to capitalism, it’s hard to imagine little ones enjoying the last half of Bee Movie. That’s just the tip of the honeycomb, with all the race, religion, class, courtroom and Hollywood humor.
Bee Movie isn’t a flawless adaptation of Jerry Seinfeld’s sometimes cynical, always obsessive takes on the trivial into an animated film equally enjoyable for everyone. The vibrant colors and fancy flights of the bumblebee can be universally appreciated, but its snappy banter and overall storyline is aimed more at those who hadn’t yet met their spouse when Seinfeld ended its TV run.
In a hive where honey is a beverage, antiperspirant and hair gel all at once, Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) is a graduate of the Class of 9:15 a.m. He’s eager to begin his professional life, but disappointed to learn it will be spent working the same job for the Honex Corporation until he dies.
Not content with choices like crud picker or honey stirrer, Barry ventures outside one day with the “pollen jocks.” (The film gleefully spreads primers on pollen and bee existence amid its zippy jokes and dazzling animation.) When Barry mistakes a green tennis ball for a flower, he ends up stuck in the city and spared only by the good graces of Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a kind-hearted florist with an oafish boyfriend named Ken (Patrick Warburton).
To thank Vanessa, Barry breaks Bee Rule No. 1 — never talk to humans — and befriends her, much to Ken’s chagrin. When Barry learns of harsh working conditions, and low-income hiving as it were, for the bees making honey for humans, he files a class-action suit against humans with Vanessa’s help. That has one dire consequence a florist should see coming a mile away but doesn’t. (Even at 91 minutes, Bee Movie has an ending that drips out with the pace of chunky honey.)
Zellweger translates her occasionally shrill overacting into her voice work, and the incessant yelling of Warburton renders him a barrel-chested Gilbert Gottfried. Bee Movie is at its best in the hands of the black-and-yellow fellow, whether he’s marveling over Cinnabon crumbs or getting caught in a windshield-wiper tragedy that’s the insect equivalent of the Titanic hitting the iceberg.
Once the script jabs at Larry King and Ray Liotta, the jokes start soaring over kids’ heads. Still, Seinfeld’s social satire stings without turning inappropriate in a film packed with brio and energy.