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Pixar Films on DVD: Toy Story • A Bug's Life • Toy Story 2 • Monsters, Inc. • Finding Nemo • The Incredibles • Cars • Ratatouille • WALL•E • Up
Pixar Films on Blu-ray: Toy Story • A Bug's Life • Toy Story 2 • Monsters, Inc. • Cars • Ratatouille • WALL•E • Up

A Bug's Life: Collector's Edition DVD Review

A Bug's Life movie poster A Bug's Life

Theatrical Release: November 25, 1998 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton

Voice Cast: Dave Foley (Flik), Kevin Spacey (Hopper), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Atta), Hayden Panettiere (Dot), Phyllis Diller (Queen), Richard Kind (Molt), David Hyde Pierce (Slim), Joe Ranft (Heimlich), Denis Leary (Francis), Jonathan Harris (Manny), Madeline Kahn (Gypsy Moth), Bonnie Hunt (Rosie), Michael McShane (Tuck, Roll), John Ratzenberger (P.T. Flea), Brad Garrett (Dim), Roddy McDowall (Mr. Soil), Edie McClurg (Dr. Flora), Alex Rocco (Thorny), David Ossman (Cornelius)

Oscars: Nominated for Best Score (Randy Newman); Song: "The Time of Your Life"

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By Jack Seiley

A Bug's Life was the first of Pixar's computer-animated movies to come out after their 1995 smash hit Toy Story, and has always unfairly lived in that film's shadow.
These days, Pixar is usually referred to as the creators of Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, but A Bug's Life is overlooked. Does the film deserve the somewhat inferior treatment? Not at all, as it stands as one of Pixar's best films and one of the best examples of animated storytelling ever.

The epic plot of pint-sized proportions begins in a large ant colony on an anonymous island in the middle of nowhere. Each year, a ruthless band of grasshoppers, led by the despicable Hopper, show up and force the colony to break their backs gathering extra food for them. Right around the time when the grasshoppers are set to make their annual return, an inventive worker ant named Flik (who has big ideas for such a small brain) gets the idea to travel off the island in search for warrior bugs to bring back and fight the oppressive grasshoppers. The Queen and Princess Atta, eager to get rid of Flik due to his knack for ruining everything with his crazy inventions, allow him to leave the island and carry out his search.

Uh-oh! Hopper intimidates Princess Atta and the ant colony.

While away, Flik mistakes a group of insects from the circus to be the warriors he's searching for, after they coincidentally win a bug bar brawl. Once he brings them back to the colony, he only then discovers that they are not all he'd hoped to be. However, with a little ingenuity and imagination, Flik inspires the entire colony to believe in themselves and stand up against Hopper once and for all.

Akin to the tale of The Seven Samurai, A Bug's Life is about as close to perfect as can be. The way it tells the story is tight and concise, and the characters are all lovable. Each one has qualities that I could recognize in myself, and that's what makes their plight so great to watch. The themes and messages of the story involve things in which everyone can relate, from dealing with responsibility to trying to make a difference. In addition, the movie features the same elements that make all the other Pixar films such treats to watch: the sly humor, the fantastic music, and the jaw-dropping, gorgeous animation. Personally, it ties with Toy Story as my favorite of the Pixar movies.

Flik sets off on his journey. Pixar makes visual fireworks with their imaginative outdoor setting for "A Bug's Life."

DVD RELEASES

A Bug's Life has enjoyed numerous DVD reincarnations since it was originally put on the market. It was first released on DVD on April 20th, 1999, heralded as "The World's First DVD Created Directly From the Digital Source." It was a basic single disc presentation of the film, including both non-anamorphic widescreen and pan-and-scan versions. It only contained a few extras: the outtakes that played at the end of the film during its theatrical release and the animated short "Geri's Game" that also played alongside the movie theatrically.

Roughly six months later, on November 23, 1999, the film was released in a highly superior 2-Disc Collector's Edition. Unlike the previous release, it
featured a widescreen transfer that was anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs (in addition to the pan-and-scan version), and sported an ant-hill's worth of fantastic bonus features. This edition went out-of-print a couple of years after its initial release.

The following year, on August 1, 2000, Disney saw fit to include A Bug's Life as part of its Gold Collection DVD line. The original DVD release of the film was repackaged in a new case, displaying the Gold Collection banner. However, the contents remained the same.

A few months later, those bugs' mugs popped up yet again on a DVD set. A Pixar DVD 3-Pack was unleashed on October 30, 2001 to promote Monsters Inc.. This 3-Pack included the single-disc editions of Toy Story 1 & 2 and, yes, A Bug's Life. Specifically, the ABL disc is the Gold Collection re-issue.

The most recent (and probably last) DVD re-re-release of the film occurred on May 27, 2003, to promote Finding Nemo. This time, it meant the welcome return of the excellent Collector's Edition, which was off the market for some time. The 2-Disc set was given new packaging and a lower list price than the original CE. The most notable update was the addition of two new set-top games and a promo for Finding Nemo.

This review covers the 2003 release of the Collector's Edition.

Buy A Bug's Life: Collector's Edition from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen,
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
Release Date: May 27, 2003
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 + DVD-5)
THX-Certified with Optimizer tests
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Also available on Blu-ray Disc

VIDEO and AUDIO

Disc 1 of the DVD gives the viewer two choices of viewing presentation: the original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, anamorphically enhanced, or a 1.33:1 aspect ratio specifically reframed for standard televisions. For those turned off by pan-and-scan jobs (like me), the 1.33:1 version isn't as bad as you might presume. Instead of cropping the original ratio to fit square TVs, Pixar has reframed most of the shots the make sure the viewer doesn't lose too much visual information. This is a good idea, but I still prefer the original ratio, as I suspect most fans of the movie would.

The image quality on both transfers is absolutely stunning. As with Pixar's other DVD titles, A Bug's Life has been brought to the disc with no celluloid middle man, resulting in an incredibly clear and colorful display of the movie. And since most of it takes place outdoors, there is so much incredible detail to notice throughout. I've caught something new every time I watch it. This is DVD technology at its best!

Flik and the 'warriors' in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Flik and some of the 'warriors' reformatted for 1.33:1.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is equally impressive. As I just said, this is an outdoor movie, and the many sounds of nature from a bug's perspective fill the front speakers as well as the surrounds. Since it's a rather recent movie, the high quality of the sound is expected, sounding very natural and well balanced.

In relation to the video and audio, a few bonuses are included. There's a 2.0 Music Only track (available only on the widescreen version) and a 5.1 Effects Only track (available only on the 1.33:1 version – go figure). There's also a THX Optimizer, which helps the viewer calibrate his or her home theater system.

John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and introduce you to Disc 2. John Lasseter and Fleabie in the delightfully goofy "Fleabie Reel." Joe Ranft pitches a storyboarded sequence.

BONUS FEATURES

The only other bonus on Disc 1 is an audio commentary with director John Lasseter, co-director / co-writer Andrew Stanton, and supervising film editor Lee Unkrich.
The track is quite scene-specific, with the participants touching on every aspect of the production throughout. As usual with Pixar discs, the commentary never becomes dry and is always fun to listen to.

Disc 2 opens with a 1-minute segment with Lasseter and Stanton, who hilariously introduce this set as the "Supah Genius Version." Lasseter explains how over 4 years of production, Pixar saves tons of stuff to put on this DVD, only heightening the anticipation for what you're about to explore (these guys give intros to features throughout the disc to give context and make jokes crackling with Pixar wit). From then on, we gain access to the material through several subsections.

Pre-Production

First up is the uproarious "Fleabie" Reel (4:23). As Lasseter explains in his intro, Disney wanted an update on the project then known simply as "Bugs". They decided to have some fun with it by shooting a brief video tour of Pixar in the style of a '50s educational short. A puppet mosquito named 'Fleabie' guides us to the various departments working on the film before slamming into a car windshield. The entire thing features very funny voice-overs and had me laughing till my socks came off!

The Story and Editorial section offers supplements relating to the construction of the film's plot in its early stages. The Original Treatment from 1995 can be read along with accompanying concept art. "Storyboard Pitch" (4:43) shows what the job is like for a storyboard artist . . . through actual storyboards (in a rather fun fashion)! A "Storyboard to Film Comparison" (3:55) displays the rough artwork alongside the finished film for a segment in the film featuring the cute girl ant, Dot. "Abandoned Sequences" is a subsection with 2 deleted concepts: an alternate opening of the movie "Original Museum Opening" (1:44), and an extended version of the circus scene in "P.T.'s Office" (1:39).

Footage from a bug's perspective is seen in "Research." A developing character design of Flik in the galleries. Concept art for Hopper's Hideout. Director John Lasseter amidst a toy-filled environment in "Behind the Scenes of A Bug's Life."

Next, "Research" (5:24) features amazing real-life footage of a bug's world taken from a tiny camera. With narration from Lasseter and Stanton, it is described how the footage was used as reference for the animation and how the artists tried to incorporate the look of the world in their art.

The last subsection in this area is "Design," consisting mainly of still-galleries. Under the "Characters" section, we get numerous frames for all the individual characters, indexed under the respective groups they belong to: The Colony, The Grasshoper Gang, The Circus, and Miscellaneous Characters. We get more artwork in the "Locations" section, devoted to pictures of Ant Island, The City, the Circus Tent and Wagon, and Hopper's Hideout. In "Concept Art and Color Scripts", there's a trove of stills for generic artwork which are used to help define the look of scenes throughout the movie. All together, I counted over 500 stills in this robust digital portfolio!

Kevin Spacey in "Voice Casting" featurette. Early Tests with P.T. Flea. Story Reel phase of the Progression Demonstration.

Production

"Behind the Scenes of A Bug's Life" (3:26) is a quick fluff-piece made at the time of the original release that glosses over the making of the film, using EPK interviews with the filmmakers. "Voice Casting" (4:14) interviews several participants of the cast, and doesn't differ much from the first in promotional nature, though it's slightly more interesting.

Returning to the more straightforward presentation of the last section, "Early Tests" (5:27) presents animation done near the beginning of the film's production to establish lighting and the look and movement of the characters. Lastly, an interactive "Progression Demonstration" covers the many stages a scene will go through before it is completed.
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With introductions from key participants of each stage, the viewer can watch the "Flaming Death" sequence in Story reel, Layout, Animation, and Shading / Lighting form. Each stage can be viewed separately, or, while watching it, you can toggle between each with the angle button on your remote control.

Overall, this is the most disappointing area of the disc. I would've liked to see a longer documentary, but the rest of the material is so extensive, it's hard to complain.

In between one section and the next on the main menu is "Sound Design" (13:09), a highly informative and entertaining featurette with Gary Rydstrom of Skywalker Sound, who takes us through the movie chronologically from a sound designer's perspective. A Bug's Life has one of the most innovative and interesting sound mixes of all animated filmdom, and its fascinating to discover where all the sounds came from. I'd hate to give any away, as I think it's a real treat to watch the segment first hand.

An American one-sheet from the Posters / Ad Campaign gallery. Character Interviews Reframing Examples

Release

Within the "Theatrical Release" sub-section, a still gallery of "Posters / Ad Campaign" has 16 frames of the promotional artwork for the film. The funny teaser trailer (1:04) and standard theatrical trailer (2:37) are a welcome inclusion. Also used for promotion, highly entertaining "Character Interviews" (2:07) features a human film-historian named Jeff Kurtti interviewing insect film-stars Flik, Hopper, Francis, and Heimlich (brought to life with specially created animation).

"Video Release" holds 2 more features. "Reframing Featurette" (4:27) delves into how the animators reformatted the film for a 1.33:1 ratio for the DVD and VHS release. This concept is explored in more detail with "Reframing Examples" (5:14), comparing the 2.35:1 and 1.33:1 ratios side by side, taken from sequences throughout the movie.

Outtakes

Here we have an entire section devoted to the outtakes that started with this film, and because of their immense popularity, continued to become a sort of Pixar tradition in the theatrical releases of Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc.

To start off with, there's an "End Credits Outtakes Featurette" (3:48) that interviews the filmmakers on how they came up with the idea in the first place, and has some quick clips of the voice cast doing the dialogue.

A familiar face shows up on the set in the "Alternate Outtakes." A fall afternoon is the setting for the memorable chess game in "Geri's Game", Pixar's Academy-Award winning short. New to this repackaging of the Collector's Edition: A Bug's Land game.

Then, we get access to the "Original Outtakes" (2:33), which played during the end credits of the movie when it was first released, and the "Alternate Outtakes" (2:32) that were added 3 weeks after the first release, due to the great feedback of the first batch. They depict the animated characters from the film as if they are real actors on a set, flubbing their lines, tripping, bumping into things, et cetera. Unlike most bloopers for live-action movies, these are likely to make you bust a laugh, with the funniest one involving Hopper trying to be intimidating and Princess Atta laughing uncontrollably.

The rest of the extras on Disc 2 are under no sub-section. "Geri's Game" (4:57) was the Academy-Award winning Pixar animated short that played in front of A Bug's Life in theaters.
The amusing piece focuses on an old fellow playing checkers in a city park, with a surprising twist at the end.

Now we come to the bonuses that have been added since the first release of the Collector's Edition and are exclusive to this edition (don't get your hopes up). Finding Nemo "Fishy Facts" (1:16), with the intent of promoting the theatrical release of what would become Pixar's biggest hit yet, is a TV Spot featuring trivia about great white sharks set to ska music and Men At Work's catchy tune, "Down Under."

"A Bug's Land" offers two standard set-top games that take place in a garden with Heimlich the caterpillar as our guide. The player can choose to play hide and seek with Francis the ladybug in a tomato patch, which basically consists of a simple trivia game that asks questions about the movie. On the other hand, one could help Heimlich devour a watermelon by matching similar shapes together (warning: this one may give you a rumbly in your tumbly). Both would probably be fun for young kids, but wouldn't interest older viewers as much as the more recent Disney set-top activities.

Disc 1 Main Menu Disc 2 Main Menu

MENUS and PACKAGING

This set boasts some of the coolest menus I've seen, with each one taking place in a different location from the film and enveloping the watcher in the sounds of the ants' island. They have a very classy design, and represent the atmosphere of the film very well.

While the original Collector's Edition came in double-thick alpha case, this new version comes in a standard black amaray case. For the sake of being neato, the cover features a foil-printed shiny effect. Inside, there's a one-page insert with a listing of chapters and bonus materials (not quite as nice as the thick six-page insert in the original Collector's release). When it first came out in stores, this DVD came with a cardboard slipcover featuring the same shiny effect as the amaray case (rather useless, if you ask me). However, Disney no longer manufactures the slipcover, and it's likely only available for sale without it anymore.

Pretend it's a seed. Look at those tough city bugs!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

To put it simply, A Bug's Life is a phenomenal film and deserves more recognition in the Pixar canon. If you already own the original Collector's Edition, there's no reason to "upgrade" - you really wouldn't be "upgrading" very much, since the only new stuff you'd get is a quick promo and an uninteresting game. However, for anyone who doesn't own the film yet, or owns the 1-disc version, I completely recommend this set. A superb movie experience and high-quality extras to boot - what more could you ask for?

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Related Interview: John Ratzenberger, Pixar's good luck charm
Click to read our interview with John Ratzenberger on A Bug's Life and other Pixar projects.

Related Pages:
Hopper in the Disney Villains Countdown • Flik in the Disney Heroes Countdown

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Reviewed October 18, 2004.