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Bee Movie

As disasters go, Bee Movie couldn't hold a candle to the Alum Rock earthquake. Even that event wasn't that great, but it did bring the San Jose press screening of Jerry Seinfeld's animated film to a halt. Not even Jerry has much power in the face of nature.

Though a cute enough movie, missing the second half has left no appreciable narrative hole. Walking out of the cancelled screening, I knew my kids would want to see it, and if nothing else, we'd catch it eventually on DVD. Maybe that's not the effect Seinfeld would like.

Faint praise or not, Bee Movie is pleasant enough. The worst pun in the movie lies in its title. Though the temptation had to have been great, Seinfeld and his writing team rely on their jokes coming more from genuine wit and building a believable environment for their apian characters.

On that score, they have mixed results. Bee lives seem much like our own, though thankfully the movie doesn't draw that connection too painfully. After twenty-four hours of education, the bees find their place in society, a job that they will follow for the rest of their lives. Yes, they work to death, but hey, they do.

Nodding only slightly to such actual bee realities, Seinfeld's bees still have social live and personal relationships. Though locked in for life, they still have some career choice -- except for being a "pollen jockey," genetically bred superbees that go out and gather nectar. That they also make the world go round seems immaterial to them. Of course, they're bees. Despite their education, what do they really know?

Young Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld) longs for something more, and it's his discovery of how the world really works that makes the story run. Befriending a human florist (Renee Zellweger), Barry determines that humans exploit bees, and vows to put a stop to it.

At points, the humor fights itself. In order for an animated film to be successful (in this country, anyway), it has to have something for adults, and no kid should understand the references to The Graduate. Most of the jokes walk a fine line between family friendly and sailing high over kids' heads. Yet occasionally a savage streak of black humor jars the rhythm of the movie. It's funny, but could be upsetting to younger ones.

Why be concerned about that? Well, Bee Movie clearly wants to draw in the kids. Finally, someone has done insect character designs that are cuddly and bright. Barry's big eyes will draw in kids emotionally. The Happy Meal toys? The McCaw household has already caught the bug.

But bees have a fairly high mortality rate on top of a short lifespan. One of Barry's first conversations is about whether or not he'll attend the funeral of a classmate. Funny for adults, but kind of cavalier for a society we're meant to care about.

In the end -- and I haven't seen the end -- Bee Movie will probaby keep families' attention this weekend, but an earthquake would still be the most exciting part about it.

Derek McCaw

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