Saturday, January 7, 2017

Ten Years Ago, Jerry Seinfeld Advocated Slavery And Stereotypes In Bee Movie!

The Good: Decent animation
The Bad: Ridiculous stereotypes, Unlikable characters, Terrible overall theme, Predictable and hyperbolic plot
The Basics: Bee Movie is another terrible animated film that has an ultimately horrible message and reinforces stereotypes more than doing anything remotely entertaining.

Years ago, I discovered that some animated films get away with the most horiffic racism, sexism and stereotype-reinforcement when I sat down and watched A Shark Tale (reviewed here!) and it was painfully obvious to deconstruct what was in the film, as opposed to what the writers and producers hoped viewers would see. So, when my wife sat down to watch Bee Movie and she prefaced it with "this is one of the worst movies ever; it is so horrible!" I was ready to believe her, but I still went into it with an open mind. Anti-Semitic and essentially arguing in favor of a slave class, Bee Movie is one of the worst, most subversive films I've seen in a long time . . . even if on the surface it advocates for worker's rights and environmental balance.

Bee Movie was co-written by Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten (who had a delightful late-night talk show for a while that I quite enjoyed!), Barry Marder, and Andy Robin and it is somewhat amazing that it took at least four people to write a film that was so lacking in humor and managed to create something that on the surface was progressive, but has a truly horrible subtext. While the film is built on an obvious series of jokes based on stereotypes about Jews, lawyers and women, Bee Movie has a resolution that is unfortunately ambiguous and leads to a conclusion that appears to advocate in favor of race slavery!

In a bee hive, Barry B. Benson and Adam Flayman graduate from school and are assigned to the hive workforce. Barry wants to join the bees who leave the hive because he has a sense of adventure to him, while Adam wants to work in the hive. Barry goes on a flight out into the city where he learns about pollination and is nearly killed by getting stuck on a tennis ball. When it begins to rain, Barry ends up in the apartment of Vanessa Bloome, who saves him from her neanderthal boyfriend. Barry feels obligated to thank Vanessa, revealing to her that bees have the ability to speak and are fairly reasonable. Barry also discovers that humans are manufacturing their own honey, to the detriment of bees.

Barry and Adam sue the humans, charging that the companies that enslave bees to harvest their honey (while keeping the bees at bay using smoke) are illegally appropriating the by-products the bees create. When the lawyer for the humans, Layton T. Montgomery, goads Adam into attacking him, Barry must complete the case on his own. But winning the case and freeing the bees from human exploitation leads to an environmental disaster that menaces humanity! As bee society falls apart, the relationship between Barry and florist Vanessa Bloome is strained to the point of breaking. The bee and human must work together to save the world!

On the surface, Bee Movie seems to have a great message of the importance of environmental interdependence. The humans and bees in Bee Movie eventually learn that they must work together to protect the delicate balance of the Earth's ecosystem. That is an honorable message. However, the film begins in the hive and illustrates a rigid society that is ordered, well-controlled, and is somewhat oppressive, but ends in Vanessa's lower shop without any closure for the hive. The consequence of this is that it leads to a strongly implied horrible message for the overall film.

After winning the lawsuit in the human world, the humans stop using honey in their products, which frees the bees and menaces their orderly society. But the final scene of Bee Movie has Vanessa featuring "bee approved" honey in her flower shop. The problem with this climax is that there is no visible price on the bee approved honey and it is not clear that she is actually selling the honey, as opposed to giving it away. The problem with failing to close the loop on the hive story is that Bee Movie fails to illustrate that the bees actually profit from their work. The bees successfully stop humans from explicitly enslaving them and stop the humans from manufacturing and selling honey from fake hives created for the purpose of making honey. But, the bees go back to work to protect the environment, keep order in their society and produce honey that the humans then distribute and enjoy. The bees in Bee Movie do not evolve; they merely liberate some of their brethren from explicit slavery. Because there is no scene that illustrates that the bee approved honey financially or materially benefits the bee hive, Bee Movie implicitly advocates in favor of a slave society. The bees do all of the work and are kept under control and the fruits of their labor are used by a vastly more powerful group . . . without any explicit moment that shows them benefiting, this is a slave class that has been bamboozled into putting their seal of approval on their own exploitation.

This troubling ending comes at the climax of a film where the characters are unlikable, based on stereotypes and relationships that make no actual sense. The unlikable aspect of the characters is epitomized in the way Barry uses other people for his own gain. Barry is thrilled when a bear is willing to appear at the trial and act violent in order to benefit his case . . . but then, after the case, Barry disparages bears again. Barry is a user and a racist one at that! Ironically, the writers miss their chance to make a truly relevant social commentary on the way language has been misappropriated by having a lawyer accuse Barry of "playing the species card" when it was the perfect place to use the term "race card" accurately (as bees and humans are actual different races, as opposed to humans of different ethnicities!).

The relationship between Barry and Vanessa is just troubling. Vanessa is a human who seems to fall in love with Barry, the way he fell for her. When my wife shockingly asked, "How would that even work?!" and I came up with some creative ideas to answer that question, I got her to blush and tell me - well before I came to the end of my list - to please stop! Bee Movie is just ridiculous when one looks at the relationships in the film.

While the animation in Bee Movie is fairly impressive, the voice acting is merely adequate. Renee Zellweger goes in and out of dialects as Vanessa and Jerry Seinfeld descends into shtick as Barry.

The result is that Bee Movie is a truly terrible animated film that is not worth watching . . . even for its ten year anniversary!

For other animated films, please visit my reviews of:
Despicable Me


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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