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A Bug's Life

After soaring to “infinity and beyond” with the landmark 1995 computer-animated feature, “Toy Story,” Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios zoom down to earth and below for an exciting new adventure filled with fun and fantasy with their groundbreaking second feature – “A Bug’s Life.”  With its unique blend of outrageous comedy, heartwarming characters and dazzling visual displays, this “epic of miniature proportions” unfolds in a fantastic never-before-seen world populated by bugs of every shape and size.  Adding to the excitement, the film is presented in spectacular wide-screen CinemaScope to fully capture the scope and scale of the story and its setting.

A Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Pixar Animation Studios film,  “A Bug’s Life” was directed by Pixar’s John Lasseter, a two-time Oscarâ-winner and one of the leading pioneers in computer animation.  He received a special achievement Academy Awardâ in 1996 for “his inspired leadership of the Pixar ‘Toy Story’ team resulting in the first feature-length computer
animated film.”  “Toy Story” was also the first animation screenplay to ever be nominated in the best screenplay written directly for the screen category.  Andrew Stanton, a Pixar veteran who received an Oscarâ nomination as one of “Toy Story’s” screenwriters, was the co-director of “A Bug’s Life.”  Stanton also conceived the original story along with Lasseter and Joe Ranft and wrote the screenplay in collaboration with Donald McEnery & Bob Shaw (“Hercules”).  The film was produced by Darla Anderson and Kevin Reher.  Acclaimed composer/songwriter Randy Newman, who had previously worked with the filmmakers on “Toy Story,” wrote an epic score for the film as well as the end credit song, “The Time of Your Life.”

Using the classic Aesop’s fable about the carefree grasshopper who comes begging for food from a colony of industrious ants as a point of departure, the creative team has given the traditional tale a wildly imaginative and irreverent new spin.  The result is an entertaining and original story rich in humor, adventure and emotion.

Life is no picnic for the ants on Ant Island!  Each summer, a gang of greedy grasshoppers – led by the menacing and manipulative Hopper – descends upon the colony to demand a hefty portion of the ants’ hard-earned harvest and generally make life miserable for this peaceful community.  Our hero Flik, an original thinker out of step with the rest of the more traditionally minded colony, takes it upon himself to get outside help and mistakenly enlists an unemployed troupe of bug performers from a second-rate flea circus to join the fight against the grasshoppers.  Working together in their new-found friendship, the ants and the circus bugs prepare for a climactic confrontation with the grasshoppers.  When Flik’s plan starts to unravel, the action and comedy turn fast and furious as he attempts to save the colony and his reputation.

“A Bug’s Life” is the first feature from Disney and Pixar Animation Studios since the enormous critical and commercial success of “Toy Story,” which became a worldwide phenomenon, grossing $360 million at the worldwide box office and selling more than 22 million videocassettes in the U.S. alone.  In 1997, Steve Jobs, chairman and CEO of Pixar, formalized and extended his studio’s creative partnership with Disney by announcing an exclusive five picture deal.  At that same time, Disney received warrants to purchase up to 5% of Pixar.

According to Lasseter, “Insects are a perfect match for the computer because of their exoskeleton, the beautiful iridescence of their shells and the transparency of their wings.  And when you get down low and you look at the world as they see it, the leaves and blades of grass are translucent.  It’s like they live in a world with stained glass all around them.  That’s the kind of look we wanted to get into this film.”

The film features a cast of top vocal talents that bring personality and fun to the entertaining ensemble of insect characters.  Dave Foley (“Kids in the Hall,” “NewsRadio”) gives a stand-out performance as the unconventional ant Flik while Kevin Spacey (an Academy Awardâ-winner for his supporting role in “The Usual Suspects”) practically leaps off the screen as the menacing and manipulative grasshopper leader Hopper.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Seinfeld”) is in fine form as the expressive voice of Princess Atta, the future Queen of the anthill.  Irrepressible comedienne Phyllis Diller gives a royal performance as the retiring Queen of the colony.  Hayden Panettiere, a talented young actress and a veteran soap opera performer (“One Life to Live,” “Guiding Light”) since the age of five, shines brightly as the royal runt, Princess Dot.  Comic actor Richard Kind (“Spin City”) adds bounce to the voice of Molt, Hopper’s senseless sibling who’s always getting under his brother’s exoskeleton.

Adding variety and vitality to the colorful cast of circus bugs is John Ratzenberger (the voice of Hamm in “Toy Story”), who delivers a three-ring performance as the sleazy flea circus owner, P.T. Flea.  Jonathan Harris (“Lost in Space”) provides the overly theatrical and self-absorbed vocal persona for Manny, the pompous, prestidigitating praying mantis magician.  Madeline Kahn wings it as the voice of Gypsy, Manny’s long-suffering moth mate who helps create the illusion that he knows what he’s doing.  Comedian Denis Leary sounds off as Francis, a male ladybug who displays an oversized chip on his shoulder when mistaken for the female of his species.  Supplying the voice of Slim, the intellectual walking stick who laments being cast as a clown, is David Hyde Pierce (“Frasier”).  Veteran animation storyman Joe Ranft devours the scenery and spits out a delicious delivery as the caterpillar clown Heimlich.  Comedienne Bonnie Hunt lends her voice to Rosie, the big-hearted black widow spider, who tames a not-so-ferocious rhino beetle named Dim, voiced by Brad Garrett (“Everybody Loves Raymond”).  Michael McShane (Friar Tuck in “Robin Hood”) does double duty as the voices of Tuck & Roll, the gibberish-spouting twin Hungarian pillbugs who are ready to perform at the drop of a match. 

The late Roddy McDowall, a versatile actor whose film legacy included starring roles opposite a horse named Flicka and an animated ant named Flik, takes a final bow as the voice of the council ant and resident thespian Mr. Soil.  Other members of the ant council are voiced by Edie McClurg (Dr. Flora), Alex Rocco (Thorny) and David Ossman (Cornelius).

In almost every respect, “A Bug’s Life” sets impressive new standards of excellence for the art of computer animation and represents a major advance over its predecessor, “Toy Story.”  The film boasts a large cast of characters, all as expressive and complex as the two most sophisticated stars of “Toy Story” – Buzz and Woody.  Much of the film takes place in an outdoor environment where uneven surfaces, extreme close-ups and vast panoramas added to the enormity of the task.  New approaches to lighting and shaders (the surfaces and textures applied to the three-dimensional exterior of the characters and background) were created to add to the richness and visual excitement of the film.  Crowd shots involving nearly 800 ants, special effects such as the climactic thunderstorm and the directors’ desire to have background elements moving in a believable manner posed additional challenges for Pixar’s resident wizards.  Supervising technical directors Dr. William Reeves and Eben Ostby – who shared a special technical Oscarâ earlier this year for developing Pixar’s “Marionette” animation system – were responsible for overseeing many of these exciting breakthroughs.

“The technical team at Pixar really enjoys pushing the envelope and they love the fact that John and Andrew want to do things that haven’t been done before,” says producer Kevin Reher.  “Everyone was totally committed to the epic nature of this film and as the story expanded, the production made every effort to accommodate the changes from a technical standpoint.  Even with considerably more computing power and faster computers, the visual complexity of this film presented some tremendous new challenges.”