On a small rise of ground in the middle of a river bed a colony of ants live, diligently beavering away at collecting food for the great offering, as they like to call it. But why are they not collecting the food for themselves? Worker ant Flik (voiced by Dave Foley) has devised a new way of collecting the grain that will save everyone a lot of bother, but his fellow insects dismiss his ingenuity as the work of a hopeless dreamer. What they are more intent on is piling high that harvest, but as it turns out disaster is just around the corner when Flik accidentally sends it all falling into the water. Now the grasshoppers who they have been collecting for will be extremely angry...
Pixar's second full-length feature was welcomed at the time, but has been overshadowed by what came before it - Toy Story - and all the hits that came after it. For some reason it has not stuck in the public consciousness as strongly as the likes of Finding Nemo or The Incredbiles, perhaps because it is at heart such a traditional tale of the kind we have seen many times before and will see many times in the future. Not helping is that the plot was yet another version of Seven Samurai, and in addition it took the premise of ¡Three Amigos!, which was also adopted by the almost simultaneous release of Galaxy Quest.
Not only that, but Dreamworks were attempting to rival Pixar with their line of computer-generated adventures, and when A Bug's Life was out it had to contend with Antz, a starrier-voiced insect comedy that tended to garner more exposure over its classier competition. Yet for the connoisseur, this film was far superior, with the love and care that went into this company's work, evident in each of their productions, raising the level of what was possible in what could have been a coldly impressive medium. To its benefit, this film had the blessing of a voice cast who were chosen not for name above the title publicity, but those who were best for the job.
So world's finest Isabella Rossellini lookalike Foley provided our hero's tones, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus was his love interest Princess Atta, both ideal and the villainous Hopper, who leads the raiders, was a testy Kevin Spacey. The support were just as good, with Hayden Panettiere from TV's Heroes playing Dot, the little princess ant who represents Flik's self-confidence, Phyllis Diller as the Queen and Roddy McDowall's final role as an official of the colony. Once Hopper and company have arrived, demanded the ants provide them with food before the end of summer or else, and left, the ashamed Flik offers to gather a group of warriors who will defend them so the ants need never live in fear again.
The others are simply glad to be rid of him, Dot excepted, but of course he does bring back help. It's just that what he believes are warriors are in fact a motley bunch of circus performers who have recently been sacked, and when both they and Flik realise their error it's too late to do anything about it: they must band together and come up with a plan. The idea they conjure up is a fake bird to scare away Hopper and the ants throw themselves into the project enthusiastically, but the truth has to be revealed eventually... What's so endearing about A Bug's Life is that it put so much faith in decency and niceness to triumph over nastiness and bullying, and if there might be too many characters for the story's own good, it does give the film a busy feel, and rarely has colour been so eye-catchingly used. If, finally, it does maintain a place in the second division of Pixar animation, it still charms for all that. Music by Randy Newman.