If there’s one thing you should know about me by now, it’s that I love the movies of Pixar. I think that they are some of the funniest and well-thought-out computer animated films out there. So, as I’m sure you can imagine, I feel rather concerned when I watch the trailers for their next film, Cars. It’s the latest one from John Lassetter, the Pixar genius who gave us both Toy Stories and A Bug’s Life. In fact, it’s his first time in the big chair since Toy Story 2. What gives me cause for concern is that, in the trailer, most of the jokes seem to be falling flat. It’s not quite popping like other Pixar films. This, invariably, leads to heated debates as to whether this will be Pixar’s worst film. And, there’s something that always comes up in these debates that upsets me.
A Bug’s Life is Pixar’s worst film.
I don’t know where people get that. How can you possibly label A Bug’s Life to be Pixar’s worst film? Of course, no one in these message boards ever defends their statement. It’s just a baseless accusation like, “Cars will be the worst since Bug’s Life, yo.” Followed by, “Oh, I agree, A Bug’s Life is the worst!” So, how can they possibly say that A Bug’s Life is the worst?
If my sketchy memory served, A Bug’s Life was actually quite well-reviewed when it first came out. I did some quick research online. The one movie website that everyone quotes for reviews, Rotten Tomatoes.com, gives A Bug’s Life a 91% fresh rating. That means that, out of every review that Rotten Tomatoes compiled on A Bug’s Life, 91% said A Bug’s Life was a good movie. I checked some more of my personal favourite movie review services. Siskel & Ebert gave it the coveted “two thumbs up,” and my Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide gives it 3.5 out of 4 stars. The only other Pixar movies that rate that high in Maltin’s book are Toy Story 2 and Finding Nemo.
So, maybe, perhaps, as with all things, A Bug’s Life gets the “worst Pixar movie” label because of its box office grosses. If it’s the worst, then it surely must have bombed. According to one of the better websites that track box office receipts, The Numbers.com, A Bug’s Life pulled in $168 million at the box office. Last I checked, that’s still a pretty respectable box office return. Hey, it was even enough for Pixar to follow in George Lucas’s footsteps. That is, close down their cramped, stuffy offices in downtown LA and move out to a sprawling ranch in Northern California. But, when you look at the big picture, A Bug’s Life is still Pixar’s lowest-grossing movie.
Of course, there’s one big reason for that. Antz. Let me refresh your memory. Dreamworks SKG wanted to get into the computer animated film business, too, so they also made a computer animated movie about bugs called Antz. In fact, it’s even been rumoured that former Disney muckety-muck and the “K” in SKG Jeffery Katzenburg stole the idea for a computer animated film about bugs from Disney/Pixar as he was walking out the door. Regardless, the end of 1998 saw two computer animated films about bugs comes out within a month of each other. Antz came first, and no doubt cut into A Bug’s Life’s profits. A Bug’s Life was still the bigger hit, though, with Antz only grabbing $90 million.
But that goes back to, “Why is A Bug’s Life the worst?” I think that, perhaps, it all goes back to public consciousness. One quick year after A Bug’s Life, we got Toy Story 2. We weren’t allowed the time to let A Bug’s Life sink in and become part of pop culture. Or maybe it just wasn’t merchandised as much as other Pixar films. Or maybe Randy Newman’s theme song wasn’t as catchy as his Toy Story songs. Somewhere along the way, for reasons I’m not too sure of, A Bug’s Life was forgotten, and because of that, it’s proclaimed the worst. “Oh, it’s been so long since anyone’s talked about it. It must be the worst.”
That may be the case. I know it was the case with me. When I first bought my DVD player, among the first DVDs I bought was the now-legendary boxed set, Toy Story: The Ultimate Toy Box. Back at this time, I had no intention of ever getting A Bug’s Life. But, I loved the running commentary on Toy Story 2 so much, that I sought out A Bug’s Life, just to hear these guys clowning around some more. At this point, the 2-disc special edition of A Bug’s Life had already gone out of print, so I had to do some extensive searching and wound up paying far too much for it. So, I sat down, and re-watched A Bug’s Life. It had to have been a good three years since I saw it last. And, something funny happened.
You know how when you see a movie for the first time, it kind of gets to you? When you see a film for the first time, that’s when you’re most likely to cry at the end and get really emotionally invested in the plot. When you watch the same movie over and over and over again on DVD, those feelings tend to die down with each repeated viewing. But, when I saw A Bug’s Life again on DVD, it was like the emotions were even more extreme than the first time I watched it! At the end of the movie, I was feeling goose bumps and everything and I thought, “Wow. I’d forgotten what a good movie this is.”
(By the way, that’s only happened one other time. The second time was when I caught Pulp Fiction on TV about a month ago.)
I don’t think that A Bug’s Life is Pixar’s worst film. I think it’s a forgotten classic. Eventually, in this day of DVD, it’ll be re-discovered. But, for now, to brand it “the worst,” I don’t think that’s right. I think we’ll be able to make a fully informed decision when Cars hits theatres this June. I’m still holding out hope for Cars. I found the trailers for Finding Nemo to be quite underwhelming as well. So, there’s always hope.