A Bug's Life Collectors Edition DVD Review

Only Disney could make a movie about bugs and haul in a $163 million. Actually, only Pixar could do that. Hot off of "Toy Story," the studio went back and came out with this, "A Bug's Life." Not only is the movie gorgeous, but the quick moving story along with some very funny comedy help keep this one afloat.

Ants live a simple life, collecting grain in the summer as an offering to the grasshoppers. But one ant seems to have an idea; one so radical that no one else in the colony will go along with him. Flick (Dave Foley) decides that the ants should work for themselves, not for a species that only torments them. His only option is to head into the city and find "warrior" bugs that can help defend his rather large family before the upcoming rainy season. What he brings back doesn't exactly fit the mold, but it becomes their only hope to free themselves from an oppressive species.

Obviously stiff competition for DreamWorks "Antz" which released in the same year, "A Bug's Life" won the battle cleanly. That's not to say "Antz" is a bad film, it's just that Pixar does such a fabulous job of appealing to every segment of the population, no one else could possibly stand a chance. The film just does a fascinating job of creating a world you could almost believe is real.

Not only have the writers crafted thoroughly enjoyable lead characters, but there is a large set of even more lovable secondary characters. Tuck and Roll (both voiced by Michael McShane) have to be the scene-stealers, even though they never even speak a word of English. Plus, with such an incredible cast of actors, you really couldn't go wrong. Brad Garrett, Denis Leary, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Kevin Spacey, Phyliss Diller, and Madeline Kahn all get in on the act. Just try and find a stronger cast for an animated film.

Even when the film is finished, it's obvious the animators still didn't have enough. This was the film that started the outtakes, a perfect reason to sit through a credit sequence if there ever was one. Now ever Pixar film has them. Actually, they're expected. The idea is ingenious: Act as if the film really was shot on a set, by the bugs themselves. Show the flubbed lines, show a microphone in the shot, and just show everything. These were so popular, a second set was created a few weeks into the theatrical release.

Even without the innovative way of showing the credits, "A Bug's Life" still remains close to the top of Pixar's best. It's yet another film that demands repeat viewing. The first time around, you laugh and smile at the obvious stuff. The second time, you look a little a closer, trying to spot those little details that you really have to look for. The third time, well, you realize you're watching a movie for a third time. That's when you realize you've found a classic. (***** out of *****)

This film broke new ground not only for the CG aspects, but also became the first CG film to use the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. It also was the first to be fully reformatted for the home audience (more on that later). Oh, and one more thing. It was the first film to be transferred directly from the digital source. I've said this was one of the best-looking DVD's out there, and I stand by it.

Color literally bursts off the screen with this transfer and a complete absence of compression makes this disc a must have for videophiles. This is the type of transfer that really lets you take in all the small details and examine just how intricate the textures are. Not a single detail is lost in the transferring process. This is how every DVD should look. (*****)

The disc doesn't quite sound as good as it looks, but that doesn't mean much at all. There are plenty of moments here that really work Dolby's 5.1 audio for all it's worth. The initial appearance of the film's villains is a mesmerizing sequence, using the LFE channel every time a grasshopper breaks through the roof and every other speaker as they fly around the sound channel. Near the end of the film when the rain starts to fall, be ready as a raindrop to an ant is the equivalent of a nuclear attack to us. Scenes that don't require aggressive audio like this still manage some nice ambient work and the booming soundtrack sounds even better at home than it did in the theater. (*****)

This 2-disc Collectors Edition includes over 200 minutes worth of features, and that's not including the commentary track from John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich. As is the norm, these guys have a lot of fun while providing insight into the process. Sticking with disc one for a little while longer, viewers can listen to the film with just the sound effects in full 5.1 or just the music, though that only comes through in 2.0.

Time to run the gauntlet for disc two. We start off with a basic menu offering up six sections. Most of these sections and sub-sections feature introductions by Lassater and some of his crew. Every step in the process of making this movie has been filmed.

We'll start with pre-production because, well, that makes sense. We have a presentation reel given to execs to pitch the film called "Fleabie." It's rather stupid, but in an enjoyable way. Heading into research shows how the filmmakers caught some footage from an ant's viewpoint and inspired them to put the film on the surface, not underground. Story and Editing is what it claims to be. The best feature here are two abandoned sequences, both in storyboard form. You'll also learn how the storyboarding process works (and sit in on a session), hear about the original treatment, and look at some comparisons between the boards and the final product.

Design takes us into three additional sub-categories (yes, we're still pre-producing here). Concept art and color tests are just that. Locations shows viewers how many of the backdrops came to be, from concept to the completion. Characters is the same as locations, just without the locations. You'll see how Flick and others came to be here.

Moving on into production (finally), you'll get a very weak behind the scene featurette. Not only is it brief, but most of the information is better said elsewhere. Early tests shows how some of the animation came together piece by piece and the progression demonstration included on the same menu uses the angle button to really hammer the point home. The voice talent featurette has interviews with the various cast members and some behind the scenes footage.

Sound design isn't so much a section as it is just a featurette. Lassater introduces and you'll hear how the sound was not only captured, but utilized in the film. You will certainly be surprised to hear how some of the effects were created.

Those wonderful end credit outtakes get their own section. Lassater once again steps in front of the camera to tell you how these came to be before you can see them. Both sets, including the first and second runs, are included and are full size so you don't have to squint in order to appreciate them.

Release splits it's own section into two parts. Theatrical includes some trailers, posters gallery, and some "interviews" with the films characters. "Toy Story" used this same feature and it's surprisingly funny. The video release section has a rather controversial topic.

Here you'll learn how the makers "reformatted" the entire movie. They've used a variety of techniques, including age old pan & scan, cropping, and thanks to the ability of the computer, actually moved objects around so they stay in the frame. You can also view examples of each. While it's a nice gesture, you're still not seeing the film the way it was intended, so it's absurd that a company needs to spend all of this money (and a director his time) to appease a group of people who have yet to grow out of VHS.

Finally, "Geri's Game" is yet another Academy Award winning short from the studio. It's just as smart and funny as everything else they've done. This is, simply put, a perfect DVD release. (*****)

This is one of the few elite DVD's on the market that succeeds in every single category. The movie is unforgettable, the picture is flawless, the audio presentation is immaculate, and the employees over at Pixar must have had a camera in their face 24 hours a day. If you have any interest in seeing how this format could (and should) be used, here are the two discs to show you.

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