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A Bug’s Life (1998) – DVD Review

A Bug's Life: 1999 Collector's Edition DVD cover art


Written by: Don McEnery, Bob Shaw & Andrew Stanton based on a story by John Lasseter, Joe Ranft & Andrew Stanton
Directed by: John Lasseter & Andrew Stanton
Starring: Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Denis Leary, Phyllis Diller


  • Audio commentary with Lasseter, Stanton and supervising film editor Lee Unkrich
  • Early executive presentation starring “Fleabie”
  • Behind-the-scenes coverage of the film with introductions and explanations by the filmmakers
  • Original story treatment and pitch boards
  • Character designs, concept art and color script
  • Sequences abandoned for the final film
  • Storyboard-to-final-film split-screen comparison
  • Behind-the-scenes look at voice talent
  • Early production tests
  • Production progression demonstration with each of the stages of production represented
  • Sound designer Gary Rydstrom on the sound effects in the film
  • Trailers and posters
  • Behind-the-scenes look at how the film was altered to accomodate whackos who like full-frame movies
  • Both takes of outtakes along with a featurette regarding them
  • Pixar’s short, “Geri’s Game”

Released by: Disney
Region: 1
Rating: G
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Own it.

[ad#longpost]On Ant Island, life is definitely in a rut. Every year, the ants have to harvest enough food not only for themselves, but also for a group of malicious grasshoppers led by the evil Hopper (Spacey). After circumstances put the ants in a bit of a spot when it comes to meeting their forced commitments, a danger-prone genius by the name of Flik (Foley) comes up with an idea that sounds insane: go enlist the help of mercenary bugs to release the ants from their servitude.

When it comes to live action films, if you want killer DVD releases, you look to Criterion. However, Pixar and Disney together have been putting out some Criterion-worthy discs. This DVD set is unique, in that not only does it take you from conception of the film all the way to the finished product–complete with very entertaining and spontaneous commentary by Lasseter, Stanton, and Unkrich, among others–it also gives you a very interesting look into Pixar itself. And I don’t know about you, but based on what I’ve seen in the behind-the-scenes stuff, when I grow up, I’ve decided I want to work at Pixar.

I was already a big fan of the film itself when I got the DVD set. Although its competition that year, Antz, was a worthy challenger, A Bug’s Life was the one that went on to make my top 10 for 1998. This was due to a lot of the same factors that made Toy Story so enjoyable, but with A Bug’s Life, it went up a couple of notches. First of all, I can’t think of another animated film in history that had such a perfect vocal cast. This includes Denis Leary as a male ladybug, Phyllis Diller as the queen ant, and probably the most unforgettable character to come out of any Disney property in quite a long time, Heimlich the Teutonic Caterpillar, voiced by Joe Ranft. The whole film is just an absolute gem.

Hopper from A Bug's Life

Now, for the DVD presentation itself: two discs–the second disc of supplemental material with about 107 minutes of playing time, which is longer than the film itself. I know it sounds formidable, but it’s worth every minute. As I said before, the second disc takes you through the film from beginning to end, with Lasseter, Stanton, and their cohorts guiding you every step of the way. This is a dream come true for people who, like myself, love to get behind the scenes of any film, but especially animated films. Standouts along the way include a very sick promo reel that was shown to Disney executives to give them an idea of what Pixar’s next film would be, featuring a puppet named Fleabie who makes some very strange noises. Suffice to say, it is quite sick and disturbing, and I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the room where that bit was shown to a board of executives.

There’s a great deal of information regarding the research that went into the creation of the film, including a miniature camera that they would use to get down to the world of bugs and see it from their perspective, which they refer to as the “bug cam.” Listening to Lasseter talk about how fascinating it was to be on that level, about how the physics would work, about the transparency of things–it all really lets you know that the guy knows what he’s doing and loves his job. Also, both sets of end-credit outtakes are on the DVD, as well as a featurette talking about the popularity of them, and members of the crew sharing their favorites. And of course, one of my favorite features of the first disc is the running commentary. Hearing Lasseter and his crew talk about the film, the in-jokes, the obscure references, and all the other fun involved, is an absolute treat.

Concept Art from A Bug's Life Story Reel from A Bug's Life

Also of interest on the second disc is word on how they were able to digitally shrink the screen to take what you would normally see in a widescreen format and condense it down to where you were not having to deal with pan-and-scan. You would more likely think of it as narrowscreen format, which was a first. And although I don’t necessarily understand why anyone would want to watch it in this narrowscreen format, even on a crappy TV like I have, it’s still fascinating to watch how they did this and the care that they took to make sure that even on smaller televisions, or for people who still have widescreenophobia, that they would be able to see exactly what Pixar wanted them to see. And finally, there is a gallery of artwork and cels from the film, just out the wazoo, any of which I would love to have hanging up in my home–beautiful, beautiful stuff.

If there’s one gripe to be had about this, it’s the same that exists with all Buena Vista films, in that for some reason, they feel the need to make you go back to the main menu in order to change the audio. For example, if you’re listening to the commentary, and you hear them make a remark about a line that someone says (specifically, there was a scene in which Rosie, the black widow, is apparently saying some lines that were an original improv by the actress Bonnie Hunt), and you would love to back up a little, change audio tracks, and be able to listen to it, but you can’t, due to a limitation that they put on the disc. I don’t really understand why they do this, but it’s quite annoying and I wish they’d get over it. But that’s a minor inconvenience when you consider the wealth of information that they’ve presented for you, basically laying bare their entire production process for anybody to check out.

John Lasseter from A Bug's Life

In conclusion, the set is extremely sweet. For animation buffs, it is a must; for fans of films in general, you’d be hard pressed to find many discs that ranked better than this one.