Story by Maria Eberhart
“According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly.”
A seemingly forgettable line now forever engrained into the internet consciousness. Even the most passive of internet users are sure to come across the swarm of “Bee Movie” memes, fanfics, and remixes, which range from uncomfortably sexual to thoughtfully surrealist.
But “The Bee Movie” did not begin as an essential part of the internet zeitgeist. It began as a mediocre comeback film for comedian Jerry Seinfeld nine years after the end of his beloved sitcom. It was a simple story of bee meets human woman and falls in love. Critics greeted the film, which came out in 2007, with mixed reviews, citing the heavy-handed script and interspecies relationships as major pitfalls.
“The Bee Movie” is so much more than a medium-successful animated film. It has become an entire cultural phenomenon thanks to the creativity of the writers (a slew of former “Seinfeld” staffers), whose diligence in creating the bee world made the film accessible to a growing community of meme-makers. It’s a kid’s movie about capitalism that makes overt references to adult topics. It’s—iconic.
The film follows Barry B. Benson, a young bee not so thrilled by the workings of the hive. His dissatisfaction is justified as bee life is frustratingly constrained. A bee life span includes birth, attending school for three days, and then working your stinger off for the rest of your life. “Are you going to work us to death,” Barry questions during a work training. “We certainly hope so!” replies the eager lecturer.
Seinfeld voices Benson as a rebel who wants to experience the world before subjecting himself to a lifetime job as a crud remover or swatting counselor. Every bee is wholly dedicated to making honey 24/7, and Benson struggles to understand their hive mentality.
It’s in the hive that the Bee Movie’s attention to detail truly shines. Barry graduates from the Class of 9:15 am. He playfully banters with his best friend Adam Flayman (Matthew Broderick) who is also his cousin (all bees are cousins, prompting some interesting incestual nods). While the film seems adult at times, the fast-paced dialogue and colorful animation keeps kids entertained.
The films picks up when Barry decides to explore outside the honeycomb by joining an elite task of pollinators: the pollen jocks. On a dizzying flight through Central Park, he ends up befriending a florist named Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), who unlike most humans he encounters, does not wish to swat him away.
This is when “The Bee Movie” takes a bit of a turn. While one of the screenwriters, Andy Robin, insists that the relationship between Barry and Vanessa is strictly a platonic friendship, it’s pretty clear something is going on between the two flower-enthusiasts. Vanessa evens leaves her oafish husband of 15 years in defense of Barry. Luckily, the online community has embraced Ken as the most normal character in the film, so he gets his redemption story.
But “The Bee Movie” is at its best in its weirdness. Sure, it is unusual for a kid’s movie to depict an interspecies romance. But now we have scores of Wattpad fanfiction extrapolating on the story of the star-crossed lovers. We have a term for bee/human love—coined “beestiality” by no doubt a teenage girl on Tumblr. We have Barry saying “ya like jazz” over a million times in a YouTube remix. The film’s willingness to embrace its oddities helped forge these absurd internet creations.
While drifting through a grocery store with his newfound human “friend,” Barry discovers that humans have been stealing and eating honey from bees for centuries. He’s horrified that humans have been taking advantage of bee’s due diligence and swears to do something about it.
He enlists the help of Vanessa and Adam to sue the entirety of the human race for the exploitation of bees. An unconventional concept to say the least, but an entertaining one. The chief bee abusers include Ray Liotta, who sells his own brand of honey, and Sting, whose name is obviously offensive to bees. Both celebrities make cameo appearances as does Larry King, playing Bee Larry King, which is as funny as it sounds.
The defense is represented by Layton T. Montgomery (John Goodman), a burly lawyer who expertly manipulates the emotions of the bee spectators. In one chilling scene, Montgomery goes on a tirade against bee kind, triggering Adam to sting him for the unjustified character assassination. This plays exactly in Montgomery’s favor, but Barry manages to win the trial by exposing the jury to the cruel treatment bees are subjected to.
No doubt, the trial raises some questions. How does Barry stay alive the entirety of the trial, when a bee’s lifespan is only 40 days? How does an interspecies lawsuit even work? Why didn’t Chris Rock get more screen time as the blood-sucking mosquito lawyer? These questions are left unanswered, but sometimes in a movie about talking bees, you must suspend disbelief.
Barry quickly realizes after winning the trial that shifting the balance of nature wasn’t such a good idea. Now that bees have won a massive stockpile of honey from humanity, they don’t have to work anymore, and the once bustling hive slows to an unsatisfying halt. Even Vanessa’s shop closes as bees are no longer pollinating the flowers.
Seinfeld, unfortunately, does not deliver the most dynamic performance as an animated bee. Like his character on “Seinfeld,” his range includes mildly annoyed to slightly peeved, conveyed with sudden outbursts of exaggeration. But his jerky conviction also works for Barry because it doesn’t take the bee’s mood swings too seriously.
Only Renee Zellwegger could pull off the acting chops necessary for a woman to fall in love with a bee. She does it with the same bumbling charm and raspy kookiness as in “Bridget Jones’s Diaries,” and it works, somehow.
Amid all the absurdities of “The Bee Movie,” there is a strong message for kids: bees are essential parts of nature. A simple message, but an important one. The film also manages not to hammer it home to hard with its playful tone. The DreamWorks picture is no “Inside Out” or “Up,” which will bring you to tears both as a child and as an adult, but it’s an entertaining 90 minutes. Honestly, what more can you ask from it?
“The Bee Movie” also delivers a subtler message: the pitfalls of capitalism. In this Marxist allegory, as many Reddit threads have extensively discussed, bees represent the workers (or exploited proletariat) that slave away making honey for the humans (the bourgeoisie). Barry is then the revolutionary leader that decides to overthrow the tyrannical capitalist humans that subject them to a life of meaningless work. Of course, the film goes back on its socialist message in the end when the bees embrace their work after the flowers begin dying, but it’s the thought that counts.
The film also engages in other types of social commentary. Barry discusses the struggle of cultural appropriation when humans claim bee’s honey as their own with little forethought. He sits in the back of a honey truck commenting on race relations with Rock’s mosquito, who exclaims “Mosquito girls don’t want to be with no mosquito,” they would rather “trade up” to another species, like the moth. “The Bee Movie’s” ability to find humor in political, historical and even racial bits all through an insect lens is a testament to its strength.
Amid otherwise soft entertainment, “The Bee Movie” manages to inject a bit of sting with its references to darker adult topics. This helps it keep its resonance over ten years after its release. While you don’t have to be like Gemma Chalmers, who watched the film 357 times in 2017, “The Bee Movie” is worth another go.