Flik, an individualist and would-be inventor, lives in a colony of ant in the middle of a dried creek. They are led by Princess Atta and her mother, the Queen. The colony is oppressed by a gang of marauding grasshoppers, led by Hopper, that arrive every season demanding food from the ants. One day, when the annual offering is accidentally knocked into a stream by Fliks latest invention, a grain-harvesting device, the grasshoppers demand twice as much food as compensation. The ants trick Flik into accepting his plan to recruit "warrior bugs" to fight off the grasshoppers. While Flik actually believes in the plan, the other ants see it as an opportunity to get rid of Flik and save themselves trouble.
Making his way to the "big city" (a heap of trash under a trailer), Flik mistakes a group of circus bugs, that have recently been dismissed by their money-hungry ringmaster, P.T. Flea, for the warrior bugs he seeks. The bugs in turn, mistake Flik for a talent agent and accept his offer to travel with him back to Ant Island. After they arrive, the circus bugs and Flik both discover their mutual misunderstandings during a welcome performance by the ants. The circus bugs then attempt to leave, but are forced back by a bird that attacks the group. They save Dot, Attas younger sister, from the bird as they flee, gaining the ants respect in the process. At Fliks insistence, they continue the ruse of being "warriors" so the troupe can continue to enjoy the attention and hospitality of the ants. The bird encounter inspires Flik into creating a false bird to scare away the grasshoppers. While the bird is being built, Hopper reveals to the other grasshoppers how greatly the ants outnumber them and worries that they will eventually turn on them.
The bird is constructed, but during a celebration party, the truth about the circus bugs is revealed when P.T. Flea arrives searching for them. Outraged at Fliks deception, the ants exile him and desperately gather food for a new offering to the grasshoppers. When the grasshoppers discover the mediocre offering upon their arrival, they take control of the entire colony, demanding the ants winter store of food. After overhearing Hoppers plan to kill the Queen, Dot leaves in search of Flik and the circus bugs to convince them to return and save the colony with the bird model, even though they were told to never come back.
The bird nearly works, but P.T. Flea, also mistaking it for a real bird, lights it on fire, exposing it as a decoy. Hopper beats Flik in retaliation, and proclaims that the ants are lowly life forms and live to serve the grasshoppers. However, Flik retorts that ants are actually independent and that the grasshoppers need them. This inspires the entire colony along with the circus bugs to force the grasshoppers out of Ant Island. Hopper, refusing to flee, is taken by the ants to be disposed of, but it suddenly begins to rain. In the ensuing chaos among the ants, Hopper kidnaps Flik and flies off. Atta rescues Flik after the circus bugs fail to save him. As Hopper viciously pursues them, Flik leads him to the nest of the bird he encountered earlier. Mistaking the actual bird for another fake one, Hopper taunts it, before he is picked up by the bird and fed to her chicks.
Some time later, Fliks inventions are finally perfected and appreciated by the ants, and Atta finally admits her feelings for Flik. The ants congratulate Flik as a hero and bid a fond farewell to the circus troupe, hoping that they will return for the following year. Atta is crowned the new queen and Dot is crowned the new heir to the throne.
See also: List of A Bugs Life charactersDave Foley as Flik, an ant and inventor
Kevin Spacey as Hopper, the dictator of the grasshopper gang
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Princess Atta, the soon-to-be queen of the colony
Hayden Panettiere as Dot, Princess Attas younger sister
Phyllis Diller as the Queen, the leader of the ant colony
Richard Kind as Molt, Hoppers dim-witted younger brother
David Hyde Pierce as Slim, a walkingstick and Francis and Heimlichs friend
Joe Ranft as Heimlich, a plump German-accented caterpillar that longs to be a butterfly
Denis Leary as Francis, a short-tempered ladybug that is constantly mistaken for a female
Jonathan Harris as Manny, a praying mantis and magician in P.T. Fleas circus
Madeline Kahn as Gypsy, a gypsy moth and Mannys beautiful assistant wife.
Bonnie Hunt as Rosie, a black widow spider and Dims tamer
Mike McShane as Tuck and Roll, twin pillbugs from Hungary
John Ratzenberger as P.T. Flea, the owner of the circus
Brad Garrett as Dim, a rhinoceros beetle that plays the "Ferocious Beast" in the circus act
Roddy McDowall as Mr. Soil, the lead thespian. This was McDowalls last film before his death a month before the films release.
Edie McClurg as Dr. Flora, the doctor of the ant colony
Alex Rocco as Thorny, Princess Attas assistant
David Ossman as Cornelius, an elderly ant
David Lander as Thumper, a feral grasshopper and Hoppers "pet"
Randy Thom as Bird, a Blanfords rosefinch which attacks the colony
During the summer of 1994, Pixars story department began turning their thoughts to their next film. The storyline of A Bugs Life originated in a lunchtime conversation between John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft, the studios head story team. Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo were also conceived at this lunch. Lasseter and his story team had already been drawn to the idea of insects as characters. Insects, like toys, were within the reach of computer animation at the time due to their relatively simple surfaces. Stanton and Ranft wondered whether they could find a starting point in Aesops fable The Ant and the Grasshopper. Walt Disney had produced his own version with a cheerier ending decades earlier in the 1934 short The Grasshopper and the Ants. In addition, Walt Disney Animation Studios had considered producing a film in the late 1980s entitled Army Ants, that centered around a pacifist ant living in a militaristic colony, but it never fully materialized.
As Stanton and Ranft discussed the adaption, they rattled off scenarios and storylines springing from their premise. Lasseter liked the idea and offered suggestions. The concept simmered until early 1995, when the story team began work on the second film in earnest. At an early test screening for Toy Story in San Rafael in June 1995, they pitched the film to Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Eisner thought the idea was fine and they submitted a treatment to Disney in early July under the title Bugs. Disney approved the treatment and gave notice on July 7, 1995, that it was exercising the option of a second film under the original 1991 agreement between Disney and Pixar. Lasseter assigned Stanton the job of co-director; the two men worked well together and had similar sensibilities. Lasseter had found that the workday of a sole-director on a computer-animated feature was dangerous while working on Toy Story. In addition, Lasseter felt it would relieve stress and the role would groom Stanton for a lead directing position of his own.
In The Ant and the Grasshopper, a grasshopper squanders the spring and summer months on singing while the ants put food away for the winter; when winter comes, the hungry grasshopper begs the ants for food, but the ants turn him away. Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft hit on the notion that the grasshopper could just take the food. After Stanton had completed a draft of the script, he came to doubt one of the storys main pillars – that the circus bugs that had come to the colony to cheat the ants would instead stay and fight. He felt the circus bugs were unlikable characters as liars and that it was unrealistic for them to undergo a complete personality change. Also no particularly good reason existed for circus bugs to stay with the ant colony during the second act. Although the film was already far along, Stanton concluded that the story needed a different approach.
Stanton took one of the early circus bug characters, Red the red ant, and changed him into the character that would become Flik. The circus bugs, no longer out to cheat the colony, would be embroiled in a comic misunderstanding about why Flik was recruiting them. Lasseter agreed with this new approach and comedy writers Donald McEnery and Bob Shaw spent a few months at Pixar working with Stanton on further polishing. The characters of "Tuck and Roll" were inspired by a drawing that Andrew Stanton did of two bugs fighting when he was in second grade. Lasseter had come to envision the film as an epic in the tradition of David Leans 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.
The voice cast was heavy with television situation-comedy stars of the time: Flik was voiced by Dave Foley, Princess Atta was voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Molt was voiced by Richard Kind, Slim was voiced by David Hyde Pierce and Dim was voiced by Brad Garrett. Joe Ranft, member of Pixars story team, played Heimlich the caterpillar at the suggestion of Lasseters wife, Nancy, who had heard him playing the character on a scratch vocal track.
Several of the films voice actors would voice characters in later Pixar films: Foley returned for Monsters University, Kind for Cars, Cars 2, Toy Story 3 and Inside Out; and Garrett for Finding Nemo and Ratatouille.
The casting of Hopper proved problematic. Lasseters top choice was Robert De Niro, who repeatedly turned the part down, as did a succession of other actors. Kevin Spacey met John Lasseter at the 1995 Academy Awards and Lasseter asked Spacey if he would be interested in doing the voice of Hopper. Spacey was delighted and signed on immediately.
Production was more difficult for animators during production of A Bugs Life than Toy Story, as computers ran sluggishly due to the complexity of the character models. Lasseter and Stanton had two supervising animators to assist with directing and reviewing the animation, Rich Quade and Glenn McQueen. The first sequence to be animated and rendered was the circus sequence that culminated with P.T. Fleas "Flaming Wall of Death". Lasseter placed this scene first in the pipeline because he judged it was least likely to change. Lasseter believed it would be useful to look at a view of the world from an insects perspective. Two technicians obliged by creating a miniature video camera on Lego wheels, which they dubbed the Bugcam. Fastened to the end of a stick, the Bugcam could roll through grass and other terrain and send back an insects-eye outlook. Lasseter was intrigued by the way grass, leaves, and flower petals formed a translucent canopy, as if the insects were living under a stained-glass ceiling. The team would also later seek inspiration from Microcosmos (1996), a French documentary on love and violence in the insect world.
The transition from treatment to storyboards took on an extra layer of complexity due to the profusion of storylines. Where Toy Story focused heavily on Woody and Buzz, with the other toys serving mostly as sidekicks, A Bugs Life required in-depth storytelling for several major groups of characters. Character design also presented a new challenge, in that the designers had to make ants appear likable. Although the art department and animators studied insects closely, natural realism would give way to the films larger needs. The team took out mandibles and designed the ants to stand upright, replacing their normal six legs with two arms and two legs. The grasshoppers, in contrast, received a pair of extra appendages to appear less attractive. The storys scale also required software engineers to accommodate new demands. Among these was the need to handle shots with crowds of ants. The film would include more than 400 such shots in the ant colony, some with as many as 800 ants. It was impractical for animators to control these ants individually, but neither could the ants remain static for even a moment without appearing lifeless, or move identically. Bill Reeves, one of the films two supervising technical directors, dealt with the quandary by leading the development of software for autonomous ants. The animators would only animate four or five groups of about eight individual universal ants. Each one of these universal ants would later be randomly distributed throughout the digital set. The program also allowed each ant to be automatically modified in subtle ways (e.g. different eye color, different skin color, different heights, different weights, etc.). This ensured that no two ants were the same. It was partly based on Reevess invention of a decade and a half earlier, particle systems, which had let animators use masses of self-guided particles to create effects like swirling dust and snow.
The animators also employed subsurface scattering—developed by Pixar co-founder Edwin Catmull during his graduate student days at the University of Utah in the 1970s—to render surfaces more lifelike. This would be the first time that subsurface scattering would be used in a Pixar film, and a small team at Pixar worked out the practical problems that kept it from working in animation. Catmull asked for a short film to test and showcase subsurface scattering and the result, Geris Game (1997), was attached alongside A Bugs Life in its theatrical release.
During the production of A Bugs Life, a public feud erupted between DreamWorks Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Pixars Steve Jobs and John Lasseter. Katzenberg, former chairman of Disneys film division, had left the company in a bitter feud with CEO Michael Eisner. In response, he formed DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen and planned to rival Disney in animation. After DreamWorks acquisition of Pacific Data Images (PDI)—long Pixars contemporary in computer animation—Lasseter and others at Pixar were dismayed to learn from the trade papers that PDIs first project at DreamWorks would be another ant film, to be called Antz. By this time, Pixars project was well-known within the animation community. Both Antz and A Bugs Life center on a young male, a drone with oddball tendencies that struggles to win a princesss hand by saving their society. Whereas A Bugs Life relied chiefly on visual gags, Antz was more verbal and revolved more around satire. The script of Antz was also heavy with adult references, whereas Pixars film was more accessible to children.
It was clear that Lasseter and Jobs believed that the idea was stolen by Katzenberg. Katzenberg had stayed in touch with Lasseter after the acrimonious Disney split, often calling to check up. In October 1995, when Lasseter was overseeing postproduction work on Toy Story at the Universal lots Technicolor facility in Universal City, where DreamWorks was also located, he called Katzenberg and dropped by with Stanton. When Katzenberg asked what they were doing next, Lasseter described what would become A Bugs Life in detail. Lasseter respected Katzenbergs judgment and felt comfortable using him as a sounding board for creative ideas. Lasseter had high hopes for Toy Story, and he was telling friends throughout the tight-knit computer-animation business to get cracking on their own films. "If this hits, its going to be like space movies after Star Wars" for computer-animation companies, he told various friends. "I should have been wary," Lasseter later recalled. "Jeffrey kept asking questions about when it would be released."
When the trades indicated production on Antz, Lasseter, feeling betrayed, called Katzenberg and asked him bluntly if it were true, who in turn asked him where he had heard the rumor. Lasseter asked again, and Katzenberg admitted it was true. Lasseter raised his voice and would not believe Katzenbergs story that a development director had pitched him the idea long ago. Katzenberg claimed Antz came from a 1991 story pitch by Tim Johnson that was related to Katzenberg in October 1994. Another source gives Nina Jacobson, one of Katzenbergs executives, as the person responsible for the Antz pitch. Lasseter, who normally did not use profane language, cursed at Katzenberg and hung up the phone. Lasseter recalled that Katzenberg began explaining that Disney was "out to get him" and that he realized that he was just cannon fodder in Katzenbergs fight with Disney. In truth, Katzenberg was the victim of a conspiracy: Eisner had decided not to pay him his contract-required bonus, convincing Disneys board not to give him anything. Katzenberg was further angered by the fact that Eisner scheduled Bugs to open the same week as The Prince of Egypt, which was then intended to be DreamWorks first animated release. Lasseter grimly relayed the news to Pixar employees but kept morale high. Privately, Lasseter told other Pixar executives that he and Stanton felt terribly let down by Katzenberg.
Katzenberg moved the opening of Antz from spring 1999 to October 1998 to compete with Pixars release. David Price writes in his 2008 book The Pixar Touch that a rumor, "never confirmed", was that Katzenberg had given PDI "rich financial incentives to induce them to whatever it would take to have Antz ready first, despite Pixars head start". Jobs was furious and called Katzenberg and began yelling. Katzenberg made an offer: He would delay production of Antz if Jobs and Disney would move A Bug’s Life so that it did not compete with The Prince of Egypt. Jobs believed it "a blatant extortion attempt" and would not go for it, explaining that there was nothing he could do to convince Disney to change the date. Katzenberg casually responded that Jobs himself had taught him how to conduct similar business long ago, explaining that Jobs had come to Pixars rescue by making the deal for Toy Story, as Pixar was near bankruptcy at that time. "I was the one guy there for you back then, and now you’re allowing them to use you to screw me," Katzenberg said. He suggested that if Jobs wanted to, he could simply slow down production on A Bug’s Life without telling Disney. If he did, Katzenberg said, he would put Antz on hold. Lasseter also claimed Katzenberg had phoned him with the proposition, but Katzenberg denied these charges later.
As the release dates for both films approached, Disney executives concluded that Pixar should keep silent on the DreamWorks battle. Regardless, Lasseter publicly dismissed Antz as a "schlock version" of A Bugs Life. Lasseter, who claimed to have never seen Antz, told others that if DreamWorks and PDI had made the film about anything other than insects, he would have closed Pixar for the day so the entire company could go see it. Jobs and Katzenberg would not back down and the rivaling ant films provoked a press frenzy. "The bad guys rarely win," Jobs told the Los Angeles Times. In response, DreamWorks’ head of marketing Terry Press suggested, “Steve Jobs should take a pill." Despite the successful box office performance of both Antz and A Bugs Life, tensions would remain high between Jobs and Katzenberg for many years. According to Jobs, Katzenberg came to Jobs after the success of Shrek (2001) and insisted he had never heard the pitch for A Bugs Life, reasoning that his settlement with Disney would have given him a share of the profits if that were so. Although the contention left all parties estranged, Pixar and PDI employees kept up the old friendships that had arisen from spending a long time together in computer animation.
The soundtrack album was produced and released on October 27, 1998, by Walt Disney Records. The albums first track is a song called "The Time of Your Life" written and performed by Newman, while all the other 19 tracks are orchestral cues. The album is no longer manufactured into physical media, but is available for purchase on iTunes. The time duration is 47 minutes and 32 seconds. Out of five stars, Allmusic, Empire Online, and Film Tracks rated the album three stars. Movie Wave rated it four and a half. The score won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition.
- The Time Of Your Life 3:16
- The Flik Machine 2:54
- Seed To Tree 1:01
- Red Alert 1:49
- Hopper And His Gang 3:21
- Flik Leaves 2:38
- Circus Bugs 1:27
- The City 2:35
- Robin Hood :59
- Return To Colony 1:33
- Fliks Return 1:24
- Loser 2:43
- Dots Rescue 4:00
- Atta 1:08
- Dont Come Back 1:07
- Grasshoppers Return 3:01
- The Bird Flies 2:38
- Ants Fight Back 2:14
- Victory 2:33
- A Bugs Life Suite 5:12
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 92% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 84 reviews, with an average score of 7.9/10. The critical consensus is "Blending top notch animation with rousing adventure, witty dialogue, and memorable characters, A Bugs Life is another Pixar winner." Another review aggregator, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated a score of 77 based on 23 reviews, indicating "Generally favorable reviews."
Todd McCarthy of Variety gave the film a positive review, saying "Lasseter and Pixar broke new technical and aesthetic ground in the animation field with Toy Story, and here they surpass it in both scope and complexity of movement while telling a story that overlaps Antz in numerous ways." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying "A Bugs Life, like Toy Story, develops protagonists we can root for, and places them in the midst of a fast-moving, energetic adventure." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying "Will A Bugs Life suffer by coming out so soon after Antz? Not any more than one thriller hurts the chances for the next one. Antz may even help business for A Bugs Life by demonstrating how many dramatic and comedic possibilities can be found in an anthill." Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times gave the film four out of five stars, saying "What A Bugs Life demonstrates is that when it comes to bugs, the most fun ones to hang out with hang exclusively with the gang at Pixar." Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film four out of four stars, saying "A Bugs Life is one of the great movies – a triumph of storytelling and character development, and a whole new ballgame for computer animation. Pixar Animation Studios has raised the genre to an astonishing new level".
Richard Corliss of Time gave the film a positive review, saying "The plot matures handsomely; the characters neatly converge and combust; the gags pay off with emotional resonance." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a B, saying "A Bugs Life may be the single most amazing film Ive ever seen that I couldnt fall in love with." Paul Clinton of CNN gave the film a positive review, saying "A Bugs Life is a perfect movie for the holidays. It contains a great upbeat message ... its wonderful to look at ... its wildly inventive ... and its entertaining for both adults and kids." Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three and a half stars out of four, and compared the movie to "Akira Kurosawas Seven Samurai (with a little of another art-film legend, Federico Fellini, tossed in)." where "As in Samurai, the colony here is plagued every year by the arrival of bandits." On the contrary, Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post gave the film a negative review, saying "Clever as it is, the film lacks charm. One problem: too many bugs. Second, bigger world for two purposes: to feed birds and to irk humans."
A Bugs Life grossed approximately $33,258,052 on its opening weekend, ranking number 1 for that weekend. It managed to retain its number 1 spot for two weeks. The film grossed $162.7 million in its United States theatrical run, covering its estimated production costs of $120 million. The film made $200,600,000 in foreign countries, pushing its worldwide gross to $363.3 million, surpassing the competition from DreamWorks Animations Antz.
A Bugs Life won a number of awards and numerous nominations. The film won the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards for Best Animated Film (tied with The Prince of Egypt) and Best Family Film, the Satellite Award for Best Animated Film and the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition by Randy Newman. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and the BAFTA Award for Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects.
PopMatters journalist J.C. Macek III compared the two films and wrote, "The feud deepened with both teams making accusations and excuses and a release date war ensued. While Antz beat A Bug’s Life to the big screen by two months, the latter film significantly out grossed its predecessor. Antz made almost $91 million domestically against a $105 million budget (with a worldwide haul of almost $172 million) while A Bug’s Life made almost $163 million domestically against a $120 million budget (with a worldwide haul of over $363 million). Rip off or not, Antz‘s critical response has proven to be almost exactly as positive as what A Bug’s Life has enjoyed."
The American Film Institute nominated A Bugs Life for its Top 10 Animated Films list.
A Bugs Life was released on VHS and DVD on April 20, 1999. On August 1, 2000, it was rereleased on VHS and DVD under the Walt Disney Gold Classic Collection banner. On May 27, 2003, another DVD was released as a 2-disc Collectors Edition. This DVD was fully remastered and has substantial bonus features. On May 19, 2009, the film was released on Blu-ray.
The films theatrical and video releases include Geris Game, a Pixar short made in 1997, a year before this film was released.
A game, based on the film, was developed by Travellers Tales and Tiertex Design Studios and released by Sony Computer Entertainment, Disney Interactive, THQ and Activision for various systems. The games storyline was similar to the films, with a few changes. However, unlike the film, the game received mixed to negative reviews. Aggregating review website GameRankings gave the Nintendo 64 version 54.40%, the PlayStation version 51.90% and the Game Boy Color version 36.63%. GameSpot gave the PlayStation version a 2.7/10, concluding that it was "obvious that Disney was more interested in producing a $40 advertisement for its movie than in developing a playable game." IGN gave the Nintendo 64 version a 6.8/10, praising the presentation and sound by stating "It was upbeat, cheery look and feel very much like the movie of the same name with cheery, happy tunes and strong sound effects but again criticised the gameplay by saying the controls were sluggish with stuttering framerate and tired gameplay mechanics". while they gave the PlayStation version a 4/10, criticizing the gameplay as slow and awkward but praising the presentation as cinematic.
A Bugs Land is a section of Disney California Adventure that is inspired by A Bugs Life. One of the main attractions is the 3D show Its Tough to Be a Bug! which is also in Disneys Animal Kingdom. The Disney California Adventure nighttime show World of Color features a segment that includes Heimlich, the caterpillar from the film.Price, David (2008). The Pixar Touch. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-307-26575-7.