Like a lot of people, Jerry Seinfeld has acknowledged "Rocky and His Friends" and "The Bullwinkle Show" as key early comic influences, as well as proof that you can target animation for kids as well as adults if you keep the jokes coming fast enough. The kids get the moose/squirrel friendship; the adults get the references to "Crime and Punishment." Or they don't. But they can appreciate that something funny's going on when Boris Badenov mutters "Raskolnikov!" when bested by moose and squirrel.
"Bee Movie," a moderately entertaining feature, operates on the same split impulses to engage young and older alike. Kids theoretically will go for the flying sequences, in which honeybee Barry B. Benson (voice by co-writer and producer Seinfeld) joins a squadron of "pollen jocks" in flight over Central Park and, later, on his own, in some pretty hairy midtown traffic. Adults, theoretically, will enjoy an extended riff on the notion of actor Ray Liotta (voiced by Liotta) lending his name to a line of honey, and then fuming on the witness stand when Barry decides to sue the human race for stealing the bees' honey.
"Bee Movie" is pretty fair as antiseptic-looking computer-generated animation features go. It's on the easygoing level of "Surf's Up," and a full tick up from, say, "Over the Hedge" or "The Ant Bully." But given the Seinfeld pedigree it's something of a disappointment. My 6-year-old son and I laughed here and there, at different things, and I think we both appreciated the relative lack of high-pressure sales tactics involved. The story's kind of a mess, though.
Plot: Barry, old enough to decide on a bee colony career for himself, wants to see the world, unlike his timid, well-behaved pal Adam (Matthew Broderick). Out among Manhattan's human populace for the first time, Barry breaks "bee rule No. 1" and strikes up a conversation with a friendly florist (Renee Zellweger) after she saves his life. Bees can talk, which is news to our heroine, who ends up helping Barry in his lawsuit. Back at the colony Barry puts up with a lot of guff from Adam about his mysterious "friend" (Is she a wasp, he wonders? "Your parents will kill you!") and grief from his mother (who just hopes the female in question is "beeish").
Much of this wordplay is clever, though there's something off with the plotting. By the time Barry wins his case and everything goes downhill for both the bee world and the human world, you're not really sure if "Bee Movie" is an eco-fable or a lesson about the perils of interspecies platonic romance or what. Mainly I was surprised the jokes weren't better and more plentiful. The movie is easy to take and easy to forget, which certainly cannot be said, for example, of "Ratatouille," which shot so much higher, so successfully.