IN THE PIXAR pantheon of CG animation, A Bug's Life got, well, squashed by the near-simultaneous 1998 release of Antz, which appealed to a more grown-up demo with voice talent including Woody Allen. TV performers like Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Richard Kind predominate in Life's anthill, and its more kid-oriented story line doesn't offer the same number of over-their-wee-heads gags that made such a phenomenon of the Toy Story series. Pixar is evidently still pissed about that. So it's coattail-riding the current success of its Finding Nemo with this extras-laden, double-disc set (May 27), which Life co-director Andrew Stantonwho also shares Nemo dutieslaughingly calls "the super-genius edition."
Pixar CEO Steve Jobs shows up along with co-director John Lasseter (the genius behind Toy Story), making all the backstage extras feel like an official tour of the coolest digital corporate campus in America. Particularly amusing is the cheesy '50s-style industrial movie guided by a sock puppet called Fleabie. And after you've tucked the kids into bed, half-satisfied yourself with Life's simple story (essentially a riff on Seven Samurai), you may stay up late trolling through all the production minutiaelike watching how an entire sequence develops, all inside the computer, from the crudest Pong-like renderings to the phenomenal final "shading" of color, light, and shadow. (An angry speech by Kevin Spacey's villainous grasshopper, with carapace mottled red and white like a crab, his scarred face illuminated by fire, is fucking amazing.) It's enough to make an animation geek out of even the most geek-averse moviegoer.
It's also amazing to consider the CG-animation leap from Tron to Life, then from Life to Nemo. No surprise that Pixar will likely extricate itself from its Disney distribution deal: The company's considerable success, and Jobs' considerable ego, demands no less. Even as Stanton cautions that "the more organic something is, the harder it is to do," Pixar's next projectThe Invincibles, due Nov. 5, 2004is about people, not bugs or toys. I can't wait.
JUNE 10 BRINGS out a two-disc set of Frida, James Dean in Giant, and Sergio Leone's 1984 Once Upon a Time in America (reviewed next week). Slipping through the cracks recently are Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, Polanski's Oscar-winning The Pianist, and Wayne Wang's 1989 Eat a Bowl of Tea.