During its first 15 minutes or so, Dreamworks' computer-animated Bee Movie is a visual delight but not much of an aural one.
While young Barry B. Benson (voiced, as the annoyingly omnipresent trailers continually remind us, by Jerry Seinfeld) makes plans to escape the hive and see the world and yadda yadda yadda, the movie features stunningly, comically detailed wonders - including a jolly zip through Central Park and Barry's encounter with an errant tennis ball - and there's cleverness galore. The only problem is that the jokes aren't very funny. Several gags involving the insects' literally drone-like obedience recall similar bits in Antz and A Bug's Life, and too many rely solely on Seinfeld's high-pitched, trademark whine to score their laughs; the movie had barely begun, and I was already mildly bored by the comedian's overly familiar, synthetically aggrieved cadences.
But just as I began settling in for another of Dreamworks' patented, sensitive-smart-ass offerings - a nectar-fueled Shrek - the damnedest thing happened: Bee Movie went absolutely, deliriously berserk. (I was going to write "bughouse," but I'm not sure if bees qualify as bugs.) Barry is nearly killed, and after a beautiful florist (Renée Zellweger) saves his life, the polite bee thanks her. Vocally. And after a few beats of understandable bewilderment, the florist asks Barry to join her on the terrace for coffee and rum cake.
The moment was wholly unexpected, and from that point on, the decision to have insects and humans freely converse throughout the film proved a fantastically zany and even subversive comedic inspiration - bees as just another sub-sect in the New York melting pot. Barry eventually discovers that our species has been unfairly usurping his brethren's honey supply, which leads to the movie's grandest excursion: a courtroom trial in which humanity's greed is defended by a blustery Southern defense attorney (a hilariously deep-fried John Goodman). With its happy disregard for logic, and astonishing non sequiturs (Ray Liotta's cameo is priceless), this might be the single nuttiest, most indescribably hysterical animated sequence of the millennium.
And incredibly, the brilliantly inventive Bee Movie offers plenty of competition for that title. The scene featuring a windshield full of splattered insects - who, it turns out, are just playing possum - is a thing of genius, as is the slow boil of Patrick (Puddy!) Warburton, and the frequent nods to The Graduate. And the climatic sight of a jumbo jet landing just as a bee would (slowly hovering to and fro) is almost ridiculously inspired. Even the inevitable moral is a great one, suggesting that bees and humans actually can live together in harmony. Not that there's anything wrong with that.