- “An epic presentation of miniature proportions.”
The film is loosely inspired by the fable "The Ant and the Grasshopper" and the classic samurai film The Seven Samurai, it is the second Pixar movie and tells the story of an outcast inventor ant named Flik (Dave Foley), who recruits a group of circus bugs he mistakes for warriors when his colony is threatened by a group of grasshoppers.
Every year, a colony of ants is expected to harvest food for a biker-gang-like bunch of greedy grasshoppers. One ant, Flik, is an inventor whose creations usually do more harm than good. While trying out a mechanical harvester, he drops his machine and on auto-pilot, it knocks the pile of food into a stream just before the grasshoppers arrive. Their leader, Hopper, gives the ants the rest of the season to make good on what they owe, but orders a double ration of food after Flik stands up to him in defense of the Queen's youngest daughter Dot, who then couldn't fly, due to her wings being too small. Flik is admonished by the colony's royal council. When Flik suggests that he try to recruit some "warrior bugs" to fight the grasshoppers, Princess Atta (Dot's older sister and the eventual successor to the Queen) allows him to do so, but only to keep him out of the way.
Reaching the insect "city" (actually a pile of garbage), Flik encounters a troupe of unemployed circus bugs whose latest performance has just ended in disaster. They are being threaten by a group of flies for not paying and even Dim the big beetle is scared by maybe the even bigger horsefly, Thud and Dim's weight knocks barrel over, causing chaos; He mistakes them for the warriors he needs. At the same time, they believe him to be a talent scout who wants to book their act. They return to the colony, much to Atta's surprise, and are immediately greeted as heroes who can end the grasshopper threat. Atta soon becomes suspicious after overhearing a conversation where both Flik and the troupe realize their mistakes. However, after they band together to save Dot from a hungry bird, she begins to think that the troupe may be able to stop the grasshoppers after all. She also starts to find herself falling in love with Flik and the feeling is mutual.
At the grasshopper gang's hideout, Hopper's brother Molt suggests they do not go back since they have more than enough food stored and the weather will soon turn bad. Hopper reminds him and the gang that if they do not keep the ants living in fear, the ants might use their superior numbers ("a hundred to one," he estimates) to run the grasshoppers out of the colony for good. The gang sets out for the island to collect their due. When Flik discovers that Hopper is afraid of birds (due to him almost getting eaten by one years ago), he proposes that the colony build a model bird to scare him away (the plan is presented by the circus bugs, so the royal council believes the "warriors" came up with the idea). The ants put their food-gathering work on hold to carry out this project. After they finish and put the bird in the island's tree, circus ringmaster P. T. Flea arrives looking for his missing performers and exposes the truth. The colony became furious that building the bird turned out to be a waste of time. Upset at Flik's deception, Atta orders him exiled from the colony, while the other ants hide the bird to pretend it never happened and rush to collect whatever food they can for Hopper. They are unable to meet the double quota he set, and when the gang arrives, Hopper takes over the anthill and forces the ants to bring him all the food on the island.
Dot overhears the gang's plans to kill the Queen once they have all the food, and after a tangle with Hopper's crazed assistant Thumper, she sprouts her wings and catches up with Flik and the troupe. She persuades them to return and put the bird plan into action, with help from her and some of the other young ants, nicknamed the Blueberries. The model frightens the gang, which almost retreats until P. T. intervenes and sets the model on fire with lighter fluid. Enraged, Hopper sends Thumper to injure Flik, but Flik is still able to stand up and rally the other ants, saying that the grasshoppers depend on the extorted food for their own survival. The entire colony swarms against the gang, forcing all except Hopper to leave. However, a thunderstorm begins, causing panic among the ants. Hopper grabs Flik and flies off, intent on killing him. Atta rescues Flik and the two lure Hopper towards the bird’s nest. Hopper corners Flik and starts strangling him, revealing his intention of returning to the colony with more grasshoppers. Flik is saved when the bird appears, picks up Hopper and feeds him to her chicks.
Later, the colony adopts Flik's harvester to speed up grain collection. Atta becomes the new queen, passes the princess crown to Dot and chooses Flik as her mate. As the troupe leaves, Slim the stick insect notices that they've forgotten Heimlich the caterpillar, who emerges from the chrysalis in which he has encased himself. He pops out with a tiny pair of butterfly wings, far too small to lift him off the ground, but he's picked up by Francis the ladybug and Manny the praying mantis, and the troupe (with Molt, acting as a road crew assistant) departs with the colony’s thanks. Dot joined by Queen Atta and Flik (who are shown holding hands) wave goodbye. The shot then pulls out to reveal that "Ant Island" is a small area in the forest surrounded by a little stream.
- Dave Foley as Flik, the main protagonist, a nerdy inventive ant who is desperate to make a difference to his colony's way of life, but tends to make things worse in the process. His inventions include a telescope created by wrapping a blade of grass around a dew drop; an automatic harvester; several items of traveler's gear; and the bird-shaped aircraft used to terrify the grasshoppers. He is friends with Dot, the Circus Bugs and the Blueberries. He is in love with Princess Atta.
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Atta, the older princess ant of the royal family and heir to the throne. She is the film's deuteragonist. She is nervous about her new responsibilities and fears what the rest of the colony might think about her. During the film, it is shown that she develops a romantic interest in Flik, although initially she does not show much appreciation for him. Her appreciation changes for the better after the ants build the bird. The Queen eventually gives up her crown at the end of the film to Atta, whereupon Atta gives up her own crown to her younger sister Dot.
- Hayden Panettiere as Dot, the younger princess ant of the royal family and the tritagonist. She idolizes Flik and resents being small. She starts the movie unable to fly, but ultimately finds herself able to fly when her survival depends on it. Dot acts as Flik's moral support, and he as hers. Dot fears the demented grasshopper Thumper, exposure to whom Hopper uses as a punishment. Dot is terrified of Thumper but with the help of the rhinoceros beetle Dim she scares the grasshopper away. Dot was also the narrator of the Read-Along version of the book, possibly making her voice actress the youngest to narrate a Disney Read-Along book.
- Kevin Spacey as Hopper, the main antagonist of A Bug's Life. Hopper is a feared grasshopper who is blind in one eye due to a scratch caused by a recent encounter with a bird. He leads a large gang of grasshoppers, who hold a Mafia-like control over the ants. Hopper is cunning, violent, and ruthless. Whereas most of the grasshoppers consider the ants harmless, Hopper is aware that the ants outnumber them, and therefore plots to kill the queen ant to frighten them into submission. His catchphrase "Let's ride!" is uttered when the grasshoppers are about to take flight en masse.
- Phyllis Diller as The Queen. As the ruler of the colony, she is an ancient ant, who is due to give up her crown to her eldest daughter Atta. She admonishes her younger daughter, Dot, for trying to fly before her time. She has a pet aphid called Aphie, whom she adores. She is also shown to have an intimate, possibly romantic relationship with another elder ant, Cornelius.
- Richard Kind as Molt, Hopper's brother and self-proclaimed Vice President of the grasshopper gang. He is named 'Molt' for his exoskeleton's abnormal tendency to peel off. He is a loudmouth and provides a great deal of comic relief. Hopper detests his brother's antics and is shown remarking that had he not promised their mother on her deathbed that he would not kill Molt, he would have gladly murdered him. At the end, Molt joins P.T. Flea's circus troupe under the new name of Tiny. He is the reformed antagonist of the film.
- David Hyde Pierce as Slim, a walking stick and a clown in P.T. Flea's circus troupe. It appears that he is unhappy with his position at the circus troupe, as his boss constantly casts him as a prop instead of a character, with such castings such as "the broom, the pole, the stick, [and] the splinter". He is shown to be best friends with Heimlich and Francis, and often treats other bugs with respect in contrast to Francis' aggressive nature. It is also implied that he could share a friendship with Rosie as they seem to stand next to each other a lot and often look to each other for help. Since Slim does not have wings and cannot fly, Francis usually carries him from location to location.
- Denis Leary as Francis, an aggressive ladybug and a clown in P.T. Flea's circus troupe. Francis is frustrated by constantly being mistaken for a female; an obvious pun on the name of his species. In such frustrations, he is shown to be belligerent and aggressive to the point of frightening others. Because it is he who played the most obvious part in Princess Dot's rescue, he becomes 'den mother' to the scout-like organization of young ants called the "Blueberry Troop". As counselor to this organization, Francis becomes very fond of his charges. Francis seems to have a strong friendship with Slim and Heimlich. While transporting over long distances, Francis carries Slim.
- Joe Ranft as Heimlich, a green caterpillar with a German accent and a clown in P.T. Flea's circus troupe. He is gluttonous and frivolous throughout, and contemptuous of anyone he considers less intelligent than himself. At one point, he remarks that he dreams of being a beautiful butterfly. At the end of the film, he pops from his chrysalis and sprouts a pair of tiny wings, but remains flightless due to his obesity. Whilst flightless, Heimlich is carried by the rhinoceros beetle, Dim, for transport. He uses a few German words now and then, particularly when he is very scared.
- Jonathan Harris as Manny, a praying mantis with an English accent; the magician of P.T. Flea's circus troupe. Manny is Gypsy's husband. His magic act involves the 'Chinese Cabinet of Metamorphosis', which is really a Chinese food take-out carton. His magic act is not appreciated well by the flies in the usual audience; but the grasshoppers, when he is set to distract them, take it seriously. Manny is aggressive towards Flik at the beginning of their acquaintance, but grows to like him. During the rescue of the Queen, Manny performs his magic act to conceal the Queen and is almost strangled by Hopper when he refuses to give up the Queen's location. His personality is very melodramatic and dignified.
- Madeline Kahn as Gypsy, a gypsy moth who has beautiful patterns on either side of her wings. She is Manny's wife as well as his 'lovely assistant' during his magic act. She gives the signal for Flik's fake bird plan to commence when the plan to rescue the Queen is in session. During this, Manny performs his magic act, wherein Gypsy takes the place of the Queen as if to be a transformation in his Chinese Cabinet.
- Bonnie Hunt as Rosie, a black widow spider who is maternal toward the rhinoceros beetle, Dim, and the younger ants of the colony. She has apparently had twelve husbands. She will sometimes be involved in whatever Slim, Francis, and Heimlich are doing. She seems to share a friendship with Slim to whom she is seen in proximity. All of her known husbands had died, making a play on "black widow".
- John Ratzenberger as P.T. Flea, the ringmaster of the circus troupe, who is unwilling to give refunds after his show has lasted two minutes. His finalé consists of an act called "Flaming Death", in which he was almost incinerated. This caused him to fire his entire troupe, until a foot-long line of flies arrived outside the circus tent, wanting to see the "Flaming Death" act again. He is greedily obsessed with money, but his demeanor changes after he and his entire troupe help the ant colony defeat Hopper once and for all. His name is based on the initials of circus owner Phineas Taylor Barnum.
- Michael McShane as Tuck and Roll, twin pill bugs who speak a foreign language, but can speak small portions of English. According to the Official Pixar website they are Hungarian yet the language they speak is entirely fictional and the dance they do is a typical Russian Folk dance . Tuck and Roll occasionally argue, but are usually the best of friends. They act as cannonballs in P.T. Flea's circus troupe. They like the sound of the phrase "You fired!" (of whose meaning they have no idea), and continuously repeat it throughout the film.
- Brad Garrett as Dim, a rhinoceros beetle who has a childlike, impressionable, but clear-sighted character. He is usually mothered by the black widow spider, Rosie. He is the largest insect of the circus troupe, and also the transport to Heimlich, Tuck, Roll, and Rosie. It is he who provokes the performers to revive Flik's belief in himself, when this has waned.
- Roddy McDowall as Mr. Soil, a member of the Ant Island council and resident thespian. This was Roddy McDowall's last role before his death in 1998.
- Edie McClurg as Dr. Flora, the nurse of Ant Island.
- David Lander as Thumper, a psychotic, feral and vicious grasshopper which his owner, Hopper, uses to punish Dot. He only speaks in one of the bloopers, in which was his only line spoken, "Oh, I'm sorry. C-can we cut? I just don't know if I'm coming across. Ooh, ooh, I know, I know, I could lather up a bunch of spit! Ooh, ooh, I got it".
- Carlos Alazraqui
- Bob Bergen
- Kimberly J. Brown
- Rodger Bumpass
- Anthony Burch
- Bill Farmer
- Brad Hill
- Jess Harnell
- Paul Eiding
- Jessica Evans
- Sherry Lynn
- Jan Rabson
- Russi Taylor
- John Lasseter
- Next to the Caravan, the Pizza Planet Truck can be seen.
- PT Flea's Circus travels in a Casey Junior cookie box.
- A113 is seen on a box at Bug City.
A Bug's Life vs. Antz
The plotline has several similarities to the DreamWorks' produced Antz, which had been released a month earlier. This was because of Jeffrey Katzenberg forming DreamWorks and previously being kicked out of Disney for feuding in the company around the time A Bugs Life was in development. As a result, DreamWorks started releasing films, which were not only released sometime after a Disney film, but also had similar concepts and settings. Since then, Disney and DreamWorks have remained bitter enemies.
The film was widely acclaimed from both critics and audiences and, was a box office success, grossing $363 million worldwide against its $120 million budget.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 92% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 86 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 Bug's 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 Bug's 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 Bug's 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 Bug's 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 Bug's 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 Bug's 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". Since then, DreamWorks and Pixar have been bitter enemies.
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 Bug's Life may be the single most amazing film I've ever seen that I couldn't fall in love with." Paul Clinton of CNN gave the film a positive review, saying "A Bug's Life is a perfect movie for the holidays. It contains a great upbeat message ... it's wonderful to look at ... it's wildly inventive ... and it's 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 Kurosawa's 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."
- Main article: A Bug's Life (video)
- The circus theme song was previously used on the score of James and the Giant Peach (1996) where James is about to retrieve the peach for Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker.
- The read-along version contains the very rare song, "A Place You've Never Been".
- This is the only Disney-Pixar animated feature before Disney purchased Pixar that has not yet received a sequel or prequel.
- John Lassetter repeatedly attempted to get Robert DeNiro to voice Hopper, the grasshopper, but DeNiro repeatedly declined. DeNiro didn’t do animated voice work at the time.
- In the bloopers shown at the end of the film, Princess Atta is shown cracking up during her scene with Hopper, ruining take after take until Hopper goes to his trailer in frustration. This is a spoof of Julia Louis-Dreyfus being known to do the same.
- The film is inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and all of its successors, including The Magnificent Seven (which gave the villain a more prominent role than in Seven Samurai and had a similar scene in which the heroes are driven away from the people they were protecting) and Three Amigos! which was a comedic take on the story.
- This is the second film that Denis Leary and Kevin Spacey worked on. Their first film was Touchstone's 1994 Christmas comedy "The Ref". Leary played the main antagonist Gus and Spacey played Lloyd who was taken hostage by Gus.
- This was the only Pixar film not to be broadcast on STARZ until 2016's Finding Dory, which will be streaming on Netflix.
- P.T. Flea is John Ratzenberger's favorite Pixar character that he voiced.
- This is the first Pixar film to be reframed for 4:3 televisions.
- Two versions of the film have been released, each one with different fake outtakes over the end credits. The version released before December 18th, 1999 features a set, and the one released after that date has another. This was done because Disney hoped it would encourage people to view the film a second time. But in the VHS, the credits are poised away from the backgrounds shown next to them for a few seconds before the bloopers, but in the DVD, the credits are poised inside the backgrounds, and there are different lengths of bloopers switched around depending on the widescreen or fullscreen viewing, so don't expect to see the same version twice.
- During the summer of 1994, Pixar's story department began turning their thoughts to their next film, while Toy Story (1995) was in post-production. The storyline of A Bug's Life (1998) originated in a lunchtime conversation between John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, and Joe Ranft, the studio's head story team. Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), and WALL·E (2008) 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 Aesop's fable The Ant and the Grasshopper. Walt Disney had produced his own version with a cheerier ending decades earlier in the 1934 short film The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934). 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.
- This is the first film to be transferred directly from a digital source straight to VHS and DVD.
- This is the first Pixar film to be specifically reframed for 4:3 exhibition on VHS, DVD and televised airings.
- In Japan, the film's image song is "STAND" by the Japanese band Hoff Dylan. It is also the first song on the Japanese version of the film's soundtrack. (link)
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