Vintage Viewings: Bee Movie

Layne Robinson, Writer

Bee Movie is likely not unfamiliar to any teenager in 2021. The film is a phenomenon and a mainstay of meme culture; the whole script has been printed on T-shirts, and in 2020 a Netflix customer went viral after watching the movie every day for a whole year. However, most of us have not seen the movie since we were young children, if ever, and are missing out on the quality experience of viewing it again with an older set of eyes. It is understandable that so many look at Bee Movie and see a low effort kids film — it even starts with cliché narration around the moral of not being limited by societal expectations. But upon taking the time to watch the movie in its entirety without bias, there is a clear theme present, and it’s one that seems targeted directly at a teenage audience.

From this point, this review is going to contain spoilers for Bee Movie.

After the narration segment, the film opens onto main character Barry Benson excitedly getting ready for his college graduation and first day as a working adult. The audience is taken through Barry’s house and gets to see the entirety of the hive as he traverses it. The worldbuilding inside the hive is very creative, from the honey-filled swimming pool in Barry’s house to the roller coaster highways. Barry’s interactions with other characters in this scene further add to this effect. Together, they recap their school days (literally. K-12 is one week for bees) and gossip about the “pollen jocks,” the social elite of bee society. My biggest issue with this part of the film is that the exposition and relevant context is delivered in a very heavy-handed way. It could have been incorporated more subtly, and some parts did not need this explicit exposition at all, as they could have been inferred by the viewer. It is likely included in this way due to the film’s intended audience — children. However, this problem of talking down to the audience mostly disappears after this scene.
As for the characters, early on we are introduced to Barry’s parents and his lifelong friend Adam. All three are set up as perfect models of how to function within bee society, and throughout the beginning of the movie all three of them pressure Barry in some way to conform. Though less than subtle, they are used well to frame the societal problems that will form Barry’s arc throughout the film. There is little interesting about them, and they are all very flat, one-note characters outside of their use to the plot.
After this, Barry, with Adam, tours the hive in order to prepare to choose the job he will do for the rest of his life. This choice scares and upsets Barry, but Adam and his parents reaffirm that he has nothing to worry about and that bee life is perfect. He cannot accept this, and takes an opportunity to go with the “pollen jocks” — the bees whose job it is to collect pollen and return it to the hive — outside the hive once before he settles down. This desire to escape the utilitarianism of bee society and live his life freely, as well as his anxiety about his future, are themes that are extremely relatable to a teen audience and are by far the strongest of the many themes presented throughout the film.
When Barry leaves the hive, he gets separated from the pollen jocks almost immediately and finds himself outside the home of a woman named Vanessa. Vanessa’s boyfriend, Ken, is the first to notice Barry, and, being deathly allergic, attempts to kill him. This sets up the classic slapstick rivalry between the two that will continue to be a comedic high point throughout the rest of the film. However, Vanessa saves Barry’s life, and the next morning he decides to thank her. The two have immediate chemistry, and the voice actors play off of each other well. The strength of Barry and Vanessa’s interactions is one of the best parts of the movie.
Upon returning home, Adam is very distressed at Barry’s brazen disregard for the rules of bee life, and his parents once again pressure him to choose a job. Neither expresses any empathy for his situation, which strengthens his desire to leave the hive entirely to be with Vanessa. These are more strong scenes that are critical to the quality of the film. However, this section also contains possibly the film’s worst scene: Barry’s daydream about his life with Vanessa. Vanessa is a caricature of herself, and the bizarre sequence paints Barry as a creep more than a lovestruck bee wishing for a better world.
Inevitably, Barry leaves the hive once again, this time with the specific intention of seeing Vanessa. This is where the film starts to lose focus. During his conversation with Vanessa, Barry discovers the existence of commercial honey and decides to sue the entire human race over the rights of bees. This creates another plot and another theme, both of which are half-baked filler that take away from the film. The suing honey plot is bloated with unnecessary scenes, and the court battle, while entertaining, adds absolutely nothing in terms of the core characters and themes. However, Layton T. Montgomery, the opposing lawyer, is by far the film’s funniest character.
Throughout act two and toward the end of the court arc, it becomes clear that bees are being used as an allegory for real-life oppressed groups. However, this is not well handled, and the implications of this parallel were not considered with the depth that they deserved. For example, upon winning their rights, life becomes worse for the bees, as well as for human society. This event, while necessary to the plot, implies that oppressed groups are better off as they are and should not fight for their rights. Additionally, the entire allegory feels as if it was an afterthought and is uncompelling, especially when compared to Barry’s personal struggle. The entire subplot about suing the human race, and this unfortunate implication with it, should be removed from the movie entirely.
In the aftermath of their legal win, all of the plants in the world begin to die as the bees are no longer pollinating flowers. Barry visits Vanessa to talk about this turn of events, only to discover that she’s been forced to close down her flower shop and is flying to Pasadena to see the last of Earth’s flowers. Barry catches up to her in a taxi to the airport, and they argue who is to blame. In this scene, Vanessa is extremely cold and mean, and her behavior toward Barry is totally out of character. I was totally taken out of the film during their fight.
However, they makeup and formulate a plan to re-pollinate the Earth using the flower show in Pasadena. The montage sequence of them carrying out the plan is fun but is interrupted by an action scene that is totally pointless and goes on for far too long. On their flight home with the flowers, the plane malfunctions and both pilots pass out in the cockpit. This forces Barry and Vanessa to work together to land the plane, with the aid of all the bees from Barry’s hive. This high action has little relevance to the plot, and the big dramatic ending tonally contrasts the rest of the film. Watching, I struggled to feel the stakes of the situation. The ending would be much better without this scene.
The film ends with a sweet epilogue about Barry and Vanessa opening a joint flower shop and legal practice together, and all of the main characters are shown to be doing well, with pollination returned to the world. This is one of the best scenes in Bee Movie, and watching it I forgot about the bloating in the second and third acts.
Overall, Bee Movie is a good movie suffering from extreme bloating. It is stuffed with unnecessary scenes, but when all of the fluff is stripped away, the viewer is left with a heartwarming tale of a young bee finding his place in the world. If the large, society-level themes and subplots were focused back down to just Barry and the intended audience was adjusted to older kids and teens, this could be a classic kids’ movie and may be remembered, like it deserves, as more than just a meme.