A Bug’s Life appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. In a word: wow!
Sharpness appeared absolutely immaculate. No matter how wide the shots became, they always seemed crisp and perfectly detailed. Not the slightest hint of softness ever marred the presentation. I witnessed no examples of jaggies or shimmering, and I also detected no signs of edge enhancement. Of course, since Life came straight from the original digital files, no source flaws appeared; this was a super-clean presentation.
Life offered a natural palette that came across exceedingly well on this disc. The colors were consistently bright and vibrant, and they displayed absolutely no flaws whatsoever. The hues looked brilliant and dynamic and really enhanced the visuals. Black levels also appeared dense and deep, and shadow detail was flawless. For example, look at the shots in the underground nest; they seemed perfectly depicted. A Bug’s Life gave us a truly amazing visual presentation.
While not quite as strong as the picture, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of A Bug’s Life also seemed terrific. . The mix presented an excellent soundstage. The front three channels were especially active, with solid spatial orientation and smooth panning between speakers. The rear speakers got a nice workout, especially in many of the scenes in which bugs flew; they zipped around from front to rear and right to left effectively and convincingly.
The track also featured some nice use of directional dialogue, as speech popped up in appropriate locations throughout the movie. The mix really created a nicely smooth and integrated sense of environment.
Audio quality appeared very positive. Dialogue remained distinct and natural and suffered from no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Randy Newman’s excellent score was warm and rich, as the music showed fine dimensionality and dynamics. The effects also came across as concise and accurate. They presented clean highs and some terrific lows; bass response was consistently tight and powerful without any distortion. All in all, the audio of A Bug’s Life seemed quite impressive.
How did the picture and sound quality of this Blu-ray compare to those of the Special Edition DVD? Both showed improvements. The audio of the two releases seemed fairly similar, but I thought the lossless DTS track was just a bit smoother and more dynamic. It took a good thing and made it even better.
For a DVD, Life looked flawless. Of course, “flawless” within the constraints of DVD’s resolution doesn’t stand up to “flawless” on Blu-ray. The Life DVD remains amazing for that format, but it can’t touch the sheer perfection of this Blu-ray. The detail you’ll find here becomes stunning and makes the DVD seem fuzzy by comparison.
In terms of extras, the Blu-ray mixes elements from the prior SE DVD with new components. If a component is written in blue, that indicates it’s exclusive to the Blu-ray Disc.
First up comes an audio commentary from director John Lasseter, codirector/cowriter Andrew Stanton, and supervising film editor Lee Unkrich. All three sat together for this running, screen-specific piece. Back when I first reviewed this set in 1999, I griped a bit because I thought the guys devoted too much time to praise for the movie. In retrospect, I was too harsh. Yes, they did seem happy with the product and they let us know that, but I’ve heard many more gushing tracks over the last 10 years; the filmmakers don’t go overboard in the happy talk department.
They do offer an amazing amount of information about the creation of the film, however. Lasseter dominates the piece, but the other two get in a lot of material as well. Virtually every facet of the production receives attention here. They chat about story and character challenges as well as the various technical domains. The commentary never slows for a moment as they fill it with terrific details and notes. Overall, the track seems lively and very informative, so fans should get a kick out of it.
For this “10th Anniversary Edition” of A Bug’s Life, Lasseter provides a new introduction. He chats for one minute, 10 seconds as he tells us a few factoids about the film and Blu-ray. It’s not substantial, but it’s a decent lead-in to the movie.
Two shorts pop up here. The four-minute and 54-second Geri's Game preceded the theatrical presentation of Life back in 1998. It's a cute little cartoon, but nothing special in my opinion; unlike Life itself, I quickly tired of it when I saw the movie three times theatrically.
We also get a “classic short”: 1934’s “Silly Symphony” The Grasshopper and the Ants. This eight-minute and 27-second cartoon tells the classic parable of the lazy grasshopper and the industrious ants. It offers an entertaining piece.
We can watch this one with or without a 35-second intro from Lasseter and Stanton. They let us know that the short influenced Life and offer a few laughs, too. Their comments indicate that this cartoon was a part of the original 1999 2-DVD Life release. I don’t recall that, so either it was an Easter egg I never found or it didn’t actually make the cut 10 years ago.
Next come two new components. Filmmaker’s Roundtable reunites Lasseter, Stanton, producer Darla Anderson and co-producer Kevin Rehar to discuss Life. During this 20-minute and 58-second piece, they chat about various challenges involved in the production, story development, cast, and some memories related to the Bug’s Life experience.
The majority of “Roundtable” sticks with anecdotes. Lasseter and Stantion cover most of the material, and they remain chatty and engaging. We find quite a few amusing stories in this fun piece.
A Bug’s Life – The First Draft runs 10 minutes, 18 seconds as it shows a re-enactment of the film’s initial version. Actor Dave Foley narrates as we watch semi-animated art. The basic story remains the same, but quite a few differences exist between this edition and the final film. I think it’s cool that we can examine an early take of the material, and the fancy presentation makes this component even more winning. (Note that this feature replaces a similar but less elaborate extra on the original DVD.)
By the way, another introduction appears here. Lasseter provides a 33-second lead-in that tells us a little about what we’ll see. It’s a good way to take us into the piece.
Actually, let me just get this out of the way: the vast majority of the programs on this disc come with introductions. Rather than get into a potentially tedious discussion of each one, just assume that they’re all useful.
Preproduction breaks into five areas. Fleabie shows us a somewhat tongue-in-cheek three-minute and 21-second video shot by the folks at Pixar to show the Disney bigwigs the progress they were making on the film (then called "Bugs"). It's "hosted" by a puppet named Fleabie who tours the Pixar studios and observes different aspects of the production. It's not tremendously amusing, but it's cute nonetheless and serves as a cool historical token.
Next comes Story and Editorial. This piece helps demonstrate to viewers what storyboards are, and it shows how they generally are used at Pixar by letting us observe the creative process. The program lasts four minutes, 43 seconds. One of Joe Ranft's circus scenes is discussed and altered as we watch from a literal "fly on the wall" position. Cool!
One scene from the completed picture is offered for a storyboard to film comparison; we see "Dot's Rescue” in this three-minute, 55-second clip. Actually, we go through the scene in three ways: storyreel, final render, and split-screen comparison. It was interesting to see what stayed the same and what changed for the final film. (Not much, in the latter case, but it's still fun.)
Two abandoned sequences are presented. These aren't the same as deleted scenes; as the filmmakers explain, most segments created for animated films gets used because they’re so expensive to make. As such, story reels are utilized to create a crude facsimile of the way the final scenes would appear; it lets the filmmakers get a good idea how a segment would work without costing too much. Story reels film somewhat kinetic versions of the storyboards and accompany them with dialogue and effects.
The first unused sequence is called "original museum opening" and shows a prologue that was considered for the film; it lasts 104 seconds. The other is a scene in "PT's Office" that was replaced with his simple "You're fired" line in the final film. Originally there was a whole segment in which he went over the issue with the circus bugs; the clip runs 99 seconds. The absence of the museum scene is no loss, but the office segment might have worked; it has some funny stuff in it. Still, PT's proclamation as he simmers in the final film fares awfully well, too, so I won't second-guess them.
A short research documentary comes next. In the five-minute and 24-second clip, filmmakers use a tiny "bug cam" to film the world from what seemed to be an insect's perspective; this segment shows us some of the results and includes narration. I really liked this part; it's amazing to see how strongly the video influenced the production decisions, and it helped me appreciate what a fantastic job they did with the animation. It's a very fun featurette.
Design consists almost entirely of still frames, and there are 607 screens worth of information. These appear as thumbnails, which makes it easy to skip through them. Unlike the original DVD, you don’t have to advance through scores of images to find the one you want, as each screen holds a maximum of nine thumbnails. This is a nice improvement from the old DVD.
The main design section covers the characters themselves. Subheadings address "The Colony," "Grasshopper Gang," "The Circus," and "Miscellaneous Characters." The number of drawings per character ranges from a low of four (for both Molt) to a high of 46 (for “City Bugs”). All in all, the character drawings take up 343 of the frames.
The individual sketches cover a wide gamut of types. Some are early designs, whereas many show various moods and expressions of the characters. We also see the technical drawings made of the characters that are used to ensure consistency between animators. Most of the individual character sections end by showing that bug's maquette. This section is very interesting and lets us see how the designs develop.
"Locations" is the next area in this section, and it examines "Ant Island," "The City," "Circus Tent & Wagon," and "Hopper's Hangout." The “Ant Island” section dominates this piece, with 46 of its 123 drawings coming from that area - which makes sense, since it's the main "location". I didn't find these drawings to be as interesting as those of the characters, but they're compelling nonetheless.
Finally, the design section concludes with "Concept Art" and "Color Scripts." The former area offers 63 drawings that were used to conceptualize various aspects of the film, whereas the latter covers 78 screens and is a little more difficult to explain. Essentially, color scripts seem to be very small pieces of art that show the director of photography the ways colors should look in various scenes. These remain good to see.
Next up is the Production area, which covers the actual creation of the film. One disappointment here is the Behind the Scenes of A Bug's Life featurette. We get a three-minute, 30-second puff piece. Admittedly, it does cover all the main aspects of production, but it does so in a way that lacks any form of depth. It's worth a look but not great.
Another featurette addresses Voice Casting. This four-minute, 15-second video is also fairly brief and glib, though it's more interesting simply because it sticks to just one area of production. We see some interview snippets with the voice actors and a few shots from the recording sessions. As with the previous featurette, it's fun and entertaining but too short.
Next up is a clip called Early Tests. This five-minute, 25-second video shows some animation tests done early in production. These were used to make sure the film was on the right track and helped the filmmakers determine how they wanted to do things. These seem interesting.
The Progression Demonstration shows us the steps computer animation goes through to reach the final product. It covers four stages, from first to last: 1) A storyreel, which offers a rough approximation of how the finished product should look and move; 2) Layout, which creates very crude and awkward computer animation to "block" the scene and get it started; 3) Animation, when the characters are fully animated and the scene is done except for the finishing touches, which occur in 4) Shaders and lighting, the portion where all the "fine points" are added to create a realistic and full image. The two-minute and 12-second "flaming death" scene is used to demonstrate these stages, and it’s compelling viewing.
One apparently negative change from the DVD: as far as I can tell, you can no longer use the “angle” feature to skip from one stage to another. My Blu-ray player let me choose any of the four angles, but the material onscreen never changed. Maybe others can make that on-the-fly method work, but I can’t.
Next we move to a Sound Design featurette, which includes a demonstration from sound designer Gary Rydstrom of how the movement noises for each of the characters were created. This video runs 13 minutes and nine seconds. We don't see much of Rydstrom, but we hear the original recordings accompanied by a black screen, which is followed by the final mix that includes those sounds. It's quite delightful and fascinating to discover how the different noises were assembled (and I get to hear more of PT's distinctive "plinking").
Release covers publicity issues in regard to the film. Posters/Ad Campaigns includes a mere five images, down from the 16 on the original DVD. Why the omissions? I don’t know, but it’s a disappointment.
We also observe two theatrical trailers. The second one is probably the best known: it starts with the Who's "Baba O'Riley" and shows a compendium of scenes from the film. The first trailer is more obscure and also more interesting: it's a very long shot of the main bugs - shown in normal bug size, from a human point of view - and not much happens until ...well, I'll let you see it. I don't think I ever saw this one in the theaters, and it's very entertaining; I love to see trailers that don't just collect shots from the film.
Character Interviews offers a 95-second video was to be used for international promotion. It shows us a remote "interview" between a broadcaster and four "actors" (Flik, Hopper, Heimlich and Francis). It's a lot of fun and is quite clever.
One curious note: while Dave Foley and Joe Ranft clearly reprised their roles as Flik and Heimlich, I'm not so sure that Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary did the voices of Hopper and Francis for this piece. Hopper sounded pretty accurate - though a few spots made me wonder - but Francis didn’t sound at all like Leary.
After this we move to the Outtakes section. This presents both reels of the hilarious "outtakes" from the end of the film - because of their popularity, a second version of these scenes was attached to the film three weeks after its initial release. I loved these clips not because they were inherently funny but because they lampooned the insipid nature of "bloopers;" those goofs and flubs have been done to death and they’re rarely amusing anymore. I thought these false outtakes made for a wicked commentary on how stupid and inane the genre naturally is. The first batch lasts two minutes, 33 seconds, and the alternate ones run two minutes, 32 seconds.
We also get a three-minute and 49-second featurette called The Story Behind the Outtakes. This addresses why the filmmakers created them and offers some shots of the actors. As usual, it's too short, but it's a neat little addition.
A few ads open the disc. We get promos for Up, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Monsters, Inc. and Blu-ray Discs. These also appear in the Sneak Peeks area along with clips for Race to Witch Mountain, Disney Movie Rewards, Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure and Disney parks.
Finally, a second disc provides a Digital Copy of A Bug’s Life. This allows you to easily transfer the flick to your computer or portable viewing device. It doesn’t do anything for me, but your mileage may vary, as they say.
One of my favorite Disney films, A Bug’s Life continues to delight and entertain 10 years after it first arrived. It’s cute, charming and consistently inventive. The Blu-ray provides absolutely amazing picture quality with excellent sound and an extensive roster of extras. This is a top-notch release that earns my firm recommendation – and that goes for owners of the DVD release, as the stunning picture quality makes the Blu-ray a worthy upgrade.
To rate this film visit the 2003 Collector's Edition review of the A BUG'S LIFE