|"Ants were not put on this earth to serve grasshoppers." It's a darn rousing moment, I tell you. Flic, who's just had the ant-juice beat out of him by Hopper, the badass imperialist bastard, rises to two of his six feet and, with his last ounce of strength, utters this line. Within moments, the entire colony is linking arms and the music is swelling and the grasshoppers are getting nervous, and folks, before you know it, we're talkin' 'bout a revolution.
But wait! In the ensuing chaos, Hopper himself gets away, and it's not long before it's Flic and Hopper, one on one, with Princess Atta along for the ride. Our climactic standoff has the protagonist outsmarting the antagonist (get it?) after all. The colony doesn't so much revolt en masse as scatter along with everyone else because a force majeure -- rain -- is a threat to all parties present.
A Bug's Life is a masterly confusion of political ideologies that nevertheless begs political analysis. The ant colony has become a colony, on an island no less, in the purest political sense: The opening scene finds the ants gathering food demanded by the grasshoppers as a sort of annual tax. For "protection," Hopper explains in his finest monarchist/mafioso sneer. That very opening scene also delivers the first joke, one that would have done Ayn Rand proud: A leaf falls, blocking the scent trail our harvesters are following, and the first ant to come up to it just freaks. Omigod! I've lost the trail. While the ant in front of him is just inches away, the collective society he's grown up in has made him too much of a wimp to figure out that he can simply walk around the leaf and get on with it.
Along comes a supervisor to save the day. How does he get the wimpish ant to overcome his fear and walk around the leaf? "Come on, you can do it. We're professionals." Professionals? In a moment, we've slipped from collectivist drudgery (not to mention sheer mindlessness), and now, only finely honed business culture can save the day and get the cog in the wheel functioning again, i.e., serving the imperialists so that all will be right with the world once more.
Cut to the Randian individual. Flic is an inventor, dreaming up tools the conformist ants are too stupid to know what to do with. Of course he's an outcast. No one understands him, etc. Fortunately, though, unlike, say, Howard Roark, Flic is a friendly, sympatico rugged individual. But whoops, one of his inventions causes the loss of the entire year's tax payment. Order has truly been disrupted, but the ants decide they can't fix things with pesky Flic around. They send him off on what they hope will be a suicide mission: Flic thinks he's off to get help to beat the lousy grasshoppers, the only solution that makes any sense to him (i.e., revolution), while the ants, led by the Queen and Princess Atta, simply hope that with Flic gone, they can gather the payment all over again.
Much comedy ensues. Identities are mistaken. There are jokes galore and funny accents. Here's where I should interject: Echoing the reviews above, most kids will like this movie, but they won't like it as much as Toy Story. This is primarily because a lot of the humor is going to fly right over their heads. The comedy formula for A Bug's Life is pretty similar to that of the old Warner Brothers cartoons of the 40s: the visual slapstick is for the kids; the verbal humor is for the adults. Also: Some of the action sequences seem just a tad more frightening to kids I've seen it with than anything in Toy Story. Mileage may vary, but as a parent, I'd recommend: Ages 6 (at the very least) and up.
But back to politics briefly. The ultimate day-savers here are a group of circus performers, i.e., vagabonds outside the system, outside the strict dichotomy of exploiters and exploitees. You've got a spider, two pill bugs, a walking stick, a ladybug, a beetle, etc. Here, individual qualities are accented, but are, in and of themselves, inadequate. The troupe survives only by cooperating, by pooling their unique qualities into a single, cooperative unit.
It's a wonderful, tried and true American formula, really. You might find yourself reminded of WWII flicks in which kids from Omaha and NYC, Kentucky and Maine, find themselves in a foreign land, ready to do battle against the faceless Krauts or Japs, and they're only going to make it if they work together as a company. Or heist movies, the kind that Ocean's 11 riffs on: the safe cracker, the charmer, the acrobat, the brain. Or Sneakers: the blind sound expert, the telephone system cracker, etc.
A Bug's Life scoffs at pure conformity yet shies away from outright revolution, even in the face of the most blatant exploitation. The bottom line of this movie is: Make do with diversity. No more, no less. The rest is mysterious confusion.