A Bug’s Life appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Allegedly the very first “digital-to-digital” transfer, Life looked great back in 1999, and it hasn’t lost any of its magic with age. This remained a gorgeous picture of jaw-dropping dimensions.
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.
Life offered a natural and dazzling palette that came across exceedingly well on this DVD. 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. I think I can be pretty picky, but I couldn’t find a single problem during A Bug’s Life. It gave us a truly amazing visual presentation.
While not quite as strong as the picture, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of A Bug’s Life also seemed terrific. . The mix presents an excellent soundstage as well. The front three channels are especially active, with solid spatial orientation and smooth panning between speakers. The rear speakers get a nice workout, especially in many of the scenes in which bugs fly; they zip 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 also 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.
One of the earliest two-DVD releases, the 1999 A Bug’s Life included a substantial roster of supplements. Most of the extras appear on disc two, but some show up on the first platter. The key one there is 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 three and a half years; the filmmakers don’t go overboard in the happy talk department.
They did offer an amazing amount of information about the creation of the film, however. Lasseter dominated the piece, but the other two got in a lot of material as well. Virtually every facet of the production received attention here. They chatted about story and character challenges as well as the various technical domains. The commentary never slowed for a moment as they filled it with terrific details and notes. Overall, the track seemed lively and very informative, so fans should get a kick out of it.
Also included on DVD One are some isolated soundtracks. Randy Newman's score is presented in stereo and an isolated effects track is offered with 5.1 sound. For the record, you can't watch each of these with either the fullscreen or widescreen images; the score accompanies the widescreen version - as does the commentary - and the effects go with the fullscreen rendition. This appears to be because each edition resides on its own layer, so to have duplicates of the commentary and the isolated music and effects tracks would have occupied too much space.
Anyway, these two isolated sections are quite nice to have. I'm not a big fan of musical scores but I appreciate that Newman's work is presented on its own. The effects track is quite entertaining; it's very interesting to hear those sounds without any other accompaniment and it gave me a greater appreciation of all the work that sound designers have to do (plus I loved hearing PT Flea's cool "plink" noise on its own). One wish: in the future, it'd be cool for DVDs to go all the way and also include an isolated dialogue track. Hey, they're doing the other two - why not complete the set?
Lastly, DVD One features the THX Optimizer, something not found on the 1999 release. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.
Now on to the real meat of this package on DVD Two. This disc presents a fairly complete detailing of how Life was made. It's organized into four main areas: Preproduction, Production, Sound Design, and Release. Outtakes, Geri's Game, “Finding Nemo Fishy Facts” and “A Bug’s Land Game” also form their own headings. I'll discuss all of the contents under each grouping.
Throughout DVD Two, most of the different areas include introductory video comments from various filmmakers. The disc opens with a quick intro and many more pop up throughout the movie. Usually these include Lasseter and Stanton; sometimes others join them and sometimes they aren't involved at all. These introductions do a nice job of informing the viewer what they're about to see and help define portions of the production process. I could have lived without the odd self-consciously shaky camerawork, but I liked these intros quite a lot; they conveyed necessary information in a fun way that usually would be covered by stiff text pages. I don't want to have to comment every time an introduction appears, so suffice it to say there are a lot of them here; not every subsection has one, but most do, and they all work the same way, although the subjects and participants vary.
Preproduction is the most extensive section and it covers all of the work that occurred prior to formal "filming." Of course, on an animated film, the two areas are less well-defined than on a traditional movie - since no actually shooting on sets takes place - but this area essentially covers the issues that needed to be resolved before any kind of theoretical filming could have occurred.
The first section of the Pre-production subheading covers "story/editorial" areas, and it starts with Fleabie. This is 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 and fun nonetheless and serves as a cool historical token.
The pre-production segment continues in the “Story and Editorial” domain with the film's original treatment from July 1995. This piece combines a text storyline with color drawings to convey the film's original plot and characters. It's very interesting to see how the movie changed and how it stayed the same; much of it is similar, though some characters are altered or nonexistent and the structure is different.
Next comes the storyboard pitch. This section 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, 35-second clip. Most of the time I don't much care for these, but for some reason I found this one compelling; 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 works awfully well, too, so I won't second-guess them.
That ends the “Story and Editorial” domain. The next subsection of the Pre-production area covers research for the film. It only includes one five-minute and 24-second piece, but it's a good one. The filmmakers used 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 section.
The final subsection of the Pre-production header covers design, and it's a doozy. This area consists almost entirely of still frames, and there are about 570 screens worth of information! (Yes, I said "570" - that's not a typo.) My thumb hurts from all the advancing!
The main design section covers the characters themselves. Subheadings address "the ant colony," "grasshopper gang," "circus," and "miscellaneous." The number of drawings per character ranges from a lot of six (for both Molt and the Ant Council) to a high of 42 (for both Hopper and Flik). All in all, the character drawings take up about 350 of the frames. There's also a "model turnaround" for Hopper; this presents a computer maquette of the character, and the camera revolves around it to show it from all angles.
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 entertaining 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 95 of its 140 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 quite compelling nonetheless.
Finally, the design section concludes with some "concept art" and some "color scripts." The former area offers 36 drawings that were used to conceptualize various aspects of the film, whereas the latter covers 54 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. Each of the 54 screens contains about four or five of these strips.
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. Every Disney LD box set included a Making of... documentary, all of which lasted about half an hour. That's what I expected here; instead, we get a three-minute, 29-second puff piece. Admittedly, it does cover all the main aspects of production, but it does so incredibly tersely. It's worth a look but not great.
Another featurette addresses voice casting. This four-minute, 14-second video is also fairly brief and glib, though it's more interesting simply because it sticks to 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 section called early tests. This five-minute, 27-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 and neat.
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 story reel, 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 you can easily flip from stage to stage by using the "angle" button on your remote. Cool!
That completes Production. Next we move to Sound Design, which includes just one piece: 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").
The next section, Release, covers publicity issues in regard to the film. Unlike the original DVD, the 2003 version splits into two areas: “Theatrical Release” and “Video Release”. The former replicates materials from the old disc. We see 16 still frame screens of posters and ad campaigns from the US and elsewhere, plus we 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.
The Release area provides one other fun piece: character interviews. This 95-second video was to be used for international promotion and 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 reprise their roles as Flik and Heimlich, I'm not so sure that Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary do the voices of Hopper and Francis for this piece. Hopper sounds pretty accurate, though a few spots make me wonder, but Francis does not sound at all like Leary to me. I won't declare that it definitely isn't him - I don't want to be embarrassed if it is - but I don't think it is.
Also in the Release domain, we find an addition to the 2003 DVD. “Video Release” divides into two sections. The fullframe version of Life doesn’t just pan and scan the original 2.35:1 image; it actually reworks much of the digital animation to better fit the 1.33:1 screen. The Reframing Featurette covers the process used to create the fullscreen version. It lasts four minutes, 27 seconds and includes comments from Lasseter, Unkrich, Walt Disney Feature Animation president Thomas Schumacher, and editorial supervisor Bill Kinder. It discusses the methods used to reframe the movie, and it also talks about the digital-to-digital transfer. Some decent details appear, but mostly the featurette seems like a fluffy attempt to convince us that the fullscreen version’s just as good as the widescreen one. (I don’t think it is.)
Next we get five minute and 14 seconds of Reframing Examples. If offers exactly what you’d expect, as we see the widescreen image on the left side of the frame and the fullscreen one on the right. It gives us a nice way to compare the two versions.
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.
One nice thing about this DVD is that we get to see the outtakes fullframe without credits running over them. On the original DVD, we could watch them fullframe but the text intruded, or we could observe them in the widescreen version, but that one really makes them small; the frame of the outtakes only takes up about one-sixth of the TV screen. While the original set of bloopers still accompanies either version of the film, we can see both of them fullframe here without any intrusive text. Great!
We also get a three-minute and 48-second End Credit Outtakes Featurette . This addresses why they did them and offers some shots of the actors. As usual, it's too short, but it's a neat little addition.
Finally, the DVD includes the four-minute and 57-second Geri's Game short that preceded the theatrical presentation of the film. "Geri's Game" is shown in its original aspect ratio of about 1.66:1. 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. Nonetheless, it's a nice addition to the DVD. For the record, the only extras included on the original Life DVD were both sets of outtakes and "Geri's Game."
A sticker on this DVD’s slipcase touts the inclusion of Finding Nemo Fishy Facts, one of the other new additions to this set. If anyone buys this package because they’re dying for the inside scoop on Pixar’s newest flick, they’ll leave disappointed. The 76-second piece shows clips from the movie and tells us some basic details about sharks. It’s a glorified trailer and nothing more.
The final addition to this set not found on the 1999 2-DVD release, we end with the A Bug’s Land Game. It splits into two separate contests. One requires you to match basic shapes so Heimlich can eat watermelon, while the other tosses fairly simple trivia questions about the movie at you to let you find Francis. It may be a cute diversion for little ones, but it’s nothing more than that.
One of my favorite Disney films, A Bug’s Life continues to delight and entertain almost five years after it first arrived. It’s cute and charming and consistently inventive. The DVD provides absolutely amazing picture quality with excellent sound and an extensive roster of extras. The latter seem less impressive now than they did in 1999, but they still offer a solid look at the movie. While there’s no reason for owners of the original Collector’s Edition to purchase this one instead, it’s definitely recommended for anyone who doesn’t have the prior two-disc version.