Who knew that bees were Jewish? The hero of the animated "Bee Movie," produced and co-written by Jerry Seinfeld, is named Barry. B. Benson, but one suspects it was probably changed from Bernstein. His kvetchy parents, Janet and Martin (Kathy Bates and Barry Levinson) would be horrified if he married a wasp. They want this college grad to follow in their dad's footsteps and work as a "stirrer" for Honex, where all the bees in New Hive City have worked for millions of years, without a single day's vacation. But the diminutive Barry has bigger dreams: he'd like to be one of the macho "pollen jocks" who get to spread their wings and go out into the big wide world pollinating plants. To make a not very long story short, Barry gets into a load of trouble when he hits New York City on a mission with the pollen boys. He discovers, to his horror, that humans are exploiting bees for their honey in cruel bee farms, and he decides to sue the human race in court. Bees, it turns out, can talk to humans, though it's strictly forbidden. Barry breaks this ancient rule to thank a cute Manhattan florist (Renee Zellweger) for saving his life, and the two have many pleasant tête-à-têtes on the balcony of her midtown apartment. Talk about an odd couple!
I'm not sure what kids are going to make of "Bee Movie." The shiny, vivid computer-animated images pop off the screen with the vibrancy of the Pixar movies, but the understated, throwaway humor is pure Seinfeld: adult, observational, feasting on the small ironies of human (make that "beeish") behavior. There's slapstick to be sure—a clever sequence where Barry mistakes a tennis ball for a flower and gets whacked around good—but the laughs in "Bee Movie" are not of the knee-slapping kind, and they don't try to be.
Seinfeld wrote the script with Spike Feresten, Barry Marder and Andy Robin. The one-liners are often swell, but the plot is nothing to write home about. Barry actually wins his case against the human race (I don't consider this a spoiler), but the consequences have dire repercussions for the planet. Who expected—or wanted—an eco-fable from Jerry Seinfeld? It doesn't even make sense on its own cartoon terms why Honex shuts down—these bees weren't been exploited by humans, so why do they stop working? But then what do I know about bees' motivations?
What I like about "Bee Movie" is its comfy, off-the-cuff charm: unlike a lot of animated family entertainment, it's not all Thwack Smash Kaboom. If there's little here to make you kvell, there's plenty to make you smile—Chris Rock's funky, scene-stealing mosquito Mooseblood; Larry King ("How old is that guy?") sportingly sending himself up as his yellow and black doppelganger, and of course Barry B. Benson's affable, oh-so-human stand-up style. Somebody should give this insect a TV show.