A Bug's Life Revisited

(Infinity and Beyond is a bi-weekly series in which Josh Spiegel looks back at the history and making of every feature in Pixar’s filmography. In today’s column, he takes a look at the 1998 film A Bug’s Life.)

As the story goes, documented in the David Price book The Pixar Touch (and mentioned in an early teaser for the 2008 sci-fi film WALL-E), a year or so before the release of Toy Story, there was a lunch. A number of the creatives involved in the making of the first fully computer-animated feature — John Lasseter, Pete Docter, Joe Ranft, and Andrew Stanton, among others — got together to figure out what they would do if the best-case scenario occurred. What if Toy Story became a hit? What would they do next?

A number of important ideas — including that of WALL-E, but we have a long way to go before we get to that story — were pitched during that lunch. One that held a certain appeal was a story all about a colony of ants. The lead would be a nerdy type whose unorthodox manner put him at odds with the rest of his colony, even though he would manage to woo and romance the ant princess and eventually live happily ever after. The idea got the green-light and Pixar proceeded as planned.

But the studio, when they released A Bug’s Life in November of 1998, would seem as if they were a month late with this concept. Because to the untrained eye, it sure looked like another computer-animated film, and another animation studio, beat them to the punch. 

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Space Mountain at 45

There are two dominant structures in the Disney theme parks, whether you’re in Florida, Tokyo, or Paris: castles and mountains. Each castle has its own story, and the same is true of each mountain. The Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland is smaller than that of the Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World — depending on how much size matters to you, that might make the original castle more or less impressive than the one in Orlando. But the castles at the Disney parks are largely visual icons. You can enjoy the novelty of, in Florida, eating inside a castle, but there’s no ride experience. The castles exist primarily as impressive landmarks. 

The mountains are different. Just as actual mountains are challenges to climb up or down, the Disney mountains are exhilarating experiences intended as thrill rides. Though it wasn’t the first, Space Mountain is one of the most foundational and important to the overall modern experience at the Disney theme parks.

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The Lord of the Rings filming location

In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Is Universal Orlando building a Lord of the Rings land?
  • Disney’s scaled back on its bus service for select resort hotels.
  • Build-a-Bear moves to Knott’s Berry Farm.
  • And more!

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Illuminations Reflections of Earth Epcot

In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • runDisney has unveiled an exclusive new club.
  • Prepare for Disney Villains After Hours with some special cuisine.
  • And more!

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Pixar Pier concept art

In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Six Flags Magic Mountain unveils a snazzy new coaster.
  • DCA is celebrating Lunar New Year.
  • And more!

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(Welcome to Out of the Disney Vault, where we explore the unsung gems and forgotten disasters currently streaming on Disney+.)

In its first couple of months, the Disney+ streaming service has offered its millions of subscribers a wealth of viewing options. If you like Star Wars, check out The Mandalorian or the many earlier films in the franchise. Marvel’s your speed? Good, have at the various MCU movies available to stream. And so on. But if you scroll through the hundreds of options in the Movies area, there are two titles that stick out like sore thumbs. One, a TV episode titled “The Plausible Impossible”, is something this column highlighted last month. 

The other is an hourlong installment from the same show that, depending on your viewpoint, functions as a home movie and time capsule.

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In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Disney announces an opening date for its Marvel land in DCA.
  • The M&M Store is coming to Orlando.
  • And more!

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Star Wars Bits: Gina Carano Talks ‘The Mandalorian,’ John Boyega Eats Spicy Wings, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance Opens, Fans Give Back, and More!

In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • There’s a special margarita at Epcot from a famous source.
  • Disneyland’s planning its queue strategy for Rise of the Resistance.
  • And more!

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Sam Mendes and Christopher Nolan

If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then there are a select few living filmmakers whose ears must burn on a regular basis. The frequency of imitation arguably heightens which directors truly are considered among the greatest, or at least the most influential, ever — not many directors would copy someone whose work isn’t up to par. One of the most remarkable cases of imitation comes courtesy of a director who, 20 years ago, burst onto the scene with a debut film that felt defiant and daring creatively. When he directed American Beauty, Sam Mendes felt like a fresh new voice in English-language cinema. Yet now, Mendes cannot help but make films that are heavily indebted to Christopher Nolan. Read More »

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Toy Story revisited

(Infinity and Beyond is a bi-weekly series in which Josh Spiegel looks back at the history and making of every feature film in Pixar’s filmography. In today’s inaugural edition, he kicks off the column with the movie that started it all: 1995’s Toy Story.)

There are only a handful of films released in the first century of cinema that can be categorized as truly influential to more than just a few young would-be filmmakers and/or critics. Films such as Birth of a Nation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Citizen Kane are valuable cinematic items not because of their quality (though the latter two are quite incredible), but because they paved a path for the future of their respective mediums. The films we love now literally could not exist without these titles paving the path for the future.

One film that can be safely deemed influential for representing a sea change in the art of animation and the craft of cinema is the 1995 adventure comedy Toy Story. And Pixar Animation Studios, the group that produced and animated the film in the San Francisco area, is now one of the most powerful and dominant forces in all of Hollywood. For a lengthy time, its creative leader wasn’t just overseeing Pixar, but also Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering. Though John Lasseter departed the company in acrimony in 2018, Pixar’s overall legacy is unblemished. 

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of Toy Story, and thus the quarter-century anniversary of computer animation being seen as a viable, and now essentially required, way to make animated features for the whole family. Just as I explored the films of the Disney Renaissance at /Film in 2019, I’m fortunate enough to be doing the same for the entire filmography of Pixar Animation Studios this year with Infinity and Beyond, culminating with discussions of the company’s one-two punch in 2020 of Onward and Soul. For now, though, let’s start with the humble beginnings of a studio that fought to prove the value of computer animation before becoming its standard bearer. Read More »