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Pixar's 'A Bug's Life'

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So, anyway, I was watching A Bug's Life last night. (No, I don't have any kids. I just like the movie. What of it?) I noticed a number of objectivist themes in the story and in some specific events. For those unfamiliar with the movie, it's essentially Seven Samurai (or The Magnificent Seven) translated into an ant colony fighting off a gang of thieving grasshoppers, who demand a portion of the ants' harvest of food each year.

The protagonist of the film, an ant named Flick, is an ant of ideas. In a society that seems to prize conformity, he is an individual. He's constantly coming up with new ideas for ways to make the ants' life easier. (At the beginning of the movie, he's invented a harvesting machine, to speed up the gathering of grain, leaving the ants more free time for other activities.) Flick is, however, somewhat accident prone and his inventions often seem to cause more problems than they solve. Throughout the film, there is the suggestion from the rest of the colony that Flick should just "fit in," that his individualism, and particularly his ideas, are dangerous.

One particular event during the opening scenes of the film occurs between the queen ant (in semi-retirement) and her daughter, the princess/queen-in-training. In explaining her attitude toward the situation with the grasshoppers the queen says, "They come, the eat, they leave. That's our lot in life. It's not a lot, but it's our life." To me this suggested a sort of "malevolent universe" premise to the ants' ways of thinking. Combined with their conformity, this attitude would leave them helpless to ever change that "lot in life."

One might think that in a movie about an ant colony, it would be easy for the thing to lean toward a collectivist theme. This film, however, is very strongly individualistic.

There are a number of other aspects to the objectist themes in this movie. Last week, watching Finding Nemo I recall noticing other objectivist themes in that movie as well. I'm now curious to go back to the other Pixar movies to see if there are any other hints of similar themes there. I think there's someone writing at Pixar who definitely has an objectivist's sense of life. Maybe Disney should take a hint.

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I don't have too much time to respond to you in detail at the moment, other than to say that I agree with you to an extent. I think that overall, Disney has gone very socialist, and while Pixar's movies have some good themes, their premises are mixed (and it's difficult to determine to what extent the good themes are intentional, or whether we're just seeing them even though the writers didn't intend them at all).

But I know David (GreedyCapitalist) will disagree with you. :blink: We had quite the discussion at OCON this year about whether Monsters, Inc. was a socialist propaganda film depicting a takeover of the factory by the proletariat, or whether it was in accordance with capitalist principles (since the factory owner was engaged in criminal activities, and since the protagonist found a more efficient method of production and was thus able to out-do the competition). Of course, it's never good for businessmen in films to be portrayed as corrupt villains, but that's so common now that it's hardly a surprise when a movie does it. And in this particular case, it's not so much about bringing down businessmen as such (notice that at the end of the movie, the protagonist has become a businessman himself).

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But I know David (GreedyCapitalist) will disagree with you. :blink:
Here is a review I wrote about A Bug's Life a while back:

I just finished watching the 1998 Disney movie “A Bug Life” and despite my hopes to the contrary, I was reminded how pervasive socialist ideology has become in absolutely everything Disney produces. I have come to expect collectivist overtones from Disney’s regular programming, but the extent to which its animated films are full of socialist indoctrination is simply disgusting. Unlike most liberal media companies, Disney produces more than the usual “multicultural” garbage but actually inserts Marxist ideology into the plot of its animated children’s movies.

“A Bugs Life” has all the elements of the topical Disney presentation of the class struggle: the proletariat, represented by the worker ants, the bourgeoisie, represented by the grasshoppers, the greedy slave-driving boss, represented by the “boss flea” in charge of the flee circus. Famous lines include [as I remember them]: “if the ants only realized that they outnumber us a hundred to one, we would be finished!” and “you’ve committed the ultimate sin: you put yourself before the colony!” If that were not enough, the flea-boss frequently explains “let’s go, there’s money to be made!” as he denies his worker’s request for a raise and proposes a routine where one the bugs is burnt to a crisp. Meanwhile, the movie makes it a point to show the ant-queen diligently joining the worker ants in their work, as she and Flik, the hero repeatedly explain “I care for the colony!” I’d like to say that Flik is at least a creative non-conformist, but the movie makes a point to show that none of his ideas are self-inspired, and all of them come to fruition only by collective effort.

Not surprisingly, the movie ends with the defeat of the overclass, as the revolutionary hero Flik inspires the ants to rise up and ensure that the ants get to keep all the “surplus” grain they collect by their collective effort. Compare this plot to “Antz,” a Dreamworks SKG release, which featured an ant who questioned his role in the ant collective and championed individualism and private ingenuity.

As a disclaimer, I admit that I get too hung up on ideology sometimes, and miss the wider sense-of-life theme a movie might have.

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Greedy Capitalist:

You make some good points, and one can probably read into this movie whatever interpretation one wants. If you're disposed to looking for socialist themes in Disney's movies, you'll find them. (For the record, I don't think Disney has any creative control over Pixar, they just distribute Pixar's movies.) Disney, of late, tends to be very "green", thematically. The last Disney (non-Pixar) movie I saw was Fantasia 2000, and it was no exception.

Getting back to A Bug's Life, I didn't view the ants and the grasshoppers as the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Rather, I viewed the ants as producers and the grasshoppers as looters (possibly a coercive government?) Making that switch changes the perspective on a number of things.

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Please don't tell me anyone here dislikes Monsters Inc., or any Pixar movie for that matter. C'mon, guys. They really didn't put a BIG grin on your face?

I can see criticizing them, in part, for their themes. Actually, I think you're misunderstanding Monsters Inc. if you accuse it of socialist themes. I can definitely understand it in Finding Nemo. But still... they were so damned GOOD. Political messages in movies are secondary, provided that they don't take over the movie; and with Pixar, they never do.

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  • 1 month later...

I agree more or less with your assessment of A Bug's Life (and more so with its ancestors The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven--less so with Three Amigos. I think that it deals with a common theme in literature: the individual versus the collective. This is not native or original with Objectivism and Ayn Rand, so it's only natural that it should be made the subject of a movie. People struggle with it all the time and history is full of examples.

Monsters, Inc. had an interesting premise that they really never fulfilled. It reminded me a lot of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Toy Story where we got a peek into a fictional world that was very intriguing. I found myself wishing they had spent more time in Toontown or had more toys to play with, but I'm the kind of guy who enjoyed Myst and SimCity so I'm probably not the normal viewer.

I also think that GreedyCapitalist is reading way too much into things (his facts aren't correct on some of the plot points and movie details, either).

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