This is the second of a 23-part series in which we take a look at each Pixar movie and their lessons.
It’s as fitting a word that I can think of when thinking of A Bug’s Life – Pixar’s second feature film.
Its top protagonists are the little people of the animal kingdom, always around us, but rarely noticed. Ants!
The film itself isn’t always mentioned in the same breath as other Pixar classics like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Wall-E and others. Maybe because it was released a few short months after similar animated fare, Dreamworks’ Antz.
Perhaps you might feel the same way?
Small Flik, Big Lessons
A Bug’s Life follows Flik (Dave Foley), an ant with a knack for seeing inventiveness and possible solutions in the seemingly ordinary things around him. His imagination sets him apart from his peers. “Pretend this rock is a seed,” he tells young Dot (Hayden Pantierre), who returns a puzzled look, as it is clearly just a rock.
Because this is the animal kingdom, there is a natural order of things, a hierarchy. The ants are under the thumb of the grasshoppers, led by Hopper (Kevin Spacey), who menacingly reminds them that if they fail to provide an annual “offering” of food … well, bad things. Death? This is a kid’s movie, so they don’t say. Awww, who are we kidding? Yeah, CERTAIN DOOM.
Needless to say, this is a source of great stress to The Queen (Phyllis Diller) and Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), who is also saddled with the weight of taking on the mantle of future leadership.
The stress is multiplied ten-fold when a well meaning Flik falls out of line and accidentally destroys the offering, with his own harvesting gizmo at that! And so he volunteers for a quest to find “insect warriors” to help the colony the colony rise up against its oppressors. He enlists the help of a down-on-their-luck flea circus, led by… yes, an actual flea (Pixar superstar John Ratzenberger). What did you expect?
Zeroes to Heroes
We have …. *deep breath* …. Manny the praying mantis (Jonathan Harris, who played Mr. Smith in TV’s Lost in Space), Gypsy the butterfly (Madleyn Kahn), Rosie the black widow (No, not Scarlett Johansson! Bonnie Hunt), a most decidedly unladylike ladybug named Francis (Denis Leary in a scene stealing role and I’m not gonna lie, it felt most un-PC in this 21st century climate), Slim the Walking Stick (David Hyde Pierce), a caterpillar with a German accent named Heimlich, Dim the Rhino Beatle (Brad Garrett) and a pair of pill bugs (Michael McShane).
These characters are every bit as colorful as the diminutive world they inhabit, where a rain drop can be a deadly projectile, a berry can serve as an entire meal, and a fallen stick can potentially disrupt an entire workday.
But whereas Flik sees them as saviors and liberators, the circus troupe believes him to be a talent scout. OOPS.
So how does A Bug’s Life fare as Pixar’s sophomore effort? Spectacularly. It not only proved that the studio was far from a on hit wonder, but established it as a force for decades to come.
The visuals are more dazzling than Toy Story, which is no slouch, itself. The script is smart and filled with clever wordplay (Fly: “Waiter, I’m in my soup!”), and it is a fast moving, energetic adventure. In the end, it provides us with lessons in the values of individualism and finding your place in community alike, the strength in numbers mentality, and taking ownership of our mistakes. It can even be seen as an allegory on colonialism.
Just be sure to stick around during the closing credits for the outtakes and bloopers. No, really.
No One is a ‘Just a’
Flik feels overlooked. Lost in a world where conformity is the norm, amidst seemingly mindless drones. Efforts to set himself apart, leaning into his passions for invention and resourcefulness, lead only to disaster. Perhaps he should have just fallen in line?
He’s “just an ant.” Small, meaningless. Even the leadership has come to believe it. “You’ve got a lot of spunk, kid. But nobody is going to help a bunch of ants,” said the Queen.
Have you ever felt that way? Like a “just a”?
Just a kid. Just someone with a high school degree. Just a single person living with six cats. Just a movie critic/mental health writer with a low traffic blog?
Here’s the thing… we most often overlook ourselves. Understanding our strengths is critical for growth, self improvement, and our self esteem.
Here are three ways to do that.
Leadership. Everyone has it. Some styles just go under the radar more than others. The Leadership Legacy Assessment can be helpful in determining where you fall in that. Designed by Robert Galford and Regina Maruco, it is a free online test that is made up of 30 questions, presented in five point scales. When all is said and done, you are presented with scores in six leadership styles. These are:
- Ambassadors – skilled at instinctively handling a variety of situations
- Advocates – Those who champion ideas and persuade others using logic
- People Movers – Motivators who recognize and nurture the potential in others
- Truth-seekers – Level-headed and process oriented people, with unquestioned competence I their field.
- Creative Builders – Dedicated to implementing new ideas and equally energized by them.
- Experienced Guides – Skilled in empathy, and helping others through problems by drawing on past experiences.
Up high! Down low! Side to side!
The High 5 Test is a free online assessment, designed around the principles of positive psychology and understanding your core strengths to help you appreciate yourself better. It assesses 20 strengths across four domains. It is made up of 100 questions, or rather, statements about yourself to agree or disagree with using a slider, but should only take about 15 minutes.
The presented results are your top five strengths. I got empathizer, optimist, coach, peace keeper and storyteller. Accurate!
A LITTLE Help From My Friends
Get a load out of this exchange that shook up Flik’s worldview as he lamented these feelings of inadequacy to his friends:
Flik: Forget everything I told you, okay, Dot? I just make things worse. That bird [plan] is a guaranteed failure. (sighs)... Just like me. Manny: You listen to me, boy, I've made a living out of being a failure and you, sir, are not a failure. Flik: I just want to make a difference. Rosie: Flik, you've done so many good things. Flik: Oh yeah? Show me one thing I've done right. Dim: US! Manny: Dim is right, my boy. You have rekindled the long dormant embers of purpose in our lives.
It’s so easy to get so inward focused that we forget to look out and miss the big picture. Flik broke out of his destructive cycle when saw himself through the lens of others. Can’t we do the same?
Friends and colleagues can often offer up valuable perspectives on ourselves and fill in those blind spots.
Ask them: What do I do better than others? How do you describe my strengths? What values do you recognize that are unique to me?
You may find that, like Flik, you have forged a connection that has yielded positive results in others without even knowing it. Things that don’t become apparent until years later!
You know, like planting a seed.
Where to Watch
A Bug’s Life is currently streaming on Disney+.
Check out these other films in our Pixar series: Part One – Toy Story
What do you think? What ways have you used to discover your strengths? Share in the comments below!
A Bug’s Life (1998)
Director: John Lasseter
Screenwriters: Bob Shaw, Donald McEnery, Andrew Stanton
Cast: Phyllis Diller, David Hyde Pierce, Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Roddy McDowall, Hayden Pantierre
Scott is a movie lover who brings over 20 years experience in mental health, journalism and vocational ministry. He has a Masters of Divinity degree, which is not nearly as amazing sounding as Masters of the Universe, but it is what it is. It is here at Movies That Move Us where his powers combine! It is not uncommon to find him pretending to open automatic doors using The Force.