Jerry Seinfeld built up a seemingly bottomless reservoir of goodwill as the star and central creative force behind one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time. Then came the publicity push for his new animated vehicle Bee Movie, which qualifies as the Dresden firebombing of animated-movie ad blitzes. Unlike the Dresden bombing, the Bee multimedia assault—which somehow managed to finagle its plugs into commercials pimping other products, including 30 Rock—left no one dead, but millions irritated. Instead of building up anticipation for a revered icon returning to the limelight, the assaultive, ubiquitous ad campaign has built up a huge level of resentment, even among Seinfeld fans.
Does Bee survive the hype? Not quite, but it is semi-charming and reasonably clever in that facile Dreamworks Animation kind of way. Co-screenwriter Seinfeld lends his voice and genial shtick to the role of an ambitious young bee who rebels against an oppressive hive mentality by befriending a pretty young florist voiced by Renée Zellweger. Emboldened by his friendship with a human, Seinfeld's litigious, wryly observational insect sues Big Honey for cravenly exploiting the labor of his fellow bees without sharing the profits. His actions have unforeseen consequences that affect humans and bees in potentially apocalyptic ways.
Amusing but slight, Bee feels like a killer 15-minute short stretched into a pretty good feature-length movie. Seinfeld and his fellow joke-slingers write themselves into such a corner story-wise that much of the film's third act is devoted to a grindingly unnecessary action sequence that does little but pad the film's running time. Yet the darkness endemic to so much of Seinfeld manifests in some satisfying, unexpected twists, from a loopy dream sequence that ends tragically to a bizarre, self-deprecating voice cameo from Ray Liotta as the angry, mercurial man behind Ray Liotta Private Select Honey. Seinfeld leads a stellar voice cast filled out with ringers like Patrick Warburton as a sputtering font of unprovoked rage and Chris Rock as a sassy, street-smart mosquito seemingly destined to end up in a "montage of shame" in Bamboozled 2. It's good to have Seinfeld back, even in this watered-down form. Now he and the obnoxious ad blitz he rode in on can officially go away.