A Bug's (New) Life

Voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Denis Leary, Phyllis Diller, Hayden Panettiere, Madeline Kahn. Directed by John Lasseter. Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 (anamorphic), 1.33:1 (full-frame). Dolby Digital 5.1. 95 minutes (film), 202 minutes (films and extras). 1998. Walt Disney Home Video 17989. G. $49.99.

We reviewed the standard edition of A Bug's Life, the endlessly inventive computer-animated feature from Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures, in our July/August 1999 issue. That release contained a conventional letterbox version of the film, a re-formatted 4:3 version in which characters were actually repositioned to avoid the worst offenses of panning&scanning, the animated short Geri's Game, the "outtakes," and that was about it. But no matter. The movie itself is such a delight that we, like thousands of other DVD and movie enthusiasts, snatched it up right away.

So why should you consider this special edition? Because it truly is special, with more extras than we can possibly enumerate. Key among them: a detailed behind-the-scenes analysis of how the film was made, extensive discussions by the filmmakers (including a commentary track), trailers, a look at how the widescreen version was re-composited for 4:3, and much, much more. All of the material present on the original DVD is duplicated here as well.

But for those with widescreen sets, the single most compelling reason to buy this version of the film is not those yummy extras, but something else. Discounting Miramax's Shakespeare in Love, this is the first film from Disney, or any of Disney's branch "studios" that use Buena Vista as a distribution arm, to include an anamorphic (enhanced for widescreen) transfer.

Granted, the original DVD was a visual treat—it was transferred directly from the original computer files, without passing through an intermediate film step. The same is true of this one. But this version, displayed on a good widescreen display, is significantly more detailed. You notice this first in the textures—in the backgrounds and in the "skin" details of the various characters. The images, with their greater resolution and enhanced sense of depth, pop out at you in a way that those on the original, for all its good qualities, do not. Simply stated, the original is very good; this anamorphic version is one of the best DVDs of the year.

That quality carries over to the sound, as well. My initial impression of this new release was that the sound was smoother and slightly sweeter-sounding than the good but marginally edgy original transfer. Though on direct comparisons the differences were more subtle than I first thought, they were nonetheless audible—and worthwhile.

If you're a fan, you'll want this special edition. If you haven't seen A Bug's Life . . . what are you waiting for?