Nov 16,2007 00:00
Hello, Jerry. That greeting can only be for "Bee Movie" king bee Jerry Seinfeld, yada, yada, yada.
And the fans remind him of favorite episodes like "The Close Talker," "The Bad Breaker-upper," "Man Hands," "Shrinkage," "The Junior Mint," Elaine dancing, "Muffin Tops," "The Soup Nazi," "Double-dipped Chips," "The Low Talker."
Then there are the phrases lingering in the lexicon: "Hello Jerry, Hello Newman," "master of his domain," "we're not gay, not that there's anything wrong with that." And there's nothing wrong with schmoozing about the TV show with the fabulously wealthy comedian (he garnered $200 million in the deal for syndication rights).
In 2005 at the Las Vegas Comedy Festival, Seinfeld received an achievement award and was introduced by CNN anchor Anderson Cooper as someone "who redefined comedy on television and made so much money he could buy a small African nation."
Seinfeld has been omnipresent pitching his new animated film, the charming and brightly conceived "Bee Movie." The TV show, though, lurks in his mind like a chocolate babka. "I remember every single minute of it," he said. "It was my whole life. I was breathing it. I lived at the show."
Over and over, he's asked how a TV program apparently about nothing ("it's the exact opposite, the show was about something") so captivated people. He responds with an answer borrowed from the late Jackie Gleason on the appeal of "The Honeymooners," another classic sitcom: "It's fun to watch."
Though not in the magical sphere of a "Finding Nemo" or "Ratatouille," "Bee Movie" is fun to watch. A recent preview at Hollywood Boulevard's Grauman's Chinese Theatre drew a panoply of adults and kids, and there were big laughs.
Seinfeld's Barry B. Benson (he wears sneakers, his antennae double as a cell phone) is a honeybee yearning to do something more with his life than be just another worker in the hive. So, he ventures out for his first view of the open-air world with a squadron of buff "pollen jockeys."
Directors Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner fashion an entire metropolis inside the hive - factory, suburbs, highways, condos - and New York City outside. Barry's foray into the Big Apple of blooming fall colors and Central Park's bountiful gardens is a roller coaster of stomach-in-the-throat dips and turns.
Flying about, he ends up in the apartment of Vanessa, a florist voiced by Rene Zellweger. Right off, he breaks Bee Law No. 1: Don't talk to humans. An inter-species friendship blooms. Humans, he tells her, have plundered the work of bees and profited from honey production. Says one villainous beekeeper, "They make the honey and we make the money." Litigation ensues, bees suing humans for years of exploitation. "When I'm done with the human race," says Barry, "they won't be able to say, 'Honey, I'm home' without paying a royalty."
At the preview, youngsters responded to John Goodman as an enormous, blustery Southern lawyer defending the human species. Adults giggled when a female reporter on the courthouse steps checked out Seinfeld's fuzzy Barry: "Who are you wearing?" It took DreamWorks big shots Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg to convince control freak Seinfeld on an animated project that would be four years in the making and cost the studio in the vicinity of $100 million.
There have been stupefying offers for another TV project, including a "Seinfeld" reunion. On that, he said, "There's the beauty of being me. They can't buy me." Instead, the lanky 53-year-old performer retreated back to his stand-up roots (the transition is chronicled in the fine documentary "Comedian"). "There was no better experience than 'Seinfeld,'" he said. "I wouldn't want to do something second-rate, which would have been inevitable."
Seinfeld made sure "Bee Movie" wouldn't be second-rate, though it could've used a few less puns (headline in the hive newspaper: "Bees to humans - buzz off"). Besides starring, he co-produced, co-wrote the screenplay and even performed a tune with Matthew Broderick (who plays his bee pal, Adam) over the closing credits.
Seinfeld blessed each frame of the picture's state-of-the-art animation (blasts of color and thrill-ride adventures), a script that doesn't talk down to kids and the casting of Broderick ("a great friend"), Zellweger, longtime buddy Chris Rock, Goodman, Patrick Warburton (a refugee from the TV show) and Oprah Winfrey (voicing the judge).
In the movie, Rock, a superb comic, gets a chance to riff on the difficulty of male mosquitos' attracting female mosquitos who are "trying to trade up." Seems they're more desirous of dragonflies and moths. For it to really rock, "Bee Movie" could've used more of Chris Rock, perhaps exchanging parts with a rather anemic Broderick.
To help him craft the picture, Seinfeld brought in "writing buddies" from the old TV show, including Spike Feresten, author of the famous "Soup Nazi" episode, who now has his own talk show at midnight Saturdays on Fox, and Andy Robin, who wrote "The Junior Mint." "I hadn't written a movie before," said Seinfeld. "I didn't want to do it alone."
These days, Seinfeld doesn't respect much of what he sees on TV (he likes Rock's underrated "Everybody Hates Chris" and former "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David's caustic "Curb Your Enthusiasm").
"TV is in the doldrums," he said. "I think it's the Internet. People just don't sit in front of the tube anymore. They don't have the patience."
In a relaxed moment, Seinfeld listens to something Carlos Mencia, the pungent contemporary comedian, told a reporter a while back when asked whether his scatological material on race and sex is too much for some people: "I want to make you laugh, and if you live in my world, we'll get through. But if you live in Neverland, you won't get it. Go see Jerry Seinfeld. 'Ever wonder why there's always one missing sock in the dryer?' I don't want these people. Go see somebody else."
"That's good comedy anger," said Seinfeld, his temper in check. Seinfeld was pleased that both kids and adults enjoyed "Bee Movie" at the preview. "With all due respect to Carlos Mencia," he said, "we want all those people."