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Jerry rigged Animated 'Bee' shares sweet observations in 'Seinfeld' style

"Seinfeld" really was a wonderfully bitter, snarky show, wasn't it? The sitcom had the guts to kill a main character with toxic wedding envelopes, it allowed its hero to rob an old woman of a marble rye, and it faded to black with its central foursome imprisoned.

But as more time passes, it has become clear that "Seinfeld's" dark heart came not from Jerry Seinfeld. No, it was co-creator Larry David who truly knew how to ratchet up the gleeful smirk that made the show great. (See HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" for the evidence.)

That's why it's not all that surprising that for his first big-screen foray, Seinfeld would opt for an animated children's tale: "Bee Movie," an enjoyably colorful, smart, funny treat for kids and adults.

Seinfeld is now a married father, but it would be awkward watching our Jerry attempt to portray a Ray Romano-type family man, or, a "Seinfeld"-esque serial dater (he is getting a bit paunchy, after all).

No, this is just right: Seinfeld as a Seinfeld-y bee. He plays Barry B. Benson, a recent college graduate who is a bit apprehensive about his new life at the honey factory.

One day, Barry joins the hive's "pollen jockeys" on a trip to the big world outside, and he's hooked, especially by a friendly human, Vanessa, voiced by a surprisingly endearing Renee Zellweger.

She and Barry develop a close rapport, and this leads to "Bee Movie's" central conceit: a lawsuit against the human race for honey theft.

If it all sounds a little too involved and plot-heavy, that's because it is. As the plot grew zanier and more far-fetched (I know we're working with the premise that bees can talk, but come on! We need boundaries!), I wondered if the kids in the audience would start to zone out.

But, and this is high praise for a film geared toward young audiences, the children stayed into it. My nephew giggled uproariously and uttered his love of the film throughout.

It's fun to ID the gratuitous celeb voice cameos, too; Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and Sting are just a few. A few ex-"Seinfeld" cast members are part of the cast, including Patrick Warburton and Larry Miller. And actor Ray Liotta is featured in a priceless gag.

Best of all, Chris Rock -- who, disappointingly, is only in the film for about five minutes -- plays a mosquito that sounds just like Chris Rock.

Adults will be happy that the film features Seinfeld's Jerry-typical observations on bee life, and human honey use ("They're putting it in lip balm for no reason whatsoever!"). This, coupled with the wonderful, gloriously bright animation, makes it easy, enjoyable viewing for parents.

So "Bee" buzzes way short of classic Pixar, but it certainly flies by the increasingly gross "Shrek" films -- it's refreshing to see a kids film that alludes to "The Graduate" instead of, say, something involving gas -- and it matches up well with Dreamworks' earlier buggy hit, "Antz."

Wisely, Seinfeld felt it was time to make something his children would enjoy. This is a standard celebrity compulsion, and it has led to some real drivel. But "Bee Movie" is an exception, an ideal family film that has just enough Jerry to make mom and dad as content as the little ones. Don't expect an animated episode of "Seinfeld," but don't curb your enthusiasm too much, either.

***

BEE MOVIE

3 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Jerry Seinfeld, Renee Zellweger, Matthew Broderick and Chris Rock

DIRECTOR: Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

RATING: PG for mild suggestive humor.

THE LOWDOWN: A bee journeys outside the hive and befriends a human.

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