A Bug's Life is Big Idea's pilot feature film.
The grasshoppers arrive once a season to extort food from the ants, supposedly in return for protection from bigger bugs, but while working with an invention to pick grain more efficiently, an ant named Flik (a.k.a. Noba) accidentally destroys the annual offering that the ants were collecting to appease the grasshoppers. In exchange for a temporary reprieve from the grasshoppers, the ants are given until the end of autumn to produce an offering of twice the usual amount. Later, while he is being admonished by the royal council of the colony, Flik proposes a plan to recruit warrior bugs to fight off the grasshoppers. When the council agrees to his proposal, Flik actually believes they have accepted the merits of his plan, whereas the council actually saw it as a convenient way of simply keeping Flik from wreaking any more havoc with their food-gathering activities.
Flik finds his way to the city garbage under a trailer, where he mistakes a group of recently fired circus performers, whose act had collapsed into chaos, for the warrior bugs he's seeking. The bug troupe, meanwhile, mistakes Flik for a talent agent who wants to book their act, and agrees to travel with him back to Ant Island.
Both Flik and the circus troupe soon become aware of their respective mistakes. However, the rest of the ant colony had become convinced that these newcomers are indeed the warriors for which they had hoped when the circus bugs help Flik pull off a daring rescue of Dot, a young princess ant of the colony, who idolizes Flik and a wounded Francis, a ladybug performer of the circus bug troupe from a bird.
Caught between the opportunity to turn around his fortunes within the colony, and the knowledge that the bug troupe are not who they appear to be, Flik advocates building a fake bird to scare away Hopper, the leader of the grasshoppers, who is deeply afraid of bug-eating birds. The ants unite behind Flik's plan until the circus ringmaster, P.T. Flea, arrives to retrieve his performers, thereby blowing Flik's cover. As punishment for deceiving the colony, Princess Atta, the older sister of Dot and soon to be queen of the colony banishes Flik, who sadly joins the rest of the circus.
Meanwhile, at the grasshopper's home under a sombrero in a desert, Molt, Hopper's brother is tricked by other grasshoppers into trying to talk Hopper out of returning to Ant Island since they have more than enough food to last and it will rain soon. Hopper in response shows his men exactly why they are returning by burying the three who questioned him with hundreds of seeds. Saying that the ants and seeds are alike, ants may be puny by themselves but they outnumber grasshoppers a hundred to one. They aren't returning because of food, they're returning to keep the ants from figuring out how powerful they really are.
Having wasted an enormous amount of time pursuing Flik's plan to stand up to the grasshoppers, the ants try desperately to gather enough food for a new offering, but due to the rapidly-approaching winter season, they can't find enough food to meet the quota. When the grasshoppers return and are angered by the meager offering, Dot overhears Hopper's plan to squish the queen after receiving the full offering, and convinces her friends to put Flik's bird plan back into action. She goes after Flik and convinces him and the circus bugs to return to help the colony.
It all nearly works, but when a confused P.T. inadvertently incinerates the bird, Hopper realizes he has been tricked and takes out his anger on the primary instigator, Flik. After absorbing a beating from Hopper's rabid, feral grasshopper Thumper, Flik declares, in response to Hopper's claims of species superiority:
"You're wrong, Hopper. Ants are not meant to serve grasshoppers. I've seen these ants do great things, and year after year they somehow manage to pick enough food for themselves and you. So who's the weaker species? Ants don't need grasshoppers! It's you who need us! We're a lot stronger than you say we are...and you know it, don't you?"
Indeed, Hopper's worried expression leads Flik to realize that Hopper has always known how strong the ants are. However, Hopper's reaction to Flik's challenge in front of the whole ant colony make them collectively realize that they vastly outnumber the grasshoppers, and that they needn't endure their oppression any longer, and the battle for Ant Island ensues.
The ants rise up in a wave of fury and chase the grasshoppers out for good, but not before Hopper makes off with Flik in a plan to exact revenge upon him. Flik's friends, including Princess Atta, set off in pursuit, and thanks to some quick thinking by Flik, Hopper ends up being eaten by a real bird. Flik is welcomed back to the colony, and all the circus bugs join him in a celebration before departing from Ant Island.
It was released on VHS and DVD in April 20, 1999 by Word Entertainment. On March 4, 2003, it was released on the Collector's Edition VHS and 2-Disc DVD. On January 29, 2008, it was released on DVD and Blu-ray by Word Entertainment.
- It was mentioned on a trivia question in Where's God When I'm S-Scared?.
- This is the pilot feature film until Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie.
- Accidentally Correct Zoology:
- Dim was supposed to be a fictional variety of generic rhinoceros beetle, not based on any species known to exist at the time. Eight years after the film's release, however, a new variety of rhinoceros beetle was discovered with a horn identical to Dim's; because of this, similar phenomena were categorized as "the Dim Effect."
- The behavior of the grasshoppers—move to an area, eat everything, move on—is more in line with locusts than grasshoppers. However, it's since been discovered that some species of grasshoppers can morph into locusts under the right conditions, so the movie got it half-right.
- Beam Me Up, Scotty!: One of Heimlich's lines is often quoted as "Do not listen to them, they are poo-poo heads!" when the line is actually "Francis, leave them alone! They are poo-poo heads!"
- Celebrity Voice Actor:
- Dave Foley as Flik.
- Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Princess Atta.
- Kevin Spacey is Hopper.
- Phyllis Diller is the Queen.
- Denis Leary as Francis.
- David Hyde Pearce as Slim.
- Gypsy was Madeline Kahn's last film role before her death from ovarian cancer a year later.
- Mr. Soil was Roddy McDowall's last role before his death.
- Creator's Favorite: P.T. Flea is John Ratzenberger's favourite Pixar role, because "in real life, I always get a kick out of those kinds of characters, people who just go into a rage for [no] explicable reason. He was always on edge. His blood pressure was always way over the top, and everything that he did was done in a panicked state. So it was a lot of fun to play him."
- Dueling Movies: With DreamWorks' Antz. The plots are nothing alike, but how many movies do you know that are set in an ant colony?
- Executive Meddling: For the confrontation in the bar, Pixar's animators had planned out a large, anime-esque sequence, not unlike the one later seen in the movie Horton Hears a Who!. Disney suits didn't understand the scene as it was laid out to them, and the gag was reduced to Francis saying, "Shoo, fly, don't bother me."
- The Other Darrin:
- Wally Wingert does the voice of Flik whenever Dave Foley is unavailable.
- Andrew Stanton provides the voice of Hopper for the video game and the It's Tough to Be a Bug! attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
- The video game has Jodi Benson voice Princess Atta.
- Serendipity Writes the Plot: By the late 1990s, CG had moved on a bit from everything looking like hard shiny plastic—but not so much that the animators were confident doing soft or fluffy characters, so they made a movie full of bugs with hard shiny exoskeletons. While it has some thin "fuzz" on it, the bird is mostly textured to look like it has feathers, rather than having actual ones rendered.
- What Could Have Been:
- In the first draft script, Flik was a red ant named Red who was part of the circus gang.
- John Lasseter's top choice for Hopper was Robert De Niro, who turned it down.
- Working Title: Bug Story.