(1) ABL lifts its basic story from Seven Samurai. Cars lifts its basic story from Doc Hollywood. Stealing art from museums has always been regarded as a higher class of crime than knocking over a 7-11.
(2) ABL applied more creativity to its use of its source material than Cars did.
(3) ABL is much the funnier and cleverer of the two. Watch the Flaming Death bit from ABL and try to find anything half as funny in Cars.
(4) ABL varies its supporting characters without simply making them into ethnic and regional stereotypes.
(5) Kevin Spacey as Hopper vs. Michael Keaton as Chick Hicks
The bottom line for me is that I have a copy of A Bug's Life, even if it has hit the DVD player very rarely, but I don't have a copy of Cars.
I'll see you and raise.
- Bonnie Hunt > Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Even if you don't accept that -- and I can't think why you wouldn't -- certainly Sally Carrera is a more engaging leading lady / romantic interest than Princess Atta. (ABL may have Bonnie Hunt in a smaller part, but that's not the same thing. The calculus of Bonnie Hunt ( + Jenifer Lewis) vs. Julia Louis-Dreyfus ( + Bonnie Hunt) I leave as an exercise for the reader.)
- Cars cares about and respects its subject matter more than ABL. That is, Cars on cars > ABL on bugs. The whole premise of ABL, with grasshoppers terrorizing ants into providing for them, is entomologically stupid. Cars is vehicularly smart, engaging and classy.
- Where Cars achieves a measure of Toy Story's success, and in a way even exceeds TS, in discovering appropriate imaginative psychologies for its subjects as individuals, A Bug's Life offers little if any insight -- less so than Antz, for one -- into how ants, grasshoppers and other species would actually think and talk if they could. (I do like the early gag with the fallen twig, but there's precious little else in that vein.)
- Reinforcing the above point, the voice talent for Cars ideally embodies the personality and voice that each type of vehicle would have. The credits alone persuade you of their authoritative rightness: Paul Newman = Hudson Hornet, George Carlin = VW Bus, Larry the Cable Guy = a tow truck, Cheech Marin = an Impala Lowrider. By contrast, Kevin Spacey is great in ABL, but he could just as easily be a praying mantis or a rhinoceros beetle. Etc.
- Cars is emotionally and thematically richer and more complex than ABL. Even if its ideas about small towns and interstates are half-baked, it's more thought-provoking than rallying the ants to beat the grasshoppers. And its lessons about respect for icons of the past and learning from the past is way more thoughtful than anything in ABL.
- In particular, ABL's conventional climax is less satisfying than Cars's unconventional climax. ABL ends with the ants realizing that They Are Strong and banding together to drive off the bullies, while the evil Hopper is conveniently picked off by an avian act of God (because he has to die, but we don't want the heroes killing him). Cars ends with the hero throwing the big race to his arch-competitor in order to honor a great champion. Better.
- ABL gets credit for pioneering animated "outtakes," but Cars has the funniest running end-credits gag in Pixar history.
The bottom line for me is that while I do have a copy of ABL, it's an old VHS my mother-in-law bought for us, and neither I nor my kids have much interest in reviewing it. We own Cars on DVD, and while we watch it seldom, I'd sooner watch it again than ABL.
Edited by SDG, 06 June 2009 - 02:20 PM.