When viewing Disney’s A Bug’s Life with the critical eye of an anthropologist, it is hard to truly believe that it is a children’s movie. This movie is an introduction to the complex world of anthropology and it’s concepts. One finds elements of culture in many different lights throughout this film. A Disney masterpiece shall be proven in this paper to not only intrigue the younger audience, but it shall verify the fact that the way humans function is so easily portrayed, even in the simplest behavioral patterns.
As the film opens, the ants are preparing for the coming of the ravenous grasshoppers by filling a leaf with food products. For this food collection the ants stack the food following a straight line one after the other until an autumn leaf descends to the ground separating one ant from the line. This causes mass confusion and disorder. The ants learned behavior caused them to lose their self-control and allowed them to break the division of labor. Had the ants not been so set in their “assembly line” ways, they might not have had the problem they did.
Flik (the main character of the movie) holds intelligence like none of the other ants in the production. He uses his brain as opposed to learned behavior in order to try and assist the colony. His numerous inventions are advanced, yet still unrefined enough to go wrong. The other ants frown upon his differences showing ethnocentrism at it’s finest. Within their own culture, Flik is looked down upon.
One could view Flik’s intelligence as a mutation of the ant colony, but an even better example is that of the grasshopper’s psychotic mutation known as Thumper. Thumper is used to frighten the ants even more. His intimidation factor is used against the ants so they will work harder and faster to appease the tribal grasshopper’s needs.
Flik, being beyond that of his fellow ants, confronts the hierarchy of his people to make a request that he traverse to the city in search of “warrior bugs” to save the colony once and for all from the big, bad, grasshoppers. After receiving approval, he sets off for the city not knowing what to expect or who to encounter. By being able to leave the colony on his own free will, Flik proves he is adaptive and able to think freely for himself.
His fellow ants look on in amazement as Flik begins his journey. The other ants’ cultural restraints did not allow them to even truly process what he was doing. The ants could not see passed the taboo of leaving the island, and therefore, were stuck to the island and unable to mentally push themselves away.
Upon entering the city, it is made immediately obvious the vast amount of sub-cultures that flourish throughout. Flik is taken aback and is not very aware of what exactly is occurring. He is different from the others because he is a country bumpkin. He is from the country and does not know any better than his country boy ways. Cultural relativism is shown here, as he is not accepted for his beliefs and actions in the city. Many things separate him from the city culture in yet another example of ethnocentrism against Flik.
Even language makes Flik distinctive from the other bugs and he is somewhat wary of what he is doing. Unfortunately his judgment is not all there and he chooses circus bugs over warrior bugs to come back and save his people. This confusion shows Flik’s urban inexperience and how easily it can be for one sub-culture to be mistaken with another. Luckily enough for Flik, he was a more advanced ant and not the type of “noble savage” the rest of his colony might be confused for. He is willing to take the initiative and get to the place he wants to go.
When Flik returns the unknowing “warrior bugs” to the colony, he is met with praise and admiration (as are the “warrior bugs”). The “warrior bugs” begin to realize what they are getting involved in and they grow frightened. Soon, they begin to come along and appreciate the colony and their worth to the ants of the colony. This integration of culture is the main reason that the revolution the ants would soon develop worked.
Another example of sub-culture in this movie is that of the queen’s youngest daughter and her friends. They form a club that is based upon childhood innocence but is able to do well for the whole colony. Without the work they did, the anthill might not have been saved.
After gaining the trust and earning the help of the “warrior bugs”, the ants are able to begin their revolution. This revolution contains much evolution in it. The ants are able to drop their learned behavior in order to come together and build the giant bird that will scare off the grasshoppers and save the day. Working together and breaking tradition, everything does end up working until the rest of the colony discovers the true identity of the warrior bugs. This leads to trouble again for Flik, but all ends up working out.
Cultural relativism is seen again at the end of play when the humorous grasshopper Moulder leaves his tribe in order to stay with the “stronger and smarter” group of circus bugs. He also follows Darwin’s survival of the fittest concept in desiring to go with the better plan.
There are examples of individual variation as well throughout the entire movie. Flik is the best example in that he is the main “individual” of the colony. His views are separate from anyone else and he strives to make things better for his people.
Each one of the circus bugs has a strong sense of individuality. It is their differences to their own kind that brings them together to form their posse. And no matter what situation they are brought into, they are very individual from the larger group they are around.
The grasshopper’s were a group who practiced and accepted a strong generalized reciprocity from the ants. The ants toiled all day trying to appease the evil one’s appetites, and got nothing in return. Hopper (evil leader of the grasshoppers) made empty promises about the ants losing their colony if they weren’t “protected” by the grasshoppers. But this would all be proven otherwise, when the ants realized their potential and saw that they did outnumber the grasshoppers 10 to 1. Coming to this conclusion is what truly allowed the ants the break their learned behavior and defend themselves.
The difference in the cultures of the ants and the grasshoppers is something else of interest for this movie. The grasshoppers are a lazy culture that relies upon anyone but themselves to do work. The ants on the other hand, are hard workers. They not only perform the food gathering each year for them, but they also do enough for the grasshoppers as well. They work hard and long not realizing that they do not have to work for the grasshoppers too. The grasshoppers depend upon the fact that the ants do not know any better and hope it remains that way. Luckily for the ants, Flik’s intelligence is beyond that of the grasshoppers and it leads to revolution.
In comparison to that of humans, Flik is a key human rights activist. He is strong about the will of the people and the freedom of his fellow ant. His spiritual strength is beyond that of anyone (even the queen of the colony) and he does end up making up for all of the mistakes he makes along the way.
A Bug’s Life not only lives up to anthropological expectations, it lives up to childhood entertainment purposes. Its uncanny and smooth combination is of award merit. Taking the best examples of culture and its components, Disney is able to put that into a simple context that anyone can understand and relate to. Under the critical eye of an anthropologist, this movie not only meets standards, it creates it’s own. Children will be learning anthropology thanks to movies like this even before they can pronounce the word.