Bees have been woefully neglected by Hollywood since the birth of feature-length animated movies back in the 1930s. Virtually every animal you care to mention has had its day in the silverscreen sun, from the elephants of 'Dumbo' and deer of 'Bambi', through to the plethora of sea creatures in 'Finding Nemo' and the sewer rats of 'Ratatouille', yet our yellow and black striped friends have had to wait until now to see their name up in lights. And they have Jerry Seinfeld to thank for it.

In perhaps the most unwitting movie pitch in film history the star comedian set the wheels in motion for a blockbuster animation feature when making what he thought was a lame joke to legendary director Steven Spielberg over lunch.
Seinfeld quipped: "Wouldn't it be funny if someone made a movie about bees. They could call it 'Bee Movie'."

Told to anyone else, that joke would have rendered little more than a weak laugh.

But Spielberg is not just anyone. Four years later 'Bee Movie' would be topping the US box office with an opening weekend of $38 million.

The day after his conversation with Spielberg, Seinfeld received a call from the director's colleague, Dreamworks head honcho Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Ever since the final episode of the monumentally successful US sitcom 'Seinfeld' in 1998, Katzenberg had been trying to persuade the 53-year-old comedian to get on board with one of his projects. He had previously always been rebuffed, however, offering Seinfeld the chance to run with one of his very own ideas proved too tempting a chance to turn down.

The initial idea of exploring the interesting world of bees came to Seinfeld when he was watching a nature programme.

He explained: "I was watching one of those nature programmes on TV where they tell you how they live, and where they get their food, and how they survive and I love these shows. I watched one about bees and I thought they lived in a very interesting world and thought it would be funny to explore a little."

In the same vein as Dreamworks' 'Shrek' movies, 'Bee Movie' is designed to appeal to adults and children alike, with a healthy smattering of Seinfeld's hallmark observational wit dropped into the script to keep the older cinemagoer entertained.
The story follows young bee Barry B. Benson. Barry, voiced by Seinfeld himself, is dissatisfied with what life in New Bee City has to offer.

After graduating college, he faces only one option career-wise - producing honey for Honex, the firm at the hub of the hive in New York's Central Park. Openly inspired by Dustin Hoffman's angst-filled Benjamin from 'The Graduate', Barry rallies against the path set in front of him, and the ideals of the adult world he is expected to ungrudgingly accept like so many bees before him.

Escaping the hive, he eventually befriends a beautiful florist, voiced by Hollywood star Renée Zellweger, after he breaks the cardinal bee-law of not talking to humans.

The pair strike up a touching and unlikely friendship, but it is when Barry discovers that humans are profiting from his community's hard work by selling mounds of potted honey that he decides he has found his true calling. Indignant at what he sees as a gross injustice, he decides to sue the human race for stealing honey.

Barry's nemesis comes in the form of Ray Liotta, who puts his name and face to a best-selling brand of the sweet treat.

For Liotta, whose likeness is rendered brilliantly on screen in human form, it was a bizarre experience.

He said: "It's not often you're asked to play an imagined caricature of yourself so it was different from anything I've done before.

"I was at a restaurant with some friends when Jerry came in with his people. They said when they were writing one of the characters they thought of me. And obviously, I'm not blowing my own trumpet here, but I think it's safe to say I'm the best person to play Ray Liotta."

In the movie, Liotta has a lucrative deal promoting Ray Liotta Honey, and is one of Barry's prime targets when he takes the human race to court for the theft of the fruits of New Hive City's hard labour.

The 51-year-old actor was more than willing to poke fun at his own menacing hardman film persona.

During one court exchange, Barry tells him: "I see here on your résumé that you're devilishly handsome but with a churning inner turmoil that's always ready to blow.

"But is this what it's come to Mr. Liotta? Exploiting tiny helpless bees so you don't have to rehearse your part and learn your lines."

Referring to Liotta's most famous turn as a gangster in Martin Scorsese's 'Goodfellas', Barry then turns to the courtroom and declares: "This is not a 'Goodfella', this is a 'Badfella'."

Barry is helped through his court battle by his human ally Vanessa, who is described as "an idealist with a quirky sense of humour".

The part gave Zellweger - who had previously leant her voice to Dreamwork's 'Shark Tale' in 2004 - ample opportunity to hone her improvisational skills.

She said: "With these guys it is all curveballs and fastballs. There's no slacking off, no showing off. I had to be prepared to not read the lines they'd given you the night before to memorize and prepare.

"This was very fun, but it was very hard work. You feel really exposed when it comes to improvising, and I didn't expect that."

The film boasts an impressive supporting cast, with one famous name, Sting, apparently chosen to lend his voice to the movie purely on the basis that his involvement would provide journalists with an amusing punning opportunity. The singer is forced to take the witness stand to defend his use of bee culture for "a pranceabout stage name".

Joining the Police frontman are former 'Roseanne' star John Goodman, actor Matthew Broderick, comedian Chris Rock and Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates. Even US chat show queen Oprah Winfrey pops up for a cameo, voicing the judge who must decide where the ownership of honey should truly lie.

Broderick plays Barry's best friend Adam Flayman, who offers a counterpoint to his rebellious streak with an unstinting and unquestioning adherence to the life template set out for him as a Honex employee.

Broderick has described his character as "as a nervous character, who, like most bees, wants to conform", and thinks that the movie offers an inspiring message.

He said: "I think what you take from the movie is the idea that it's okay to try out new things. You don't have to go into the job that your parents want you to go into. You can forge your own path."

Despite its message and satirical undercurrent, it is among its young audience that 'Bee Movie' will find its most ardent fans.

As Seinfeld, who has three young children with wife Jessica Sklar - a seven-year-old daughter, Sascha, and two sons, four-year-old Julian, and two-year-old Shepherd - has testified.

He said: "My kids made me take them to see it three weekends in a row when it came out. They absolutely loved it.

"I think every animated movie outdoes the last one as the technology gets better and better. I think this movie has a brightness and colour to it that will be new for the audience."

His words are backed up by the finished product, with Central Park a spectacular, colourful and vibrant sight on screen.

'Bee Movie' does not quite live up to its Pixar rival 'Ratatouille' in terms of wit, inventiveness and sheer ingenuity, but it has all the qualities needed to enthral its Christmas audience. It has already created enough of a buzz to rake in $155 million and counting at the box office.

With 'Bee Movie' Seinfeld has proved he has the skill to successfully lend his brand of comedy to feature length films, while finally given the bee world a silverscreen hero they can proudly call their own.