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Jerry Seinfeld and Bees: A Bee-autiful Experience

[IMG:L]It was a rainy day in Miami Beach, but that hardly dampened funnyman Jerry Seinfeld‘s spirits. “Why does everyone say, ‘Oh, you brought the bad weather with you’? No, I didn’t. You don’t bring weather with you. It just happens,” Seinfeld said during a little impromptu stand-up routine. The comedian was on a nationwide tour to promote his latest endeavor, Bee Movie, which opens in theaters this Friday.

“There have been all kinds of bugs in cinema,” a particularly energetic Seinfeld told reporters when asked why he picked the honey-collecting insect to be the lead in his new CGI-animated movie. “But there’s never been a bee hero–until now.”

To Seinfeld and director Steve Hickner, Bee Movie is real labor of love. It’s a story of a young college graduate bee, Barry B. Benson (Seinfeld), who just isn’t satisfied with going to work in the hive. Instead, Barry decides to seek his destiny in the wide open world, where he meets lovely florist Vanessa (Renee Zellweger), a human he immediately connects with–and breaks the cardinal rule in beedom: He talks to her.

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Seinfeld explains how he tapped into his inner-bee: “It was kind of a Gulliver Travels thing. I imagined I was Gulliver in this world of giants. Like when he meets Vanessa for the first time, he apologizes because he doesn’t want to freak her out. A bee’s biggest problem is they don’t want to freak out the humans cause they’ll try and kill you, like that [snaps fingers]. So you wanna keep them calm.

“When [Renee] is in the voice of that character, you don’t picture [her]. She blends so perfectly,” Seinfeld continues. “Even with my character, too. Very quickly, you don’t think it’s about me, you’re just watching this bee and buying it. You believe it. You believe Barry and Vanessa are friends.”

[IMG:R]As Vanessa and Barry’s friendship grows, she gives him a crash course in all things human. But when Vanessa takes Barry to a supermarket, he finds out humans have been stealing bees’ honey to be put in little bear-shaped containers! Suddenly, Barry becomes obsessed with finding out how the humans get the honey and, in doing so, becomes outraged by this injustice. That’s when he decides to sue the human race.

Seinfeld thinks the movie will appeal to kids’ smarter sensibilities. He remembers watching Rocky and Bullwinkle when he was young and appreciating the fact it didn’t talk down to him. “When I was a kid, I loved cartoons with a definite adult sensibility to them. My friends did, too. We’d noticed when they would treat us a little smarter. I’m 6 years old, but I’m not an idiot. That’s what I think kids like and what [Bee Movie] is going to offer them. It’s not a coochie-coochie-coo movie.”

Bee Movie took four years to make, with Seinfeld involved in every part of the process–including writing the script, choosing directors, and working with the animators. Coming from a television background, the whole thing was a pretty mind blowing experience for the comedian.

“It’s the longest creative pipeline vs. the shortest,” Seinfeld says. “It really was like leaving a beehive and going into some strange world. But that’s what I like to do: Experience these different mediums and create processes to see if I can do it. To see if I can apply what I know to something new. I mean, this is a world of 350 people, and you don’t understand what one of them is doing. Or saying. I had to learn a whole new language. And everyone works in cubicles, very much like Barry’s beehive.”

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[IMG:L]Meeting director Hickner for the first time, Seinfeld says he knew he’d found a kindred spirit: “They introduced me to a lot of different director when I first signed on to the project. And I liked Steve and our other director, Simon Smith. They seemed to have the same vision of what we were trying to make. I was also looking for a certain enthusiasm. There’s a lot of people who just kind of go through the emotions, it’s just a job. And I was looking for people who had a little spark about it, who were really excited to be working on it. Because I was excited about it. And I like to be around other people who are excited.”

In creating Barry, Seinfeld sort of wanted the bee to look like him, but the animators weren’t as keen on the idea. “The animators–the animation artists–if you’ll accept that term, don’t like to make the characters look like the actors because they feel that’s uncreative,” the comedian says. “But I wanted it look like me. I think the final version looks the most like me actually, don’t you?”

Could the comedian have chosen the animation field because he is a father of three? No. As he explains it, “I really haven’t met the kids yet, but when I do, I plan to be extremely involved. As soon as they get out of high school and I have their names memorized, I plan to be very, very involved.”

All kidding aside, it was “really more the medium itself that I found interesting, just in terms of visually what you can create. Nothing like it. But being around my kids, I know what makes them laugh. I know if this guy gets hit over the head with this rolled up paper, that will make them laugh.”

[IMG:R]Of course, Bee Movie is also chock-full of other big-name talents, including Matthew Broderick, as Barry’s best friend worker bee Adam; John Goodman, as Layton T. Montgomery, the lawyer for the human race; Chris Rock, as a wise mosquito; Oprah Winfrey, as the judge in the lawsuit; and Ray Liotta, who does a cameo as himself, as the celebrity face of a boutique honey business.

Hickner remembers finding Ray Liotta: “When Jerry was writing this movie, the day they were finishing, they went to lunch. They walked down the street and ran into Ray Liotta. He asked Jerry what he was doing and he said, working on this animated film. Ray says, ‘You gotta put me in it!’ At that point, there was no character written in for Ray. Then they went back, finished the script and that night to celebrate, they had dinner at a sushi restaurant and in walks Ray Liotta! And he walks up to Jerry and says, ‘Seriously, you gotta put me in this movie!’ So flash forward a year later, the script has evolved and Jerry has this idea to have this boutique honey business and he wanted an actor to put on it. What about Ray Liotta? So we had Ray come into the studio to record. Ray said, ‘Nobody in Hollywood keeps their word! Nobody says I’ll put you in my movie and actually follows through and does it! You’re the only one who actually did it!’”

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“A complete coincidence,” Seinfeld adds. “We were looking for the right actor for that part. Sure, I told [Liotta] three years ago I’d put him in the movie–never really thinking I would. A lot of actors wouldn’t do that, make fun of themselves like that.”

And how did they get Oprah to be judicial? “We just asked her,” Seinfeld says matter-of-factly. “I thought if it’s going to be the first inter-species lawsuit, we need the most even-handed person in the world who could referee a thing like that.” Very good point.

[IMG:L]The film also has a somewhat eco-friendly message about the importance of bees in the circle of life. “Oh, you mean the bee-warming? That and the Ray Liotta thing were the two really shocking things that came out of Bee Movie,” deadpans Seinfeld.

Being that Bee Movie is coming out right after Halloween, we thought it might be fun to ask Seinfeld one final question: What’s his favorite Halloween candy?

“You think I’d be saying this to be funny or because of the movie, but it really is Bit O’Honey. If you go to Dylan’s Candy on 3rd Avenue in Manhattan, you’ll see my name is up there with Bit O’Honey. Whenever a celebrity goes in there, [the owner] gives them their favorite candy and puts it up on the wall. Yes, honey and I have had a long association.”

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