It's Not Just About Food
by Alexander Thornburg
A Bug’s Life, a children’s movie centered around an ant colony striving to provide food to the grasshopper overlord’s they’re beholden to, might immediately appear to be completely about food. The central conflict of the film has to do with food. An established ecosystem that demands the ants pick food for half of their harvest season simply to offer to the grasshoppers, led by Hopper, and the second-half of their harvest they get to pick food for themselves. When Flik, a revolutionary misfit ant, accidentally destroys their offering, the grasshoppers demand them to reproduce it, forcing them into racing against time in order to provide the grasshoppers with enough food to satiate them while attempting to simultaneously harvest the necessary amount for their own survival. While it may seem that the film’s central contention has to do with the availability of food and the natural cycle of life, the cyclical wheels that drive Hopper appear to be about much more than simple food.
“It’s not about food, it’s about keeping those ants in line.” In a speech delivered by Hopper in the second half of the movie, it’s revealed that not only do the grasshoppers have more than enough food to satiate themselves and live extravagantly, but that Hopper's real intention in taking food from the ants lies in his desire for power. Hopper manipulates food into a facade for maintaining control over the ants, and it becomes very clear that the film posits those who have food against those who do not. The relationship between host and guest becomes desecrated through the film, with the guest coercing the host into subservience through fear rather than allowing them to provide out of goodwill. Through Hopper’s perversion of the cycle of food, it is only through a return to that cycle that the ants are capable of overcoming his influence. Flik, in a daring final attempt to defy Hopper, tricks him into becoming food for a bird which echoes an earlier statement in the movie made by Molt, one of the grasshoppers and the brother of Hopper: “...and the birds eat the grasshoppers…” Only through utilizing the proper food cycle are the ants able to return to a more natural order of things.
The cycle of food seems to be prevalent throughout the entire film, especially apparent as Flik goes to the city. The process of food passing through hands is obvious, but another underlying relationship seems to be that of the emptied food-cartons into the purposes of the bugs. The buildings of the city, as pictured above, as well as the carriage for the circus, all are crafted out of empty food cartons. While food is consumed by humans, the waste becomes utilized by the bugs which establishes a new system of food that is centered instead on waste. This is particularly salient for the film itself as the ant’s offering to the grasshoppers appears to be equivalent to waste for them as they do not even need it. The film explores not only the cyclical nature of food, but also how food can be manipulated in order to perpetuate power.
A Bug's Life. Dir. John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton. Pixar Animation Studios, 1998.