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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #64
August 13, 2008

All Bugged Out

A Bug's Life + Visit an Insect Zoo

When we dusted off Pixar's A Bug's Life, first released in 1998, we weren't sure whether it would capture our kids' attention after ten years of newer animation technology. But it didn't take long before our whole family fell for the clever story about an ant colony that frees itself from the tyranny of the grasshoppers. The film features Flik, an ant who has invented a quicker method to harvest grain for the grasshoppers. Because he bungles the job, Flik's colony is in danger so he hires a band of nine "warrior insects." Our kids thought these bugs were engaging, and laughed along with film's inside joke -- the insects weren't real warriors, but circus performers who thought Flik was a talent scout. Consider this a vintage Pixar celebration of a world where a raindrop is a dangerous missile and a dandelion pod is the perfect aircraft for an ant. We promise you, after screening A Bug's Life, your backyard grass will never look quite the same!

After meeting the parade of insect personalities in A Bug's Life, our kids were excited to meet their new friends in a real life setting. We visited our local Insect Zoo (we found one at both a Natural History Museum and a Zoo, see links below for ideas from our city editors), and our kids got face-to-face with a black widow spider, a desert scorpion, a hissing cockroach, walking sticks and lots of other creepy crawlies. Our daughter fell in love with a small-eyed click beetle, and is quite convinced it smiled at her. Our son found a stick bug, like the one in the film, and peppered the zookeepers with questions: "What do they eat?" "Are tarantulas poisonous?" The docents were happy to answer questions and patiently described the bugs' diet, terrain requirements and whether they were protected species. We surprised our kids with pads and colored pencils, our sneaky method to slow them down enough to really look at the small exhibit. Our kids left the insect zoo with their own entomological drawings as well as some scientific facts about what it really means to lead "a bug's life."

Film Title: A Bug's Life
Directed By: John Lasseter
1998, Rated G, 96 mins.

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Film:

  • Why This Film Is Worth It: Our kids love this movie about a misfit ant that rallies the colony to overcome adversity. Pixar's message bears repeating -- being a misfit or little doesn't mean you can't do incredible things.
  • Red Flags: Few, but younger kids may be unsettled by the grasshoppers' mean treatment of the ants and a bird chase. Best for pre-school aged kids and up, though some of the jokes are really aimed at adults.
  • Who's Talking?: Listen for a star-studded cast voicing the Queen (Phyllis Diller), Hopper (Kevin Spacy) and Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).
  • On The Outs: Stick around for the credits -- our kids loved the hilarious outtakes.

Our Tips for Talking to Your Kids about this Film:

  • Science Savvy:  Outside your home, or in a park, it's easy to locate an ant colony as they march back and forth from their nest. To reenact the scene from the movie where a leaf falls into the ants' carefully ordered path and causes havoc, we had our kids carefully drop a leaf in the path of the ants and observe the ants behavior as they circumvented the leaf.  Ask your kids, if they were an ant, how would they get around the obstacle.
  • Cinema Savvy: A Bug's Life pays homage to the great Kurosawa film Seven Samurai, a classic tale of a warrior who hires  outside warriors to protect his village.
  • Industrial Revolution Savvy:  Tools make our lives more efficient -- dishwashers, cars, and portable DVD players.  Ask your children to think about what tool they would make if they were an ant in a colony.


Visit an Insect Zoo

Time Allotment: One hour
Age Recommendation: 3 - 12.



Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: We asked our kids to see if they could spot the stars from A Bug's Life, including a black widow and a stick bug. Stick bugs are fun to find, since they blend in with their surroundings! We also asked our kids to figure out which bugs worked together like ants in a colony and which seemed independent. This slowed them down and made them really look at each bug exhibit.
  • Before You Go: Check the zoo's website for feeding times and demonstrations. Kids love to watch bugs eat, so plan your visit accordingly.
  • Yuck!: Be aware of your child's tolerance for the creepy crawly. Seeing a live tarantula or giant cockroach is not for everyone. We also called before we visited to be sure that the bugs were all caged -- this way, we were able to assure bug-phobic kids that insects will be in cages, so they will feel safe.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying this Popcorn Adventure around the USA:
  • Anywhere: Google your city + insect exhibits. You can also check your local parks for nature center exhibits.
  • Boston: As always, the Museum on Science has first-rate nature exhibits. Their ongoing insect exhibit has both live (cockroaches and centipedes) and specimen displays (grasshoppers, fireflies, houseflies and mosquitoes). Now showing on a new high-definition system called 3-D Digital Cinema are 20-minute presentations of the debut film Bugs! Also, The New England Wild Flower Society announces the return of the Big Bugs exhibit in The Garden in the Woods in Framingham. Check out giant sculptures of natural wood bugs (think ant, preying mantis, dragonfly) while walking through fields of wild flowers.
  • Houston: Visit the Brown Hall of Entomology located at the Houston Museum of Science. What are insects? How do they see, hear and communicate? Why are they important? Test your insect knowledge and get a close-up look at live insects, as well as mounted specimens. Save some time for a walk through the rainforest. Finish your tour with an unusual snack purchased from the “Why not eat insects?” vending machine. Open seven days a week.
  • New York:  The Central Park Zoo has announced that it has more than doubled its population of "Herculean" leafcutter ants!  Visit these native Central and South American "nature's gardeners" at a new exhibit in the Zoo's Rain Forest. Your whole family will be mesmerized by the efficient working machine of the millions of ants in the colony. In addition to an overview of the ants' ecosystem, there is a live, magnified video display of the ants!  While you are in the rain forest don't forget to check out the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches and the Brazilian Black Tarantula!  The Central Park Zoo is open daily, Mon-Fri 10-5, weekends and holidays 10- 5:30. Children under 3 are free. 
  • San Francisco: In San Francisco, everyone's eagerly awaiting the grand (re)opening of the California Academy of Sciences, which is expected to resurrect a fantastic entomology section, but if you need a bug's eye view right away, check out the bugs and bees at Randall Museum, or the bee garden at Children's Discovery Museum in San Jose. If you want up-to-date information on buggy events, exploration outings in local parks, and other educational resources for kids, you can visit, a San Francisco Bay Area Entomology Outreach Program, and CityBugs, a great kid's resource for all things six-footed.
  • Washington, D.C.: At the Orkin Insect Zoo at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History you can observe live insects, a buzzing beehive, and feed a tarantula - if you dare!  You'll find that most anytime museum volunteers have something buggy available for you to touch or hold.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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