Colonialism and A Bug’s Life

The Disney/Pixar film A Bug’s Life is about an insect hierarchy. The grasshoppers exploit the ants for food. In return, the grasshoppers supposedly protect their servants. The irony of this is that the grasshoppers are threatening and violent when in contact with the ant colony. It is obvious who really wins out in this deal. We could view A Bug’s Life as a critique of colonialism and the insect hierarchy as a flawed microcosm of wide-scale international exploitation.

It is apparent throughout the film that the grasshopper gang could theoretically be taken over by the much larger and more resourceful ant colony. Therefore, it is strange that the ants would allow themselves to be exploited and bullied by another group. The grasshoppers keep their authority in check by intimidation tactics and threats of violence. It is one of the truths of the colonial process that potential uprisings can be quelled by a smaller but more intimidating (and therefore more controlling) group.

This unexpected fact can be seen when the grasshopper villain Hopper crushes a gang member with a pile of food objects, symbolically illustrating the effects of an ant uprising. Hopper expresses his eagerness to keep the oppressed in their place. This shows he is totally aware that the colonial process is shaky and, therefore, not the cause of any divine right or justifiable reason.

One of the myths of colonialism is that it is the “right and natural” political process for one nation to take over another and to exploit it for resources. In his seminal book The Wretched of the Earth, postcolonial scholar Frantz Fanon comments on this myth by saying, “For it is the settler who has brought the native into existence and who perpetuates his existence” (Fanon 36). Hopper and his gang have caused the ants to see themselves as servants to the grasshoppers, rather than their own free people. The creation of this self-image makes it easier for the grasshoppers to overtake the ants.

Fanon also states, “The settler makes history; his life is an epoch, an Odyssey. He is the absolute beginning: ‘This land was created by us’; he is the unceasing cause: ‘If we leave, all is lost, and the country will go back to the Middle Ages’” (Fanon 51). This further helps explain the establishment of the grasshoppers’ myth about the ants’ “long-standing” and “traditional” life of subservience.

The myth is so engrained in the collective mindset of the ants that it comes as a shock to all when, at the climax of the film, Flik states the grasshoppers are the ones who depend on the ants. Flik’s statement angers Hopper partly because it is insulting to the grasshoppers, but also because the grasshoppers’ colonial myth is being attacked. Flik is a representation of the heroic figure who speaks out against imperial oppression.

It could be that the hierarchical structure of the world of A Bug’s Life is merely created by the filmmakers to spark conflict and to move the plot forward, but there are evident political implications within the rhetoric of the grasshoppers and the actions of the oppressed ants.

Works Cited

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1963. Print.

Lasseter, John. A Bug’s Life. Walt Disney Pictures, 1998. Film.

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