There's a by now ubiquitous story about the origins of Bee Movie: Steven Spielberg and Jerry Seinfeld were having lunch one day (well, of course they were!) when Seinfeld mused that it would be amusing to make a cartoon about bees, and title it Bee Movie, because you see it sounds kind of like "B-movie," so it's funny. It would be about bees. The cartoon would.

Now it doesn't take that patented Spielberg Insight behind such epochal works as Memoirs of a Geisha and Taken to see that this was a highly-developed story with nothing but potential, and so the producer cleared a path for the film at the august DreamWorks Animation. He did not thereupon take up producing duties. How telling curious!

There are a lot of lessons to take from that story. DreamWorks would like it if we took it as a measure of how much faith the canniest entertainer in Hollywood has in the most successful stand-up comedian in history. Let us instead take it as an indication that Bee Movie was a rather slapdash and ill-conceived project that was doomed from the start to a fate of incoherence and irrelevance. But even so, I don't think that anybody could have predicted just how crazy the final product was going to be, and by "crazy" I mean KRAZY. This is, and I say this in all sobriety, the most bat-shit loony film I have seen this year; a film whose casual surrealism and indifference to narrative realism threaten to devour the audience. Compared to this film, 2007's previous surrealism standard-bearer, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, is positively sedate.

So this film that kicks up my hackles so, what is it? It is the story of a bee named Barry B. Benson (voiced by Seinfeld) who does not wish to work in an anonymous honey-processing job like all the other bees, but instead to fly with the pollen carriers out in the blue sky. On the one day that he gets that wish, a series of random events carries him to the kitchen of florist Vanessa Bloome (Renée Zellweger), with whom he falls deeply in love, until the realization that humans eat honey raises his self-righteous radical edge and he organises all the honeybees of the world to sue the human raise for their systematic exploitation and enslavement of beekind. I'm delighted to say that it gets loopier still, but I should not wish to venture into spoiler territory.

Now, children's movies always involve at least a bit of heightened reality, and in another film I can imagine that the notion of a bee suing humanity might strike me as charming. But the cluttered mise en scène of Bee Movie is so frankly psychotic as to banish anything even remotely like charm to a distant, lonely place. This is a film where post-modern metahumor and self-reflexivity go 'round the far side of beyond and come back in some twisted and possibly dangerous form. In fact, I almost feel that I should praise the film instead of condemn its warped surrealism, for is it not the highest goal of surrealism to bend reality to a point where the comfortably familiar has been replaced by the grotesque and the radical?

Okay, so I'm reading too much into a fable about bees that is in some ways exactly the film one should have expected: the typical pop culture fantasia of all DreamWorks animated features as interpreted by the very specific mind of Jerry Seinfeld. But that's exactly what gives the film its uncanny and frightening effect: seeing bees making jokes about Judaism is, I'm sorry, repellently weird. Hearing Seinfeld's observational humor scaled down to bee-sized objects is weird - the whole point of his shtick is that we all have in fact noticed whatever he's talking about, but none of us have noticed those things from an insect POV and certainly not in the resolutely artificial world that this film takes place in.

The litmus test for the film is the transcendentally absurd conversation between Barry and the bee news celebrity Bee Larry King, voiced by Larry King, capturing all of King's mannerisms, and focused on Barry's confusion that there should be a Bee Larry King so identical to the human version. This isn't merely the typical star cameo of modern cartooning (though the film has such cameos: Ray Liotta and Sting), this is watching that typical cameo deconstructed and ripped apart before our eyes, held up for our inspection. At least, this is how I interpret it - for what other possible reason could the character be named Bee Larry King? All I know for sure is that it's a shocking kind of anti-funny.

Throughout the film there are similarly over-determined gags that are too confusing to be humorous, mostly involving the basic mechanics of the film's bee and human societies. The interior of the beehive is a cross between a Rube Goldberg device, a Disney ride, and a forced-labor camp straight out of Das Kapital (I should mention that the only thing more jaw-dropping than the film's gleeful embrace of Marxism in its early phase is its gleeful embrace of robber baron capitalism in the end). Why? I cannot begin to fathom. Some commentators have found fault with the film's depiction of worker bees (female in nature) as males, viewing this as standard issue Hollywood patriarchalism, but that is well and truly missing the forest for the trees: the rest of the bee world is so much like a fever dream version of Dr. Seuss that complaining about its gender dynamic comes across as trying to latch onto something tiny just to have something sensible to talk about.

To be fair, it's restful to ignore all of the craziness and hone on the recognisable. For some it's gender theory, and that's fair; for me it's the animation, which is unremarkable in the extreme. The film has a nice color palette of soft color, almost pastels, and the design of the bee characters is often sweet, although they have the glassy eyes of DreamWorks, and very large eyes too, and it's kind of scary to look at. The humans are another matter altogether, all plastic skin and rigid hair, and it discouraging that twelve years after Toy Story, the art of representing human beings in CG animation can be this regressive. It's not quite as alienating as Disney's Meet the Robinsons, to be certain, but nor are the characters, or any other element of the animation, in the same universe as Pixar's exemplary Ratatouille. But you know what? I guarantee that during the film's chaotic 90 minutes, you will not be thinking about the animation. If you're lucky, you'll be too busy wondering how the hell the bee society is put together, and if you're unlucky, you'll be too busy thinking about the bee-human sexual pairing that the film hangs out so breezily.