By Steve Daly
Updated April 22, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Can a film look better on video than it did in theaters? Theoretically, no way. By most measures, a frame of movie film has four times more resolution than one frame of a DVD — and eight times more than one frame of a VHS cassette.

So how come Disney’s new VHS release of ”A Bug’s Life,” the Pixar feature that crawled past competing ‘toons at the box office last fall, looks just as detailed as, and way more psychedelically colorful than, what I saw in theaters?

Simple: Because Disney and Pixar have taken the original computer data used to create their animated film — if you can still call it a film, since there’s no actual celluloid involved at this point — and electronically rechanneled it directly into VHS and DVD editions. That’s a far superior approach than outputting the imagery to movie film and then copying that version onto video. (That’s how the computer-animated ”Toy Story” and ”Antz” were transferred to home-viewing formats — and why they don’t look as good as ”Bug’s Life.”) As the Disney folks describe it, a normal film-to-video transfer is like looking at a fax of a fax; you lose a lot of detail compared with the original image. Watching the directly downloaded ”Bug’s Life” on video, it’s as if Pixar’s artists unplugged the computer monitors they used to create their shots and lugged them over to your house.

Boosting picture quality is an important plus for a movie as dependent on visual dazzle as ”A Bug’s Life.” The plot, about a colony of ants banding together to fend off nasty grasshoppers, doesn’t have the sheer-genius ineluctability of ”Toy Story,” but the gags are just as inspired. (”Hey, waiter,” yells a fly at an insect bar, ”I’m in my soup!”) And the imagery, especially on video, outsoars Buzz Lightyear: Whenever the setting shifts to an early-morning outdoor vista, the colors look like they’re emanating from an actual light source. The blue and lavender faces of ants Flik (voiced by Dave Foley) and Princess Atta (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), which looked vibrant enough in movie theaters, now look like resplendent, freshly painted car chassis.

By custom-fitting “A Bug’s Life” for another medium, Disney and Pixar have in some ways topped how the film looked in theaters. Now that’sa move that’s good for the whole colony.