Don't make the same mistake I did... don't follow orders all your life.
The first of this year's crop of 'ant movies' has arrived. "Antz" from Dreamworks SKG, which beats Disney's "A Bug's Life" to the multiplexes by almost two months, is a dazzling showcase for the latest advancements in computer-generated animation. Stacked with a charming boy-meets-girl-and-changes-the-underlying-social-order story and a star-studded ensemble of voice talents, this is certain to pay off handsomely at the box office-- even in light of the film's split-personality disorder.
"Antz" re-contextualizes the 'search for individuality' theme into, of all places, an ant colony, where its members' societal roles are rigidly determined at birth. Woody Allen ("Everyone Says I Love You" and "Deconstructing Harry") provides the voice of the protagonist, a neurotic worker ant named Z (as in "Zelig"?) who is unsatisfied with his station in life. When we first see Z, he is on the 'couch' of his analyst (voiced by Paul Mazursky of "2 Days in the Valley"), bemoaning his feelings of insignificance as a middle-child in a 'family of five million'. Unfortunately, the analyst only validates Z's sentiments by telling him that he is insignificant, and that the needs of the colony transcend those of its individual members.
Feeling even more miserable, Z goes back to work, digging a new tunnel for the colony. His friends, affable co-worker Azteca (voiced by Jennifer Lopez of "Out of Sight") and soldier Weaver (voiced by Sylvester Stallone, last seen in "Cop Land"), offer no solace, as they are both smugly content with their lot in life. That night, while moping around in a bar, Z is asked to dance by another ant at the other extreme of the social strata, Princess Bala (voiced by Sharon Stone of "Sphere"). Bala, who is at the bar in cognito, is in search of a brief respite from the austerity and the demands of palace life. Z is immediately smitten by the princess, but just as he is about to get to know her better, she runs off.
When can I see you again?
Enamored by the princess, Z convinces Weaver to switch places for a day, such that he will be able to get close to Bala during a royal inspection. Weaver reluctantly agrees to the plan, and Z joins the rank-and-file. However, unknown to Z, the leader of the ants' military forces, the sinister General Mandible (Gene Hackman), has convinced the Queen (Anne Bancroft of "Great Expectations") to launch a pre-emptive strike against a neighboring colony of termites. What is not known though, is that this is merely the first stage in a ploy by General Mandible to stage a military coup in the colony, which includes assuring his lineage by marrying Bala.
You may not recognize me, because I've been traveling for a long time... I'm Princess Bala.
It's worse than I thought... they're Eurotrash.
What this means then is that Z gets a lot more than he bargained for. Before he can extricate himself from the ruse, he is marched off into battle against the termites, who are typically five times larger than an ant and spit acid. Will General Mandible's evil scheme come to fruition? Will Z survive the battle against the termites? More importantly, will Z get the girl?
Next to the impressive computer animation and wide-eyed spectacle of seeing the world from the point-of-view of an ant, Woody Allen is the best thing in "Antz". Allen re-wrote his lines to reflect the typical neurotic stammer that his fans have come to know and love, and the animation of his character beautifully captures his distinctive gestures and body language. The fairly predictable script, with a consummate romantic-comedy framework at its core, is punched up by several 'Allen-isms' and playfully satirizes the machinations of class struggle and the modern world of work. Furthermore, with support from some heavy-hitting voice talents, including Christopher Walken as Mandible's right-hand man, Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin as a couple of WASPish wasps, and Danny Glover as a soldier that shows Z the ropes, "Antz" is certainly more sophisticated than it looks.
Why don't we just influence their political process with campaign contributions?
And therein lies the problem. With its somewhat sophisticated and satirical look at societal woes, and Woody Allen headlining as Z, is "Antz" geared towards kids, or their Baby Boomer parents? Though they have attempted to create a broad-appeal film, it seems too much emphasis has been placed on placating the parents. Some material in the film is clearly not geared towards children, and its inclusion is both gratuitous and questionable. But because the film is clearly being marketed as a kiddie fare, most parents will be expecting another "Toy Story".
You havin' your aphid beer?
No, I have something against drinking from the anus of another creature.
Would a kid's cartoon have characters talking about 'erotic fantasies'? Furthermore, the epic battle between the ants and the termites has the subtlety of a snuff film, a scaled-down version of the on-screen carnage seen in "Starship Troopers". The battle is not pretty, with the demise of the ants graphically portrayed as they are melted by acid, devoured, or decapitated. Yet another sequence shows an unlucky ant being incinerated by a magnifying glass. In the kid-dominated audience that I sat in, there were a couple of five and six-year olds that were clearly disturbed by what they had seen. For the older children in the audience, while some of the more adult-oriented comic-references missed their mark, some of the more banal humor, such as the various expletives that the on-screen characters uttered, elicited boisterous laughter.
Hey, this tastes like crap.
Let me see... yeah, it does taste like crap. Not bad.
Despite the film's split-personality, it is still an enjoyable romp. "Antz" is an outstanding achievement in animation that is backed up by a surprisingly adult-oriented script that is certain to have appeal for Woody Allen fans. But as something you can take your kids to on a Saturday afternoon, the dark tone of "Antz" does not go over as well. You might want to wait for Disney's "A Bug's Life", which is purported to be more family-oriented in the vein of "Toy Story", with its kid-friendly drama and sing-along soundtrack.