There is a splintering in the animation world: animated movies for kids with subtleties to keep the adults' attention and animated movies for adults with subtleties for kids. Antz falls into the latter category from the get-go. As Antz opens we meet an ant named Z (voiced by Woody Allen.) The movie starts off with Z explaining to his psychiatrist ant that he feels he’s not getting enough attention. It is not easy being the middle child in a family of five million.
In an ant colony there are two primary groups of ants, worker ants and warrior ants. Worker ants mindlessly slave away at their jobs - primarily digging and earth-moving, while warrior ants are constantly preparing to protect the colony against outside threats. Also in the colony is a Queen ant (Anne Bancroft), a Princess ant Bala (Sharon Stone), and two military leader ants, General Mandible (Gene Hackman) and Colonel Cutter (Christopher Walken).
Z is a plain worker ant. His day consists of moving earth during the day, going to a bar for some recuperation, sleeping, and then getting up to move earth again. Z is different from all the other ants. He’s a free thinker, an ant who wants to be different.
Princess Bala is of the same type as Z. She wonders about what the other ants do all day. She also wants to have some fun. Her life is not as great as it may sound, being princess and all. She is engaged to marry the militaristic-at-mind and maniacal General Mandible. After marriage, she is expected to give birth to millions of ants. Bala wants to experience her own life before taking on the life put together by her mother. So, one night Bala sneaks out to the bar where Z and the other ants go to hang out.
As luck has it for Z, Bala chooses to dance with him. He is instantly attracted to Bala, though he doesn’t know that she’s a princess. They have one exciting dance, where Z helps plant the seed of individualism into Bala’s mind. Unlike the other ants that are dancing in-sync, Z and Bala break free and dance as they want. Afterwards, Bala is in a rush to leave, but not before Z finds out who she really is.
Z, knowing that he has no chance of meeting Princess Bala again, hatches a hairbrained idea to try to meet her again. The warrior ants are going on a parade for the Queen, General Mandible, and the Princess the following day. Z wants to be there. Z arranges to switch places with his best friend, a warrior ant, Weaver (Sylvester Stallone) so that he can march and maybe get to see Bala again.
What Z doesn’t know is that the warriors are being sent into battle to fight invading termites, who are larger than ants and spit acid from their foreheads. The battle that ensues is a computer-generated and ant-populated version of Saving Private Ryan’s opening battle sequence. This battle sequence is quite intense.
Z returns as a war hero, but it is discovered that he is only a worker and he kidnaps Bala during his escape. The two get lost and decide to search for Insectopia, a place where ants don’t have to work and food is lying out in the open.
Antz is one part social commentary, one part romance, and one part comedy. These parts fall into place perfectly and make Antz a wonderful animated movie. The script by Todd Alcot and Chris Weitz tackles all three parts well. Antz, as a mirror of our society, shows that most of us go to work, come home to rest, sleep and then go into the same cycle the next day. Antz is a microscopic view of a macroscopic world. We’re all just like the worker ants, repeating the cycle of a day over and over again. Z is the perfect and subtle hero of the film, showing us that we don’t have to be the way we are. We can be free spirits and do what we like.
As for the voice acting, there’s no way that the film could go wrong when you look at the impressive list of talent: Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken, Danny Glover, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Anne Brancroft, and John Mahoney. The two leads, Allen and Stone, do a wonderful job with their parts. Hackman brings back memories of his performance in Crimson Tide with his performance as General Mandible. Everyone else is just fantastic.
The big question on most people’s minds is how good is the computer animation? And the follow-up question is how well does it compare to Toy Story? To answer the first question: the computer animation is fabulous. And the answer to the second question: I wouldn’t say that the animation is better than Toy Story, but I wouldn’t say that it’s worse than Toy Story. The quality of the animation shows that the people on this project have put a lot of work into it. This shows quite easily in the long wide shots of the ant colony where we can see, literally, millions of ants moving at the same time. The animation also has a wow-moment during the ant-termite battle. Kudos to Pacific Data Images for putting together such a beautiful movie.
To me, the ants, though all of them different looking, all look like E.T. with four legs and two arms. This is ironic since Antz is being distributed and was produced by DreamWorks SKG - a company with Steven Speilberg as one of the heads.
The music was unexpected for me. I walked in thinking that Antz was a Disney-style animated movie and therefore would have lots of sing-along songs. To my surprise Antz was neither a Disney-style animated movie or did it have lots of sing-along songs. There were songs in the film, but these songs were taken from popular culture. The score for the film, by Harry Gregson-Williams (The Replacement Killers) and John Powell (Face/Off), fits the film like a glove.
One recommendation is that parents not take too young of children to see Antz. I recommend this for two reasons: First, though it is animated, the film’s aim is more at adults than children. The story line is dense and the plot is complicated. Second, there are some intense moments in the film that will startle children. The ant-termite battle is intense with images of ants being melted by termite acid - the battle would be terrifying to younger children. There is also a moment where a human takes a magnifying glass and starts burning ants. This is shown in graphic detail - ants being burned to a crisp. For older children the film should be fine and serves as a teaching experience.
Antz is a great microscopic view of our society. Don’t Miss Antz in the theatres. This big film about small insects needs to be seen on the big screen.
Edited by Cher Johnson.