Antz (1998)

5 Apr


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Woody Allen in a voiceover role—it had to happen sooner or later. His fast-paced comic timing is what made him famous in the first place, and you just had to imagine him in a recording studio, performing for an animated character. “Antz” is the film that finally used this method.

“Antz” is the second computer-animated film after Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story” three years before. And speaking of which, I’d say that Dreamworks (the studio behind “Antz”) was in a hurry to give Disney a run for its money, seeing as how Disney/Pixar made a similar “insect epic” (as I think you’d call it) called “A Bug’s Life,” released the same year as “Antz.” Both movies feature ants on incredible adventures. But I’m not comparing the two, because they are both very good movies. I’ll just talk about “Antz,” a delightful movie with a sharp script and a visual brilliance.

The story involves an ant named Z (Woody Allen), who’s as neurotic and cynical as Allen’s other characters. There are two types of ants in his world—workers and soldiers (and of course, there’s also the royal family). Z belongs in the former category, helping to continue building the anthill. He wants to be more than the group—he doesn’t want to continue being insignificant. Then one night, at a party, he dances with Princess Bala, is completely lovestruck, and dares to find a way to meet her again.

His plan is to impersonate his soldier friend Weaver, because soldier ants get to serve for the royal family and thus Z will be able to see the princess again. But he couldn’t have picked a worse time, as it turns out the ants are at war with a colony of termites. In a battle, Z hides as the other soldiers fight. But when he’s the lone survivor of the battle, he’s mistaken for a war hero and sent to honor the royals. But when his identity as a worker is revealed, Z runs away and takes Bala with him. Together, they embark on a quest to find “Insectopia,” which is said to have mountains of food, while enduring many obstacles along the way.

The story is nothing special—a loner is suddenly in the middle of a grand adventure and must be the one to thwart a villain (in this case, it’s the evil General Mandible, who won’t stand for workers’ newly-formed individuality). But the scope of the film is just marvelous. Because the ants are so small and we see from their point of view, the world around them must be grand. An anthill is like a palace, a thermos is a big round tower, a magnifying glass’ sun glare becomes fatal, a apple’s worm turns into a roller-coaster ride, and in the film’s most exciting sequence, a pair of sneakered feet become an imminent threat. Visually, “Antz” is impressive and I could forgive the shortcomings of its story and just enjoy this great new world—ours, seen by little eyes.

This is not necessarily a “kids’ movie.” At its best, it’s a comedy. Like I said, Woody Allen’s vocal performance the neurotic worker ant Z is wonderful. There are great visual jokes, such as when Z and others are being chased by a magnifying glass and the reveal of Insectopia (a garbage can). Although, some of which are somewhat brutally funny, such as a death scene with Z and the disembodied head of a friendly soldier. The dialogue is consistently funny, such as when Z asks about how the soldier ants can’t just compromise with the termites and “try influencing their political process with campaign contributions.”

And Z knows that the story is nothing new—he refers to it as a “basic boy-meets-girl, boy-likes-girl, boy-changes-underlying-social-structure” tale.

The vocal cast is very game. In addition to Allen, we also have Sharon Stone as Princess Kala, Sylvester Stallone doing solid work as Z’s dim-but-trusty friend Weaver, Gene Hackman as the villain, Christopher Walken hamming it up more than Hackman as the general’s second-in-command, Jennifer Lopez as Weaver’s love interest, Danny Glover as a friendly soldier that Z meets before the battle, and Anne Bancroft as the ant queen. I think I should also the clever move of having the characters share similar faces to the actors showcasing their voices.

Even though most people easily compare this to “A Bug’s Life”, I think they should just enjoy “Antz” for what it is—a nice, visually-impressive comedy that will entertain adults, who will laugh at certain mature bits of humor, as well as children, who will dig the story and the cool visuals.

NOTE: This movie is rated PG, but only for casual swearing (very unusual for an animated film).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: