Btw this is my 300th post on this movie blog! Can you believe it? It hasn’t even been a year and 300 posts!
I figured before I review Bug’s Life it might be wise to also talk a little bit about the other ant movie which came out that year- Dreamworks Antz. I have always felt like Jeffrey Katzenburg was a real snake for going to Dreamworks and clearly spilling the beans on Pixar’s project. Pixar was such a tight community at that point it’s the only explanation that makes any sense. So I never watched Antz because I thought it was a lame thing to do and didn’t want to support it.
So I clearly have no sentimental attachment to Antz and was approaching it with a fresh perspective not knowing much about it but that it is about bugs. I must say rarely have I been left so befuddled by a movie. I didn’t like it but it is so so strange I kind of admire what they were trying to do with the story. An ambitious failure perhaps? (although how ambitious can a movie starting out as a copycat be?)
It’s an extremely odd movie.
First of all, the animation has not held up well. Maybe I’m just biased but I think Bug’s Life looks way better. It’s brighter, prettier, the characters flow and move better and I can actually tell the characters from one another. In Antz it is like the UPS drivers designed the art direction of the movie. Brown, brown, brown, brown and if it wasn’t for the voices I’d have no idea who was who.
There are a few sequences when they get to Insectopia that are fun to look at but for the most part it just looks extremely brown and dated.
The story centers around Z an ant voiced by Woody Allen which is the part of the movie that worked the best for me. Allen is very funny although extremely inappropriate at times and jokes way over kids head (do kids even know what a shrink is?). With Allen’s history it is perhaps an odd choice for a childrens movie but this really isn’t a children’s movie (that was kind of an unfortunate trend in mid to late 90s).
The ants are basically living in a dystopian society. All choice has been taken away from them and they are assigned at birth their role in the colony and nobody questions it. Z and his 2 friends Azteca and Barbatus (Jennifer Lopez and Sylvester Stallone) have no problem with the situation but Z hates digging as he tells his therapist.
The bad guy is a an ant named General Mandible voiced by Gene Hackman with Christopher Walken oddly playing his henchman (shouldn’t that be reversed?). He is basically a Nazi. He wants an all powerful colony of ants, so he develops a scheme to get his army above ground and basically drown the entire colony; thereby, starting afresh at his rule and order. All they need is camps and you’ve got the 3rd Reich.
I’m sorry but that’s a lot for an animated movie to conquer and this movie aint no Watership Down…
Z runs away and kidnaps the princess Bala (after meeting at a bar earlier…). They of course hate each other at first but warm up as the movie goes on and head towards Insectopia.
One cool thing in the movie is all the insects are to scale but some of the scales seemed odd. Like the termites are 6 or 7 times bigger than the ants. Those are some big termites! Still, the idea was interesting. There is even a termite war at one point.
I liked when they met 2 wasps that were very funny. Wish they had been in the movie longer (Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtain).
The last 20 minutes start to pick up momentum as Z and Bala return home and try to thwart the General’s plan and save the colony.
There are some good things about this movie. I like Allen. I like how it tries to dive into these bigger themes (nobody loves a little romp through political philosophy more than me). However, there are a lot of problems.
To begin with as I said it is very ugly to look at and the voice performances are another Dreamworks attempt to get famous people rather than the right people for your parts. Someone like Christopher Walken as basically a toadie is bizarre.
As much as I like the attempt at political allegory it just feels too muddled and safe to really say as much as they want it too. Again watch Watership Down if you want that kind of allegory for adults.
Aside from Allen the characters are all kind of unlikable. They wine, complain, or we see them so little we don’t care about them. Pixar is so good at helping you to care about its characters. Even a hopping lamp we care about in Luxo Jr.
My other major problem is the innuendo and language. It’s a lot like Road to El Dorado in that way without its racism. For example, I do not want to see an animated film where a character is referred to as a tight ass. That’s not going to fly in my world. There’s also a line about how Z is going to have erotic dreams about Bala and several scenes with characters getting tortured by the General for information. (Can you believe it but its true!).
Antz is just weird enough that I can see why some like it. To me it is just too ugly all the way around to enjoy. It’s not as bad as Road to El Dorado but few animated films are (although that one looks better than Antz).
In the end I don’t think it really is in the same league as Bug’s Life and I certainly can’t recommend it. (You starting to catch on why I really don’t want to do a Dreamworks Canon series! Just not my cup of tea).
Overall Grade- D+ Content Grade- C
Incidentally for another brilliant movie about ants watch last years Miniscule Valley of the Lost Ants. It’s so good!