Dreamworks 5: Antz

Today we get to look at one of the oddest entries in the Dreamworks Canon- their 1998 film Antz. This film was not only loaded with controversy but has more subplots, characters and ideas than it knows what to do with.

Let’s start with the controversy: After the success of Toy Story in 1995, Pixar began developing their next picture that would revolve around a colony of ants. This became A Bug’s Life. At the same time, executive Jeffrey Katzenberg left Disney in a feud with then CEO Michael Eisner. Then in a very fishy move Dreamworks also developed their own ant movie under Katzenberg’s leadership, Antz.

In my opinion Antz is the inferior film over A Bug’s Life but aside from being ants they are actually quite different. A Bug’s Life is more of a traditional hero narrative where Antz is a hodge-podge of story elements focusing more on the colony than on one particular ant.

The lead character in Antz is a neurotic bug named Z voiced by Woody Allen. There are a lot of jokes meant for adults in this movie, and many of these come from Allen with his deadpan style of humor. It feels like such an odd choice to have Woody Allen waxing philosophical in a kid’s ant movie. I’m used to him as more of an R rated figure and so it’s a bit jarring to hear his voice and type of ramblings in a Dreamworks movie. However, the movie does move away from him for long stretches with subplots involving a soldier named Weaver, a princess named Bala and a worker ant named Azteka.

On the other hand, the main strength of Antz is how nutty and strange it is. It combines 8 different kinds of movies into one. It’s at all times a  romcom, war, dystopian, road trip, fantasy, prison escape and children’s movie all in one. This can make it unpredictable and fun to watch. I never know quite what it is going to do or what is happening next.

There are also a ton of characters in Antz. I counted 16 named characters with vocal work.  And not only do they have all of these characters, but they all look the same with the brown color palate. Most I wouldn’t be able to tell apart if it wasn’t for the voice actors.

While it can be fun to have all these plot points and characters. it can also be overwhelming. It’s tonally all over the place with a massive battle scene happening one minute and  playful banter at an ant landfill the next.

Some of the rules of the world building also don’t make sense. The ants are kept under strict routines and follow orders yet there is a long sequence at a bar where ants drink quite a bit including the princess (she’s sneaking but still). What kind of workers paradise is this place? I don’t know but it is just kind of all over the place.

With all the characters there are so many relationships and friendships to keep track. Because they all look the same the only way I knew who was who was the vocal work (one time when the celebrity vocal work actually helped Dreamworks). Still, for a kid it could be a very confusing film to watch.

The message also becomes muddled. Is it anti-war? Is it teamwork? Is it individualism or collectivism? Is it never give up and forgive others? Is it revolt against tyrants? All of that is in there but it feels very confusing.

A part of me wants to give Antz a smile worthy just out of shear strangeness. In a world of cookie-cutter movies at least it tries a bunch of weird stuff. It does score some laughs and is moderately entertaining but it is also a jumbled mess of a film. It’s not very rewatchable or visually appealing to me.

I am definitely much more of A Bug’s Life girl but I’m not going to give that many smiles to Dreamworks so this one is just barely entertaining enough to get one.

Overall Grade- C+

Antz Review


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.

antz14The 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.

antz9The 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!