Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, Dan
Aykroyd, Danny Glover, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken
Three and a Half Stars
There was an odd kind of showdown in 1998: two all-computer animation
features squared off against each other, and both were about bugs.
DreamWorks' Antz beat Disney/Pixar's A Bug's Life into theaters, and
made a lot of money -- but then so did A Bug's Life. The most
surprising things about the movies turned out to be how different they
were, and that both were very good, though A Bug's Life does come out
ahead overall, on DVD as well.
The DVD of Antz has a kind of unattractive blurred quality, as if the
transfer was made from a flashed print of the film, rather than being
transferred digitally. There are DTS-encoded discs available, which is
fine, but the movie depends more on its visuals than its sound. It's
adequate, but it's hard not to feel that it could have looked much
Also, unlike A Bug's Life, Antz has a voice cast of major stars, but
most of them, as it turns out, do very good work -- and a few,
including Woody Allen and Gene Hackman, do even better. Tod Alcott and
Chris Weitz wrote Antz and Eric Darnell and Lawrence Guterman directed
it, though many others did contribute to both the writing and
direction. And unlike A Bug's Life, which is a family movie,
surprisingly, Antz is aimed more at adults, with ant angst, genocide
and dismemberment all playing a part in the plot.
Woody Allen provides the voice for Z, a worker ant who's troubled by
thoughts of individuality -- he's even seeing an ant psychiatrist (Paul
Mazursky) as the movie opens, but the shrink isn't much help. "Yes, Z,"
he tells his patient, "you are insignificant." All the other
inhabitants of the teeming anthill (which seems to be in Central Park)
are content to live up to their classifications, worker or soldier,
which were determined at birth. Even Z's best pal, Weaver (Sylvester
Stallone), is happy to be just another soldier, destined for an early
death. Z is sure the tales he's heard of Insectopia, a land of plenty
for bugs, are true.
Princess Bala (Sharon Stone), the chosen heir to her mother the queen
(Anne Bancroft), is also ready to accept her fate -- marriage to
General Mandible (Gene Hackman), and a lifetime of turning out millions
of ant babies.
But Mandible has dreams of his own, which he shares with his sinister,
but slightly better-intentioned, assistant, Colonel Cutter (Christopher
Walken). Mandible is overseeing a vast tunneling project, but has some
other plans -- not revealed until the end -- that require launching a
war against the termites.
Wanting to see how the other side lives, Bala visits a workers' bar
(everyone dances in lock step -- everyone but Z), where she meets Z,
who's instantly smitten. He insists on trading places with Weaver just
to get closer to Bala when the ant army passes in review, but this
results in his being at ground zero during the ant-termite war. He's
the sole survivor, and hailed as a hero, but his individuality angers
Mandible, and Z and Bala tumble down a chute into the great world
beyond the anthill. While Mandible continues his schemes, Z sets out in
search of Insectopia, accompanied by Bala.
The script of Antz works very well, and was carefully shaped to Woody
Allen's standard screen persona. Z is an intellectualizing dreamer, a
neurotic fussbudget and, most of the time, something of a coward.
Allen's familiar voice fills out the character, making Z the most
likable and memorable aspect of the movie.
The other voice actors generally work well, sometimes best when we
instantly recognize the voice (Stallone, for example), sometimes best
when we don't (Dan Aykroyd as a supercilious but helpful wasp). Sharon
Stone does well enough as Princess Bala, as do Jennifer Lopez, Danny
Glover and Anne Bancroft in their roles, but in addition to Allen, the
real standout is Gene Hackman as Mandible. His diction is perfect
without seeming fussy, he infuses his voice with a vivid character, and
during one speech, even manages to do a very subtle take on George C.
Scott as Patton.
The main drawback of Antz is the unattractive design of the ant
characters. They have six legs, which makes them look like centaurs at
times; the faces are especially awkwardly designed, resembling nothing
more than the Zanti Misfits from that old Outer Limits episode. There's
nothing appealing about the design; in fact, it's easy to get the
impression that they were deliberately trying to make the ants somewhat
unattractive for fear of being thought of as a children's movie. It
takes a while to get used to these huge faces and wide-spaced eyes, but
you never learn to like them. The colors are subdued and, at times,
even rather ugly.
The CGI animation still has a tendency to look like a character is
changing -- flowing within itself -- rather than actually moving, but
this varies. There are good reasons why the leading characters in both
this and A Bug's Life are hard-shelled arthopods: rendering hard things
in CGI is much easier than rendering hairy or feathered things. At
times in Antz the animation is exceptional; there's a big flood at the
end, and the water is spectacularly well done.
Antz is never surprising, as A Bug's Life is, but it's interesting
throughout, and the dialog is amusing, intelligent and imaginative.
There's no reason to choose between the two films; buy them both and
Extras include alternate language tracks, cast list, trailer.