Film review of Antz

(This film review of “Antz” originally appeared in the Australian Jewish News on 30 October 1998; I am adding it to my list now as Woody Allen’s film “From Rome With Love” has just been released here in Australia.)

Directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson

With the voices of Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Bancroft, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Jennifer Lopez, Paul Mazursky, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone and Christopher Walken

You can bet that Disney Studios watched the success of their animated film “Antz” carefully:  produced by DreamWorks (Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s studio), it attempted to meet Disney head-on, battling for the attention of the children set.  But – like the successful “Mulan”, “Antz” was also made with the adults in mind, and indeed half the fun is working out which famous actor is voicing which on-screen character, and seeing how the animated character matches up with their real persona.

“Antz” tells the story of an awfully little guy, an ant actually, number Z-4195 (voiced by Woody Allen) who is just one worker of millions and millions, but who strives to be something else.  We first meet him on a psychiatrist’s couch (with the shrink played by noted Jewish film director and actor Paul Mazursky), complaining about his life (sound familiar?).  Z’s best friend is a good-hearted, enormously strong but slightly thick warrior ant named Weaver (Sylvester Stallone:  no time for subtlety here).  One night at a bar, Z meets the Princess Bala (Sharon Stone), who slummed it for the night to have a “real experience”, and Z is hopelessly smitten.

In the meantime, big political things are happening in the anthill.  General Mandible (Gene Hackman, with his most imposing voice), with the assistance of slimy Colonel Cutter (Christopher Walken, never more oily than here), has a plan to wipe out the anthill and commence a new one with only the best of the old.  The Queen (Anne Bancroft) – who delivers a baby ant every few seconds – relies on Mandible for all chief advice, and does not see through his plot to weaken the anthill by starting a phoney war with a nearby termite colony.

Before the massive termite battle, Weaver switches places with Z, and Z survives the battle, with the assistance of Barbatus (Danny Glover), and this launches him into the unlikely role of hero.  Weaver meanwhile finds true love in the person of lovely worker ant Azteca (Jennifer Lopez, who then was also appearing on screen in the romantic thriller “Out of Sight”).  The scene is then set for a showdown between the forces of good and evil ….

“Antz” was only the second animated film completed fully on computers (following the first “Toy Story”), and it was indeed a technological and artistic feat of major proportions:  the characters are so real, and the ant world is cleverly and imaginatively realised.  Some of the best parts are when the ants face the human “outside” world in search of “insectopia”, and a magnifying glass, picnic spread, birdbath, one cent piece, soft drink bottle and running shoes have never been rendered more hilariously or threateningly.  The dialogue is witty, and there are frequent sly references to classic adventure stories and use of songs (including the inevitable “the ants go marching one by one …”).

I thoroughly enjoyed “Antz”, fully appreciating its play on stereotyped characters:  Z is indeed every standard Woody Allen character you have ever seen, and one of the film’s big jokes is that the anthill is located in New York City’s Central Park, with its skyline view that is much beloved in Woody Allen films.  Although the ant world is a thrilling experience, unfortunately the plot is ultimately mundane.  And the worry is that the film-makers may have given “Antz” a level of complexity, a dark feel (much takes place underground after all) and a PG rating that means that is is not suitable for really young children.

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