Volume 92, Issue 19

Tuesday, October 6, 1998

no funny business


Invasion of Hollywood Antz

Gazette file photo

WATCH IT LITTLE LADY, OR I'LL SQUISH YOU LIKE A BUG. Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and Danny Glover are just some of the voices behind the antenna in Antz.

By Neil Sutton
Gazette Writer

Antz is DreamWorks' first animated motion picture and Disney had better watch its back.

Antz, rendered superbly in computer graphics animation, is a tale of individualism, heroism, teamwork, genocide and worker unrest. Woody Allen voices Z, a puny worker ant who's had enough of shovelling dirt and has aspirations beyond his station – not to mention a major case of the hots for Princess Bala, voiced icily by Sharon Stone. He longs for Insectopia, the fabled promised land of plenty – an everyday garbage can to some, but to an ant it's paradise.

In the colony of Antz, every ant has its role prescribed from birth. Z breaks the convention and sneaks away from worker duty into the army, to catch the eye of the aloof, but restless Princess Bala. However, the ants are at war with the termites and Z is reluctantly marched into battle. No one ever said an ant's struggle for identity would ever be easy.

Who better to play an unlikely hero than the terminally neurotic Allen? In Antz's opening scene, Z pours his heart out to his therapist, whining about abandonment issues. No Allen movie is complete without at least one visit to the psychiatrist.

Still, there is as much Woody Allen for the adults as there is animation for the kids. Younger Antz-goers likely won't be acquainted with Annie Hall or Manhattan, but Z's one-liners are unmistakably Allen.

But DreamWorks is counting on a huge kid turn-out to make this a success. They've sunk $60 million into the project and Antz delivers. The labyrinth ant colony is richly animated and alive with detail. The vivid colours of discarded apple cores and pop cans work in contrast to the more muted earth tones of the colony.

The animators also play beautifully with perspective. The audience is treated to an ant's-eye view of the world, where plastic-wrapped picnic sandwiches are the size of apartment buildings and water droplets are as perilous as quicksand.

Antz doesn't dumb things down for a kid audience either. The conclusion is inevitably a happy one, but the message of finding one's own destiny isn't forced. Gene Hackman plays the megalomaniac General Mandible, a military bully, hell-bent on recreating the colony in his own image. The lowly worker ants are inspired by Z's travails and the dual morals of individualism and community spirit prevail. The intervening story is every bit as twisty-turny as an ant tunnel. At one point, the workers stage a Bolshevik revolution, throwing aside their digging tools and demanding fair treatment.

Allen and Hackman are also accompanied by a host of other celebrity voices (Danny Glover, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken, Sylvester Stallone, Anne Bancroft and the aforementioned Stone). It's fun to pick out the characters' mannerisms, which closely match those of the actors portraying them. The subtle facial movements of the computer ants are endearingly accurate as well.

DreamWorks got the drop on Disney by releasing Antz ahead of A Bug's Life, which is Disney's own paean to insect strife. It will be quite a challenge if Disney is going measure up to this grand tale of tiny creatures.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazette.entertainment@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998