ANTZ. 1998

Director: Eric Darnell & Tim Johnson

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Antz Woody Allen is ill-cast as the voice of "Z" in the computer-animated Antz (1998).

He has mainly only ever played variations of himself, so his voice is now fully identified with "nervous old man who boinks his step-daughter," whereas Z is a youthful worker ant who sets out on a path of heroism.

The voice of Woody is not the least bit evocative of youthfulness, & is the antithesis of heroic translates "aged horndog."

A sequence early in the tale was all too obviously written to try to make Z more Woody Allenesque, when Z pours out his neuroses on the couch of the therapist (Dan Akroyd). But this seems awfully forced. The time wasted on this scene would better have been used to provide the underpinnings of Z's questioning of authority & dissatisfaction over his own position as a mere cog, rather than a momentary parody of Woody Allen which is not the least sustained as the story progresses.

Woody does get a few good one-liners & certainly his great comic timing. But it's hard to distance this voice from the neurotic old fart he usually plays & hear him as a youthful quester.

Apart from the either questionable or terrible voice-casting for Z, this is a pretty darned good cartoon for the story. It's only adequate for its animation, for it looks like low-resolution 3-D computer art without much spark to it visually, & not even a lot of individuality to the character designs. So to be sure, it required an effective story to work.

The rest of the vocal casting is good, including among many who get it right Anne Bancroft as the ant queen, Sharon Stone as love-interest Princess Bala, Christopher Walken as the warrior ant Colonel Cutter who is a bit like a samurai caught between his sense of humanity & his sense of dutiful obedience to a lord, & most strikingly excellent (to my surprise), Sylvester Stallone as Weaver, the big guy who has been scrawny Z's friend since they were pupae.

Weaver is a role that I would've thought would go naturally to Patrick Warburton, but Stallone rises to the occasion of softhearted machismo every bit as good as Warburton.

Antz Z is convinced there's got to be more to life than the endless labors of a worker ant. When from a mentally ill ant he learns the story of Insectopia where all ants are equal, Z truly wants to believe.

In stepping out of line in pursuit of his own path, Z lands unexpectedly among the warrior ants, led by the psychotic General Mandible (Gene Hackman, who unlike Woody is pretty much playing his standard character).

Mandible has a dystopian vision of the "perfect" colony & he'll be happy to sacrifice all that exists of the present colony if that's what it takes to achieve his insane "perfection."

And part of his plan involves a war against the termites, who pretty much mind their own business if not attacked, but prove a lot more ferocious at protecting their queen than General Mandible had predicted.

Z loses a good friend during this battle, in what is undoubtedly the grimmest sequence in the film. The beheaded head of old wardog Barbatus (Danny Glover) is completely conscious & fading slowly as he & Z say their last farewells upon a field of slaughtered ants.

The climactic flooding of the ants' nest & Z's uninteresting & unconvincing plan to save everything is not much of a climax. General Mandible is behind the crisis, but will be defeated, while Z's lame plan to save the day works out fine, & he wins the love of the princess ant into the bargain.

So it's not this failure of a climax that makes the film so winning, & certainly not the overly mechanical looking computer art. Rather, it's the characterizations & the minor incidents & credible friendships that make it so good, while the Jonathan Livingston Seagullesque utopian quest for individuality lends an appropriate balance of serioiusness & absurdity.

Antz Nothing about this ant society is realistic, no more than does Huckleberry Hound act like a dog. There is bound to be some expecation that it should have a tiny bit of scientific validity to the type of social order shown, & stuff like this can turn gullible kids into morons of science.

So after viewing with children, it might not be a bad idea to use it as an excuse to look at a couple picture-books about actual ant societies, then discuss why so many elements of the film don't fit the real lives of ants -- & by this means add to rather than subtract from the kids' scientific knowledge.

The story is simple enough for little kids, though the design-work is not apt to have child appeal (nothing's warm & fuzzy, nor even cute) & the one-liner jokes will be above their heads.

But most kids should love it even so, the youngest potentially disturbed by the death of Barbatus. The higher sophistication of some of the wise-cracks & character can certainly sustain adult interest, so this is that rare animal, a family film that doesn't lose the attention of the parents.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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