In an age when the entire world seems to have been transformed into a rampaging herd of mindless ninnies blindly following the latest trend, what a joy it is to see a film that celebrates individualism.
Remember Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist comedy Rhinoceros, in which everyone wanted to become one of those unwieldy creatures because it was the latest rage? In the charming new computer-animated feature directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson, it’s the ants who unquestioningly fall into their assigned roles, until one lone voice dares to defy convention.
Antz is a marvelous parable about the foolhardiness of blindly following the pack, delivered in a form so palatable no one can find it too subversive. Woody Allen is the voice of the little worker ant who inadvertently leads a revolution against a society ruled by conformity. Our unwitting hero discovers if you think independently and work together with those of all castes, you can conquer evil.
Worker ant Z-4194, who seems to resemble Woody Allen beyond his voice, is tormented by a boring life as a common drone. He yearns to venture beyond the confines of the regimented ant colony, in which residents are divided into workers and soldiers. They are ruled by the Queen (Anne Bancroft), whose primary duty is to pump out babies day after day.
After Z meets the Queen’s daughter, the beautiful Princess Bala (Sharon Stone), in the aphid bar where ants gather after a tough day, he longs to be a soldier so he can win her heart and venture outside the confines of his carefully prescribed role. She, too, yearns to taste life outside her territory, and escape her role as the next royal breeder.
Little Z trades identities with his soldier friend, Weaver (Sylvester Stallone), who discovers that he rather likes being a worker especially since he finds romance with the lovely working-class Azteca (Jennifer Lopez), who is impressed by his expansive chest span. As Weaver enjoys the worker’s life, Z goes off to fight the big fight with the termites (a fabulously rendered moonlit battle in a rotting tree trunk.) Ironically, because of his cowardice, Z is the only soldier to come back alive. Though he survived only by hiding during battle, he’s honored as a hero by all the ants including an impressed Princess Bala.
Z is determined to make it to Insectopia, the rumored paradise where ants are free to make their own decisions. Not surprisingly, this heretical kind of thinking gets him ostracized. Initially reluctant, Bala accompanies him out into the dangerous new world and before long decides she is ready to abandon her kingdom for a little taste of insect heaven. On the road to Insectopia, they confront numerous obstacles like pesky wasps (Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtin), a gigantic flyswatter, powerful sun rays, and in a very funny scene gargantuan human sneakers.
Meanwhile, a greater danger is lurking in the ambitious megalomaniac General Mandible (Gene Hackman), who is betrothed to the Princess. He has a master plan to remake the ant colony according to his own crazed vision even if he has to do it by force, subterfuge and destruction.
When little Z finds out about the General’s plan, he finally has his chance to become a real hero by uniting the workers and the soldiers. Only if they work together, ignoring the age-old caste system, can they save each other and their colony.
A kind of morality play, Antz has a dual message: First, become an independent thinker and do what’s right for you. Don’t do what other people tell you to do just because they think they’re right. Challenge the ideas of those around you. Second, if you work as a team for the betterment of all, you can achieve and conquer with new-found strength and power.
Message aside, this enormously entertaining joint-venture between DreamWorks and PDI is a stunningly-crafted feature that takes computer animation to new levels. With its precise drawings and cutting-edge technology, Antz is a step above other animated features. Kudos go to supervising animators Raman Hui and Rex Grignon.
Set in two separate worlds, the film takes audiences inside the drab and regimented ant colony, contrasting it with the colorful and infinitely unpredictable outside world. It’s a sort of animated Microcosmos shown from an ant’s point of view where a can of Pepsi or a bottle of Sprite is the size of a skyscraper, a blade of grass is the size of a tree, and a drop of water becomes an enormous bauble in which little Z gets trapped.
More impressive than all of that, however, are the sophisticated computer advances in facial animation, which make these well-delineated characters endlessly expressive and more human-like. Of course, it helps that the producers enlisted a star-studded cast of voices who bring their own personalities to the characters, bringing them to life in delightfully broad fashion.
Screenwriters Todd Alcott and Chris and Paul Weitz wrote the part of Z specifically for Woody Allen, who reportedly made the role his own by rephrasing his lines and adding his own words. It’s great fun to see an insect version of Allen on the couch opining about the meaninglessness of life in expectedly neurotic fashion. This little ant even has a shrink (Paul Mazurksy). No ordinary cartoon, this adorable animated comedy has it all top-notch visuals, a first-rate cast of voices, clever dialogue, a little romance and an engaging story with a good-old fashioned ending that makes it a winner for audiences of any age.