Antz (1998)

D: Eric Darnell, Laurence Guterman
S: Voices of: Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman

Entertaining computer-animated feature notably free of songs and sidekicks which stands alongside Animal Farm as one of the few genuine attempts to articulate political concepts though anthropomorphism. In this case the film follows the events which transpire when a dissatisfied worker ant named 'Z' (voiced by Woody Allen) defies predefined social parameters and unwittingly nearly instigates revolution. Okay, so these are the sub-texts, but they're there amid the story of romantic comedy and adventure as Z plunges from lowly worker to soldier to would-be kidnapper all in the name of his love for the glamourous but aloof Princess Bala (voiced by Sharon Stone). Meanwhile nefarious plotting by General Mandible (voiced by Gene Hackman) threatens to destroy the colony, and only Z can save the day, with a little help from lifelong friend and soldier Weaver (voiced by Sylvester Stallone).

It is arguable that Antz is not necessarily a film for children. Much of the humour comes from knowing the personae of the actors playing the parts, especially Allen (the film would sit quite comfortably among some of his own work as director in many respects). It is also fairly pointed on the idea of social class and the transgression of boundaries, from Bala and Weaver's fascination with the 'rough trade' of worker life to the WASPish Wasps voiced by Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd whose comments about 'wingless insects' have more than one meaning. Which is not to say that children won't get the general idea, but there may not be enough to keep them completely hooked on the story (it begins, after all, with Z attending a therapy session with an ant analyst voiced by Paul Mazursky).

There are terrific action set pieces, of course, which will entertain young and old. The animators revel in showing action on multiple planes and on filling the screen with detail impossible to build on sets and difficult to do with traditional drawing techniques. There are also many nice twists of perspective, giving us an ants'-eye view of the world which includes the portrayal of a garbage tip as a wonderland, a puddle of water as a vast lake with both deadly and romantic possibilities, and the cataclysmic appearance of a magnifying glass wielded by an unseen and incomprehensible human being. It's all very clever and interesting, and the film is both worthwhile and enjoyable. But it just might be too clever for its own good, and its story does tend to frequently reinvent itself. It is most interesting as a social parable, and on the level of performance (all of the voices, from the leads to support from Danny Glover, Anne Bancroft, Jennifer Lopez and Christopher Walken, are wonderful). There are many viewers for whom these things will be less than fascinating, and it is probably no more appealing to those who dislike Woody Allen films than one of his own. For those of a suitable disposition, then, it is most enjoyable, and provides an interesting counterpoint to some of the more mainstream animated films of recent years (it managed to beat Pixar's A Bug's Life to the punch in the release schedules).

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.