Mountains Out of Anthills

By Robert Horton

It's surprising how much of Antz is geared around the personality of Woody Allen. The Woodman provides the voice of Z, the ant who dreams of being something other than a drone amongst millions of identical insects. The filmmakers have clearly taken a great deal of Z's character from Allen; the first time we see the little red guy, he's on the couch with his therapist. Z whines and wrings his hands a lot (well, he wrings his feelers, or whatever), worrying over the fate of a lone ant in an expanding universe-trademark Allen shtick, re-imagined for a bug.

One wonders how much the kiddie audience is going to care about this character, whose voice often sounds like a sixty-year-old man. It's not Allen's fault-he's spirited enough in his reading-but despite the fancy animation, Antz is an unengaging experience. The whole practice of using big stars for voices is distracting. Sharon Stone plays a royal ant, a princess, who meets Z one night when she's out slumming at a bar. (It is kind of funny that hundreds of fun-seeking ants would be doing a line dance to "Guantanamera.") Anne Bancroft does the voice of the queen ant, and Gene Hackman is the saber-rattling general, who wants to send the soldier ants into battle.

Because he wants to see the princess again, Z changes places with his buddy, a soldier ant (Sylvester Stallone), which is how Z gets into the front lines during a battle. How strange this battle sequence is, closer to a Ralph Bakshi cartoon than the Disney treatment. Z ends up holding a conversation with the disembodied head of a fellow trooper (Danny Glover), whose exoskeleton is nowhere to be found. You half expect to see the Marine from Saving Private Ryan wandering around, looking to pick up his arm. (Does DreamWorks chief Steven Spielberg influence his studio's projects by osmosis?) Just the regular anthill scenes are oppressive (if deftly animated), sometimes resembling storyboards from Metropolis or Triumph of the Will. Eventually the movie ends up in the clear sunlight, for a welcome change, as Z and the princess search for a fabled place called Insectopia.

There are clever touches in Antz, but that's what they remain-touches. While the animation, produced by PDI (not the company that made Toy Story), is very handsome and occasionally astonishing, the story leaves something to be desired. The jokey tone doesn't allow us to get close to the characters in the way Toy Story did. This is important, because, you know, these characters are bugs. Creepy, crawly bugs. So we don't much want to get close to them to begin with.

DreamWorks didn't bother to commission a song score, so familiar tunes such as "I Can See Clearly Now" and "Almost Like Being in Love" are trotted out. Very odd. For all the work that has obviously gone into this movie, there's a certain slipshod quality to it, too. Let's wait and see what the Toy Story folks have with A Bug's Life before we drown the anthill.