Old Review: Antz

At an anthill in Central Park, New York, is where a young worker ant named Z-4195, or Z for short, is going to have his simple life changed. He works a mundane worker ant lifestyle, helping construct a tunnel to find food for the whole colony. After falling in love with the Princess of his colony, named Bala, after meeting her in pure luck at a local bar, he takes the place of his best friend Weaver and joins the army in an effort to see her again, as they head off to fight a war. Thanks to his cowardice, he ends up becoming the only survivor of brutal battle against an army of termites, and is celebrated as a hero. Unbeknownst to Z, Bala or any of the worker ants, the battle was a plan set up by a corrupt royal General Mandible, who wants to eliminate the worker ants and the loyal soldier ants so he can form a strong enough army to take over the whole colony from the royal family. After a troubled reuniting, Z and Bala escape their oppressed lifestyles to try and find Insectopia, where food is of an unlimited supply, but with the rest of the colony in danger because of a rogue General, Z has to help his friends and workers if they all want to live a free and happy life.

Let me introduce you to a man named Jeffery Katzenburg, he began his success with the Star Trek revival at Paramount before becoming CEO of Disney after Michael Eisner purchased the company in 1984. While he was one of the leading men behind the Disney Renaissance that brought Disney back to dominating the western animation industry, he was known for his controversial decisions that almost hurt the company. In 1994 he wanted the position of company president, which Michael Eisner refused, this eventually lead him to resign from Disney and form Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg and David Gaffen in the same year. He decided to create Antz as the company’s first feature film, and based it on a film pitch by Tim Johnson, who is credited for the story. However, this angered Pixar, who pitched and began development on their second feature A Bug’s Life a few months before Katzenburg began work on it. Katzenburg offered to push the film back to March 1999, as long as A Bug’s Life was also pushed back so it wouldn’t be released with Dreamwork’s other film, Prince of Egypt, but since Pixar refused, the film was released on October 1998, more than a month before Bug’s Life.

The animation is very professionally made, but hasn’t aged that well. Granted this was the first ever Dreamworks animated feature, and for its time it is pretty good, especially the subtle emotions and large crowd scenes, but watching it nowadays the flaws are more noticeable. All the characters move robotically at times and lip movements feel a little off during dialogue scenes. The films worst visual part is its colour scheme; it’s mostly full of browns, greens and reds, and for its atmosphere, surroundings and character designs it does make it realistic, but for the kind of film this is, it is really dull. The character designs really surprise me, almost every character is either a worker and or a soldier ant that has the same colour and body structure, and yet except in the scenes with really large crowds and distance shots, there are almost no duplicate character designs, and each visible character in each scene is different in some way.

The soundtrack includes some pop tracks and generic orchestral pieces, so there isn’t really anything memorable. It normally plays through the action and comedic moments, and while it isn’t one of John Powell’s best soundtracks, it is very listenable and it doesn’t drive away from the visuals and the story.

The cast is a bit of an odd bunch overall, some of them do an alright job like Christopher Walken, Danny Glover and Sylvester Stallone, who make Cutter, Barbatus and Weaver really likeable, especially Danny Glover since Barbatus only appears for less than ten minutes of the whole movie. The majority of the cast is basically listenable at best; they definitely suit their roles as characters such as Gene Hackman as a war focused muscle-headed General Mandible and Sharon Stone as the free-minded yet still upper classed princess, but don’t really give anything impressive. I know that since it’s a kid’s animated film I shouldn’t give high expectations in the quality of acting, but I don’t think they really try to make these characters anything truly likeable or memorable. There is one exception to this, but for the wrong reasons, and that is Woody Allen as Z. I understand that he’s meant to be the odd one out, but he becomes really annoying, really quick. I think it’s mainly due to the fact that Woody Allen sounds like he reads the script and then improvises around it, so every time he talked, he says so much in one dialogue session I wanted him to shut up.

If it wasn’t for Prince of Egypt or Shrek, I’d amazed that Dreamworks survived after this movie. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t really that interesting or worthwhile after an initial viewing. This is mainly due the film’s direction of the plot, and exactly what the plot is. According to Wikipedia, Antz is loosely based on a 1930s novel called Brave New World, a story that explores the ideas of genetics to form societies, as well as the ideas of genetics to class people from birth into lifestyles, which in a way is demonstrated in the film with newborn larvae being decided on either being soldier ants or worker ants, and given training regimes to build them to be suitable for that task, and all of them except being insignificant except the main protagonists. This is also somewhat portrayed with one of the morals of the movie being choosing your own path, and while it would make an interesting movie, this is not greatly developed, probably because it’s a light hearted kid’s film. Instead it focuses more on the more predictable and generic plotlines, which include an upper class -lower class romance, trying to find a better world, and the evil guy wanting to take over the world. In the end, it becomes a really dull film with almost no reasons to re-watch it.

For this film, it’s not the question of why would you watch it, it’s why would you want to watch it more than once, besides reviewing it. While it may be interesting to see where Dreamworks started off, but it has a generic storyline that isn’t really interesting, with a generic soundtrack and a barely memorable cast. Since nowadays it’s well known as Dreamworks first attempted at taking elements from Pixar for their own story, this is probably one of a many knock-offs that’s worth skipping for the original.

Antz is available from Dreamworks Pictures. If you a curious about the loose source material of this film, the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was originally published by Chatto and Windus, and has since been reprinted by multiple publishers including Vintage Classics and Amazon.

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