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IN SHORT: Small is really, really good.
Long term readers know that Cranky is a major animation fiend, with cels from the first commercial cartoon, Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur hanging on his wall. So I didn't wait for the sneak previews to see the computer generated Antz. I went to a private screening. Lucky, lucky me.
Imagine you're a Woody Allen-type. Neurotic and another lonely slump among millions, you're drowning your sorrows at the local bar, and Sharon Stone taps you on the shoulder and asks you to dance. [you can insert a younger star name if you'd like, though they wouldn't be the stars of this movie. I have no problem fantasizing about Sharon Stone, even if she is married...]. What would you do to see her again? Would you go to war? Become a hero? Inspire revolution? Save the world? All that and more? That, my friends, is Antz in a nutshell. In a CG world where the biggest character is only a couple of millimeters tall, Antz delivers more than a foot of story. In ant terms, that's a lot.
Cranky will leave it to the film students to deconstruct Antz for its political content and allegory to the rise and fall of Communism and Fascist states -- about now you all should be muttering out loud "What is Cranky raving about now? This is a cartoon!"
No, it's more. Antz is a very funny, terrifically cast, beautifully animated film. It is a big step forward in the use of computer power to create animated images. Proprietary programs used by PDI, the creators (with Dreamworks Animation) of Antz, to animate thousands of background characters treat your eyes to phenomenally intricate animations -- dancing ants, roaring waves of water; The detail work is so subtle that you may not notice that the workers and the royalty ants are very much alike -- except that the Princess and her family have better skin than the workers. Only an animation fiend would notice that. And I did.
Z (Allen) is the middle child in a family of five million or so, first seen on a shrink's couch, trying to overcome his feelings of individuality. In the rigid castes of the colony, it isn't any better for Princess Bala (Stone) who faces married life with General Mandible (Gene Hackman), who she doesn't know or particularly care for. "Everyone has their place" says her mother the Queen (Anne Bancroft), and Bala's place is to give birth every ten seconds for the rest of her life. One last grab for a wild time leads to the bar.
To see her again, Z swaps roles with his best soldier ant pal, Weaver (Sylvester Stallone). Next thing you know, Z is the sole survivor of a surprise war against invading termites (all part of a coup d'etat effort on the part of the General). War Hero Z inspires the workers to revolution, and finds himself a fugitive accused of "kidnaping" the Princess, lost in the wilderness outside of the Colony. There our unlucky pair is befriended by a pair of wasps (voiced by Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin), hunted by the General's men under command of Cutter (Christopher Walken) and attacked by a wad of bubble gum. Since you've got the ant's eye perspective, that last bit isn't as far-fetched as it sounds.
It is in this wilderness that you will be treated to the singular most impressive bit of computer animation seen since stained glass window light filtered through dust in Hunchback of Notre Dame two years ago. In this spectacular sequence, Z gets trapped in a drop of water. Bala, in attempting to rescue him, bounces off of and then falls into the drop as it rolls the leafy landscape. It is breathtaking work. Almost made me giggle like a little kid (and all the kids in the audience were consistently giggling at a very funny script).
Antz is funny and frenetic. It works at levels both kidlets and adults can enjoy. And you'll never find a cast with this much star power in a live action flick. Everything you need for a good flick is in this "small" package.
Cranky's only reservation comes with the occasional use of more adult language used in the movie, which is why you'll find Antz labeled with a PG rating. It's too much for a four-year old but nothing that a six-year old hasn't heard, and goes by quickly. It will probably be missed by the youngest kids. I spoke to the parents (their kids looked to be seven or eight) who didn't have problems with the language. But let's be honest. When you see animation you think "kidlet flick." Words like 'bitch' do not belong in a kidlet flick.
Then again, Cranky keeps waiting for the day that animated flicks can appeal to an adult audience as any other adult themed movie would. Maybe this is one of the first baby steps.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Antz, he would have paid . . .
Long term readers also know my beef with traditional insistence that half a dozen or so new songs be written and inflicted on the viewing audience in every animated flick. Antz is the first to toss this requirement to the side. There are no original songs, and only two full length commercial numbers (a lovely vid piece of "I Can See Clearly Now" and an end credits version of the 50s hit "High Hopes") in the film. Other musical pieces are so well integrated, and so topical to the conditions of the ant colony, that they don't get in the way of the story.
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