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The ripple effect that Toy Story created within the animation industry is only now being felt by audiences. Earlier this summer, Small Soldiers hit theaters with its mix of computer animation and live action. And looming on the horizon comes another computer- animated story, A Bug's Life. The newest release in the computer animation movement is Antz, a charming and funny tale told from the perspective of a worker ant named "Z" (voiced by Woody Allen), who wants to be different. He refuses to follow instructions like a mindless drone--never mind that's exactly what a worker ant is supposed to be.
Unlike Small Soldiers, which squandered its satirical premise by giving us a bevy of bland toys, the creators of Antz know the value of creating recognizable characters. Even when all the ants look quite similar, each ant develops his/her own personality. "Z" is diminutive, bull-headed, and neurotic: "I was not cut out to be a worker," he says. "I've never been able to lift more than ten times my body weight." Sylvester Stallone voices Z's buddy, Weaver. A solider ant, Weaver bulges with muscles. His main interest is to meet some cute female ants. Princess Bala (voiced by Sharon Stone) is the spoiled heir to the throne who goes slummin' at the locale bar and meets Z. While the rest of the ants dance at a dirge pace to "Guantanamera," Z shows the Princess some snappy new moves: "Why does everybody have to dance the same way?" he says while dancing like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.
Other characters include General Mandible (Gene Hackman), an ambitious military leader who plans to rebuild the colony in his own image; Colonel Cutter (Christopher Walken) is the General's main henchman; the Queen (Anne Bancroft) spits out new babies every few seconds (as a good ant queen always does); Chip and Muffy (Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin) are a pair of WASP-ish wasps that Z encounters; Barbatus (Danny Glover) is a solider ant who befriends Z and saves his life; Azteca (Jennifer Lopez) works alongside Z in the tunnels.
Thanks to this diverse group of characters and the voice talent that helps bring the characters to life, Antz is always lots of fun to watch. The story itself is pretty standard stuff: the General wants to stage a coup and take control of the colony, but Z stumbles into the role of savior and rallies the workers to oppose the General. Most of the fun, however, takes place away from the colony, as Z and Princess Bala wander through the nearby picnic grounds. This is where the animation is most impressive, as Z and the Princess wander among giant thermoses, pickle jars, soda cans (watch out for the product-placement ads!), and plastic-wrapped sandwiches. At one point the Princess becomes stuck to the bottom of a kid's shoe and Z tries to follow her by desperately clinging to a shoelace. And in another scene, magnified sun rays threaten to fry our heroes. The effects in scenes such as these are impressive.
Directors Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson have envisioned a wildly imaginative journey that allows us to see life from the perspective of an ant. Meanwhile, the actors providing the voices make us care about the main characters. Woody Allen in particular is excellent. Many of his lines sound like vintage Allen material. For example, in one of the first scenes, Z talks to a shrink and complains about his role as a worker: "I feel insignificant," he says. "You are insignificant," says the psychiatrist (voiced by Paul Mazursky). "Oh," says Z.
I'm not sure how much kids will like this movie. There were dozen of kids at the screening that I attended and many of them seemed restless. Much of the humor is aimed at an older audience. So parents beware. But for the adults in the audience, Antz is one of the most consistently entertaining animated movies to come along in years.
[rating: 3 of 4 stars]