BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM | ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
I love rewatching animated films I haven’t seen since I was young—“Once Upon a Forest” or “The Land Before Time” for example. Picking out humor and details I missed as a little kid is always entertaining, and I often surprise myself with how much I still remember.
But when I stumbled across “Antz” (1998), I couldn’t remember a single thing. I knew I had seen it once upon a time (mainly because my older siblings all told me I had); it simply must have faded away. Of course, I knew about the controversy surrounding it way back when; like the fact many people believe Jeffrey Katzenberg and DreamWorks Animation had stolen Disney/Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life” (1998) and created a knock-off production. And that most people (at least, people I know) think “Antz” is the antithesis of quality entertainment.
However, I was willing to give “Antz” a fair shot. I mean, how bad could it be?
And after watching it, I now understand why my brain had erased the film from my memory: it was trying to protect my childhood innocence.
“Antz” feels like it was created by dressing up Woody Allen in an ant suit, following him around New York City, and writing down everything he said. While that may be a bit mean-spirited, it would go a long way toward explaining the dysfunctional and irrational plot. Woody Allen voices Z, a neurotic worker ant depressed about his biological station in life.
Through a series of misadventures involving being thrust into a war and accidentally kidnapping the Princess (Sharon Stone), it is up to Z to save the colony from the nefarious schemes of General Mandible (Gene Hackman).
The reason I say the plot is “dysfunctional” is because nothing that happens seems to work in conjunction with another event. In Plot A, we have Z attempting to find a utopic colony (literally and metaphorically) where he can express his individuality. The audience is dragged through an hour’s worth of film for Z to discover an insect’s paradise, only for the moment to last all of five minutes before we’re whisked away back to the original colony.
In Plot B, General Mandible tries to purge the colony of worker ants because… well, I don’t know. He just…hates the one group of ants in the colony who literally do all the work (it’s in their name!) and will have to be replaced anyway if the colony is to survive. And finally, in Plot C, the worker ants stage a revolution that lasts…one minute.
The infuriating thing about it is that all three plot threads could have been separate films in themselves. A film about an ant’s utopia or a war among insects or a revolution threatening the lives of the queen and the princess ants would have been interesting. Instead, all we get are small scenes that allude to the greater ideas but nothing that one plot does influences the other two, because none of the characters impact the ambitions/plans of the others.
To its credit, “Antz” did attempt to be edgy. It has a grisly battle sequence, risqué lines, torture and is one of the few animated movies I’ve seen where the audience sees a character’s face as they die. But it’s little consolation for the unemotional voice acting, bland writing, awful storyboarding, flat humor and irritating ant-ics of the characters.