A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 207 – Antz

Antz – September 23rd, 2010

This movie came out while I was in college and it came out on video while I was working at a video store. I hadn’t seen it before the video release because I usually try to avoid children’s movies in the theater and I just wasn’t super excited about it. Really, by the time it came out on video all I knew was that there had been two insect-based movies with ants as the lead characters released at the same time. One was Pixar (A Bug’s Life) and one was Dreamworks (this one). I mixed them up a bit until after I’d seen them, but once I had, well. I’ll put it this way: This is a Woody Allen movie that happens to be animated and involve a neurotic ant instead of a live action movie that involves a neurotic Woody Allen. A Bug’s Life could not be mistaken for a Woody Allen movie if one merely read the treatment.

There’s this thing that happens sometimes with books. I notice it at work and I’m sure it’s a thing in the publishing industry. Themes rise and fall. Vampires are big right now. Dystopian futures too. But eventually something else will crop up. We’ll get a slew of urban fantasy titles about characters who seem eerily similar. We’ll get five different books about teenagers with cancer. Six new books will come in with covers all featuring grass and a random item. Trends sweep in and out. So it doesn’t surprise me that two studios made animated insect movies at the same time, but I do find it funny. I’d find two studios making Peter Graves at the University of Minnesota movies more amusing, but that’s an obscure ref and I’m sorry.

I really am serious when I say this is a Woody Allen movie. It opens with Z, played by Allen, talking to his psychiatrist about how he feels so insignificant. His psychiatrist tells him that’s a wonderful breakthrough, since as a single ant in a huge colony, he is insignificant. And okay, as an aside, as we see near the beginning the larvae are all divided up into workers or soldiers. How does one get to be a psychiatrist ant? Or a bartender? I guess those are like the one in a billion jackpot jobs. Instead of being handed a pickaxe or a helmet, you get a bust of Freud or a liquor license. Anyhow, Z’s a worker but he thinks dirt is dirty and he’s generally a whiny little twerp, to be honest. I’ll be blunt. I can only take so much of Woody Allen before he starts to grate on my nerves like a belt sander.

So really, given my limited tolerance for Allen, one would think I’d be too annoyed by his presence in this movie to really enjoy it much. One would be wrong. Yes, Z can be insufferably annoying when Allen is basically playing himself in animated insect form, but once he’s not obsessing over being a tiny cog in the machine he’s a lot less smack-worthy. It helps that I like the rest of the voice cast, which has Gene Hackman, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken, Sharon Stone and Sylvester Stallone, amongst others. So it’s not all Woody Allen monologues. And there is a plot. It’s not terribly original or anything, but it’s coherent and cohesive.

Z, as I have mentioned, isn’t happy with his lot in life. He’s a worker who hates working. His friends, worker Azteca and soldier Weaver, think he’s being ridiculous. After a chance meeting with Princess Bala, Z convinces Weaver to switch places with him so he can see her again. Unbeknownst to either of them, General Mandible is planning on sending Weaver’s platoon into battle against some termites in order to get rid of the troops still loyal to the queen so he can take over the colony. Z ends up in the middle of a battle while Weaver meets Azteca and flirting commences. It would be silly to go through all the details, so suffice it to say that Mandible plots to get rid of Z and the other workers, Z, Azteca, Weaver and Bala uncover Mandible’s plans and all the ants – Z included – have to work together to save the colony. It all ends happily ever after with the workers working together and the soldiers helping them and a few key figures taking a chance and thinking for themselves and everyone ends up doing what they were supposed to do in the first place.

What’s the difference? Well, Z claims it’s fine and dandy cause he chose to do it now, instead of doing it by default. Eh. For a movie that has a huge rebellion and uprising of the workers, some talk about work and inequality between Z and Bala, and the mingling of castes with Azteca and Weaver, I’d kind of expected something more revolutionary. Something more than the status quo. But aside from the ending and Woody Allen being all Woody Allen-y, there are definitely some fun bits and humorous moments.

The thing is, I honestly don’t know how much of it would totally go over kids’ heads. Yeah, that’s good for a kids’ movie. It’s something I love about Sesame Street and the various Muppet movies. There’s always something for the adults. But I think the social commentary, Woody Allen humor and comments about erotic fantasies are maybe a bit more than most kids’ movies take on. But hey, I don’t have kids and I’m not one myself, so I don’t really need to judge this on the basis of whether it makes a good movie for five year olds. It’s got flaws, yes, but it’s moderately fun and if I focus on Gene Hackman and Christopher Walken I’m happy.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Antz

September 23, 2010

Antz

This is such a strange concept for an animated chldren’s movie. Who came up with the concept of making a movie about a neurotic ant who is dissatisfied with his lot and longs to be an individual? The answer, of course, is Pixar. A Bug’s Life came out right around the same time that this Dreamworks Animation film did, and there were a suspicious number of similarities between the two. Both had the same basic premise, but of the two movies I actually liked this one better. It has an edgier, stranger, more non-conformist vibe.

It starts with the cast. This is not the cast of your typical animated film. It’s not aimed at being kid friendly. I mean, what kid has heard of Woody Allen? (Well okay, yes, I loved Sleeper and Bananas and Zelig and Broadway Danny Rose as a kid, but I was an atypical lad I think.) This movie is filled with his neurotic stuttering patter since he plays Z – the lead character. Z is a worker ant in a colony that is heavily stratified and segregated. There are workers, warriors and royalty, and mixing between the castes is strongly discouraged.

Z has a big, burly, warrior friend called Weaver, who is played with an affable mealy mouthed charm by Sylvester Stallone. One day the princess of the colony, Bala, played by Sharon Stone, who is frustrated with her arranged marriage to the general of the warriors, leaves the palace to see how the other side live and ends up meeting Z and he falls for her. He soon cooks up a scheme to try and meet her again by switching places with Weaver, but through a series of unlikely events the two of them end up outside the colony trying to make it on their own.

Other big-name stars in the cast include Anne Bancroft as the levelheaded queen of the ants, Jennifer Lopez as a worker who knows Z and ends up befriending Weaver, Danny Glover as a hapless soldier during a rather gruesome scene of war with the nearby termite tribe, and Christopher Walken as the right-hand man of the evil general who has his own plans for the princess and the colony.

There are a lot of adult themes here in this movie. There’s the whole non-conformist theme, with Z and his radical notions of choosing his own fate. Then while he’s outside the colony his name is used to justify a Marxist revolt of the worker ants. There’s a whole theme of racial purity with the primary bad guy, general Mandible, and his obsession with washing away the weak and the useless to create a new stronger colony. (Mandible is played by Gene Hackman with great gusto. He’s a slimy, underhanded but popular leader with nefarious plans known only to his inner circle.)

Most good children’s movies, I would argue, have some references and jokes that will go over the heads of the children in the audience. It’s important to have something in there for the parents, because after all they’re the ones paying for the tickets. But this movie goes far beyond having the occasional adult reference. It feels almost as though there is very little in the movie aimed at children at all. It’s not an extremely serious movie. Not like the creepy and unsettling world of 9 for example. But it’s also about as far as you can get from Disney and still be in the realm of an animated movie. (Which probably explains why I enjoy it.)

I like the design and art style of this movie too. The characters themselves are of course heavily anthropomorphized, but the world they inhabit is for the most part very realistic. Especially the outside world on the surface outside the colony. Every scene on the surface is a kind of warped look at our own world. I particularly love the entire scene at the picnic – filled as it is with recognisable objects made bizarre when viewed from an ant’s perspective. (Although the heavy-handed Pepsi product placement gets a bit tiresome.)

It occurs to me that I never have gotten around to seeing Bee Movie – another Dreamworks movie starring a stand-up comedian as an insect dissatisfied with his place in a regimental colony. I don’t know if it’s really worth buying, but I’m curious to see just how similar it is to this movie. In the mean time I think we’ll be reviewing A Bug’s Life real soon.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment