A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


September 23, 2010


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 | , ,

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