Directed by: Eric Darnell & Tim Johnson
Written by: Todd Alcott, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Starring: Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Bancroft, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Jennifer Lopez
While being called a “snowflake” has become a pejorative in recent times, facts outline the idea of each person being unique. Whether it be their fingerprints all the way down to personality and brain function. Even when uniformity becomes the common practice in any environment, individualism in making personal decisions remains integral to a free and fair society. It’s something valued in this very country and becomes the main ideological issue occurring in Antz where it focuses on how this impacts insects.
Assigned as a worker ant from birth, Z (Woody Allen) struggles with finding meaning in his existence. After interacting with Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) he swaps places with his friend, assigned as a soldier, to attend a ceremony and speak to her again. Z unknowingly gets sent off to battle against termites and as the only survivor, comes back as a war hero.
If there was an assigned winner in the legacy battle between this feature and A Bug’s Life the gold medal would have to go to the latter with it being attached to the Pixar brand. While the animation holds up much better in the Pixar one, the story outlined in Antz goes way beyond expectations and delivers a story with plenty to say and displayed in a surprising dark manner. In this feature, the ants are pre-selected for what they will do for the rest of their existence. Either a soldier or a worker where the former will most likely die in battle while the latter digs for their entire existence. Bleak any way you look at it, but these ants do not know better seeing as everything they know comes from the society they live in. All it takes is one simple question to tear down the whole facade: Why?
The aforementioned question gets asked by Z’s friend, Weaver (Sylvester Stallone), who served as a soldier but switched spots as a favor to the protagonist and the answer says plenty about this ant society. When the question gets asked the supervisor does not have an answer because they genuinely do not know either, which serves as a searing commentary on these ants but several facets of our society. It can be compared to an employment environment where everyone works until they’re ground to nothing but never asks the primary goal of it all. Sure employees get their salaries just like the worker ants receive their rations, but the why of the circumstance does not always get properly communicated. The more harrowing comparison comes from looking at society as a whole and when the masses begin to question doing several things they’re just told to do. Depending on where an individual lands politically they can question why hard-earned taxpayer dollars get used for certain causes and services. These ants build with no end in sight for their purpose, which makes them dangerous when they begin to organize.
Using ants as the insect of choice makes perfect sense as the film demonstrates what can occur when they work together cohesively. They even form a wrecking ball at some point composed of ants to demonstrate the force they attain when united. All of these ideas contribute to the design of this film being very adult and dark with the events and themes occurring. The scene where Z goes off to war may just be enough when they show the bloodshed of the battles and push the limit of what could be displayed in a PG animated film. When the final tactic by the main antagonist gets revealed, it demonstrates a level of evilness not many have matched in the human world except for the usual suspects like Adolf Hitler. I was left shocked and impressed with everything this film tackles and on a story level, it proves to be the best-animated ant movie around. However, part of an animated film is the animation and Antz struggles greatly in this department.
Some 90s animated films have not aged well naturally but I defy anyone who watched this when first released to say the animation on display is of high quality. It reaches a level of the uncanny valley leaving me wanting to look away at certain points. The way the ants have eerily human faces and teeth really gave the creeps, which only became more difficult to sit with considering the cast. From Gene Hackman to Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Christopher Walken, Danny Glover, Anne Bancroft, and Dan Aykroyd, this voice cast proves to be bananas. In the time where voice casts began to fall into known commodities stepping in this proved to be quite the collection of talent in a glorious way but also did not help with the horrors of watching these ants interact with each other.
If one were to magically combine the animation of A Bug’s Life with the story of Antz they would have created an absolutely stellar piece of work. In the end, the two projects ended up being very good on their own. While the animation gives me nightmares to this day, this film digs into the societal issues in such a perceptive and engaging manner where at some point the horrid visuals can be somewhat ignored. A testament to the narrative execution as a whole and it makes this one worthy to check out even without the pulling power of Pixar.