a critiQal film review The Ant Bully (2006)

Plot: Lucas (Eisen), sick of being picked on because he's small, takes out his revenge on the only thing he can - the ant hill in his yard. But, when the ants shrink him down to their size, will this "destroyer" be able to gain his freedom by working with the team, or is he going to be stuck in this even smaller state for the rest of his life?

702 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 30s)

After the success of Antz and (to a lesser extent), A Bug’s Life, Heather and I figured we had seen our last animated ant flick – and then along comes The Ant Bully. But would this children’s-book-turned-movie be worth watching, or had we already seen the best the animated ant world had to offer?

Taking a cue from it’s predecessors, The Ant Bully is packed with familiar voices. From Julia Roberts to Meryl Streep, and Nicolas Cage to Paul Giamatti, this film is overrun by famous voices. Surprisingly, there aren’t any real standouts, so most of the voices don’t overrule the image the viewer sees.

Sometimes, the voices are so familiar the visuals have to work extra hard to make the viewer forget the actor’s face. This has happened many times – Owen Wilson in Cars (2006) and Sharon Stone in Antz are two prime examples (both of which the animation was able to overcome).

With The Ant Bully, while the voices are familiar, the actors have either not been in the spotlight recently (Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep), or their characters in the film have been given some of the traits viewers have seen before (Bruce Campbell’s character is slightly reminiscent of a goofier Ash in Army Of Darkness), or, they delve into their character so well the viewer doesn’t even notice (Nicolas Cage). Having the most-recognized actors as a totally different species also helps, creating another wall between the viewer’s mind and placing a face with the voice.

Another interesting concept of animation that The Ant Bully works with is casting a relative unknown in the role of the main human (Zach Tyler Eisen), while keeping the famous actors delegated to either different species entirely. This works well in the film, as the viewer can’t place a face with the voice, so is easily enticed into keeping the voice with the character they are seeing on-screen.

There are a few recognizable voices in brief roles (Larry Miller and Cheri Oteri as the parents), but since they are on-screen for only short periods of time, the viewer doesn’t have much of a chance to place a face with the voice – and even if they do, the characters are minor enough not to matter to the movie as a whole.

The most recognizable human character is Paul Giamatti as the Exterminator. But again, The Ant Bully manages to get around the voice recognition another way. It creates enough of a likeness between Paul and his on-screen character that the viewer’s mind will be more easily fooled into keeping Paul as the Exterminator in their minds.

While the voices are a key part in the film, plot is another necessity. Thankfully, The Ant Bully tries to live up to that as well – albeit in a kid-friendly kind of way. Officially, the plot is about a human who is shrunk to ant-size, and must “become” an ant by working together with them as a team before he is allowed to return to human-size. Of course, that’s rather see-through as being really about making friends with others even if they are different – a moral play on “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” in other words.

Since The Ant Bully is an animated film, the viewer will of course tune in on the animation first and foremost. It’s decent, but in this age of Pixar, decent doesn’t really cut it anymore – for discerning adults, at least. Still, some of the scenes (such as hang-gliding with rose petals) are rather inventive, so it’s still enjoyable. Of course, since this is obviously aimed at kids, maybe the filmmakers were going for the Saturday morning cartoon feel, rather than the realistic animation the viewer has become accustomed to in films.

While adults may get a kick out of some of the more inventive sequences, the plethora of references to bodily functions and the rather thinly-veiled moral of The Ant Bully may get a little wearing. Kids, on the other hand, will probably love it. Especially as they discover that this is one Saturday morning cartoon that doesn’t have any commercials.

A decent try from Warner Bros. animation, but definitely not worth owning unless you’re a pre-teen.

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