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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Antz

Starring: Woody Allen, Sharon Stone
Director: Eric Farnell
Rated: PG
RunTime: 83 Minutes
Release Date: October 1998
Genres: Animation, Kids, Comedy, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Bill Clinton has made mea maxima culpas the de rigueur du jour, so I think I'd better 'fess up too and maybe get my own four and one-half minutes of fame. Back in the Jurassic Age when I was living in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, I was best friends with this kid, Herbie, whose dad owned the local dry cleaning store. Herbie's pop had a back yard full of creatures small and little, and he introduced me, still an innocent lad of seven, to the mysteries of the native ant colonies. Having explained their patterns of work and battle, he proceeded to pour cleaning fluid on them and, while I am now indeed sorry for what I'd done, I joined him and whiled away many an otherwise dreary day in that activity until we discovered the more adult joys of comic books. Did I say sorry? Make that utter contrition. I've seen the movie "Antz" and only now realize that these creatures are human just like us, only a little smaller. Like the rest of us, they've got bad guys, too, fellas that deserve a shot of Herbie's magic potion to prevent far more treacherous perils. I speak particularly of some of the leaders--no, not the queen, she's OK--but the generals. At least the general in the movie, who is a the biggest, baddest critter in the tunnel. He's the dude that favors ethnic, on second thought, he's not for putting down ants of another colony who are of a different clan, but for wiping out most of his own kind, those of a different class; namely, the workers. He wants to start a brave new world of Aryan ants.

"Antz" is a thoroughly imaginative and delightful 83 minutes of pixar animation with a more riveting plot than that boasted by "The Toy Story," made by a competing studio. As a parable with strong Twentieth Century resonance, it's a chilling tale involving warnings of massive extermination and ideological warfare, but given its romantic input it leaves us with the feeling that love can conquer all. Sporting the voices of some of Hollywood's super-stars, this non-stop-action show featuring beings who thankfully look only a bit like ants will capture the regard of adults and leave the little guys in the audience admiring the graphics but wondering what the heck their parents, guardians, and big brothers and sisters are snickering about. In other words "Antz" is not one of the movies "made for kids but with something for the grown-ups" but a film targeted at the mature with pretty pixars thrown in for the kiddies. To avoid the dreaded "G" rating, scripters Todd Alcot, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz throw in one and one- third naughty words each: "damn," "hell," "crap," and "anus."

The story opens with ant Z (Woody Allen) on the couch, whining--as one familiar celebrity is known to do--about his worthlessness. "I feel insignificant," he moans, throwing up his arms." "You've made a big breakthrough," exalts the therapist." "I have?" replies Z. "Yes," the doctor responds, "You ARE insignificant."

The biggest problem in this movie is that only two other one-liners top that one. One zinger occurs when the general asks for time to debrief one of his privates, to which the soldier replies, "Please, general not a first date." The other is a sign that appears on the ground after the soldier ants and soldier termites wipe one another out, leaving only one ant survivor: "One to nothing--we win!" Yet there is much to admire in the dialogue and certainly a lot to revere in the bold illustrations that hit us from the entirely computer-generated software. What's groovy about the story line is the very many contemporary references it has to today's world, particularly to some of the great ideologies of the century. One is the danger of the military-industrial complex, as General Mandible (Gene Hackman) pushes the worker ants to produce a great tunnel with signs surrounding the tunnel complex like "Nothing satisfies like work" (not a bad slogan in itself, but chilling when you think about that infamous sign of the 1940s, "Arbeit Macht Frei"). While driving the workers forward he cheers his great army, telling the soldiers that they may consider themselves quite a step above the workers in class and importance. (Then again, so did Plato way back then.) But Z, the formerly insignificant worker who becomes a celebrated revolutionary, challenges the millions in his colony below Central Park to think for themselves and to stop blindly following orders, making "Antz" the most subversive movie of the year. Thank goodness the seven-year-old in the theater seats won't have a clue about the dialogue. What would happen if they gave Z a chance and refused to comply with everything their mommies and daddies want them (for their own good, of course) to do?

The romantic element is provided by the lovely Princess Bala (Sharon Stone), daughter of the Queen (Anne Bancroft), who falls in love with Z while slumming in a workers' bar and reluctantly follows him to the perfect village known as Insectopia. It would reveal nothing that this land of peace and love is none other than New York's own Central Park, and when Z and Bala emerge from the tunnel like Plato's cave dwellers abandoning their underground shadows, they know they've arrived at the center of the world.

One of the great scenes involves the legs of a human being which unwittingly trample on both Z and Bala, who are saved from extinction by the wide spaces in the running shoes. We get to see what it's like from an ant's eye view by watching the legs slowly rise and fall like choppers taking off and setting their cargo down with a thump.

It's difficult to tire of Woody Allen's celebrated, self- depracating dialogue, though he has one annoying habit that makes you think he's improvising. Woody routinely says that most irritating of all throat-clearers, "ya know" about two dozen times, a custom he vexatiously practiced in the recent documentary about his European tour with a band of musicians, "Full-Tilt Boogie." But this is a minor cavil. When Princess Bala, in the throes of love with Z, tells him "You're not like anyone else," let's hope that the kids will take this guidance to heart and halt the millennium-old custom of mindless conformity. But this is too much to hope for. After all, with the coming of the new millennium (to paraphrase Senator Bulworth), we're not even close to insectopia.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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