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Antz (1998)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

“Every ant has his day.”

The animation in this film rates as top notch for its release date. As an animated feature it should appeal to younger viewers. However, its subtle themes target an adult and politically aware audience. Although most movies I review include some advocacy of individualism, few extol such a strongly individualistic point of view as openly and positively as Antz.

The opening sequence, like the one which closes the film, makes strong allusions to city life in the human world. The voice of Z (Woody Allen speaking dialog that seems written with him in mind) describes his “city” life to another character, presumably his psychiatrist. The camera eventually shows that Z is an ant, not a human.

Z talks about his lack of enthusiasm for: his childhood as a middle child in a family of 5 million; his job — a worker who deals with dirt; his life as part of a super-organism (the ant colony) — “what about me”? He comes to what his therapist calls a major breakthrough: he is insignificant. However, Z does not accept his insignificance. Later speaking to Azteca (Jennifer Lopez): a co-worker, Z expresses his unhappiness with what seems his fate as a small insignificant cog in the ultra-regimented ant colony. She tells him he thinks too much.

The scene shifts to a group of larger soldier ants. General Mandible (Gene Hackman) talks with his assistant Colonel Cutter (Christopher Walken) of their plans for a colony in which they can take pride. Part of General Mandible's plans call for war with a neighboring termite colony. However, he must get the Queen's (Anne Bancroft) approval to move forward on that front. When stating his case for war to the Queen, General Mandible also encounters his intended bride — the Queen's daughter: Princess Bala (Sharon Stone). They seem to have a rather dry and unromantic relationship (I suppose in many ways very ant-like), which leaves Princess Bala unsatisfied.

The scene shifts back to Z with his friend Weaver (Sylvester Stallone) in a “bar.” Z tells Weaver he believes there must be a better place. Next to them at the bar a soldier ant — like Weaver — claims he knows of such a place where other possibilities abound: Insectopia. Recalling an experience after a past battle, the tipsy veteran campaigner describes Insectopia as a place where “You can be your own ant ... no wars ... no colony.” When ant army MPs take the old soldier from the bar, he tells Z to head for the monolith.

Bored with the royal life, Princess Bala and a few of her friends also head to the same bar. Bala asks Z to dance. As they dance Z makes up his own steps. Bala joins him in his innovative dancing while all the other ants repeat the same lockstep motions. However, Z's originality leads to dance missteps and eventually a brawl during which he and Bala become separated.

The next day Z feels much different about his life. He seems happy. After a lonely night at the same bar, he figures out a way in which he might see Bala again. The soldiers will parade for the Queen the next day. Z convinces Weaver to switch places with him. Although at first reluctant, the promise of meeting “worker girls” tempts Weaver enough to consent to the switch.

The next day Z — with thousands of soldier ants — parades in front of the Queen, Princess Bala and General Mandible. Z's efforts to attract Bala's attention fail. In addition, after the parade Gen. Mandible makes a speech in which he talks of sacrifice and a soldier's duty. Mandible follows this by telling the assembled soldiers — including Z — that they will launch a preemptive attack on the neighboring termite colony. Z has gotten more military involvement than he planned on, but a veteran soldier named Barbatus (Danny Glover) befriends him.

Will Z and Barbatus survive the battle with the termite army? Will Z reunite with Princess Bala? Will they find a better life in Insectopia? Will General Mandible's nefarious scheme for a new colony succeed? Will Weaver meet “worker girls”? What about the “limo liberal” wasps I didn't mention: Chip (Dan Aykroyd) and Muffy (Jane Curtin)? Watch and find out.

I will tell you this much: this film uses ants allegorically. Antz explores themes related to people living in society. At times it seems prescient in its anticipation of recent events in Imperial America. Although not one of his own films, Woody Allen suits the lead role perfectly. As a hero, Z "has a few issues," but like the ant in the closing music, Z has high hopes. If you enjoy movies with social commentary that celebrate individualism employing “sophisticated humor,” but which remain suitable for general family viewing — a somewhat rarefied category — then you should enjoy Antz. I recommend it very highly.

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