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  Publicity Stills of "The Ant Bully"
(Courtesy from 2006 Warner Bros. Ent.
All Rights Reserved)

Genre: CG Animation
Director: John A. Davis
Voice Talents: Jake T. Austin, Nicolas Cage, Alan Cumming, Zach Tyler Eisen, Paul Giamatti, Myles Jeffrey, Regina King, Cheri Oteri, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin
RunTime: 1 hr 28 mins
Released By: Warner Bros
Rating: PG

Opening Day: 9 August 2006

Synopsis :

From Academy Award nominated filmmaker John A. Davis (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius) and producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman (The Polar Express), The Ant Bully tells a witty and heartwarming story about a 10-year-old boy who embarks on a remarkable journey. New in town, friendless and tormented by a neighborhood bully, young Lucas Nickle has been taking out his frustration on the innocent ant hill in his yard. But one day the ants retaliate. Using a magic potion, they shrink Lucas down to ant size and sentence him to live like an ant in their colony. In this strange new world Lucas will learn important lessons about friendship, get a whole new perspective on life and ultimately find the courage to stand up for himself.

Movie Review:

Based on a popular children’s book by John Nickle, “The Ant Bully” is a journey into the already penetrated world of ants and everything entomological. It’s the first of three big budget CGI animated features that we will be expecting in the short span of two months. Although boasting the most impressive roster of star voice talents, you’ll still be hard pressed to distinguish this from the rest. Ultimately, it has a been-there-done-that vibe that permeates the relatively dated animation, which in terms of story and animations has nothing of notable value to add to the already congested library of CGI films.

Perhaps its greatest and unintentional promotion would be the ludicrous accusations of political subtext. It has drawn some criticisms of subtly infusing communist rhetoric in its prevailing theme of communal strength in numbers and conformity for the greater good, but that’s just hogwash. If anything, its theme and certain sequences insinuate Buddhist philosophies more than politics.

After one too many atomic wedgies by the local bully, Lucas a.k.a. Peanut (Zach Tyler) takes out his frustrations on the anthill and insects in his lawn. This cycle of cruelty earns him the title of Peanut the Destroyer, amongst the ant colony that remarkably learnt how to speak English, has a stable government and can perform magic. In fact, to this highly advanced and sophisticated species, humans are considered the primitive philistines. Local ant wizard, Zoc (Nicholas Cage) gets his revenge by creating a potion to shrink Lucas into the size of an ant. As Lucas is brought to face justice, the Ant Queen (an ethereally voiced, Meryl Streep) decrees that he be taught the life of an ant before returning him home because it takes a village to raise a kid and it apparently also takes a village to edify misguided little boys.

Despite the obvious allusions of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” and of “A Bug’s Life” when man-made and arthropodic dangers threaten the greenhorn and his newfound cadre, this effort is relatively low-key. Based on a short story, it reiterates its simple message by affirming its fundamentals over and over again. It’s a foregone conclusion that discovering morals and learning valuable life lessons will be the cardinal aspect of this film. Becoming an uncomplicated piece of lyrical yarn of togetherness, strength of community and love for all living things, it just narrowly avoids becoming too saccharine and cloying.

The six-legged characters are presented the way that they end. Lacking the idiosyncratic neurosis of Woody Allen in “Antz” or Dave Foley’s self-mocking tomfoolery in “A Bug’s Life”, these ants are not memorable nor are they significant. The technical aspects of the animation are pretty to look at and bears heavy and instantly recognisable resemblance to fans of writer-director, John A. Davis’s “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius”. But that’s where the similarities end. As opposed to its droves of animated predecessors, it has very little tongue-in-cheek and offhand humour for the adults, a staunch kids movie through and through.

Zach Tyler’s voice talents lend Lucas a helping hand in establishing some much-needed humanity in the cold hard world that he finds himself in. With its big budget and a decision of spending a huge chunk of it on A-list voice talents, it seems like a risk that did not pay off. Julia Roberts’ participation in the film appears to be a costly mistake. I just could not place her voice in the film, which could have just as easily been misconstrued as Ellen DeGeneres. And that’s not something a marquee performer should elicit from the audience. In this case, the lesser known but always imposing Bruce Campbell was the bigger draw for me. Growing up on his trademark physical swagger and masculine demeanour, he still conveyed the same feeling through his unmistakably eminent voice.

Far from a misfire, “The Ant Bully” is still a fun little break from reality especially for the younger audience. It’s just a garden-variety feature that will always be bullied by the bigger and timeless cinematic fare. And at a mere 88 minutes, you can’t help but wonder if it’s just another shot in the dark for CGI films. No matter what is said however, family films, even the generic ones are still a huge draw for everyone. It’s just a matter of when the overkill starts becoming salient and the fear of eroding standards becomes a reality.

Movie Rating:

(A run-of-the-mill kids movie that’s short, sweet but ultimately forgettable)

Review by Justin Deimen


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