The Ant Bully

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Review #201 of 365
Film: The Ant Bully [PG] 88 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $11.25
Where Viewed: UA Denver Pavilions 15, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 31 July 2006
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Review Dedicated to: M. D. G. of Faribault, MN

John Debney - The Ant Bully

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
Well a few things first:
I've said it all year, but this really is the year of the computer-animated film. Recall the list so far: Curious George, Doogal, Ice Age: The Meltdown, The Wild, Over the Hedge, Cars, A Scanner Darkly, Monster House, and now The Ant Bully. That's 9. Still to come: Barnyard, Everyone's Hero, Open Season, Flushed Away, Happy Feet, bringing the total to 15! Which is practically 3 times the number in any previous year. Is anyone else out there worried that somebody is going a bit overboard and this might be too much of a good thing?

Previously, there have been two major motion picture animated films devoted to the subject of ants: A Bug's Life and Antz. The huge difference between these previous two films and The Ant Bully, is that they focused nearly exclusively on the world from the perspective of the ants, while The Ant Bully explores the interaction between the ants and humans. As the title suggests, the film is about a young boy, a victim of bullying himself, who turns his rage on creatures smaller than he is, in this case the ant colony in his front yard.

Lastly to get this out of the way, I really want to say that, from a science teacher's perspective, one thing that bothers me about all three of these 'ant-imated' films is that very little of the ant behavior or anatomy depicted is scientifically accurate other than the obvious, ants cannot really talk thing, of course. I think I'll save more on that, however, for a second review of the film which will likely be coming up when I see the 3D animated version.

With those things out of the way, it is now time to properly move on to a review of The Ant Bully. I would start, therefore, by saying that the film has a good moral, but there is a heavy price to pay to learn it. In other words, the director and writer has filled the film with so much other 'not so great' stuff as to cause one to have to weigh the pros and cons when evaluating the film. Permit me a couple of examples. First, the basic premise of the film is that little Lucas Nickle routinely is bullied by a very obnoxious big kid in his own front yard enduring everything from atomic wedgies to dog piles. Therefore, when the kid finally leaves him alone, his anger wells up and he takes it out on the defenseless ant colony by either kicking it or flooding it. The ant colony's resident wizard ant (not one of the traditional ant castes that I ever heard of) whips up a potion to shrink that which they call Peanut the Destroyer, down to ant size. Once ant-sized, Lucas will see life from an ant's perspective and realize all that is wrong with the way he deals with his own problems by taking it out on others.

"…the film has a good moral, but there is a heavy price to pay to learn it."

So, we get the good final moral of the story, but who's watching or paying attention to Lucas when he's getting bullied in his own front yard? Lucas's family consists of a cadre of the most stereotypical animated characters put into an animated film pitched at families yet. The mother and father are dolts, the sister is a headphone-wearing, cold and uncaring, teenager. The grandmother, who comes to take care of the children when the parents leave for Mexico for a vacation, is a batty, denture-wearing, alien invasion-fearing, oblivious, old codger. And, unless ant-time moves much faster than human time, Lucas is kidnapped by the ants for at least two days and one night, and neither his sister nor grandmother seem to set out to look for him or even notice he's gone. The villain of the story is, just as in Over the Hedge, an exterminator named Stan Beals (voiced by Paul Giamatti) who is a perfectly repugnant and terrible human being with an evil grin. He tricks Lucas into signing a contract for him to come and exterminate all the insects on the property when his parents are away. Upon final analysis, my feeling is that Lucas could have learned the good lessons without all this other baggage.

Once Lucas (voiced by Zach Tyler) is shrunken down to ant-size by the ant wizard Zoc (voiced by Nicholas Cage), he is carried to the colony chamber of elders where charges are read against him by the council head (voiced by Ricardo Montalban). Sentencing comes straight from the beautiful queen ant herself (voiced by Meryl Streep). Lucas will spend the next few days of his life trying to become an ant, understanding ant culture, and ultimately becoming a mediator between the humans and the ants. An ant named Hova (voiced by Julia Roberts) steps forward to serve as his mentor. Ant-sized, Lucas learns a great deal about the ants and himself. Eventually, he must galvanize them toward fighting off the exterminator where he joins in head strong in the mission to change what he has done wrong. So, as I say, a good moral but with a heavy price.

The animation was terrific, but not quite as good or sophisticated as Monster House or Cars. The voice actors were very good, and the story is full of treats like when ant-sized Lucas guides a group of ants back into his house to recover Jelly Belly® beans so that he can make a call and cancel the exterminator. This sequence of scenes with Lucas getting to explain some aspects of human life to the ants was imaginative and fun. There is no denying that The Ant Bully has many of the elements for making it a classic animated film for children. If only the writers had realized some of the other shortcomings and avoided them. My hope is that future writers of movies for children will stop and take a long look at the story in Disney/Pixar's Cars. It is possible to make a great animated film without a villain and without all this other negative baggage.

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Other Books by: John Nickle
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The Ant Bully Review-lite [150-word cap]
The Ant Bully has a good moral but at a heavy price. The basic premise of the film involves Lucas Nickle being bullied routinely by an obnoxious kid in his own front yard. When the bully finally leaves him alone, Lucas's anger wells up, and he takes it out on a defenseless ant colony. The wizard ant whips up a potion to shrink him down to ant size so that Lucas will see life from an ant's perspective and realize all that is wrong with the way he deals with his own problems by taking it out on others. The animation was terrific, but not as sophisticated as Monster House or Cars. The voice actors were very good, and the story is full of treats. Had the writers realized some of the shortcomings in their script and eliminated them, the film would have all the elements of a children's classic.

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