screenplay by Todd Alcott and Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz
directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson
by Bill Chambers Directors Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson as well as "stars" Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Danny Glover, Jennifer Lopez, and Christopher Walken file into the sweaty, crowded Tudor Room of Toronto's Four Seasons hotel to discuss the Dreamworks/PDI production Antz, a computer-generated movie that took two-and-a-half years to complete. Antz will beat the not-dissimilar Disney/Pixar project A Bug's Life to screens by a month. That's why Jeffrey Katzenberg--Michael Eisner's former right-hand man, and the K in Dreamworks SKG--is there, tucked between some cameras and journalists. He looks to be gloating--does he have cause to?
This is the first time these performers have been assembled together; most of their dialogue was recorded separately and individually. All were cast on the basis of their fame. Said Darnell: "No auditions for these guys." A discussion of the liberties afforded by voice acting goes something like this:
Curtin: "No facade."
Aykroyd: "No worries about weight loss."
Walken: "The animators kind of duplicate your body language."
Lopez: "I found it hard!... [I prefer] to use my whole body!"
Aykroyd (who plays a wasp): "They got the length of my stinger too short." (Laughs.)
Woody Allen agreed to the lead role early on, which meant "we could really write for him and stage for him," said Darnell; perhaps it's no surprise that Woody Allen's 'performance' is the best thing about Antz. The movie begins with his character, "Z," kvetching on a psychiatrist's couch about such insect dilemmas as being the middle child of five-million siblings. Z knows there must be something more to life than burrowing through dirt tunnels. It's Deconstructing Harry for the lunchbox set.
The worker ant embarks on a journey of self-discovery. Having disguised himself as a soldier of war to get in good with Princess Bala (Sharon Stone), his true love, Z--due in large part to his cowardice--is the only survivor of a Starship Troopers-style battle against termites. Lionized by his peers, Z's true identity is eventually discovered by the all-business general (Gene Hackman). Z subsequently abducts Bala and heads for the hills. Together, the two search for the mythical "Insectopia," with pursuers not far behind.
The biggest problem with Antz is its lack of focus: one minute it's about a war, the next Insectopia, the next the general's dastardly plot against the entire ant colony. Z is looking for something "better," and without giving too much away, he more or less finds it halfway through the film, leading to much water-treading. Hackman's villain is uninspired and, he said without irony, two-dimensional, like a conceptual reject from Dreamworks' other military-themed cartoon Small Soldiers. (With the words "damn" and "hell" frequently tossed about by the Antz characters, I should be pleased as punch--it's the lack of humour with which these curses are delivered that I found startling.) Also, even in animated-insect form, the romance that blossoms between nebbishy Woody and regal Sharon is highly suspect.
What of the look of this film? Some scenes in Antz are gorgeously-rendered, such as a tidal wave and the establishing shots of the colony. Others play out in dull shot-reverse-shot, like the non-interactive sequences of a CD-ROM game. I wasn't keen on Z's appearance--while other ants resembled their human counterparts (Walken and Glover especially), PDI has de-ethnicized Z, who looks more wooden than Woody. The result is an aesthetically unappealing creation that might feel physically mismatched with any actor's voice. (And why is it the characters are expressionistic while the backgrounds are photorealistic?)
When confronted about the competing A Bug's Life at the Antz press conference, Aykroyd did some of the talking: "Different story. Lotta heart in this one." Lotta? No. Some? Sure. Ultimately, it is difficult to mine warmth from a story about an ant colony--worse, the only real guffaws come from Allen doing Allen, which you can get anywhere. Antz feels computer-generated in every way. Originally published: September 13, 1998.