Directed by Eric Darnell, Tim Johnson
Written by Todd Alcott, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz
Starring Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman Sylvester Stallone, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Bancroft, Jane Curtin, Danny Glover, Christopher Walken
From time to time, two movies come out at the same time with the same general theme. In the early 60s, for instance, there were two biographies of Jean Harlow that came out within a month of each other. Sometimes this is coincidence, but when it is not, and things can get ugly. A prime example of this was Antz.
Z (voice of Woody Allen) is a worker ant who is dissatisfied with his insignificant life. He gets sent out to war by the scheming General Mandible (Gene Hackman), and returns as an inadvertent hero who goes to meet the queen (Anne Bancroft). He also falls for Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) and he has to run from the colony, taking her along as a hostage. Z is looking for Insectopia, a heaven for insects, but General Mandible, seeing Z’s independent thought a threat to his scheme to take over the colony, goes hunting.
The movie does cover some grown-up themes as to the dangers of blindly following a leader, and the importance of individualism. Allen is fine as Z (written for his usual screen persona).* Hackman makes a great melomaniac and Stone does a good job voicing Bala.
The main controversy at the time was that Antz was produced by Dreamworks. Jeffrey Katzenbach had been with Disney, and knew that Pixar was also planning an animated film with insects that eventually became A Bug’s Life. John Lasseter of Pixar was appalled that Dreamworks was doing the film, and insisted Katzenbach had stolen the idea, something Katzenbach furiously denied. The bad blood lasted for years.
I tend to think Antz is the superior film. It was more adult in conception and more edgy**. A Bug’s Life was more kid-friendly and soft. It’s not a bad movie (but not one of Pixar’s best), but is less ambitious. Antz*** also uses ant biology in its conception – its ants have six legs.
Ultimately, A Bug’s Life, with the Disney marketing machine and the Pixar name, did far better in the box office. It also helped that it was something kids could enjoy. Plus Disney can market the DVDs far better.
But Antz is still a fine piece of animation.
*According to the producers, he came in, knew his lines cold, and recorded it all in five days.
**I note that the images on the DVD soften the characters and make it seem more like a kids’ movie.
***Like all the best ant movies – Them!, Phase IV.