Dir: John A Davis. US. 2006.87mins.
Familiar tropes and jokes are trotted out in squirmingly obvious fashion with The Ant Bully, an intermittently sweetly moralisingbut rather lacklustre and ramshackle animated tale ofshifted perspective in which an adolescent is shrunk to the same size as theants in his front yard.
Visually, the movierecalls somewhat the angular precision of Antz, though a duplication ofthat 1998 release's $91m domestic box office may prove challenging: The Ant Bully is not the sort of moviethat will enjoy marked crossover to young adults. It also comes on the heels ofwell-received CG animated offering MonsterHouse, which will enjoy better word-of-mouth and engage a broader potentialaudience.
Help will come inits simultaneous opening through 3-D IMAX, offering moviegoers an immersiveperspective on its titular protagonist's journey and help Warner Bros achieveadditional replay value at those outlets. International performance should becredible, especially where it avoids bigger summer fare and retains its starvoice talents.
The story centres on Lucas Nickle (wellvoiced by Zach Tyler Eisen), a bullied, diminutive 10-year-oldwho turns his aggression on the ant hill in his front yard. To these ants,including wizard ant Zoc (voiced by Nicolas Cage) andhis kindly girlfriend Hova (Julia Roberts), Lucas isknown simply as "the Destroyer," and his wanton devastation of their home environmentmust stop. To this end, Zoc concocts a specialpotion.
Shrunken down tothe ants' size after his parents leave for the obligatory vacation, Lucasfitfully joins their world, and is sentenced by the Ant Queen (Meryl Streep) to live and work inthe colony as one of them. There he finds a landscape teeming with heretofore unseenperils, and slowly comes to appreciate the value of teamwork.
Eventually, inechoes of the recent DreamWorks hit Over The Hedge, he has to wage war against an overbearingexterminator (Paul Giamatti), who previously conned thefull-sized Lucas into signing a contract with him.
A few adventure setpieces ' including a dragonfly siege of the ants and a foray into Lucas' housein an attempt to cancel the exterminator's appointment ' offer some excitementin their canted perspective. But The AntBully overall lacks the sort of smart, whimsical, freewheeling, grand-scalecollision of worlds that its premise might on the surface suggest.
Its story ultimatelyproves fairly insular and the movie sets up and then drops the ball on anynumber of details, including the differences in personality between scouts andforagers in the ant world. Such touches might have made for rich comic fodder,but here the reliance is more on a few broadly sketched character types.
The real problem,though, boils down to The Ant Bully'sindistinct mix of logic in the action on display. This includes some real andpractical elements, some fantastical bits (ants hang-gliding on flower petals) andsome wholly magical fragments, all of which co-mingle haphazardly depending onwhatever is convenient for a particular scene. Zoc'smagic ' which includes the potion that shrinks Lucas and a staff from which hefires a resin-type material ' is never adequately explained.
Myriad otherdetails, too, like the full-size Lucas losing his glasses when shrunk to no illeffect, and the exterminator Stan being reduced to only half-size in theclimactic showdown, seem off.
There is also therather off-putting and puzzlingly rendered character of kooky, alien-obsessedgrandmother Mommo (voiced by Lily Tomlin). By the endof the second act she has figured out that Lucas has been shrunk, but neither helpshis return to human size nor has a shared moment with him at the film's end.
Visually, The Ant Bully is pitched toward ayoung-skewing audience, and generally engaging and successful on this level, ifhardly revolutionary. Director John A Davis places emphasis on retaining abroader colour palette, but the backgrounds are notas deep nor as full of detail as similar outdoorsefforts like Antz,A Bug's Life or Over The Hedge. Likewise, the camera angles are not as frequently provocativein their elicitation of scale and perspective as they could be.
Young Zack Tyler Eisen gives able voice to Lucas' frustrations and petulantmood swings, proving ' as with the cast of MonsterHouse ' that age appropriate voices are often better anchors for animatedfare than high-profile names added merely for name's sake.
Nicolas Cage,meanwhile, has a blast, injecting a few mild trademark eccentricities into hisrole as Zoc. But it's B-movie star Bruce Campbell whomost memorably establishes a comic presence as the blithely cheerful andself-involved scout ant Fugax.
Warner Bros Pictures
Warner Bros Pictures
Diana Choi Sachs
John A Davis
John A Davis, based on the book by John Nickle
Director of digitalphotography
Barry E Jackson
Main voice cast
Zack Tyler Eisen