Ants outpace slow movie summer

Reeling it in

Posted: Thursday, August 03, 2006


  "The Ant Bully" Warner Brothers 1 hour, 28 minutes AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures

"The Ant Bully"

Warner Brothers

1 hour, 28 minutes

AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures

I’m just come out and say it, blunt as it may be. This has been a rotten summer for movies. It’s been one major disappointment after another, with only a few minor exceptions. For this reason, I think you can understand why I might not have the highest of hopes for an animated adventure about a little boy who terrorizes an anthill. Whoopee!

You should know that that was a sarcastic exclamation, just in case my cynicism and irritation don’t come through on the black and white page. You also might understand why I was so surprised to find that I very much enjoyed this unique little morality play. It’s not Oscar material by any means, but “The Ant Bully” at least gives me hope for what little of the summer we have left.

Lucas Nickle, or “Peanut” by his mother, is a typical nerdy little boy, preyed upon by the typical wedgie-loving ogre of a bully. Lucas would love to put an end to the abuse, but what can you do when, as the bully makes perfectly clear, “I’m big, and you’re small.” And so, our sad little anti-hero takes out his frustration the only way he knows how, on the scurrying denizens of the dirt mound in the front yard. He blasts them with a squirt gun, stops them with his giant shoe, and irrigates the entire colony with the hose. What he doesn’t realize — what none of us do, is that ants are highly civilized, intelligent creatures that fear the inevitable coming of the “Destroyer.”

One ant, voiced by Julia Roberts, has a crazy theory. Maybe humans can be reasoned with — why they might even be capable of speech! But the colony’s resident wizard, Nicholas Cage in full frustration mode, has a different solution. He has come up with a magical potion that will serve to level the playing field.

One night, under the light of a full moon, the ants sneak into the Destroyer’s lair and with one drop to the ear, Lucas is miraculously shrunk to the size of an ant and immediately taken prisoner. Sentenced to labor in the colony, Lucas must learn what it means to be an ant or risk never returning home. But with a creepy exterminator on the way, the Destroyer and his captors will have to join forces to survive. It’s fun, adventure and life lessons galore.

The film’s strength lies mostly in the visuals, though the characters are engaging and friendly, and the story is simple without being idiotic. The look of the movie, hearkening back to lesser movies like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” is truly amazing. Towering perspective and massive landscapes fill the ant’s eye view, and animation serves the look well.

The question of what a human might look like from an inch-high is answered, complete with atmospheric perspective. The Destroyer’s head is so far away that it appears hazy from the ground. This attention to detail is both satisfying and frustrating in the film, however. For every attempt to educate the audience from an ant’s perspective (the ants are amazed that Lucas’ skeleton is on the inside. “Ewwww! He’s inside out?!?”) there is a opportunity lost.

Rather than explain why his new ant friends can climb walls and Lucas can’t, the movie sums it up to strength of character. If only Lucas believed more in himself, he could do it. That was irritating, but perhaps a little nitpicky in a movie about a kid learning to believe in himself.

“The Ant Bully” really has only one other issue, and it’s a technical one. While the individual bits of animation are sophisticated and well done, they don’t work together all that well. Shots of Lucas running look weird, as if he’s not really touching the ground, but actually floating above it. Other interactions are also awkward, though mostly with the humans, leading me to wonder if it is elements of reality that frustrate animators, rather than radical fantasy.

Overall, however, “The Ant Bully” is cute and enjoyable, steering well away from your typical kid-style raunch of fart and snot jokes. It does get a little dark at times, considering the death of various insects at the hands of both Lucas the Destroyer and Paul Giamatti, the Exterminator. But the dark parts of the movie are handled pretty maturely, and the fun and the message more than make up for it.

And in the end, really, what kid couldn’t learn to be more respectful to creatures smaller than themselves? I admit it, I myself was an ant bully, but I think I’ve learned the error of my ways. Grade: B

“The Ant Bully” is rated PG for some cartoony insect death.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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