Antz is an animated film in DreamWorks Pictures’ early catalog of films but have actively ignored all opportunities to watch. I was aware of the star-studded cast comprised of names like Christopher Walkin, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez, Sharon Stone, and, of course, our morally ambiguous lead-voice Woody Allen. Dreamworks’ first animated film was directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson. The film is notorious in some respects because its similarities with Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, and these similarities amounted to a public feud between Dreamworks and Disney as a result. Considering this film came out in 1998, I was oblivious to most of the actual conflict, because I was a toddler. However, even as a child, it was easy to find the parallels between each film. I loved A Bug’s Life as a kid, but I avoided Antz like the plague, a prejudice that has kept me from watching the film until now.
Although both films received very positive critical reception, A Bug’s Life hit far higher numbers at the worldwide box-office, whereas, Antz was, at best, a modest box-office success, depending on where the actual production budget lands, with estimates as low as forty-million and as high as one-hundred million, the discrepancy is very large. Looking back, now that I can say I’ve given it a chance, had I been mistreating Antz all these years? Here are my thoughts …
Clearing the air right off the bat, the reason I avoided Antz the way I did was because how cringey I found the animation to be. Animation entered an awkward period in the late-nineties, with Pixar and Dreamworks only now first dabbling with computer-animation. Obviously, the only reason Dreamworks is able to create gorgeous productions like the How To Train Your Dragons films is because of the risks and baby-steps they made in early-development, but that doesn’t change the fact that Antz looks like an animated film I’d come across and then ignore on YouTube.
This isn’t a completely fair statement, after watching the film. I think it summarizes certain shots in the film, particularly of the character models, but the film’s background and scenery can oftentimes look very nice, it’s simply when the ants come marching into the shot that it ruins things. Suffice to say, I thought the animation was bad in my youth, not having the timeless aesthetic of a 2-D animation production like Tarzan, not on-par with Pixar’s fare of that time, and I think its dated visuals have only worsened.
In Antz, the story follows a worker ant named Z who has become cynical about the tedium in his assigned tasks. Z meets ant-Princess Bala at a bar and is smitten with her, thereafter, convincing his friend Weaver to swap places with him so that Z can assume the role of an army ant and try and contact Princess Bala again. Instead, he finds himself accidentally kidnapping the Princess in search of a utopia that may or may not exist. Meanwhile, an evil General has intents to kill the entire worker population. The film focuses primarily on individualism and carries subject-matter with a darker tilt to it than conventional mainstream animation, along with humor and language that was surprisingly able to avoid a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.
Even if the film abides by conventional formula, I appreciated its willingness to incorporate darker elements into the formula. Regardless of what I’ve said about the animation, it’s worth acknowledging the voice-work and storyline making for an enjoyable film. The themes of individualism, the antagonists innate desire to massacre inferior beings, and its scenes depicting war are substantial, and even if it might not capitalize on the subject-matter fully, it does so with a competent and satiable tale of going against the grain and embarking on your own journey.
Antz is a solid debut effort for Dreamworks, and I commend them for their ambition both in pursuing themes unique for mainstream animation and their initial strides in computer-animation. It may not deserve to stand alongside the classics of the medium, but I was certainly wrong to have avoided it all these years.