movie film review | chris tookey


  Antz Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.60 /10
Voices:, Z: Woody Allen, Chip: Dan Aykroyd
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Directed by: Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson
Written by: Todd Alcot, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz

Released: 1998
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 83

The adventures of Zee (an ant voiced by Woody Allen)
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Zee is an angst-ridden, anti-social anti-hero. He’s struggling to get in touch with his inner maggot, and feels antagonized at being the middle sibling in a family of five million.

Though born a worker, he feels physically inadequate (“I have never been able to lift more than ten times my bodyweight”). He also complains to his psychoantalyst (Paul Mazursky) that he has feelings of insignificance. The shrink isn’t a lot of help, telling him “You ARE insignificant”.

The ant colony - a construction on a scale that makes Fritz Lang’s Metropolis look unambitious - is ruled by a Queen (Anne Bancroft), but for all practical purposes it’s under the martial rule of General Mandible (Gene Hackman), a more crazed version of Patton, and his sycophantic adjutant Cutter (Christopher Walken).

Bugged by his lowly existence, Zee is drinking at a grubby bar with his best buddy, a soldier ant (Sylvester Stallone), when he hears a drunk (John Mahoney, who plays Frasier’s dad in the sitcom) rambling on about Insectopia, where the streets are paved with food and every ant can be an individual.

All dreams of Insectopia are put to one side, however, when Zee encounters the love of his life, the rebellious Princess of the colony (Sharon Stone) mixing incognito with the workers’ line-dancing session (to Guantanamera, what else). She wins Zee’s heart in a dance sequence that alert grown-ups may notice is a parody of the Travolta-Thurman dance in Pulp Fiction.

Zee changes places with his soldier buddy in an effort to get near to the Princess, but instead finds himself involved in a needless war with a neighbouring termite colony.

This results in an amazing sequence which has echoes of Starship Troopers and Saving Private Ryan, from which Zee emerges as an improbable war hero, in the tradition of Preston Sturges’s Hail The Conquering Hero.

Further misadventures result in Zee and the Princess going on the run to Insectopia - with knowing references to many other poor guy-rich girl road movies, especially Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night.

Children will particularly enjoy when the Princess gets stuck to chewing gum on the bottom of a lethal pair of trainers, and Zee tries to save her by crawling up the shoelaces.

Finally, after they have been rescued by a very WASPy wasp (Dan Aykroyd), they return to the colony, where they discover General Mandible has become an insectival Hitler and is planning the ant equivalent of the Final Solution...

Antz was the second fully computer-generated feature film, and in some respects it’s even better than the first, Toy Story. Like its predecessor, Antz will appeal to all age-groups, and widely differing levels of intellect and sophistication.

Even longstanding fans of Woody Allen may feel that as a romantic lead wooing a female much his junior he is more acceptable in insect form than he is in reality - and, paradoxically, much less creepy.

To make Zee, the animators have brilliantly merged the appearance of Spielberg’s former hero E.T., a real ant and Woody Allen himself. The creatures generally have a much more varied range of expression than the characters in Toy Story, which already looks primitive by comparison.Were it nothing else, Antz would be a ground-breaking technical achievement.

But the script is as witty as all but the very best Woody Allen movies, and it generates a lot of laughs. From the opening titles and very first shot - which parodies the start of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, as a New York skyline turns out to consist of tall blades of grass - the design is as funny and inventive as anyone could wish.

As if being hugely entertaining were not enough, the piece works effectively as a political allegory along the lines of Metropolis and Animal Farm.

It may not be too fanciful to see Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg, one of the guiding spirits behind this movie, making a slightly left-of-centre, individualistic protest against the totalitarian conformity of the Disney Empire which he so recently served.

For a new studio such as Dreamworks to come up with so polished an animated production at a first attempt reflects immense credit on them, as it does on their animation team at PDI, first-time co-directors Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson, and Todd Alcott, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, first-time co-writers.

Some of the jokes, and most of the cinematic references, will fly over children’s heads; but there’s always more than enough to keep them gripped and entertained. I can’t think of anyone, from seven to seventy, who will not be charmed. This is 83 minutes of technical accomplishment and breathtaking ingenuity.

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