The Ant Bully: Rise of the Prolitari-Ant. Easily one of the most bizarre kids films I’ve seen in a long time, The Ant Bully is your typical, by the numbers CG kids film thinly disguising a delightful work of subversive fiction. It’s one of those films, that as it unfolds, causes you to look around the theatre at the other adults and ask: I’m not the only one seeing what I’m seeing am I?
You know those Bibles they make for kids? The ones with the simple stories and colorful artwork that leaves out all of the complex and adult themes that you’d have to commit hours of time to explaining away? Well, if someone sat down to make a similar version of the Communist Manifesto, it would look a hell of a lot like The Ant Bully. It’s a warm ultra-liberal hug of a kids film, preaching the joys of socialism and hard work, all the while telling a story of what the world might be like in a liberal post-9/11 world.
What? You think I’m kidding? Over-reacting? Maybe that I’m reading too much into this? Well, lets talk about The Ant Bully.
After a devastating attack by “The Destroyer” (a little boy named Lucas) that floods and collapses their mound, destroys their egg chamber and kills untold scores of ants (they brush over this aspect very quickly), the film’s religious figure (a wizard as to avoid any direct correlation) Zoc (Nicholas Cage) concocts a plan to sneak into enemy territory, shrink “The Destroyer” and bring him back for trial. When he does, the ant masses are howling for blood. They want to tear the Destroyer apart. They cry out to eat him alive. But the wise and benevolent Queen Ant has different ideas. You see, The Destroyer is at war with the ants simply because he does not understand them.
Her idea? Sentence l’il Osama to live and work with the ants so he can. Because once they understand one another, there will be no reason to fight. While there, Lucas learns the value of hard work for the mound and how every Ant has his or her place in society. They each have their own specific jobs that they’re born into to do, and it’s important that each ant does its part so they can all enjoy the fruits of the harvest.
Yes, yes. I know. Ants are natures Communists. And I can imagine that it might be hard to tell a story about them without such an overt theme. Except that, well, they did it in ‘Ants’. But this isn’t just an “our culture, their culture” thing. Because as overt as it appears earlier in the film, the point gets hammered home towards the end. As Lucas and Zoc sit atop a rock and stare at the human city, Zoc asks ‘Is that your hive?’ ‘Yeah, I guess it’s like a hive.’ When Zoc asks about how it works, Lucas replies ‘I guess it’s every man for himself.’ This leads to a Zoc monologue about how that just doesn’t make any sense. Everyone has their place and don’t the humans realize that if they all work together and share in the fruits of their labor that they all can benefit?
Yeah. See. I ain’t making this shit up. Zoc falls just short of saying “Everyone open your little red books and follow along on page 57.” This is gonna play really well in China. And North Korea? Kim Jong Il is gonna flip for this. Of course, that demented little dwarf will no doubt see himself as the wise and benevolent Ant Queen. I can just picture him now, running around his palace with a pair of nylon wings singing “I am the great Communist Ant Queen! Come little ants, come!”
But why stop there when we can have a climax with the battle of the Ants versus the Great Capitalist Satan! Enter Godzilla Paul Giamatti as Stan of Bealz-a-Bug Extermination. No subtlety there. A man so greedy and evil he talks a kid into signing an extermination contract while his parents are on vacation. This is a man that thinks only of money and destruction. And he revels in both. And it’s up to our hero Lucas, his new ant friends and scores of once menacing wasps to work together to stop the great chemical weapon spewing imperialist from his ethnic cleansing and drive him back so that all the lawn can live in peace and prosperity.
Are the kids gonna get all this? Oh, probably not. But the parents sure will. Hell, if the Right Wing talk shows can be all a buzz with chatter about anti-American themes in Superman, then this is gonna give them a case of spastic colon the likes of which we’ve never seen. If they thought Hollywood was liberal before, just wait until they sink their teeth into this little bevy of propaganda.
But is it entertaining? Meh. Watching this strange choice of a theme for a kids film was pretty much the most entertaining part of it. It really gets pretty paint by numbers storywise, and gets so incredibly heavy handed with its themes that it becomes laughable. I mean, the film opens with Lucas getting a power wedgie from a local bully who says “There’s nothing you can do about it – BECAUSE I’M BIG AND YOU’RE SMALL. You get it? I’M BIG AND YOU’RE SMALL.” Yes, he repeats it. Just in case the kids missed it the first time. So what does our hero do? He goes to mow down the ant mound chanting “There’s nothing you can do, because I’m big and you’re small.” Gee, I wonder if that idea is going to be important later…HEY it is!
Buffering out the film are a number of pretty bland characters voiced by some pretty interesting vocal choices – including the aforementioned Nicolas Cage and Paul Giamatti, Julia Roberts, Regina King, and geek faves Bruce Campbell (with a substantial role for those of you who will watch anything with Bruce) and Ricardo Montalban. Unfortunately, the bland characters are equally matched by a bland story that meanders from set up to set up to fully develop its theme, and jokes of the excrement and piss variety. And of course they don’t forget to throw in the needlessly incompetent frivolous side characters (a beetle and a glow worm) who begin showing up randomly about halfway through the film just to act as retarded as humanly possible.
The real tragedy is that the character designs and CG are pretty fucking cool. While the humans look exaggerated and fake (exactly like you’d expect from a Jimmy Neutron director), nobody seemed to tell the bug animation crew what they were working on. They seemed to think they were working on what this should have been – John Carter of the Backyard. All of the ant and wasp designs look like they’re straight out of a Sci-fi movie – with each ant distinctive and alien, complete with tribal tattoos, and wasps that look like badass Decepticon bugs. When the Ants mount up for an assault on the backs of the wasps, it actually looks pretty freaking cool, and that five minute sequence actually interested me more than anything else Ant Bully had to offer.
Sadly, it also made painfully clear what this film should have been – a sci-fi kids adventure – which it isn’t really. All the elements of the story are there, all the character designs are there. But instead this wants to be an anthropomorphized insect morality play. Which is fine, and tolerable for parents, but not worth seeing unless you have kids clamoring for it.
And that’s where this film really falters. It’s not bad. Really it isn’t. Compared to this year’s abysmal Ice Age 2, this thing is a masterpiece. But when compared to the three truly fantastic CG kids films we’ve gotten over the past two months – Cars, Over the Hedge and Monster House, three films that adults can easily watch without children and truly enjoy - this thing really drags its thorax.
And while kids may enjoy the united we stand theme, especially as it pertains to all the bullies in the film, adults really are going to be scratching their heads at the films other prevalent ideas. But, at least it gives them something to do while the painfully transparent and predictable storyline unfolds. Recommended only for people with kids dying to see it who haven’t already seen Cars, Over the Hedge and Monster House.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.