FILED: Wednesday, Sep 30





When is a Woody Allen film not a Woody Allen film?

When it's Antz, a motion picture that personally bugs me.

It may be Dreamworks' first venture into full-length computer animation, partnered with Pacific Data Images (PDI), a Palo Alto company that specializes in 3D computerized animation, and it also may be a very public retaliation tactic against Disney by disgruntled former exec and Dreamworks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, but the highly anticipated Antz  disappoints more than it amuses on many levels.

And in keeping with Hollywood tradition, producers Brad Lewis, Aron Warner and Patty Wooton attempt to compensate for any mediocrity by stacking the voice-over cast with superstar names. It's an impressive list, too: Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Gene Hackman, Jennifer Lopez, Danny Glover, Christopher Walken, and of course, Woody Allen.

The good news is that Antz' s  animation is first rate, and the depth of perception is incredible. PDI's attention to detail is irreproachable, as one feels the enormity of the ant colony as the camera pans left to right. In one incredible sequence where lead characters Z and Bella become entangled in the gum-covered sole of a running shoe, the enormous size and impact of the experience truly gives the audience the viewpoint from an ant's perspective. It's one of the film's few awe-inspiring moments.

For all the impressive animation, what could have been a fascinating, original film as groundbreaking and entertaining as Toy Story  falls way short of its intention.

The problem is three-fold: One, writers Chris and Paul Weitz delivered an unimaginative, predictable screenplay that is so cute and corny that you wince, barely able to restrain yourself from shoving your fingers down your throat; Two, that directors Eric Darnell ( Prince Of Egypt, Gas Planet ) and Tim Johnson ( The Simpsons) let them get away with it; and Three, the film is so obviously a veiled tribute to Woody Allen as a writer and director that one suspects a statue of or a shrine to the neurotic Oscar-winning filmmaker must be prominently displayed at Dreamworks' head office.

One could only imagine the red carpet treatment and inflated paycheque Allen received for consenting to do this film, considering it literally could not have been made without him. Antz  not only relies on Allen portraying the neurotic "Z," a disgruntled Central Park worker ant who feels there's more to life than hauling around dirt and being a number; it liberally apes the formula of any number of his '60s and '70s comedies and stand-up routines without offering the biting wit and satire that accompanies it.

If you're a Woody Allen fan, Antz  offers plenty of angst for your pants because you've seen the plot of this film done many times before, only better.

As the film opens, Z is on a psychiatrist's couch lamenting about his miserable life (see Annie Hall, Manhattan, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Deconstructing Harry  etc).

"You know, when you're the middle child in a family of five million, you don't get any attention," he zings. Rimshot, please.

After a hard day's labor, he relaxes at the local bar with lifelong pal, army ant Weaver (Sylvester Stallone, drawn to stereotype as a muscle-addled insect), quaffing aphid anus ales and lamenting about his miserable life.

When a drunk old-timer tells him about Insectopia, a utopian paradise "where there's food and drink as far as the eye can see," Z dismisses it, but his curiosity is roused (see a A Midnight's Summer Sex Comedy , Purple Rose Of Cairo .)

On the other side of the nest, a bored Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) is preparing for a wedding to General Mandible (Gene Hackman), the indifferent military commander who has a scheme of his own to "wash away the weak" and repopulate the colony. The perpetually pupating Queen (Anne Bancroft) wearily approves of the marriage, defending Mandible as a soldier distracted with his plans to launch a surprise attack of a nearby termite village to concern himself with affection. ( see Love And Death.)

Deciding she needs a night on the town to alleviate her boredom, Bala and a couple girlfriends sneak away to the nightclub, where she bumps into Z. A smitten Z discovers she's the princess, and as she steals away vows to see her again. When he learns that the Queen and Bala are reviewing the troops the next day, Z convinces his pal Weaver to switch jobs for 24 hours so he can hopefully catch the princess' eye.

Instead, Z unexpectedly finds himself going off to battle, and in a twist of fate returns an unlikely war hero ( see Bananas ) and a folk symbol to the millions of drones. When it's discovered he's an impostor, he holds Bala for ransom (see Sleeper )  tumbles down a chute and escapes into the free world, taking Bala with him. The two then set off for their mythical quest for Insectopia.

Naturally, the film ends on a happy note, and in the process Z discovers that the strength of the individual is often measured by the commitment to community, as teamwork gets the colony out of a dire predicament. But it's an ending transmitted long before the end of the film.

Antz  is satisfactory family entertainment, though parents may find themselves explaining the meaning of the word "erotic" to their younger children.

And whether or not Antz  is Jeffrey Katzenberg's attempt to sabotage Disney's upcoming animated film A Bug's Life  is moot.

For all the money the former Disney exec poured into Antz , is a Mickey Mouse operation.


-- Nick Krewen






Directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson. A Dreamworks/PDI Release. Opens Oct. 2




THANKS: Beth Rimmels

© 1998, 1999 Nick Krewen


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