Friday, August 11, 2006

THE ANT BULLY: At Least It's Educational

THE ANT BULLY (animated fantasy)
Voices of Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Zachary Tyler and Meryl Streep
Director: John A. Davis
Time: 90 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Lucas (centre) and the Ants
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Lucas Nickle (voice of Zachary Tyler) is a typical nerd who gets picked on by the neighbourhood bullies. With no friends to turn to, Lucas vents out his frustration on a colony of ants in his front lawn, stomping on them and flooding the anthill with the garden hose. The ant colony, led by its wizard Zoc (Nicolas Cage), nicknames the boy as ‘The Destroyer’ and Zoc creates a magic potion to miniaturise Lucas to ant size. After being shrunk and abducted by the ants, Lucas must learn to become one of them, facing their many daily dangers and challenges. What’s more, he must undo a grave decision he has made: the hiring of an Exterminator (Paul Giamatti) to rid the lawn of pests.

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? It may not be as exciting or as engaging as The Incredibles and Finding Nemo but The Ant Bully offers us one of the most ‘realistic’ and educational experiences of life within a colony of ants. What’s more, it has its heart in the right place, giving children a lesson that being big doesn’t give them the licence to harm those who are smaller.

HIGHLIGHTS: I liked the 1998 Antz but I was not happy with its four-legged rendition of the insect. It gives the wrong information to the children, making the Ants appear more like humans than insects. A Bug’s Life (which opened the same year) fared better but it was more of an adventure-comedy than a story about the life of the ant colony. The Ant Bully, based on the book by John Nickle, is full of ‘ant-ics’ and has much to teach us about discipline, co-operation, teamwork and sacrifice. This may sound like watching a sermon onscreen, but there are enough thrills and spills and subplots to sustain our interest. Also, I like the way Davis switches perspective – like in the way he shows a fire-cracker exploding.

LOWLIGHTS: Director John A. Davis does not seem to have done much to give the narrative or the characters more ‘zing’ or charm. The sequences of the wasp attack could have been zapped up a notch or two, and the gags appear slapdash. However, there is one poop joke that no one should find offensive. It has to do with the caterpillars that provide food for the ants (and Lucas) – from a rather unappetising end.
The celebrity voice cast, including Julia Roberts as the caring and patient Hova, Regina King as the strong-willed Kreela and Meryl Streep as the Queen, help to give the six-legged characters their personality but nothing memorable.

THE LOWDOWN: This animated feature is also filmed in 3-D and those who love getting into the thick of the action may want to wait for it to open at the IMAX cinema. In the meantime, The Ant Bully should give the kids food for thought, especially when they encounter little creatures in the front and backyard.


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