Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Review: "The Ant Bully" is Impressive (Happy B'day, Nicolas Cage)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 8 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Ant Bully (2006) – computer animation
Running time:  89 minutes (1 hour, 29 minutes)
MPAA – PG for some mild rude humor and action
DIRECTOR:  John A. Davis
WRITER:  John A. Davis (based upon the John Nickle)
PRODUCERS:  Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman, and John A. Davis
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Ken Mitchroney (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Jon Price
COMPOSER:  John Debney


Starring:  (voices) Zach Tyler Eisen, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Regina King, Bruce Campbell, Lily Tomlin, Cheri Oteri, Larry Miller, Allison Mack, Ricardo Montalban, and Myles Jeffrey

The subject of this movie review is The Ant Bully, a 2006 computer-animated fantasy film  from director John A Davis.  The movie is a joint venture from Warner Bros. Animation, Legendary Pictures, DNA Productions and Playtone, which is the production company owned by partners, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman.  The movie is based on The Ant Bully, a 1999 children’s picture book written and drawn by John Nickle.  The Ant Bully the film focuses on a boy who terrifies an ant colony and then finds himself magically shrunken down to insect size and sentenced to hard labor.

Ten-year old Lucas Nickle (Zach Tyler Eisen) doesn’t have any friends, and he’s always the target of the neighborhood bully, Steve (Myles Jeffrey), and his gang.  His sister, Tiffany (Allison Mack) mostly ignores him.  His father, Fred (Larry Miller), is too busy planning his wedding anniversary trip to Puerto Vallarta, and his grandmother, Mommo (Lily Tomlin), is just plain weird.  However, Lucas finds his mother, Doreen (Cheri Oteri), to be a bit overbearing, and he hates that she calls him “Peanut.”

Lucas takes his frustrations out on the anthill in his front yard – tormenting the ants by frequently flooding their territory.  Lucas thinks of them as “just a bunch of stupid ants,” but he doesn’t know that the anthill is a complex society, in which the members of that colony have names, relationships, emotions, and responsibilities.  They decide to fight back against Lucas – the one they know as the “Destroyer,” so Zoc (Nicolas Cage), a wizard ant, concocts a potion to take care of the Destroyer.  After the ants pour the magic elixir down his ear, Lucas shrinks down to their size, and the ants promptly take him to stand trial for “crimes against the colony.”

The wise Ant Queen (Meryl Streep) sentences Lucas to live amongst the ants and learn their ways so that he can become an ant.  Zoc’s girlfriend, Hova (Julia Roberts), a nurse ant, volunteers to mentor the miniaturized Lucas, much to Zoc’s chagrin.  With the help of Kreela (Regina King), a forager ant, and Fugax (Bruce Campbell), a scout ant, Hova helps the reluctant Lucas fit into the colony.  Lucas’ skills and new friendships are tested when he and the ants must have to take on Stan Beals (Paul Giamatti), a local exterminator, in an epic air battle over the Nickles’ front lawn.

There were so many computer-animated movies that received a wide theatrical release in 2006 that some were bound to get lost in the shuffle.  One of the lost was The Ant Bully, an excellent talking animal fable produced by actor Tom Hanks’ production company (Playtone) and the computer animation studio behind Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, DNA Productions.  Written for the screen and directed by the creator of Jimmy Neutron, John A. Davis, The Ant Bully is several times better than Jimmy Neutron, in terms of story, voice acting, and animation.

Adapting John Nickle’s book, Davis wrote a traditional animal fable that teaches a lesson or makes a moral point, but is not didactic or overbearing.  Davis simply uses comedy, adventure, action, dramatic conflict, and obstacles to make a point that a group of individuals with different skills can work together and make the whole better.  However, to take Davis’ film as saying that the group is good and the individual is bad would be a poor misreading.

The voice performances are quite good.  For all the star power the voice cast has, what stars like Julia Roberts and Nicolas Cage do is bring color and character to the parts the play.  Zach Tyler Eisen simply brings Lucas Nickle to life.  Lucas’ troubles fitting in, his stubbornness, and his struggle to break away from mommy all seem genuine.  Even Regina King, Bruce Campbell, Lily Tomlin manage to add much comic flavor to the film via their supporting roles.

At first, The Ant Bully’s animation seems to make every thing look plastic and fake, but perhaps, the eyes need time to adjust.  The film is imaginative in concept and design – especially in building a world of outsized and giant sets for tiny beings.  Everything has texture and surface quality to it.  The exoskeletons of the ants and wasps actually look solid; it’s as if the eyes are actually touching the surfaces to verify what is genuine.  The character movement is good, and jumps up to wonderful and superb during all the big action set pieces – especially during the air battle at the end.

Fans of computer animation and also families that want to share a movie with a good message absolutely won’t go wrong with The Ant Bully.  We follow Lucas down into the anthill where awaits a world of wonder and magical animal creatures that dazzle the eyes and sometimes blow the mind.  And the movie’s pretty funny, too.

8 of 10

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Updated:  Tuesday, January 07, 2014

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