1998, PG, 77 min. Directed by Eric Darnell, Lawrence Guterman. Voices by Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Sharon Stone, Christopher Walken, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Anne Bancroft, Gene Hackman, Jennifer Lopez, Paul Mazursky.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 2, 1998

It's about to get a little crowded in the world of computer-generated animation (CGI). This fall sees the release of both this offering from DreamWorks SKG, as well as the Disney/Pixar collaboration A Bug's Life, two films treading remarkably similar ground. Antz arrives first, and while it's a visually arresting piece of filmmaking, it lacks the core resonance of that previous high-water mark, Pixar's Toy Story. With an all-star, dream cast of voice actors and a storyline geared more toward adults than kids, Antz remains curiously lacking in emotional involvement. It's great to look at, sure, but it also just sits there -- and it's the most expensive Woody Allen film ever made by someone other than that king of the meshuganahs. Here Allen gives voice to Z, a neurotic worker ant in a colony of millions, longing for individuality in a society that quashes even the merest hint of singularity. The filmmakers use this rigid caste system -- workers, soldiers, queen (and princess) -- as a metaphor for life in general, though the traditional lessons imparted here are done so with a heavy hand most of the time. When Z runs into a slumming Princess Bala (Stone) while cutting a metronomic rug at the local watering hole, he falls madly in love. Thinking that the princess reciprocates his feelings, he hurriedly trades places with soldier pal Weaver (Stallone) and seeks her out, only to be rebuffed and shipped off to battle against the fearsome aphids. Hackman's power-mad General Mandible and his right-hand ant Cutter (Walken) seek to overthrow the Queen and create a “more perfect colony” via some behind-the-scenes scheming. However, when only Z returns from the melee unscathed, his hero's welcome is parlayed into a muddled kidnapping of the princess, and together they find themselves outside the colony, searching for the mythical “Insectopia.” It's frankly bizarre to hear the voice of Broadway Danny Rose emanating from this pint-sized insect, though the idea of pairing Stallone and Allen as insect buddies is admittedly too rich for words. Antz plays up its Allen connection, with many of Z's lines sounding as though they've been taken part and parcel from previous Allen films (as the film opens, Z is on the couch at his psychiatrist's, opining about his inferiority complex). What Antz is lacking is that wacky spark that sent Toy Story over the edge and into the realm of the spectacular. Large segments of time meander during which nothing much happens, and even occasional cameos such as Aykroyd and Curtin's yuppified wasps (get it?) do little to relieve the ennui. Without a doubt, the animation is vibrant and electrifying; it's only the story that lacks.

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More Eric Darnell Films
Penguins of Madagascar
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Kimberley Jones, Nov. 28, 2014

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted
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Antz, Eric Darnell, Lawrence Guterman

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