The Ant Bully, an
intermittently sweetly moralizing but rather lackluster and ramshackle animated
tale of shifted perspective in which an adolescent in shrunken to the same size
as the ants in his front yard.
Visually, the movie recalls a bit the angular precision of Antz, though a duplication of that 1998 film’s
$91 million domestic box office seems farfetched, particularly coming on the
heels of the well received, fellow animated offering Monster House, which will enjoy better word-of-mouth and engage a
broader potential audience. A more likely final domestic tally for The Ant Bully seems to rest in the $45
to $70 million range, as the film isn’t of the type that will markedly cross
over to the same young adults who partially comprise the audience for Pixar’s
successful efforts. The Ant Bully’s
simultaneous opening in the 3-D IMAX format will certainly offer niche moviegoers
a uniquely immersive perspective on its titular protagonist’s journey and help
Warner Bros. achieve additional replay value at those outlets, while a well
recognized voice cast should likewise help the film establish more credible
commercial inroads internationally.
The film’s story centers on Lucas Nickle (well voiced by Zach Tyler
Eisen), a bullied, diminutive 10-year-old who turns his aggression on the ant
hill in his front yard. To these ants, including wizard ant Zoc (voiced by
Nicolas Cage) and his kindly girlfriend Hova (voiced by Julia Roberts), Lucas is
known simply as “the Destroyer,” and his wanton devastation of their home environment
must stop. To this end, Zoc concocts a special potion.
Shrunken down to the ants’ size after his parents leave for
the obligatory vacation, Lucas fitfully joins their world, and is sentenced by
the Ant Queen (voiced by Meryl Streep) to live and work in the colony as one of
them. There he finds a landscape teeming with heretofore unseen perils, and Lucas
slowly comes to appreciate the value of teamwork before, as in the recent
DreamWorks hit Over the Hedge, having
to wage war against an overbearing exterminator (Paul Giamatti), who in this
case previously conned Lucas into signing a contract with him.
A few adventure set pieces — including a dragonfly siege of
the ants and a foray into Lucas’ house in an attempt to cancel exterminator’s
appointment — offer up some excitement in their canted perspective. Young Eisen, meanwhile, gives able voice to Lucas’ frustrations and
petulant mood swings, proving — as with the cast of Monster House — that age appropriate voices are often better
anchors for animated fare than a high-profile name merely for name’s sake. Cage, too, has a blast, injecting a few mild trademark
eccentricities into his role as Zoc.
Overall, though, The Ant Bully lacks the sort of smart,
whimsical, freewheeling, grand-scale collision of worlds that its premise might
on the surface suggest.
drops the ball on any number of details, including the differences in
personality between scouts and foragers in the ant world, which might make for
rich comedic fodder, relying instead on a few broadly sketched character types.
The real problem, though, boils down to The Ant Bully’s rather indistinct mix of logic in the action on
display. This includes some real and practical elements, some fantastical bits (ants
hang-gliding on flower petals) and some wholly magical fragments, all of which commingle
haphazardly depending on whatever is convenient for a particular scene. Zoc’s
magic — which includes the potion that shrinks Lucas and a staff from which he
fires a resin-type material — is never adequately explained.
Myriad other details, too — like the full-size Lucas losing
his glasses, to no repercussion, when shrunk, and the exterminator Stan being reduced
only half-size in the climactic showdown — seem off, and the rather off-putting
character of kooky, alien-obsessed grandmother Mommo (voiced by Lily Tomlin) is
puzzlingly rendered. She figures out two-thirds of the way through the movie
that Lucas has been shrunk, but neither abets his return to human size nor has
a shared moment with him at film’s end.
Visually, The Ant
Bully is pitched toward a young-skewing audience, and generally engaging
and successful on this level, but hardly revolutionary. Director John A. Davis
places an emphasis on retaining a broader color palette, but the film’s
backgrounds aren’t as deep and chock full of detail as similar outdoors efforts
like Antz, A Bug’s Life or Over the
Hedge, and the angles likewise aren’t frequently as provocative in their
elicitation of scale and perspective. (Warner Bros., PG, 87 mins.)