I know what you’re thinking: “What fun-filled movie can I show my kids to teach them about bravery, individuality versus conformity, and totalitarianism?” Okay, maybe you weren’t thinking that. But, if you’re looking for a movie that will make your kid actually learn something while bingeing on popcorn (or on wholesome, organic fruit if you’re a better mom than me), try Antz.
Antz tells the story of Z, a small worker ant (Woody Allen). Z has trouble resigning himself to his cog-in-the-machine status. When Z complains that he feels insignificant, his therapist tells him cheerfully that he’s had a breakthrough: he IS insignificant. Z gets jolted out of his ennui when he falls hard for Princess Bala (Sharon Stone). Z sets out to impress her by swapping places with his hulking, soldier ant buddy (Sylvester Stallone). Wacky hijinks ensue as Z gets caught up in the Termite War, a quest for “Insectopia” and a power-struggle with the egomaniacal General Mandible (Gene Hackman) over the fate of the colony. As Z puts it, it’s your classic boy-gets-girl, boy overturns “overlying social order” movie.
Released by Dreamworks back in 2006, Antz is beautifully animated. It presents the colony as a dimly lit, hyper-structured world in stark contrast to the lushly colored, chaotic surface. A scene where Z travels atop a walking kid’s shoelace so as to save Princess Bala is brilliant and exhilarating. Get ready for your kids to revel in their new status as giants (spoiler: it makes them both considerate and cocky).
Even better than the animation, is the narrative itself. Z is a stand-in for anyone who’s ever felt out of step. The movie walks a fine line, encouraging individualism while honoring the huge achievements the ants can only make because of their teamwork. And the story offers real hope to kids who haven’t found their crowd yet.
The cast is first-rate. Woody Allen’s neurotic shtick becomes fresh when recycled through an ant’s mouth, and Sharon Stone’s snobby, sheltered Princess Bala has a wonderful chemistry with him. Gene Hackman’s General Mandible camps it up as a demagogic villain, and Christopher Walken brings his signature funky/strange to Hackman’s ambivalent, right-hand man. The cast is rounded out by Sylvester Stallone’s lovable lug, Danny Glover as an older battle-weary veteran, and – – in a very funny bit – – Dan Akroyd and Jane Curtain as condescending, “socially progressive” wasps.
Okay, so I love this movie, but here are some caveats. [Nightmare Alert!] The termite battle scene might scare your little ones, and the next scene, where Danny Glover’s soldier dies, might upset them too. If you’re worried, just skip that sequence [tracks 9 & 10 on DVD]. All your kid needs to know is that everyone back at the Colony thinks Z is a war hero. Also [Cussing Alert!], there’s some mild bad language here: just enough to raise some eyebrows if your kid repeats everything he hears at top-volume on the playground. I don’t want to play coy; so here it all is: “What are you bitching about?” [track 4]; “who the hell is that” [track 17]; “tight-ass” . I hope none of you fainted.
Antz is worthy of a family movie night or, at the very least, an afternoon at home in the air-conditioning. Rent it!