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"The Ant Bully" offers Saturday-afternoon-at-the-movies kind-of-fun

"The Ant Bully" offers Saturday-afternoon-at-the-movies kind-of-fun

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The Ant Bully – a.k.a The Destroyer
Image courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

In somewhat the reverse of how I saw a preview of Cars, last Saturday found me in a packed theater in San Francisco for a sneak preview of The Ant Bully. There were kids of all ages, teens (and tweens), parents, grandparents and a few adults there just for the free movie. Oh, and throw in a dozen or so members of the press just for good measure. A pretty diverse crowd.

Now I have read some of the comments JHM readers posted after the interviews with the folks from DNA and it would be fair to say that I had some of the same reservations before I saw the finished product in 2D. Yes, one can draw inevitable comparisons to other insect films, as well as any number of other animated productions. How many people called out that the Lion King had Shakespearean influences? If that's all you're going to see the film for, save the bucks and buy yourself a couple of large triple espresso lattes instead.

Let's face it. We are not talking the Citizen Kane of animated films here. (I'm sure that someone else already has that in mind, if not in production…) But if you're looking to see a film that provides simple entertainment for a good portion of it's 88 minutes, then The Ant Bully might be what you're looking for. Call it a light comedy adventure, if it makes you happy. But I think that the creation of another magnum opus of entertainment was never what Tom Hanks and John Davis had in mind when they started the project. And no one at DNA Productions sees the studio as the all-new and improved version of Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks. It's just a nice little company making entertaining movies.

Sure, the story is predictable. Based on a children's book, you have to expect that. And even the story concept as a whole is found in another animated film we have seen this summer. There's the whole line of how an individual has to learn to work as a part of a team. Sounds familiar? Should be, as it was a part of the Cars story line. But again, you can draw comparisons in any story told to other similar stories. Recall the old plot? Buy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again? (Hey, wait… Isn't that one of the plot lines of Pirates? Wonder why that was so popular being such an old worn out story cliché… Never mind.)

Boy gets Girl or Ant gets Ant…   Zoc and Hova in a romantic moment
Image courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

From my perspective here's what we got: Lucas Nickle is a character we can all see something familiar in. At some time in our lives, we probably found ourselves on the receiving end of unwanted attention from a bully - school, work, the grocery store… you know what it was like. So when Lucas tries to show how big he is by doling out cruelty to the anthill, we all understand that feeling. With a little bit of imagination, an audience can find themselves in Lucas' place without too much effort.

Once can also relate to the intensity of Zoc, the wizard ant of the colony. The drive he has to keep his world safe is completely understandable and easy to identify with. We all have a passion of one kind or another in our lives that tends to blind us to other things around us. So with a couple of characters like this, you know they will be in conflict soon enough.

Zoc tries to impart wisdom to a sleepy Lucas
Image courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Then we're off as Zoc develops a potion that will reduce "The Destroyer" to the size of an ant. And with that accomplished, Lucas is captured and taken off to the colony to receive justice and learn a lesson along the way.

What does that entail? Well, you'll have to find out for your selves. But while watching it with the audience I described above I made a few observations. The biggest laughs? They came during the quietest moments in the film. The soundtrack by John Debney mixes themes that take the audience from suburbia to the jungle of the lawn and back again and has it's own feel of adventure. The voice casting, while not ground-breaking, does have some fun in store for audiences. Bruce Campbell as Fugax, the scout, brings the swagger and bravado of other roles you may remember him from to the character. And while Nicholas Cage, Julia Roberts and Paul Giamatti may be big names for older audiences, for the younger crowd they are friendly without being sappy. And Lily Tomlin as Mommo gets plenty of laughs from everyone.

Lucas signs the contract to spray the lawn
Image courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Like any family film, this one has moments where the children in the audience were a bit bored and fidgety. One scene in the middle of the film may seem to drag a bit, but it gives the audience a chance to relax with a quiet bit. And like any adventure film, it also has noisy and busy moments. At 88 minutes long, the film is just about right in length.

Overall, the film reminded me of a number of pictures from the past that were simply fun. You know, the Saturday afternoon at the movies kind of fun. The artistic style of the film is not as cartoony as Jimmy Neutron or maybe as stylized as others, but for a small budget production compared to some of those others, I think it comes off rather well. Ants are ants and no matter who designs them, you have to expect they will look alike. The attention to the details of film making bring the project a solid platform for a simple story that entertains. With a crew that included many veterans of Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks and other animated studios, they produced a good product for the screen. (I am looking forward to seeing their Imax 3D version for more of that.)

The ants and wasps ready for attack
Image courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Sure, there is a message too, but I didn't feel it was overly preachy. It came from the lessons Lucas learns along his way, not like some films where everything skids to an abrupt halt so we can be told the message again and again. And yes, the bullies do get theirs; something we all wish that our own bullies could have experienced.

Looking over the crop of animated films so far this year, I think this one is above average. Nothing earth-shattering, but just a nice family film. If that's what you are looking for, then try the Ant Bully. Don't go in with grandiose expectations and you'll have a good time. And isn't that what going to the movies is supposed to be all about anyway?

Now, if after having seen the film, you might have any questions, drop me an e-mail and I'll pass them along to the folks at DNA. Often when a picture like this is released, all we get is the initial opening press and that's it. Now is your chance to participate and get feedback. So don't be shy… ask away. I'll share the questions and the answers in the coming weeks.

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  • Wow, breaking news yesterday and not even a peep on this site.  John is bringing 2D back with a Disney Princess movie done in the style of the 90's second Golden Age.  The Frog Princess.
  • The news was rumored heavily back in April.  I think that this was just the official announcement.

    The frog prince = a hand-drawn Shrek
  • it's the Russian fairy tale the Frog Princess.  The Frog Prince is a Brother's Grimm Fairy Tale.  This movie is supposed to be like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid.
  • Makes sense... with almost a dozen CG movies from various studios scheduled for release, tradtional 2D will standout.  Personally, I think character animation in 2D is still superior to CG.  Although, the preview for PIXAR's next Ratouille(sp?), looks absolutely amazing in comparison to the other studios offering.  Plus, It was the only preview to get a laugh at a recent screening of almost 6 other CG animated features.  PIXAR sets the bar for animation.
  • englishboy wrote:
    The frog prince = a hand-drawn Shrek
    Actually, it's a hand-drawn "Vasilissa the Beautiful", although M&C were thinking of relocating it to some other non-Russian location, and Vassie won't be the -only- ones jumping through hoops by the time they have to get this one out.  :)

    But c'mon, guys, doesn't -anybody- want to talk about Ant Bully?  (Y'see, I'm trying to sound as defense and begging/pleading as Roger's article.)
    And although I could repeat several other critics' comments that there already ARE better "Saturday afternoon at the movies" films in theaters to choose from , I'll just say that, with "Barnyard" trailers also still in theaters, "The makers of Jimmy Neutron" still have a lot to answer for, and they should live so long as to make us forget it.
  • Roger Colton, you've sold out!

    You spent half your article attempting to justify why Ant Bully can be a crappy movie and should be forgiven it! You explain the reasoning behind it being allowed to have unoriginal storylines, heck, you even went as far as to practically applaud it for having boring, uniteresting moments! What gives!?? The only way I can explain it is if you DIDN'T like the movie, but you're being paid to give it kudos!!

    Did it occur to you FOR A MOMENT that the movie's characters seem to be a little too enthuseastic with the concept of Communism? All this 'for the good of the colony' business, everyone working to contribute to the common good, bagging out the consumeristic way of life that humans have...

    I'm not trying to defend EVERY way we do things here... but the ants are communists in this movie, to the final insect.

    This movie sucks. And you, Roger, I question your journalistic integrity. Three articles promoting a really crappy movie is suspicious. I know Brian taught us to always look on the bright side of life, but this is ridiculous! Especially when the much more watchable 'Monster House' is also at the cinemas.

  • Whoo-ee!


    Did you think of that all on your own or did you get that from the review on AICN?

    And you check under the bed tonight, too, you hear!
  • I doubt AB is any more communist than your average "kiddie/family fare with a message" going on about working together to achieve a common goal that is found in numerous countries- most of which are capitalist ones.

    Now, when can I expect the coverage on Barnyard? :P
  • Skippy, I haven't seen the movie, and have no intention of wasting my time with it. It doesn't change the fact that Colton's sold out with his review.
  • neetlight said:
    Did it occur to you FOR A MOMENT that the movie's characters seem to be a little too enthuseastic with the concept of Communism? All this 'for the good of the colony' business, everyone working to contribute to the common good, bagging out the consumeristic way of life that humans have...
    ...Did occur to YOU that they're not even doing the book?

    In Nickel's picture book, our hero helps the colony fight a wasp attack, and the Paul Giamatti lawn/exterminator/whoever doesn't even exist.  As for the "vs. consumeristic humans" message, it's a little soon for the filmmakers to be cribbing "Over the Hedge", isn't it?
  • Now how is Roger suppossed to write any more articles when everyone has his head impaled on a stick?  I would think the man who gave us "piratical" would be cut a little more slack.
  • (Uh, you did notice that Roger's -fourth- interview/article, with the music composer, was since posted and taken down?
    Maybe he wanted to save it for Monday--not likely, now that the movie's doing fifth-place numbers--but even Jim only did THREE "Hedge" kissups...At four articles for a non-Disney CGI, you begin considering outreach help.)
  • With an approximate $10 million for the entire weekend, it looks like the people of this community aren't the only ones who had no desire to see this.
  • Well, the missus and I went to see it last nite.

    Theater was only 1/2 full and plenty of families.

    We liked it and so did everybody else.

    Got to wonder why we didn't see more stuff on tv to promote the movie. Was the Warner publicity staff busy doing something else? Seems like they missed the boat this summer.
  • I can barely contain my joy!!! I hope it's just like,"The Little Mermaid"! :D
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