Boasting the wit and lunatic verve of an old Woody Allen film, smoothly combined with the space-age visuals of Toy Story, Antz is wasted on kids. This astonishing computer-generated cartoon hits home on so many levels: it's a mix of Metropolis (breathtaking cityscapes), Starship Troopers (ants attacking termites which are five times their size and spray acid from their fore-heads), A Life Less Ordinary (kidnapping) and Sleeper (vintage Allen comedy).
On the one hand, it's a simple romantic tale of boy ant meets girl ant. But on the other, this sharply scripted micro-adventure is a celebration of the self and a condemnation of conformity, repression and dictatorship. More sophisticated than your average 'toon, Antz also shuns the slushy Disney sing-along route. Single-digit brats may think the pictures are pretty, but they aren't going to get most of the references.
And that's their loss. For the rest of us, Antz shapes up as one of the most fantastic, enjoyable movies you'll see this year, - so much so, we defy you to watch it without a huge grin on your face. Obviously, as the first computer-generated movie made since Toy Story, DreamWorks' insectoid cartoon had a lot to live up to. But using 120,000 animation frames bolted together by effects specialist Pacific Data Images, the studio has weaved a lively story, cutting-edge visuals, and the voice-over talents of a superb cast into a funny, charming, often gobsmacking movie. Where else could you watch an action adventure which stars Sylvester Stallone as Woody Allen's best friend?
What immediately impresses is the quality of the script. The first five minutes is such a rush of visual and verbal gaggery that you wonder if the movie can sustain it. "You know," says the neurotic Z (Allen) as he reclines on an ant-therapist's leaf, "when you're the middle child in a family of five million you just don't get any attention..." It's just the start of a quickfire stand-up routine, an onslaught of hilarious ant jokes from: "I have trouble lifting 10 times my own body weight..." to: "I've got to believe there's some better place for me, otherwise I'll just curl up into a larval position and weep."
Antz is Allen's film, with the diminutive star personalising his lines to suit his stammering delivery ("I don't stare death in the face, I stand behind it and make belittling comments"). Stallone (as Weaver), Sharon Stone (as Princess Bala), Christopher Walken (a snidey evil sidekick) and Jennifer Lopez (as Azteca) are good. Gene Hackman's hissing, tyrannical General Mandible is even better. But nothing can come close to Allen's performance. This is his best offering since Manhattan.
Then there's the dazzling CG animation. PDI's box of digital tricks has conjured up a gosh-wow subterranean world of enormous detail. The panoramic vistas of the colony, with millions of ants moving about, is an incredible sight. It's a bug's eye view of the world: from ant bar brawls and social revolution to becoming trapped inside the surface tension of a water droplet, Antz takes you on a fantasy ride that a live-action movie couldn't hope to match without a $200-million budget.
It's pacy, always funny and populated by characters that you can identify with and care about (all gloriously textured and defined, right down to the lip-sync). Antz builds with each wonderful scene (the grisly ant-attack on the termites, the stirrings of discontent among the worker ants) to a thrilling finale.
An irresistible mix of simple story and delicious CG eye-candy mean this mandibled masterpiece will entertain children and adults alike. Rival ant-pic A Bug's Life (from Toy Story creators Pixar) will have to be truly phenomenal to better this.