The Ant Bully is yet one more clever, animated feature that elevates the genre beyond merely “kid entertainment.” While its formula for success is a tired one, the message and artfulness proves a delightful alternative to the weak live-action films that studios insist upon foisting on unsuspecting audience-goers (did you really want to have to choose between Little Man and You, Me and Dupree?).
Backed by no less than Tom Hanks and voice-starring Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Nicolas Cage and Paul Giamatti, The Ant Bully had everything going for it, or seemed to. Animated movies almost zoom to the top of the box office without much effort. But no one wanted to see “The Ant Bully,” causing the film to open at a tepid number five, with only $8 million. Doesn’t that make it the lowest mainstream Julia Roberts opener of all time? The Ant Bully got beat by John Tucker Must Die, the inferior Monster House and of course, Pirates of the Caribbean, with Miami Vice hogging the number one slot.
The Ant Bully is the kind of film you can trust your kids with – heartening message, conflict-resolution strategies, excitement, heart and a decent amount of laughs to round out the basic requirements. Judging by the other films popular right now, though, The Ant Bully doesn’t fit the bill.
In The Ant Bully, the lowly world of insects is elevated to something resembling forgotten civilizations, like the Mayans or the Aztecs. They even leave their mark with cave drawings. Theirs is a harmonious, balanced society where teamwork and loyalty count for everything.
When Lucas Nickel (Zack Tyler) floods the ant hole with his squirt gun (Why? Because he’s sick of being bullied himself and his solution to this is to bully something even smaller and helpless than himself) the ants decide to shrink him down to their size to teach him a lesson.
He is taken under the wing of Hova, (Roberts) and before long, learns all about the ant world. Think of it as Dances with Ants. But Lucas is a human and is not to be trusted. He had already ordered an exterminator to wipe that ant colony from the face of the earth. He must act fast in order to save his new friends from extinction.
The film’s message, in case you’re counting, is that not much can be accomplished alone. But if you have friends to back you, teammates, you can move mountains. Isn’t that ultimately what separates us from ants?
Even though the world of insects isn’t exactly the stuff great animated films are made of (the reason for this is unclear), under the hand of John A. Davis this film has some sublime visuals – like the rose petal hang-gliding and the giant bullfrogs on the hunt. It’s hard to not appreciate what these filmmakers were trying to do in creating this sacred little world of ants. It’s too bad, though, that it isn’t currently what the people want.
Perhaps audiences felt like they’d seen this movie already in Antz or A Bug’s Life. They are under the misguided notion that what they are drawn to has to be brand-new. In fact, there is nothing new under the sun and most especially at the multi-plex. After all, the biggest hit this year is a sequel of an amusement park ride.