The Ant Bully
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr John A Davis
voices Zach Tyler Eisen, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Lily Tomlin, Regina King, Bruce Campbell, Ricardo Montalban, Cheri Oteri, Larry Miller, Allison Mack
release US 28.Jul.06, UK 4.Aug.06
06/US Warner 1h28

The Destroyer sleeps: Zoc watches over Lucas

roberts cage streep

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The Ant Bully While it may sound rather reminiscent of both Antz and A Bug's Life, this adventure romp is thoroughly engaging. And it has a refreshing willingness to get rather grisly and boyishly crude, plus some subtle political subtext.

Lucas (voiced by Eisen) is always being picked on by the neighbourhood bully, so he takes his aggression out on an ant colony in his front yard. The ants call him The Destroyer, and ant wizard Zoc (Cage) devises a potion to shrink Lucas down to ant size so they can try him for his crimes against their commonality. The benevolent Queen (Streep) sentences Lucas to stay small until he learns to live as an ant, mentored by Zoc's wife Hova (Roberts). Meanwhile, Lucas knows that an exterminator (Giamatti) is on his way.

Having a single writer-director (plus solid source material in John Nickle's book) gives this film a much more gripping tone than most made-by-committee animated movies. There's a terrific drive to the narrative, plus strong characterisations (and voice work) to keep us involved in everything that happens. Even the requisite lesson-learning isn't too sentimentalised.

The animation looks great--nothing earth-shattering in the way it's drawn or rendered, but it's brilliantly directed with swooping "camera" work and a miniature epic tone. Much of the film is flat-out action, as Lucas and his new friends face all manner of attackers, from brutal wasps and a tenacious frog to floods of water and clouds of toxic poison. There's a nice sense of danger that actually keeps us on edge, even though we know nothing will happen to the central characters.

As always, kids' movie predictability infects the plot as it builds to the standard moralising. But Davis is clever enough to subvert things in other ways, tipping over the edge with the poo jokes, touches of real violence and even a few seriously disgusting moments. Not to mention Tomlin's nutty turn as Lucas' toothless mad granny, or Campbell's blustering wannabe hero. And besides keeping us entertained and occasionally thrilled, there's a nice sense that the film is actually saying something serious about the world we live in.

cert U themes, vulgarity, violence 15.Jul.06

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall