The Ant Bully (2006) / Animation-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for mild rude humor and some violence
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast (voices): Zach Tyler, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Paul Giamatti, Meryl Streep, Regina King, Bruce Campbell, Lily Tomlin, Cheri Oteri, Larry Miller, Ricardo Montalban
Director: John A. Davis
Screenplay: John A. Davis (based on the book by John Nickle)
Review published August 2, 2006
The Ant Bully, on paper, derives its inspiration from the short children's book by John Nickle, but just barely. At only 32 pages with lots of illustrations, writer-director John A. Davis (Jimmy Neutron) needed to pull much more into the film to fill up nearly 90 minutes, but rather than look inside for his own imagination, he has opted to rely on the work of others for the look, sound, and manner of other family films, most notably Honey I Shrunk the Kids, Antz, and A Bug's Life, to name but the most obvious. Given that we've seen many elements of the film's plot and style in other notable films, The Ant Bully is one of those take-it-or-leave-it kind of movies that has enough to entertain families looking for a quick fix flick to appeal to young and old, but not enough true originality for you to go out of your way for.
Zach Tyler voices the young "ant bully" of the title, Lucas Nickle. 10-year-old Lucas is the target of the neighborhood bully, who seems to take great delight in having the other neighborhood kids, who also fear him, dog pile on the new guy. When the rest aren't around, Lucas turns right around and takes out his aggressions on the ants living in a hill in his backyard. The ants soon grow weary of getting nearly wiped out by the water hose or the magnifying glass, so they retaliate by using a magical potion to bring Lucas down to size, quite literally -- he becomes the size of an ant.
As punishment for past transgressions, Lucas is ordered by the queen to serve out his punishment by living the life of an ant. He's not readily accepted by the ant colony at large, but soon proves his worth to them in several ways, although it's not quite clear to the rest if he's doing so out of kindness or merely because he wants them to restore him back to his human-sized state. Meanwhile, the colony still manages to be threatened by an outside human force in the form of tenacious pest control specialist Stan Beals (Giamatti, Lady in the Water), who makes it his mission in life to wipe out every last one of the little pests, which would also take out Lucas right along with them.
As one of many CG animated family films to come out in recent years, it's a middle-of-the-pack effort, not nearly as good as the Pixar films, but still better than most of the rest of the contenders for the almighty kid flick dollar. While there really isn't much to the film in terms of originality, it is, thankfully, devoid of many of the things that make other similar releases such a chore to sit through. There are no song-and-dance numbers, no pop culture references, and the characters aren't made up of a motley crew of cutesy creatures voiced by zany comedians allowed to ad lib to their heart's content.
As a comedy, The Ant Bully never more than mildly funny. As an adventure, it's never more than mildly engaging. As a life lesson, it's never more than mildly affecting. I suppose it shouldn't surprise you to learn that as a film, it's never more than mildly enjoyable, so don't have high hopes.
©2006 Vince Leo