Antz

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Antz

Since its formation, it's been amusing to watch the Spielberg-Katzenberg-Geffen-run DreamWorks studio turn into what's essentially a bigger-budgeted variation on one of Roger Corman's operations. On two occasions this year, DreamWorks has anticipated a film by the competition and beaten it to the punch with a more quickly produced version. True, Deep Impact was a better big-rock movie than Armageddon (although that's faint praise to be sure), but the fact that 1998 saw the production of two such films—and now two computer-animated bug pictures—doesn't speak well of the creativity in the offices of Hollywood's best and brightest. That aside, DreamWorks' computer-animated Antz, coming out several weeks before Disney and Pixar's long-anticipated Toy Story follow-up A Bug's Life, is a pretty good movie, though it feels a tad arbitrary. Woody Allen provides the voice of the protagonist, a worker ant named Z. Dissatisfied with his place within the ant society—a sort of benign, functional version of Communism—Allen dreams of a better life and finds a glimmer of it by falling in love with a similarly dissatisfied princess (Sharon Stone). Things get complicated, however, when an evil general (Gene Hackman) puts a plan eerily similar to racial purification into motion, with only Allen, Stone, and a handful of friends standing in the way. One of Antz's chief flaws is also one of its most prominent: The ant characters, which look like horrific crosses between insects and the celebrities who play them, are far less visually appealing than the otherwise-impressive animation. There's something distracting and downright creepy about watching an ant clearly modeled after Danny Glover or Sylvester Stallone, and it's doubtful that kids in the audience will fill the theater with delighted squeals of recognition when an ant with Christopher Walken's face appears on screen. They might, however, squeal at Antz's willingness to depict insect life as nasty, brutish, and short, but even this is generally handled well. Still, something about Antz makes it seem inconsequential. The story is well-told, but so familiar that it renders the surrounding film a bright, shiny, dispensible bauble, an amusing diversion but not much more.