THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"THE ANT BULLY"

On the surface, the computer-animated feature The Ant Bully has a few strikes against it from the get-go. Its general subject matter has already been done in Antz and A Bug’s Life. Also, it has the misfortune of coming only a week after the superior Monster House which, to my mind, is one of the best animated films ever. While it may seem a little underwhelming at a glance, The Any Bully is still a movie with its fair share of pleasures.

Lucas Nickle (voiced by Zach Tyler Eisen) is a little boy who is routinely bullied by some other neighborhood kids. He takes his frustrations out on an ant hill located in his yard. Sometimes he shoots it with a squirt gun; other times he kicks it with his foot. This, of course, causes all kinds of chaos in the ant colony. One of them, Zoc (Nicolas Cage), has been slaving away to create a magic potion that will shrink Lucas (known to them as “The Destroyer”) to miniature size.

Zoc achieves his mission and Lucas becomes the size of an ant. The Queen (Meryl Streep) decrees that the ants must teach Lucas to live like one of them, in order to create understanding and, hopefully, peace between the ants and the humans. Zoc’s wife, Hova (Julia Roberts) steps to the plate and offers to mentor the boy. At first, Lucas resists but he eventually starts to warm up to the ants. The lessons come in handy when a sleazy exterminator named Stan Beals (Paul Giamatti) shows up at Lucas’s home to spray for insects. Suddenly, he must apply everything he’s learned to save his newfound friends.

The Ant Bully has a fun premise, but the story isn’t as original as the ones in Monster House, Shrek, or the Pixar movies. It follows a pretty familiar path, showing how the outsider comes to be accepted by another group, and vice versa. Rather than adding any new ideas to that plot, the film takes a simplified connect-the-dots approach, all the way up to the final battle with the exterminator. I really think Paul Giamatti is funny doing the voice of Stan Beals, but there’s no escaping the fact that similar characters have been the villain in other films (most recently Over the Hedge).

What the movie lacks in overall plot originality, it makes up for in individual scenes. This is where The Ant Bully really shines. Many of the sequences in the film are very creative and fun. I particularly enjoyed an extended section where Lucas and some of the other ants journey inside his house; they try to use a telephone, steal candy, and fly around the living room on rose petals. Another really good scene involves a frog attack and what happens when several of the characters find themselves in the creature’s stomach. The final battle with the exterminator is also clever, as the tiny ants have to find a way to fight a grown man. There’s quite a bit of inventiveness here, which I found myself getting caught up in, even though it was a foregone conclusion where the film was heading.

The animation is good, but not groundbreaking, and the voice actors are extremely well cast. There’s also the requisite moral lesson for the kids. The Ant Bully isn’t going to rank with the best-of-the-best in computer animated films, but it is worth taking the family to see. I wasn’t initially sure about the movie, as it was at least the third bug-centered picture of its type. But it worked for me by having some unexpected big laughs and at least half a dozen scenes that were enormously fun to watch.

( out of four)


The Ant Bully is rated PG for some mild rude humor and action. The running time is 1 hour and 28 minutes.

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