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DREAMWORKS

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson
Cast:
Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone
Writing Credits:
Todd Alcott, Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz

Tagline:
Every Ant Has His Day.

Synopsis:
Life is no picnic for Z, a small worker ant with some very big ideas whose chances of landing the beautiful Princess Bala are literally one in a billion. But when Z convinces his soldier ant buddy Weaver to switch places with him, his simple life takes a wild turn. From his battles in the termite war to his search for "Insectopis," Z's adventures land him in a final confrontation with the ruthless General Mandible who has planned to liquidate the colony. Once the most insignificant of workers, Z may just turn out to be the biggest hero of them all!

Box Office:
Budget $60 million.
Opening Weekend
$17.195 million on 2449 screens.
Domestic Gross
$90.646 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
None
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 83 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 3/23/1999

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Directors Tim Johnson and Eric Darnell
• Production Featurette
• Basics of Computer Animation
Antz Facial System
Antz Character Design
• Production Notes
• Cast List & Director Bios
• Theatrical Trailer


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RELATED REVIEWS


Antz: Signature Collection (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 8, 2003)

After years of being the only animated game in town, Disney finally has very stiff competition from other studios. DreamWorks have especially established themselves as heavy players in the cartoon world, and they did pretty well right off the bat in 1998 with Antz and The Prince of Egypt. Both movies pulled in grosses that approached $100 million, although neither had any sort of ready-made audience ala Rugrats or Pokemon. While the money made by the two DreamWorks efforts wouldn't merit much attention if they had come from Disney, their success clearly demonstrated at long last that non-Disney studios can sell their animated product as well.

Antz in particular represented a serious challenge from DreamWorks to Disney. That film, about an ant who tries to maintain his individuality within the conformist constraints of his colony, boasted almost exactly the same plot as Disney's A Bug’s Life. Both films also featured computer animation. The kicker? DreamWorks made sure that Antz hit the screens nearly two months prior to the Thanksgiving 1998 release of A Bug's Life.

Coincidence? Methinks not! The message sent from DreamWorks seemed patently clear.

Much debate has arisen over the inevitable question in regard to the origins of both projects. Was it some coincidence that two different studios produced two computer-animated films that starred ants and featured rather similar plots or did one company rip off the other? Appearances make it seem that Disney stole from DreamWorks simply because Antz came out first, but that means little; animated films require such extended production times that a few weeks difference in release dates becomes virtually insignificant. Scuttlebutt says that DreamWorks took from Disney, but that's just conjecture. The full truth may never be known; it's not like one studio's going to admit that they ripped off the other one.

Anyway, that subject seems to be a happily moot point because of the financial and artistic success of both films. A Bug's Life pulled in bigger bucks, but the decent gross of Antz certainly has to be considered a moral victory. Better yet remains the fact that both of them are very good films.

I'll make no bones about it: I decidedly prefer A Bug's Life. I thought it possessed a personality and a flair that Antz largely lacked. Put simply, I had much more fun watching A Bug's Life than is typical for me. I see so many movies that it's hard for any to rise out of the pack. A Bug's Life really did it for me; despite very high expectations going in, I had a terrific time at that film.

Not that Antz fails in any significant way. Really, it's a very enjoyable little film. I found it fairly disappointing when I saw it during its theatrical run, but I've watched the DVD a few times and I now think it works pretty nicely. It's still not as interesting as A Bug's Life, but it certainly delivers some strong entertainment.

Critics decided that Antz was the more "adult" of the two insect movies, and I suppose that's overtly true. I believe that designation largely has been assigned simply because Antz is “PG” and A Bug's Life is “G”. To earn that more restrictive rating, Antz supplies a smattering of very mild profanity, an occasional adult theme (such as when Z, our hero ant, refers to his erotic fantasies - well, he doesn't specifically list them, but he indicates that they exist), and a battle scene that depicts some disembodied insect body parts. Since the "adult" label that was slapped on this movie connotes added sophistication, I don't think any of these aspects of the production merit that.

Antz additionally seems more advanced to many because of the presence of Woody Allen as Z. He may not have written his material, but Woody essentially does Woody here, which is fine; I'm not much of a fan of the guy, but he does well for himself here as he helps make Z an interesting character. Again, I really don't see anything that seems particularly sophisticated in his performance or any of the others; little here stands out as more adult-oriented than you'd find in any Disney film.

Most of the voice acting is very good, though only Christopher Walken and his odd cadences really stood out to me. Sylvester Stallone does a nice turn in a wee bit of self-parody, and Gene Hackman adds force to his role as the evil General Mandible. Sharon Stone's performance as Princess Bala - Z's love interest - seemed fairly uncompelling; she did nothing overtly poor, but I just didn't find her work to be particularly interesting.

One problem that the voice acting can't completely overcome is the monotony of the visual appearance of the characters. Although we occasionally get a couple insects of others species - primarily Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd as some very WASPy wasps - the vast majority of the screen time is occupied by ants, and they all look an awful lot alike. That makes sense, of course; if the ants all looked different, we would not accept that. But the lack of variety of "supporting bugs" we find in A Bug's Life contributes to the fairly static appearance of the film. All the ants look so much alike that the movie is strongly dominated by their reddish-brown hue and it fails to match the visual excitement of its competitor.

Back when Antz was fresh, the animation looked pretty solid to me. However, I must admit that nearly four years after its release, the work has started to show its age. The animation doesn’t seem bad, but it lacks the depth and spark that more recent offerings provide.

Still, Antz remains a fairly lively and enjoyable movie. It started DreamWorks down the road to becoming an animation powerhouse and it stands as a fun though unspectacular piece of work.


The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Antz appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not flawless, the picture offered a consistently positive affair.

Sharpness usually appeared solid. A few wide shots betrayed a slight amount of softness, but those occasions occurred infrequently. As a whole, the image remained crisp and well defined throughout the movie. Moiré effects and jagged edges demonstrated no concerns, and I saw no examples of edge enhancement. For the most part, the picture lacked many print flaws. I saw a few specks of grit, but these stayed minor.

As I noted earlier, earthy reds and browns dominated the palette. Once Z and Bala get near Insectopia, the spectrum opened up to a degree, but this largely remained a fairly monotonous affair in that regard. Nonetheless, the hues looked consistently accurate and distinct, as they showed no problems related to noise or other issues. Black levels were nicely deep and rich, while shadow detail came across as appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Given that much of the movie took place underground, this meant lots of low-light segments, so the DVD did well in this area. Overall, Antz provided a very pleasing picture.

Also quite good was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Antz. Since the film’s essentially a comedy at heart, I wasn’t surprised to discover a soundfield that stayed largely confined to the forward spectrum. In that domain, the music showed fine stereo imaging, while effects blended together neatly and smoothly. Those elements moved from speaker to speaker cleanly as the track created a solid sense of atmosphere. It even included a fair amount of audio from the side speakers, which offered a pleasant impression.

Surround usage generally favored reinforcement of music and effects, but the rears came to life nicely during a number of scenes. The big battle showed effective use of the surrounds, as did the other action scenes; when the water roars into the anthill, it provided an engulfing setting. The mix really helped bring the material to life.

Audio quality consistently seemed positive. Dialogue was natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Music was rich and warm throughout the movie, though I felt the songs could have featured better low-end response at times; those aspects seemed good but unexceptional. Bass stomped to life nicely during the louder scenes such the portion when Z and Bala got stuck to the bottom of a kid’s shoe, and effects always seemed clear and accurate, with no signs of distortion or other concerns. Ultimately, the soundtrack lacked “A”-level ambition, but it still offered a very solid piece of work.

(Please note that a separate DTS edition of Antz exists. Unfortunately, it fails to include most of this set’s extras.)

Antz offers a good but not tremendous smattering of supplemental materials. Best of the bunch is the audio commentary from directors Tim Johnson and Eric Darnell. The two sat together for this running, screen-specific piece. I always figured that since animators did such technical work, they would be introverts, but I clearly was wrong, at least in this case. Johnson and Darnell offer a rollicking narration for their film. They add a lot of comments about the development and creation of the project, and they create a nicely entertaining and informative track.

The remainder of the supplements seem nice but not nearly as compelling. The production featurette lasts four minutes and 25 seconds and combines some shots from the movie, behind the scenes material, and interviews with participants. We hear from directors Darnell and Johnson, producers Aron Warner and Brad Lewis, writers Chris and Paul Weitz, supervising animators Rex Grignon and Raman Hui, character TD supervisor Beth Hofer, and actors Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, and Anne Bancroft. Overall, the piece offers only a little information, as it generally presents a fluffy promotional program.

A fair amount of technical information shows up in three featurettes. Basics of Computer Animation lasts 11 minutes and five seconds. Narrated by directors Darnell and Johnson, they lead us through the various stages of animation and get a nice discussion of the evolution of the material.

Antz Character Design and Antz Facial System use the same format. The latter briefly looks at the ways they animated faces; it’s awfully short at 68 seconds, but it’s informative nonetheless. “Character” runs 10 minutes and 30 seconds and covers the development of Z, Bala, Mandible and the wasps. It’s similar to the other two, and it provides a fun and useful chat.

Finally, Antz includes some of the usual DVD staples. We get a theatrical trailer and four TV ads, the latter of which include some poorly dubbed replacement dialogue, such as "caboose" for "anus". We also find some pretty good production notes - also printed in the DVD's booklet - and a cast listing and biographies of the directors. The latter section seemed odd, since DVDs usually toss in at least rudimentary biographies and filmographies of their actors. This program simply lists the actors - isn't that what the end credits are for? - and gives us additional information on the directors. No big deal - those cast bios are frequently pretty dull - but I thought it seemed strange.

Though I don’t like it as much as A Bug’s Life, Antz gives us a moderately enjoyable and witty piece of work. The film offers some good performances and seems reasonably clever and likable. The DVD features very good picture and sound as well as a decent roster of extras. All in all, this seems like a solid DVD that comes with my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.4444 Stars Number of Votes: 18
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