Directed by: John A. Davis
Starring: Zach Tyler, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Nicolas Cage, Bruce Campbell
Thoroughly unnecessary, extremely loud and occasionally mildly distasteful, there's really not much that can be said about The Ant Bully except to note that it's yet another in the seemingly unending series of computer animated films that are flooding theaters these days. At the end of the day, it's not a lot more than the movie that came out between last week's Monster House and next week's Barnyard.
I suppose a case could be made that at least Ant Bully doesn't pose the bothersome question of why the bulls in Barnyard appear to have udders and are curiously deprived of genitals (perhaps Barnyard ushers in the era of the unisex bovine). That's something, but it ain't much. I could also note that it's not as annoying as Hoodwinked, nor as mind-numbingly awful as another recent film, Doogal, and ... no, I've run out of things in its favor.
For those who care, The Ant Bully tells the story of Lucas Nickle (Zach Tyler, TV's The Backyardigans), a much put-upon and lonely boy who is forever tormented by the neighborhood bully simply because the bully is bigger than he is. It follows that Lucas decides to torment and torture ants on the same principle. However, one ant, Zoc (Nicolas Cage) -- who fancies himself a magician -- has made a potion, which he pours into the sleeping boy's ear (shades of Hamlet's father!). The potion shrinks Lucas to ant-size and he's forced to work in the colony to learn the value of teamwork and that it's wrong to pick on those smaller than you. That's admirable enough as a message for kids, but it's pretty rough sledding for the rest of us, especially dragged out to 88 minutes.
One might rightly question its message of conformity, though the film tries to defuse this issue by tossing in a line about the strength of the colony being the result of its diversity. But diversity seems to be defined along the lines of class structure, making the message a muddle to say the least.
Similarly, gags involving Lucas's grandmother, Mommo (Lily Tomlin), and her obsession with aliens and her wayward false teeth are in dubious taste. These pale, however, in comparison to sequences involving the grotesqueries of exterminator Stan Beale (Paul Giamatti), some of which -- a tour of his scalp, for example -- are cringe-worthy. And an extended sequence inside a frog's stomach -- which includes a look at a half-digested victim -- is certainly no help.
The best character is a saturnine glowworm (voice actor S. Scott Bullock), who has the film's funniest line, but is underused. The combined star power of Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Paul Giamatti, Meryl Streep and Ricardo Montalban adds very little to the proceedings, apart from name value. They're all pretty much in quick paycheck mode, which isn't surprising given the lackluster script. Overall, Ant Bully might pass muster with younger children, but it's one of those movies that is too clearly a kid flick, not a family one. Rated PG for some mild rude humor and action.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke