The Ant Bully Review

Jul 28, 2006 | 4:24am EDT

After being bullied for the umpteenth time by the kids from the neighborhood pint-sized 10-year-old Lucas (voiced by Zachary Tyler) mindlessly takes out his aggression on an ant colony by hosing it down with water. Turns out he just opened Pandora’s Box because the six-legged pests are tired of being bullied themselves. When Lucas goes to sleep the chief wizard of the colony Zoc (voiced by Nicolas Cage) spearheads a plan to sneak into the boy’s room and zap him with a potion that cuts him down to size; when Lucas awakens he’s no longer just figuratively an ant. For his repeated ant offenses Lucas must stand trial before the Queen Ant (voiced by Meryl Streep) who sentences him to live and coexist with the very creatures he formerly terrorized. While Zoc is wary of his new colony-mate Zoc’s girlfriend Hova (voiced by Julia Roberts) tries instead to keep Lucas out of harm’s way (frogs dragonflies etc.) and teach him about understanding different creatures and the meaning(s) of life. A-List doesn’t always mean A-game. Despite some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars comprising the Bully cast there’s not a whole lot of spirit and only two actors Paul Giamatti as a nefarious exterminator and Cage have distinguishable enough voices for animation. In a movie aimed exclusively towards tots some of the casting just doesn’t figure. Take Streep: While clearly a supreme actress her voice just doesn’t quite register and is a six-year-old going to stand up and shout “Mommy mommy! It’s the Sophie's Choice lady!”? But there are solid performances with Giamatti as usual turning in the best. (Now there’s an actor meant to be cartooned!) Cage is also always a safe bet and doesn’t disappoint here. But Roberts in her much-hyped first post-birth role is well nurturing and soothing to young Lucas but there’s just nothing exciting about her; she’s just…there. Which completely sums up the rest of the cast which includes Regina King Lily Tomlin et al. The Ant Bully is based on a bedtime story (written by John Nickle) that producer Tom Hanks used to read to his kids—it might help lull your little ones to sleep too. Hanks and Co. enlisted the help of director John A. Davis (of Jimmy Neutron fame) who also adapted the screenplay. Davis on occasion offers gorgeous visuals but sadly there’s just not much new here in the ever-growing world of animated features. The themes are decidedly unsubtle—which given the target audience is probably intentional but even the youngest of young might find Bully too rudimentary. And it begs the question: Wasn’t this precise concept while thematically different much more groundbreaking and visually striking when shot in live action for Honey I Shrunk the Kids…in 1989?! Needless to say despite a few fun moments for kids the only genius here comes courtesy of whomever decided to sandwich the release date to fall between Monster House and Barnyard.

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