The Bottom Line
After a clumsy mishap ruins the local anthill's annual tribute to their grasshopper dominators, intrepid Flik (Dave Foley) sets out to find an army to defend his colony in this 1998 Pixar/Disney animated film. Instead, he gets a gang of recently-unemployed flea circus insects. Will the group save the day?
The Rest of the Story
Year after year, the anonymous anthill that provides the main backdrop to our story fills a leaf with seeds, nuts, and fruit in order to appease a swarm of grasshoppers who have lorded over them with impunity. (Karl Marx would've applauded this movie greatly.)
As the last few pieces of food are being placed on the altar, Flik (Foley) accidentally sends the entire contents into the ravine below after one of his new inventions backfires. The grasshoppers, led by Hopper (a nasty Kevin Spacey), arrive to find their empty cache, they give the ants a rather terse ultimatum to atone.
Instead, Flik offers to go find an army to fight the grasshoppers. He does this more out of his amorous advances towards the daughter (Julia Louise-Drefyus) of the queen (the ever-self-effacing Phyllis Diller) than any real organizational skills, but the group agrees - if only to get him out of their hair while they reorganize their offering.
Out on the open road, Flik manages to run into outcasts from a flea circus, but through a minor miscommunication, takes them for soldiers. He triumphantly brings them back to the anthill, only to find out the truth about his new band of merry men (and women.) So Flik, ever the ingenue, is forced to come up with a plan. Meanwhile, the "soldiers" (including a caterpillar, a moth, and two potato bugs) grow attached to Flik and the rest of the ants.
Will Flik's plan to save the day work? Will the grasshoppers finally leave the ants alone? Or will that stupid "The World Owes Me A Living" mantra live on in infamy forever? Seriously, people; it's a Disney movie ...
As with every Pixar release, there comes a somewhat standard disclaimer when reviewing them: the animation is nothing short of superb. From the wind rippling through blades of grass to the fine detail paid to every onscreen character, the expressiveness and dazzle that goes into each shot never ceases to amaze. One could almost say that Pixar has perfected the art of 3-D animation; their backgrounds seem cartoonish enough for fiction, yet stunning enough for the discerning technophile.
But the disclaimer goes even further, in that if you get caught up in the techniques and achievements that each new Pixar film brings to the table, you often miss a highly palpable and human story behind it. Andrew Stanton (Pixar's chief writer) has proven again and again that the heart behind his characters drives the movie much further than the glossy sheen of superior processing power.
The movie itself serves as a greatly-realized ensemble comedy (its plot actually closely follows that of The Seven Samurai, or for you Americans, The Magnificent Seven). The film delivers almost every obvious joke about the insects, but throws a few screwballs to boot: Francis the ladybug is a guy (played with gusto and charm by Denis Leary), and using the walking stick as a limbo stick at a party is inspired. This age-appropriate wit carries itself well, though at times adults may feel a bit underwhelmed by the cutesy atmosphere that is anthropomorphic entomology.
This in fact is perhaps the greatest drawback to much of Pixar's work: it is inherently designed with children in mind. No amount of adult humor (the mosquito ordering a Bloody Mary) will eclipse the sheer childlike tenor at the heart of the films. At times they've transcended this, most notably with Toy Story 2's irreverence and pacing. But simply put, the family film atmosphere that engulfs these movies is a limitation, and one they've never been able to set aside for loftier goals. This gives their movies a damning dose of predictability (will Kevin Spacey's character's fear of birds come back to haunt him?) and a grating sense of pluckiness where one might be better served by doubt. After all, at the end of the day, who wants to be an ant?
But, you can't fault a good movie for being merely good, even if it is perhaps the worst of the major Pixar films. The characters are enjoyable, Randy Newman's score is sufficiently stirring, and there's certainly no shortage of moralism. Making good movies is probably harder than you think, but Pixar makes it look like a picnic. With a lot of ants, of course.
My Rating: 8 out of 10. The sheer wealth of characters and wit drives this film, and it's a hands down 10 out of 10 for kids. Buy it today, and don't forget the hilarious outtakes during the credits.
Joe Ranft (story)
Dave Foley .... Flik
Kevin Spacey .... Hopper
Julia Louis-Dreyfus .... Atta
Hayden Panettiere .... Dot
Phyllis Diller .... Queen
Richard Kind .... Molt
David Hyde Pierce .... Slim
Joe Ranft .... Heimlich
Denis Leary .... Francis
Jonathan Harris .... Manny
Madeline Kahn .... Gypsy Moth
Bonnie Hunt .... Rosie
Michael McShane .... Tuck/Roll
John Ratzenberger .... P.T. Flea
Brad Garrett .... Dim
Roddy McDowall .... Mr. Soil
Edie McClurg .... Dr. Flora
Alex Rocco .... Thorny
David Ossman .... Cornelius