Now I’ve seen them both. I remember thinking “The Truman Show” was pretty good until I saw “Pleasantville”. While “ANTZ” is essentially a great Woody Allen film, John Lasseter has again set the bar with the superior “A Bug’s Life”.
There’s been speculation that Jeffrey Katzenberg may have “borrowed” from the new Pixar/Disney film which was under development while he was still at Disney for Dreamworks’ “ANTZ”. They have a number of similarities. In “ANTZ”, we follow Z (Woody Allen), an ant who thinks differently than his brethren ants. He falls in love with the princess ant (Sharon Stone), must leave the colony due to a major screw-up after they laud him as a hero from a plan gone awry, and eventually save the colony from a massive threat to become a true hero.
Ditto, “A Bug’s Life”. Flik (Dave Foley), an inventor, always wants to help the colony but usually screws it up. Every year, a gang of grasshoppers led by the evil Hopper (Kevin Spacey) invade and take their existing food supply. One of Flik’s inventions accidently knocks out a support rock and loses all of the food. Hopper tells the ants they have until the end of the summer to make it up, the time when the ants normally gather all of their own food for the winter. Flik decides to leave the colony and find some bigger bugs to fight off the loathsome locusts.
What he finds are a group of rejects from a flea circus. There’s Manny, the praying mantis magician played by Jonathan Harris just like his Dr. Smith in “Lost in Space”; Francis, a gender-confused male ladybug (Denis Leary); and an assortment of other wacky insects. Once this group enters the picture, the movie moves to a whole new level. Flik and the circus bugs learn to work to each of their strengths as they search for a way to fend off the swarm. As expected, nothing works out smoothly.
When I saw “ANTZ”, I thought it was good, but missing something to push it over the top. I couldn’t figure out what it was. After seeing a different approach to the CGI ant premise, I understood what it was. In “ANTZ”, the crisis came from within their closed society. Other insects appeared, but were generally superfluous to the story. The majority of the story concerns red-brown ants within a dirt brown setting. The movie picked up greatly when they went outside. It’s also only outside where we come in contact with insects that could be understood as “wacky”.
“A Bug’s Life” has a variety of settings with a variety of bugs and colors. The threat comes from outside. While the Dreamworks film is targeted at adults, this is a family film. There’s a great deal of wackiness. While “ANTZ” has a cool, sort of airbrushed storybook texture to itself, this movie is something else, entirely. It doesn’t even look like “Toy Story”. Which brings to mind “ANTZ” is the first attempt by Pacific Data Images and Dreamworks at creating a full length film. The PIXAR team on a “A Bug’s Life” is much the same as the on “Toy Story”, most importantly including director John Lasseter. PIXAR has had the chance to develop new technology based on the lessons they’ve learned from “Toy Story” and their short films, such as the oscar winning “Geri’s Game”.
Despite similarities, these are two different films and should be judged on their own merits. “ANTZ” is a far better Woody Allen film than “Celebrity”, and not a bad date film. “A Bug’s Life”, however, is a classic. It’s better than the last several Disney animated films. PIXAR has stated they want to be the second successful feature animation studio. They’re already there.