August 3, 2006

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The Ant Bully (PG)
A boy learns that you can’t destroy an entire civilization just because you’re mad about receiving so many wedgies in The Ant Bully, a sufficiently entertaining bit of animation.

Lucas (Zach Tyler) is something of a dweeb who finds himself the object of a bully’s underwear-related attentions that, sadly, is the only interaction he has with the neighborhood kids. Once the pack of delinquents has moved on, Lucas takes out his anger at being continuously ridiculed and then ignored on an ant hill in his yard. He kicks at this hill, stomps on the ants and, eventually, fills the colony with water. Though feeling powerless in his own life, Lucas, to the ants, is known as The Destroyer (a name that becomes Peanut, The Destroyer, once one of the ants hears Lucas’ mom use his nickname).

Zoc (Nicholas Cage), the wizard of the ant colony, has a plan for dealing with the Destroyer. He creates a potion which shrinks the boy down to ant size. Zoc brings the Destroyer back to the colony with plans to kill the colony-flooding villain but the queen ant (Meryl Streep) suggests a more teach-a-man-to-fish solution. Let the Destroyer learn ant ways so he can return to his humans and teach others not to go all Terminex every time they meet a six-legger. Zoc’s not so crazy about that plan but, annoyingly to him, his girlfriend Hova (Julia Roberts) volunteers to take Lucas under her antenna.

Lucas isn’t terribly excited about this outward-bound-in-the-front-yard experience but more-or-less sticks with the ants once he realizes how many different things out there could eat him. He makes a few ant friends, including teacher Kreela (Regina King) and blowhard Fugax (Bruce Campbell) and begins to think he might become ant enough to convince Zoc to give him the potion to get big again. But then he realizes that even his own life might be in jeopardy if that exterminator (Paul Giamatti) he hired while still people-sized shows up to do his deadly thing.

No matter how many times I heard it, the phrase “Peanut the Destroyer” was consistently giggle-inducing. Though The Ant Bully is fairly conventional in its story (some Afterschool Special lessons about not being a meanie and why it’s good to help people mixed with some picture book sense of adventure), it goes the extra distance to keep the writing funny and to make good use of the visuals. Also, though the lessony parts (some of which are sort of kindergarten-socialism in nature) get a bit thick in places, the story keeps moving — thankfully, there’s no slow alt-pop ballad about friendship wherein we must suffer through a child-wearying montage of sadness among the central characters. The action moves at a quick clip through some Lucas-learning-about-ants segments to the big final battle between the insects of the yard and the suitably horrible exterminator.

The Ant Bully doesn’t blow you away, but in a summer of C minuses, this above-average charmer is a solid B.

— Amy Diaz


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