Woody Allen as an insect -- now there's a piece of casting that begs a few jokes.
And that reliance on star power is where much of the problem lies with "Antz," a fitfully entertaining piece of animation from DreamWorks that shows off strengths that also manage to be weaknesses.
Admittedly, using a roster of distinctive (and well-cast) voices for the film's six-legged creations gives the film marquee value. Besides Allen, there's Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, Christopher Walken, Danny Glover, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin and Anne Bancroft. But the celebrities detract from the film itself: Audiences with any degree of cinema savvy will be so busy trying to match voice to character, imagining Stone's body or Walken's glare transposed onto an ant, that what's happening on-screen becomes secondary.
Allen is the voice of Z, a worker ant who dreams of better things. He wants to be an individual (hard when you're the middle child in a family of 5 million), and when an ant princess named Bala (Stone) seems to take a shining to him, he's convinced he can make this relationship work. To do so, he switches places with a soldier ant friend (Stallone) and appears in review before the royal family.
Unfortunately, the review is but a preface to a planned attack on a nearby termite colony, and that's where a horrified -- and woefully ill-prepared -- Z finds himself.
It's hard to figure the audience "Antz" is searching for. Adults may find the theme of self-reliance and individuality a tad simplistic, while a lot of the humor -- most of it coming from Z, a six-legged version of the nebbish Allen played in the early part of his screen career -- will go right over kids' heads.
Not that "Antz" is without its pleasures. Z gets off some funny lines, reminiscent of "Sleeper" and "Bananas"-era Allen. And some of the animated sequences, especially an ant's-eye view of a ride on a tennis shoe, are marvelously inventive and visually striking.
Unfortunately, "Antz" may be the first animated film more memorable for its cast than its story or animation. And that's not a good thing.
Featuring the voices of Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson
Released by DreamWorks
Rated PG (mild language and menacing action)
Running time 83 minutes
Sun score ** 1/2
Pub Date: 10/02/98