Lucas Nickle (voiced by Zach Tyler) is a young boy fed up with bullies and his smothering parents. Taking his aggression out on the bugs in his front yard, Lucas thinks nothing of carelessly kicking down the ant hills. Zoc (Nicholas Cage) is an ant wizard questing to find a potion to stop the human "destroyers" from killing his colony. When Zoc drops an elixir in Lucas's ear one night, the boy is shrunk down to ant size and forced to confront life from a whole new perspective. Handed over into the loving care of Hova (Julia Roberts), Lucas learns to live like an ant and tries to help save the colony before an evil exterminator (Paul Giamatti) comes to make his deadly appointment.
Here's something I haven't felt from a CG animated film so far this summer: pure delight. "Ant Bully" supplies this sensation over and over again, somehow lining up all the important elements to create one of the best examples of the genre I've seen in recent history.
Adapted from the book by John Nickel, "Ant Bully" is first and foremost a lesson for kids on the importance of teamwork and appreciating those willing to help you. Similar films (like this summer's "Cars") would drown trying to sell the moral, but "Bully," under the radiant direction of John Davis ("Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius"), is more concerned about the possibilities for bite-size adventure the story holds.
In shrinking the tale down to fingernail size, "Bully" powers from the same fumes that propelled "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" to family film success. Inherently, there's a pop of wonder seeing the everyday world from the point of view of an ant and Davis imaginatively realizes this existence by pushing the action through a myriad of household and front lawn obstacles for the ant team to survive. Whether it's being chased by frogs, floating through the air on rose petals, searching for "sweet rocks" (jellybeans), or trying to dial for help on the phone (bouncing from number to number), the details of the tiny world provide "Bully" with splendor and giddy excitement.
Davis keeps the picture moving briskly, trusting the audience to understand the characters and their troubles, forgoing the typical shove-down-the-throat storytelling policy of other animated features. Save for one scene where Zoc openly wonders why humans don't work with each other to solve problems, "Bully" is blessedly fat-free of draggy lectures and melodrama, electing to let the expressive animation convey most of the internal struggles.
As with most CG films, the voicework makes the whole production. Also appearing in the film are Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Regina King, and the man himself, Bruce Campbell, as a macho, but easily spooked scout ant. The most surprising cast member has to be Nicholas Cage, who always seemed like the last actor around to do a film like this. Cage is a fireworks display here, reminiscent of the acting choices of his youth, when his exuberance and playfulness made for some thrilling performances. His lively spirit carries "Bully" well, even if he's knocked out of the plot midway through. It's good to see the old Cage come out to play again, especially in a film as generously entertaining and easy to swallow as this.
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