Kids say the darndest things, even the animated variety. Leave it to a children's flick like The Ant Bully to nicely illustrate a grim but universal truth of life. The movie begins with scrawny little Lucas Nickle (voiced by Zach Tyler from television's "Avatar: The Last Airbender") suffering a wedgie at the hands of the neighborhood bully. "What are you gonna do about it?" Lucas' tormenter asks rhetorically. "Nothing, 'cause I'm big and you're small."
Almost immediately after the humiliation, Lucas releases his frustrations on an anthill in his front yard. He douses the insects with a squirt gun, boasting that he's entitled to do so since "I'm big and you're small."
As a wise man once said, poop (this is a kid's movie, after all) rolls downhill.
Based on an acclaimed children's book by John Nickle, The Ant Bully details how the aforementioned ant colony weathers continual abuse from Lucas, whom the bugs have dubbed "the Destroyer." A wizard ant named Zoc (Nicolas Cage) -- what's that you say? You didn't know there were wizard ants? -- resolves to halt the reign of terror. When Lucas' parents go out of town and leave the boy in the care of his wacky grandmother (Lily Tomlin), Zoc uses a magical potion to shrink Lucas down to ant-size. The boy awakens tiny enough to slide down his bed atop a potato chip.
Lucas is quickly spirited away to the colony, where the magisterial queen ant (Meryl Streep) sentences the destroyer to live among the ants and learn about their day-to-day lives. Writer-director John A. Davis slathers on the socialist utopia. Under the tutelage of idealistic Hova (Julia Roberts), Zoc's main squeeze, Lucas is educated about the camaraderie of a close-knit community where the ants share and do their part for the greater good. At last, a children's movie that Karl Marx could love.
Or Gandhi, for that matter. From pacifism to the importance of social diversity, The Ant Bully overflows with left-leaning life lessons. All of it is well-intentioned; some of it is genuinely affecting. Much of it is gratingly didactic.
Nevertheless, one particular aspect of the picture resonates above all else: The power of empathy. At its heart, The Ant Bully is about walking in someone else's shoes -- six shoes, to be exact -- as Lucas comes to realize how he has terrorized the ants. The moral is telegraphed from the opening minutes, but as morals go, it's not too shabby -- and one that hasn't really been explored in other animated flicks.
The star-studded cast supplies solid voice work. Particular standouts are cult-movie fave Bruce Campbell as a swaggering scout ant and Paul Giamatti as slovenly exterminator Stan Beals of Beals-a-Bug pest control.
Fortunately, The Ant Bully isn't all preaching. From the chopper-like wasps to a sad-sack glowworm, the imaginings of the insect world boast an overcharged visual style reminiscent of Davis' Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. The action sequences pack real excitement; a few scenes might even be too intense for the youngest viewers. And while there is no shortage of poop and pee references, the scatological humor is held in check more than most children's pictures.
As one would expect from a new movie, the DVD picture quality is excellent, bursting with vibrant colors and reasonably sharp detail. It is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 is first-rate, but doesn't give the back speakers as much of a workout as one would have hoped. Audio tracks and subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
It Takes a Colony (16:30) is considerably more entertaining than your usual making-of featurette – perhaps because it is hosted by an animated beetle (not to be confused with an animated Beatle, which, of course, would be Yellow Submarine). Interviews with director-writer Davis and the crew reveal the painstaking work involved in the CG artwork.
Also included are seven animated shorts that spin off from the Ant Bully storyline. Clocking in for an aggregate length of eight minutes and 18 seconds, the clips are mildly cute. Kids will probably dig 'em. Much more interesting -- and surprisingly meaty -- are 10 additional scenes (11:20) that didn't make it into the final film.
Rounding out the extras are a theatrical trailer and, for the easily amused, an ant habitat TV screensaver.
Amid a slew of top-notch animated movies in 2006 (Cars, Over the Hedge, Monster House), The Ant Bully unfortunately found itself lost in the proverbial shuffle. It deserves better; hopefully this solid DVD package will do the trick.