By Chris Packham
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A Bugs Life is the little kids version of Antz: sweeter, funnier, simpler to follow. I like that the ants in A Bugs Lifeare lavender and that they have the blissed-out eyes of Teletubbies, even when theyre running for their lives. The brown ants in Antzare just a shade too realistic for anyone who has experienced a water-bug invasion. I also like that most of A Bugs Lifetakes place aboveground (the Metropolis-like anthill in Antz is very depressing) and that the Cinemascope landscape and Randy Newmans buoyant Americana score remind me of John Ford westerns. The casting in A Bugs Lifeis better, too. Antzs Woody Allen and Sharon Stone are simply too old to speak for young insects in love.
That said, its staggering just how similar the premises and plots of both movies are. As Disneys Armageddon was to DreamWorks/Paramounts Deep Impact, so Disneys A Bugs Life is to DreamWorkss Antz.
Like Antz, A Bugs Life has as its hero an individualistic young male whos struggling to come of age in a rigidly conformist society. The hero, whos named Flik and given a friendly voice by Dave Foley, falls in love with the princess (and future queen) of the ant colony to which he belongs. He eventually wins her hand (these bugs have humanlike arms and legs) by saving her and the entire anthill from annihilation.
To this end, he must journey afar and win strangers to his side. Flik recruits P.T. Fleas Insect Circus (its star performers include a caterpillar, a moth, a couple of chiggers, an even-tempered black widow spider, and a macho ladybug) to help save the ants from mean, marauding grasshoppers whove been eating them out of house and home. (In the more sophisticated Antz, the danger comes from within: a warrior ant is plotting a military takeover.) The grasshoppers hang out in a dilapidated desert saloon thats more Sam Peckinpah than John Ford. Kevin Spacey provides the voice of their leader, Hopper, and he sounds as if hes been lubricating his vocal cords with that icky stuff that oozes out of bugs when they get crushed.
Whats so peculiar about both A Bugs Lifeand Antz is that this basic patriarchal myth (young man marries princess after saving society as we know it) is imposed on a matriarchy. You know, the ants, the bees, theyre ruled by queens, not kings. And the queens dont have consorts, just workers, drones, and warriors to feed them, fertilize them, and defend them. So what both these films are basically saying is that if a bug society could produce one freethinking individual, that individual would inevitably be male, and hed turn that society into a patriarchy overnight. Or to put it slightly differently: the way to anthropomorphize a colony of ants is to make its most fully conscious and active member a young male.
The Pixar animation in A Bugs Lifeis much more fluent than it was in Toy Story, where the only expressive characters were Buzz and Woody. Here, there are about two dozen featured insects with distinct personalities. There are big crowd scenes, intimate close-ups, and lots of bugs-eye point-of-view shots. Call me gullible: I believed every second of it.
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