DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEW of A Bug’s Life, Antz ,The Ant Bully,

Stuart Little (I)


Title:  A Bug’s Life

Release Date:  1998

Nationality and Language: USA, Enhlish

Running time: 96 min

MPAA Rating: G

Distributor and Production Company: Buena Vista/Disney/Pixar

Director; Writer: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton



Technical: Animation

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:

Movie Review: A Bug's Life; Disney/Pixar Pictures; "G"; 9.0/10

Also, Antz and Stuart Little  (I); there are now two S.L. films in the franchise

Or is this "an insect's life?" Vermin life?

            I've never been a connoisseur of children's literature or children's films (although I was a rabid fan of Howdy Doody and Buffalo Bob as a kid, and even of the idea of a Doodyville, before there was a Disneyland or a "Teletubby"), but Disney has indeed given this little gem "adult" political or psychological meaning simultaneously. That is best shown when the queen demands of the wanna-be hero worker ant (the "bug" whose "life" is chronicled) , "since when does an ant put himself above his colony?" And were ants born to be subordinate to grasshoppers? Can they figure out their potential power (however Maoist and collectivist) in mere numbers?

Indeed, as entomologists teach us, ants, termites and bees are "social insects," where the granularity of consciousness rests with the whole hive or colony (Childhood's End style), not the individual. And, as I said myself in Do Ask, Do Tell, history has, until recently, always dealt with groups of people as if the individual really didn't matter.

The social insect paradigm reminds me of a controversial political issue: Profiles in Learning and School to Work (and now No Child Left Behind). Conservative Minnesota gubernatorial candidate (1994) Allen Quist characterized (in a 1999 rally) this program as government deciding in the eighth grade a teenager's "assigned station in life." Indeed, it would be easy for government, under the pretense of "educational standards" to succumb to political pressure (to relieve some people of awareness of their own failures) and wind up with reinventing a caste system that government can control. However, we often treat other people (with respect to issues like charisma and sexual attractiveness) as if they had "assigned stations." And perhaps people need to feel their own limits in order to feel motivated to meet the real needs of others in setting their own priorities. But all social insects have "assigned stations in life" and government, according to entomologists, consists of chemical messengers.

The animation is great, realistic (and on a Panavision screen) to the point that the viewer feels she has entered one of Clive Barker's other Dominions. The aggressive male predatory Bird - sort of a hybrid of goldfinch and house finch, is appropriately gaudy and "masculine." Our hero thinks so much of the Bird that he engineers a Con-Air style glider in imitation of The Bird. (Remember my affairs with mockingbirds in DADT).

            The film is accompanied with a great animated Pixar short subject (not wide-screen) of a puppet-man (Heinlein, anyone?) playing his alter-self a game of chess. The game starts 1. e4 e5 2. f3? Nf6. After White's dippy second move (Damiano's Defense in reverse), White goes downhill until Black takes off all of his pieces (a denuding??) and actually has to worry about stalemate. But White Resigns. (Section 03, Chapter 2, DADT).

            There’s another animated feature released about the same time, Antz, from Dreamworks SKG.  And indeed animation has come a long way from the days when we expected Looney Toons “cartoons” before the previews and the feature.  This film is a bit terser and a bit even more obviously “political” as it dissects the individualism v. communalism “debate” from the point of view of social insects.  The look is a bit cramped and less imaginative, and the film seems over with rather quickly.  Well, I didn’t think that worker ants could “marry” at all—an interesting commentary in that social conservatives expect men to obtain individuality through sacrificing the most intimate and expressive of experiences—sexual intimacy—to the lifelong monogamous commitment of the family bed and of communal purpose. Woody Allen’s “voice” is effective in communicating the feelings if the psychologically ambitious but feckless anti-hero prole.   

The Ant Bully (2006, Warner Bros./Legendary, dir. John A. Davis, 87 min, PG) is another delicious satire for adults packaged for kids as an animated feature, available in some cities in Imax. Now, most of us have destroyed ant colonies, marked by little mountains in the yard, before. In Texas, with the fire ants, it gets serious. A nerdy boy, already bullied himself by a bigger fat neighborhood boy (in these days of obesity), floods a colony, but is brought low when one of the aunts shoots him with a magic potion to turn him into a Lilliputian. He learns about the pinko-Commie “Reds” ways of the ant world as he is forced to become one, and learn to do their things, like become a climber. The ant world turns into a kind of matrix, or an extraterrestrial civilization. The Queen has her secret chambers and mines the caterpillars for honeydew. They get eaten up by a bullfrog, who then vomits when tickled by another ant. They look over the city, where the boy explains a world where it is “everyone for himself.” Indeed, society has broken away from collective and familial goals in favor of individualism, which has left so many people behind in a global world. The boy Lucas has signed a contract with the exterminator, so the boy helps them shrink him, by climbing up his hairy legs and up to his rear end – all in a PG movie. This certainly plays on the worst fears of ritual emasculation – being shrunk.  


            Another "kids' movie" with adult social overtones is Columbia's 1999 "Disney-like" Stuart Little, an adaptation of E. B. White's story (with Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnickwi, and Michael J. Fox, known for his fight against Parkinson's Disease, as the voice of the mouse-boy Stuart. The director is Rob Minkiff.  

            One wonders why a rodent could talk to people when a carnivore (Snowbell the Cat) can only "play-talk."  In any event, a rather homely WASP family (living on New York's Park Avenue of all places) seeks to "adopt" a baby brother for their only child son (my own parents once considered a younger sister for me).  Little Stuart comes out of the "mouse" orphanage and can talk pretty good.  And he fits in to the boy's play-city "Imajican" dominion of buildings and electric trains.

            Of course, Snowbell has to get over his feline selfishness. He's rather a Mephistopheles, who looks out for number one, for his own comfort, and his social position as a House Cat among the Alley Cats (reminds one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical).  He swallows Stuart once, and spits him up like a Jonah when the daddy says, "we don't eat family members."  Later, Snowbell will learn the meaning of family and join up himself.  That is, you're loyal to "family first," and you put is ahead of your own ambition or social posturing.  (Well, I don't).  I admire cats for their independence, and Snowbell must swallow his pride and give up his.  There is one line where family members don't have to be biologically related, of the same race, or even species.  After all, Stuart has to look for a "real" Mom and Dad.  And he looks cute in good clothes tucked into bed, like a little Lilliputian.  Such satire.      



Related reviews: Mulan.


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