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The Ant Bully is a 2006 computer-animated film based on the 1999 children's book and produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman's Playtone, John Davis and Keith Alcorn's DNA Productions and directed by the aforementioned Davis. Released in movie theatres on July 28, 2006 by Warner Bros. Family Entertainment and Legendary Pictures, it is based on a book by John Nickle and features the voices of Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Allison Mack, Paul Giamatti and Ricardo Montalban (in his final film role). Concurrently with the general release, the film was offered in big screen IMAX 3D, the format also used with The Polar Express. For more information on the IMAX 3D experience of The Ant Bully, see The Ant Bully IMAX 3D Experience.

Plot

The story is about a lonely 10-year-old boy named Lucas Nic (Zach Tyler Eisen) who has just moved to a new neighborhood. His parents, who fail to understand his problems, go on a honeymoon in Puerto Vallartamarker, leaving him with his older sister and his Grandmother (Mommo), who obsesses over aliens and UFOs. Tormented by a local bully and his gang, Lucas in turn attacks an anthill, flooding it with a squirt gun. This terrifies the ants, who call him Peanut the Destroyer (Peanut being his mother's nick name for him). One ant, an eccentric wizard named Zoc (Nicolas Cage), tries to fight back. His girlfriend, a nurse ant named Hova (Julia Roberts), believes in finding a more peaceful solution by attempting to communicate with Lucas. She is almost crushed by Lucas while trying to do so but is rescued by Zoc. After a devastating attack floods the hatching chambers, the leaders of the colony decide to use a potion (which Zoc made from some magical gemstones) to shrink Lucas down to size of an ant.

Meanwhile, the local exterminator, Stan Beals (Paul Giamatti), convinces Lucas to sign a contract to kill the local vermin. Late that night, Zoc and a small troop of ants sneak into Lucas's house and pour the potion into his ear. Lucas wakes up and discovers that he is now as tiny as an ant (since his underwear didn't shrink with him, he is also naked). The boy is then carried to the anthill and cast down into a world of giant caves, caterpillars, and ants. Zoc insists that Lucas should be studied then eaten, but he is overruled by the imposing, awe-inspiring Queen ant (Meryl Streep). In her wise reasoning, she sentences Lucas to hard labor until he can be considered an ant, for she believes that the colony could be improved this way. Hova volunteers to train Lucas, much to Zoc's mortification. Hova develops a delicate friendship with Lucas when they both learn more about the differences between ants and humans. But when she forces him to undertake a mission foraging for coveted sweet-rocks (known to humans as jelly beans) under the supervision of a tough female ant named Kreela (Regina King) and a macho scout leader named Fugax (Bruce Campbell) Lucas is ultimately unsuccessful. Suddenly, the ants tending the caterpillar herds are attacked by wasps. Lucas tries to save himself at first; when he finds a discarded firecracker, he uses it to scare away the wasps. This earns him the admiration and respect of all the ants – with the exception of Zoc, who believes him to be still an incorrigible Destroyer who only cares about himself.

Lucas is then invited to eat with the ants; he is introduced to honeydew, a preparation made from the feces of caterpillars. This disgusts Lucas, who is soothed by Hova and a delicious alka-root in a water drop. Lucas is later shown a painting which depicts the Great Ant Mother and the evil “Cloud-Breather”, whom Lucas recognizes as an exterminator. Lucas is told of the prophecy that the Great Ant Mother will return one day to them and will shower the ants with honeydew, while the Cloud-breather, all insects' mortal enemy, will spell destruction for all of them. He and his new friends go back to his house, where he tries to call the exterminator to cancel the contract but dials a pizza restaurant instead. Then Lucas' sister comes home and they are forced into hiding until dark. When Zoc finds out about the contract, he accuses Lucas of further treachery and tells him that he should find another wizard because there is no way that he will give Lucas the potion to turn him back again. Lucas runs away, frightened, and Hova becomes angry with Zoc. But when Lucas is swallowed by a frog, a repentant Zoc uses alka-root to free him. Afterwards, while the others sleep, Zoc and Lucas discuss the differences between ant society and human society. Lucas keeps yawning and Zoc is disgusted by it, at first thinking he was ill. Zoc states that in essence humans work for personal gain whereas ants work for the benefit of the colony. Here, he starts acting a like a father-figure for Lucas while he is an ant.

That morning, Fulgax wakes everyone up screaming, 'Praise The Mother!' seeing a large pink ant with white wings and a crown over her head. Upon further inspection, Lucas realizes that the 'Ant Mother' is actually a giant balloon that Beal's Pest Control uses as a symbol. While the colony is cheering, Zoc uses his magic to teleport them to the center of the crowd. 'That is not the Ant Mother! It is a Cloud-Breather!' Zoc yells.

Lucas reveals everything to the other ants; although initially angry at him, they are placated by his plan of defense. He enlists the aid of their natural enemies, the wasps. During the battle with the exterminator, Lucas saves the lives of Hova and an injured wasp. Finally, with the help of a beetle and glowworm also rescued from the frog earlier, and the leader of the wasps, he injects Stan Beals with a potion that reduces him to infantile size. The queen then pronounces Lucas an ant. She names him Rokai, as such to be forever known by the entire colony. Zoc gives him the antidote to the shrinking potion. Once full-size, Lucas stands up to the bully and inspires other kids to do so, including members of the bully’s own gang. The bully runs away and Lucas and the other kids become friends. Lucas then showers the colony with jelly beans as a farewell gift.

Cast



Development

Hanks originally conceived the idea for an animated film adaptation after reading the book with his child. He then sent a copy of the book to Davis because of Davis' work on the computer-animated film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Davis came up with a potential take on the story within a few days. "To be honest, when I first looked at it, I thought Oh, why does it have to be ants again?" said Davis. "But the more I thought about it, I said, So what? It's got as much to do with The Incredible Shrinking Man as it does the other bug movies. It's a completely different story." Also, Hanks agreed that the story could be expanded considerably (the original book being around only 2,000 words). Alcorn had a similar initial reaction to the project as Davis did. "My first thought,” recalled Alcorn, “was, ‘not another ant movie.’ But looking at the actual story, this was really about a little boy and how he learns about the world by having to live beneath the surface." Davis states that he felt like a something of a hypocrite when, while he was working on the script, carpenter ants infested his house and he called an exterminator.

Technical information

The movie was rendered on DNA Productions' 1400-CPU render farm, managed by the open source Sun Grid Engine job scheduler. The nodes started out with Fedora Core 2 Linux with a modern 2.6.x kernel, but the new AMDmarker Opteron nodes are running Fedora Core 4. Most of the applications are commercial, including Maya, Houdini, Massive and the Pixar RenderMan.

IMAX 3D

Along with the theatrical release of The Ant Bully, there was an IMAX 3D version presented in only some of the IMAX theaters. The others continued to run the 3D version of Superman Returns. The special IMAX 3D version was remastered in 3D with IMAX DMR. Critics within the 3D motion picture community have given the film high marks, as unlike Superman Returns, the entire film is projected in 3D stereo. The process to turn a pure animation film into 3D is much simpler than converting a film having live actors.

Release

Box office

The Ant Bully closed on November 16, 2006, with $28 million in North America and a total of $55 million worldwide. The estimated production budget was $50 million. Considering that studios receive just over half of the final gross, this is viewed as a box office disappointment, for Monster House and Barnyard: The Original Party Animals both sold far more. The 3D version did considerably better per screen in its few playdates, though this is due partially to the higher admission prices of IMAX theaters.

Reception

The film garnered a 63% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Tom Long of the Detroit News wrote that "there's a sweet simplicity and humility to this film." Ruthe Stein of The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that "the brilliance of The Ant Bully is in the crafty way it delves into the minds of ants as they plot to save themselves from extermination... Davis creates a marvelously labyrinthine society for them, right below the surface of a bland suburb." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly liked Roberts and Cage in their roles, and referred to Streep's queen ant as "excellently magisterial." She also wrote that "the kind of life lessons that usually gum up the fun go down as easily as jelly beans in The Ant Bully." However, Jeffrey E. McCants of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote that "the film's heavy-handed lessons turn it from a fun romp through a cartoonish insect world to a predictable and preachy snoozefest". Lou Lumenick of the New York Post called the film "generic" and wrote that "adults will be less than enchanted by its preachiness, talkiness and Communist Party-line political views". Bill Muller of The Arizona Republic wrote that "The Ant Bully, in trying to match Antz or A Bug's Life, just digs itself into a big hole". Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News was positive about the film's lack of pop culture references and thought that the film does not "talk down" to children. Additionally, he noted that "adults may be amused (or maybe not) by the Christian parallel in the ants' religion."

Ratings

This film was rated PG by the MPAA for some mild rude humor and action.

Video game

Games publisher Midway released The Ant Bully, the official video game tie-in to the film on GameCube, PlayStation 2, PC, Wii and Game Boy Advance on July 24, 2006. The game was developed by the Montreal Studio Artificial Mind and Movement (A2M).

Soundtrack

The soundtrack's music score was composed and conducted by John Debney and there are no songs in this film. The entire movie score was released by Varese Sarabande.

References

  1. Comingsoon.net, [1], Hanks and Davis on the Ant Bully, July 27, 2006
  2. Jenny Donelan, Computer Graphics World, September 2002, Volume 29 Number 9, pages 24–26
  3. John Cawley, Animation World Magazine, [2], July 28, 2006
  4. "Making movies with Grid Engine"
  5. "Weekend Box Office Actuals (U.S.) Aug 4 - 6 weekend"
  6. Entertainment Weekly, July 26, 2006, [3]
  7. Azcentral.com, [4], accessed March 25, 2006
  8. Rotten Tomatoes, Top Critic Reviews, [5], accessed March 25, 2008


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