1998s 'Antz' Is a Dreamworks Classic
Dreamworks has been known to put out a lot of really great films over the years, and unlike their competitor, Disney, their films usually aren't filled to the brink with problematic -- sometimes straight-up disturbing -- elements. Likely because their films aren't based on problematic -- sometimes straight-up disturbing -- classic fairy tales.
Even Disney's A Bug's Life was based on an Aesop fable.
Dreamworks, for the most part, makes an attempt to weave their own tales, and occasionally, those tales are loosely based on someone else's. Their 1998 film Antz was one of their more wonderful classics. Sadly, you don't see the film get much praise.
Here are a few reasons why Antz deserves a bit more love.
Princess Bala Was A Raving Bitch
Yes, Princess Bala (voiced by Sharon Stone) was pretty damn awesome.
I use the term "bitch" here not as a demeaning slur but with the greatest affection, in the sense that you might call a woman you admire "a badass bitch."
Princess Bala was not playing games. She was assertive, she was in control. She was allowed to have flaws and be a person (she was snobby and rude) without being torn down for it because she is female. If anything, Z deserved her bad attitude during the "Insectopia" sequence because he basically kidnapped her and nearly got her killed.
She is not some meek princess who just goes along with her set path in life. When she is told she has to spend the rest of her life as a queen, popping out an endless line of grubs, she initially tries to accept her duty for the good of the colony -- because she cares more about the colony than herself -- but after failing to find a connection with her fiance, General Mandible, she rebels, and it is the catalyst that sets the course for the entire storyline.
Princess Bala is also selfless and brave. She cares about her people more than herself and is strong enough to stand up to General Mandible once she realizes he is bad news, even at the cost of her own personal safety.
She is not a plot device or a damsel to be rescued (Z comes to rescue her, only to stumble across her breaking the window and escaping on her own). Princess Bala charts the course of her own story during the entire film, because the narrative gives her the freedom to make choices and contribute to moving the plot forward -- rather than her being rendered to little more than an object used by Z to move his story along.
Princess Bala is actually the perfect example of a Strong Female Character. She does not have to kick a bunch of ass, wield magic powers, or be masculine to demonstrate her worth. She is feminine, physically powerless, and yet still powerful in the way the narrative doesn't disregard her for being feminine and a woman. (There is nothing wrong with masculine women. I'm making a point that there is also nothing wrong with feminine women.)
Princess Bala is always treated as a person by the narrative.
Male writers who are struggling to write a "Strong Female Character" should be taking notes. This is how you do it.
The Themes Of Selflessness Were Touching
Also, the movie was just hilarious.
Barbatus (voiced by Danny Glover): Tell me the truth, kid. How bad does it look?
Z (voiced by Woody Allen): . . . er.
I'm paraphrasing, but that's pretty much how it went. And despite how hilarious that scene was, it was still very touching to see Z lose a friend who had selflessly protected him and looked out for him during the battle against the termites.
There are a lot of themes surrounding selflessness, duty, honor, and friendship throughout the film.
Z's best friend, Weaver (voiced by Sylvester Stallone) is a soldier who risks everything by trading places with Z so that Z can attempt seeing Princess Bala again, who he has fallen in love with.
Azteca (voiced by Jennifer Lopez) is another awesome female character who demonstrates selflessness when protecting Weaver and later saving the colony.
The Movie Criticizes Classism
The ants live in a society that is strictly divided by classes. Ants are assigned their job at birth and then sent off to their respective places.
The classes are Soldier, Worker, and Palace Servant.
The worker class is the most sneered upon, even by the queen (voiced by Anne Bancroft), who is appalled to discover that Princess Bala danced with Z, who is a -- gasp! -- lowly worker! Oh, say it isn't so!
The queen cares about her people but is clearly a classist snob who doesn't value the workers -- who are basically her own children. It is her snobbery and intellectual laziness that allows General Mandible to go off on his eugenics crusade in the first place.
General Mandible (voiced by Gene Hackman) is also a classist snob, who believes some ants are better than other ants. He despises the worker class and wants to be rid of them, never stopping to realize that without them, he and the soldiers would be doing all that building. His plan is to trick the workers into causing their own demise by having them tunnel into "the lake" and drown.
By the end of the film, however, the workers prove their worth by working together to escape the rising water.
The wholesome ending demonstrates that both individuality and teamwork have their value.
The ants realize that choosing their own path in life, thinking for themselves, and celebrating their unique individual traits is pretty awesome.
At the same time, Z learns that he can't do everything alone and that teamwork and "being one with the ball" can actually save his life.
Not All the Bad Guys are "Bad Guys"
I enjoyed the fact that Colonel Cutter (voiced by Christopher Walken) struggled with accepting his evil master's plan. Throughout the film, we see him learning to think for himself. In the beginning, he believes what he's doing is for the good of the colony. But slowly over the course of the story, he begins to realize that the workers are the colony. By the end of the film, he turns against General Mandible and helps Z.
I thought this was great because I get tired of children's films where everything is so black and white and everyone is either Completely Evil or Completely Good. Though it's the way children think, it's not the way the world works. And (most) children are smart. Should we continue to lie to them?
All in all, this was a pretty great film. It was hilarious, it was heartwarming, it was romantic, and it was smart. Why isn't there more love?
If there's a huge following for Antz that I don't know about, I must not spend much time on the internet.
© 2018 Ash Gray