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Crud Outweighs Character in "The Ant Bully"

  • Lisa Rice Contributing Writer
  • 2006 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
Crud Outweighs Character in "The Ant Bully"

Release Date:  July 28, 2006
Rating:  PG (mild rude humor and action)
Genre:  Animated drama, comedy
Run Time:  88 min.
Director:  John A. Davis
Voice Talents:  Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Ricardo Montalban, Lily Tomlin, Paul Giamatti and Zach Tyler Eisen

What do you do with a 10-year-old boy who floods an ant colony with his water gun?   If you’re an angry ant wizard named Zoc (Nicolas Cage), you concoct a potion that will turn the insensitive little hellion into an ant.  But how possible is it, wonder the ants, including the queen (Meryl Streep) to change the nature of a human – much less his character and will?

The “Ant Bully,” known to the ruined ant colony as “the Destroyer,” is Lucas Nickle (Zach Tyler Eisen), a boy who became a bully the usual way – by being bullied himself by bigger, badder kids.  But perhaps his paradigm will shift by being forced to spend some hard time in the very crumbling sand and dirt ruins he created for the ants.

Not only is Lucas insensitive to the vulnerable entomological creatures, but he’s also not a team player.  His mottos are, “You worry about you, and I’ll worry about me,” and “Every man for himself!”  But as the feisty and firm nurse ant Hova (Julia Roberts) points out, that’s not the way ants do things. Ants are “hard on the outside but soft on the inside,” and “an ant will sacrifice himself for his friends.”  It’s only a treacherous trip that includes navigating dangers such as giant wasps, frogs, and hideous humans like Mommo (Lily Tomlin) and Stan the Exterminator (Paul Giamatti) that will test whether or not Lucas has learned these important life lessons.

Four years in the making, "Ant Bully" is directed by John A. Davis (creator of “Jimmy Neutron”) and produced by Tom Hanks ("Cars""The Da Vinci Code" ). Tom and his son read and loved the book by the same title, which the author (also named Nickle) had sent them years ago.  Tom partnered with Warner Bros., who had already milled out similar animated winners including “Ants” and “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” to realize his dream in “Ant Bully.” And certainly the stellar voice talents of Robertson and Cage will entertain audiences and carry the movie forward – at least to a certain degree.

Regrettably, however, despite a number of solid animation sequences, a star-studded cast, and a few lessons about teamwork, diversity, and showing kindness to small creatures, “The Ant Bully” falls short. First, there’s something unsettling to people of faith to see that Hollywood continues to rely on wizards and potions, alchemy and incantations to move a plot along.  Have we not found more creative alternatives?  Also questionable are a number of spiritual references where Zoc and the other ants praise and hail the Meryl Streep character as “queen of queens” and say things like, “Praise the mother,” and “one day she’ll return.” Kind of familiar, but creepy too.

Then, there is something nebulously contrived, mechanical, and overdone about the story, and the writers seem to rely heavily on scatological humor to juice up their formulaic script. Such overly earthy elements include the showcasing of fat, lumpy bodies, flying dentures, gross teeth, bugs that live off dandruff, ants swallowed by – and regurgitated by – frogs, the carrying and eating of poop, magnified nose hairs, flying snot, a man’s rear end crack showing, and a guy getting his private parts stung by an aggressive and vengeful insect.  My eleven-year-old son, who joined me for the screening, insisted that “Kids love that stuff, Mom,” and there were plenty of laughs coming from the short people in the audience. But anyone over eleven might wish they had held out for “Barnyard,” which opens in theaters next week.

Audiences are increasingly sophisticated these days and expect not just bright images and sequences of body humor shticks, but also well-crafted stories with fully developed characters and satisfying conclusions.  So what do you do with a movie that only reaches Pixar’s belly?  You wait. Perhaps mechanical script elements, flying dentures and dandruff bugs will be a little easier to stomach when “Ant Bully” finally lands in the dollar theaters.

AUDIENCE:  Young children and up 

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None
  • Language:  None
  • Sex:  None
  • Violence:  Cartoon slapstick like flying dentures, gross teeth, bugs that live off dandruff, ants swallowed by – and regurgitated by – frogs, the carrying and eating of poop, magnified nose hairs, flying snot, a man’s rear end crack showing, and a guy getting his private parts stung by an aggressive and vengeful insect.