Rated PG - Running time: 1:17 - Released 10/2/98

For a time now, it has seemed that everything Steven Spielberg touches turns to gold. And it looks like it's gonna stay that way. While he is still riding high on the critical acclaim of his summer blockbuster Saving Private Ryan, his company, Dreamworks SKG, has released a spectacular computer-animated cartoon that is sure to give Disney's upcoming A Bug's Life a run for its sugar grains. Antz, with its impeccable graphics and star-studded cast of voices, is colorful, visual, and spectacular throughout, with a great story and humor for people of all ages.

Written by Todd Alcott and Chris Weitz, and directed by Eric Darnell and Lawrence Guterman, all relative newcomers, Antz may not have been "touched" by Spielberg in any other capacity than being produced by Dreamworks, but the lead character's unmistakable resemblance to E.T. is clearly a nod in his direction.

That lead character is an ant called Z-4195, or "Z" for short. Played by Woody Allen, Z is just as neurotic and self-searching as any of Allen's characters, suffering from feelings of insignificance and inadequacy among his millions of co-workers. His friend Azteca (Jennifer Lopez) cheerfully whacks away with her pick axe (yes, ants use pick axes) and tries to convince him to go with the flow.

While Z is pondering his station in life, the queen (Anne Bancroft) is trying to convince her daughter, Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) to accept her destiny: to be the next queen and the wife of army leader General Mandible (Gene Hackman). Yes, apparently, ants get married. Mandible, though he defers properly to the queen, has secret plans to destroy the masses and move his elite forces to a different, stronger colony. His aide, Colonel Cutter (Christopher Walken) is dubious of this idea, but has learned the first ant rule: Never question authority.

Out for a little aphid juice at the ant bar, Z meets Weaver (Sylvester Stallone), an army ant who envies Z for his access to those foxy ant workers. When he casts an eye on Azteca, Weaver makes a deal with Z to switch places for a day. Little does Z know that tomorrow is the day of Mandible's planned assault on a colony of termites. He just wants to be in the grand review so that he can have another glance at Bala, who danced with him while "slumming it" in the bar.

Z comes back a battle hero and sole survivor of the termite attack, mainly because he kept out of the way during the fighting. With his newfound fame, he launches an attempt to overcome the proletarian mentality that plagues his huge clan, and to make Bala see him as something more than just another worker.

Antz is a great deal of fun and full of spectacularly colorful images, with many cameo appearances by other celebs, including Danny Glover as a good-hearted soldier and Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin as a couple of snooty bees. The story of Z and his friends works on many levels, with action scenes to keep the kids interested and lots of hilarious jokes aimed at Mom and Dad's generation. It is unmistakably an "American" film, carrying the message (if you want to look that deeply) that liberty and free choice are necessary rights to be sought and cherished by all. Even ants.

Antz is rated PG, mainly because of some "hells" and "damns," and some cartoon violence. But it is one of those films that deserves to be seen on the big screen. So go now. If you miss it before it goes to video, you'll be sure to suffer a sinking feeling in your thorax. *****

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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