Ants enlighten the antagonist

The insects take things into their own hands in The Ant Bully after a young boy badgers the colony.

Published July 27, 2006

Recall the story about the harried dad who is kicked around at work, only to come home and take out his frustrations on his wife, who does the same with the kids, who follow suit with the dog, who bothers the cat, who gives the mouse a licking?

The same trickle-down theory applies to the title character in The Ant Bully, an uneven comedy that goes not so boldly where Antz and A Bug's Life have gone before, particularly in terms of those films' visuals. It's squeezed between last week's clever, frightening Monster House and next week's Barnyard on the summer calendar of animated movies aimed at the younger set.

Bespectacled, 10-year-old Lucas (Zach Tyler Eisen), called "Peanut" by his mom (Cheri Oteri), is regularly harassed by the local bully, a mean older boy who enjoys giving wedgies to the younger kid. Lucas, in turn, attacks those powerless against him, using his water gun to flood an ant nest in the front yard.

To the ants, whose lives of hard work and all-for-one, one-for-all existence are displayed at the start of the movie, Lucas is the "Destroyer." The old Ant Council head (Ricardo Montalban) bemoans humans' proclivity for attacking "without reason, without provocation, just because they can."

Idealistic nurse ant Hova (Julia Roberts) just wants to talk things out with the enemy. But her boyfriend, a wizardly mad-scientist type named Zoc (Nicolas Cage), instead devises a plan to give Lucas an ant's-eye-view of the lives he's trampled: He concocts a formula designed to shrink Lucas to the size of those he torments. Cue a handful of borrowings from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Is director, writer and producer John A. Davis (Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius), who adapted the screenplay from John Nickle's popular Scholastic book of the same name, commenting on contemporary political realities - the inequities between superpowers and other countries? Maybe.

But despite several likable voice performances, including those by Paul Giamatti as a crazed exterminator and Meryl Streep as the wise Queen Ant, Davis fails to offer much in the way of a satisfying story, one that might have more entertainingly explored the teeming world that exists just beneath our feet.

The Ant Bully

Grade: B-

Director: John A. Davis

Cast: (the voices of) Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Regina King, Bruce Campbell and Lily Tomlin

Screenplay: John A. Davis

Rating: PG; mild cartoon violence

Running time: 88 min.