The Ant Bully (PG) ★½

Review Date: July 28th, 2006

Throw The Ant Bully into the abyss of middle-of-the-road, unspectacular animated fare, which has begun to spread uncontrollably with no end in sight.


After being bullied for the umpteenth time by the kids from the neighborhood, pint-sized 10-year-old Lucas (voiced by Zachary Tyler) mindlessly takes out his aggression on an ant colony by hosing it down with water. Turns out he just opened Pandora’s Box because the six-legged pests are tired of being bullied themselves. When Lucas goes to sleep, the chief wizard of the colony, Zoc (voiced by Nicolas Cage), spearheads a plan to sneak into the boy’s room and zap him with a potion that cuts him down to size; when Lucas awakens, he’s no longer just figuratively an ant. For his repeated ant offenses, Lucas must stand trial before the Queen Ant (voiced by Meryl Streep), who sentences him to live and coexist with the very creatures he formerly terrorized. While Zoc is wary of his new colony-mate, Zoc’s girlfriend, Hova (voiced by Julia Roberts), tries instead to keep Lucas out of harm’s way (frogs, dragonflies, etc.) and teach him about understanding different creatures and the meaning(s) of life.


A-List doesn’t always mean A-game. Despite some of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars comprising the Bully cast, there’s not a whole lot of spirit, and only two actors, Paul Giamatti as a nefarious exterminator and Cage, have distinguishable enough voices for animation. In a movie aimed exclusively towards tots, some of the casting just doesn’t figure. Take Streep: While clearly a supreme actress, her voice just doesn’t quite register, and is a six-year-old going to stand up and shout, “Mommy, mommy! It’s the Sophie's Choice lady!”? But there are solid performances, with Giamatti, as usual, turning in the best. (Now there’s an actor meant to be cartooned!) Cage is also always a safe bet and doesn’t disappoint here. But Roberts, in her much-hyped first post-birth role, is, well, nurturing and soothing to young Lucas, but there’s just nothing exciting about her; she’s just…there. Which completely sums up the rest of the cast, which includes Regina King, Lily Tomlin, et al.


The Ant Bully is based on a bedtime story (written by John Nickle) that producer Tom Hanks used to read to his kids—it might help lull your little ones to sleep, too. Hanks and Co. enlisted the help of director John A. Davis (of Jimmy Neutron fame), who also adapted the screenplay. Davis on occasion offers gorgeous visuals, but sadly there’s just not much new here in the ever-growing world of animated features. The themes are decidedly unsubtle—which, given the target audience, is probably intentional, but even the youngest of young might find Bully too rudimentary. And it begs the question: Wasn’t this precise concept, while thematically different, much more groundbreaking and visually striking when shot in live action for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids…in 1989?! Needless to say, despite a few fun moments for kids, the only genius here comes courtesy of whomever decided to sandwich the release date to fall between Monster House and Barnyard.

Bottom Line rated this film 1 1/2 stars.