In 1998 kids were broken up into two camps: those who liked A Bug’s Life better, and those who were wrong. Antz, which was put out by Pixar’s arch nemesis, DreamWorks, just one month before A Bug’s Life, was the poor man’s version of the movie.
Yeah, I was definitely more of A Bug’s Life girl growing up; I probably only watched Antz once. The two movies have very similar plots, which I’m sure was thanks to some well placed bugs (pun intended) in the Pixar offices: an ant who feels like he doesn’t belong, a romance with the princess, an escape to the outside world. But there’s one major difference: I’m pretty sure Antz was never actually intended to be a kid’s movie.
I’m pretty sure that the writers started by pitching a Woody Allen movie about a neurotic with an identity crisis, but the executives, who found the idea a little too familiar, decided to use the Pixar intel they’d sold their souls for and turned it into: “AND EVERYONE IS ANTS!” It’s the only thing that makes sense, really.
I actually had to double check halfway through that Antz was indeed a kid’s movie, and not just something irresponsible parents thought was for kids even though the trailer clearly says rated R (I cannot wait for this to happen once Sausage Party comes out). But even after confirming its PG rating I still had my doubts.
Even for the 90’s Antz was shockingly inappropriate. For example, here are some of the more risqué quotes that would have felt more at home in a Woody Allen movie starring adult humans:
- “What are you bitching about?”
- “Call me crazy but I have a thing about drinking from the anus of another creature.”
- “I was gonna let you be part of my most erotic fantasies but now you can just forget that.”
But even without the, what I’m sure was at the time, mildly questionable dialogue, Antz is still a little too mature for young children. It’s very political, which is at times boring and other times eerie, like when it comes to General Mandible, who puts off some crazy Hitler vibes with all his talk of creating a “pure society.”
And then of course there are the terrifying depictions of termites, which may have been the catalyst that made me afraid to walk in the grass for a few years. At least A Bug’s Life had pretty colors and artwork that made it easier to forget that it was a movie about bugs, which in my five-year-old mind equaled bug bites and hives – I was like a real life bubble boy for a few years there.
But the most confusing part of all is that most of the humor and dialogue in Antz is sometimes too subtle for children to get, like when a ladybug says the food she’s eating tastes like crap, and her friend, the fly, goes, “Really, lemme try. Hey it is crap! Not bad!” But I guess this made it easier to excuse the movie as going right over our heads.
The whole project is done to scale (even though there are some discrepancies, such as the aforementioned nightmare-fueling termites) and a lot of the movie’s humor comes from that. There’s a scene where Z and Princess Bala run from flames, courtesy of a shitty kid with a magnifying glass. Hilarious now, but maybe not so much at five, unless you were one of those shitty kids.
The Insectopia scenes get even more meta and difficult for kids to understand beyond “lol Insectopia is trashcans.” My favorite part was when a few of the residents of Insectopia are crowded around a bonfire and a clearly stoned mosquito says, “What if, like, we’re just these tiny little things… and we’re just, like, part of this whole other huge universe… that’s, like, so big we don’t even know it exists?” Adult me laughed out loud, five-year-old me probably asked if the movie was almost over so I could watch A Bug’s Life again.
Even though as a kid I was firmly over at camp Pixar, I have to admit Antz was better this time around – I suggest anyone that didn’t like Antz as a kid rewatch it now that they can fully enjoy it. Some day soon I’ll have to rewatch A Bug’s Life to make my final decision as to which movie is better, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Antz won for its more adult humor.