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Ants in Their Pants

In "Antz," Woody Allen again snares a young beauty -- Sharon Stone -- but this time she's an insect and so is he.

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At the climax of Antz -- the first animated feature from DreamWorks -- Z (Woody Allen), an ordinary worker ant, and the Princess Bala (Sharon Stone), a very great ant indeed, burst out of their home beneath the ground and discover the fabled land of Insectopia. In front of the two ants lies an imposing mass of towers and bulky layered structures, glowing like the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz -- the remaining Pepsi cans and wrapped tuna sandwiches of a Central Park picnic. Oh, joy! But then, suddenly, an enormous corrugated rubber surface with pink ectoplasm stuck to it -- a boy's sneaker with bubblegum in the cleats -- comes down on Z and Bala like some indifferent, conquering God. Antz is a terrific joke about scale. Beneath the ground, the ant colony looks huge, with enormous tunnels, battlefields, and meeting halls. Z, who calls himself "the middle child in a family of 5 million," natters on to his shrink about depersonalization, and winds up the unwitting leader of a rebellion against a fascist society. Above the sod, however, the ants are too insignificant to be worth killing.

Antz, with its deadpan witticisms, its heart-stopping shifts of perspective, is completely entertaining, a kids' movie that will leave grown-ups quoting the best lines to one another. The script has been fashioned for Woody Allen's personality, and Woody delivers the lines with his own peculiarly incisive petulance. He's a drone who whines: As a voice coming out of an ant, he's even more like Woody than he is speaking in his own body. The team at the animation company PDI, devising the entire film with computers, renders the ants as caramel-colored stand-up creatures; they have wide skulls and big eyes, and some of them are spookily beautiful, like Egyptian sculpted heads. They are easy to look at, and flexible enough, even in massed groups, to enjoy without animation fatigue. The faces suggest ever so slightly the actors who are taking the various characters -- Gene Hackman as a megalomaniacal general; Sylvester Stallone as a bluff soldier; and Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin, very proper indeed, playing not ants but a pair of buzzing, preening, distantly solicitous Wasps.


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