Published October 1, 1998
Antz directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson begins with unmistakable Woody Allen—i.e. not some animated ant named “Z”—in analysis, feeling neurotic because, as the middle child of 5 million he didn’t get a lot of attention as a child. He tells the doctor that he is intimidated by the ant work-ethic: “Everything for the colony. What about my needs? I feel utterly insignificant.”
The doctor replies: “Congratulations; you’ve made a breakthrough.”
“Yes. Because you are insignificant.”
But of course nobody in analysis is really insignificant. That’s the whole point of submitting to it in the first place. The fact that you engage the full attention of a highly trained professional with several degrees for two hours a week is by itself sufficient evidence of your “significance,” and the film sets out to establish the same point even more emphatically with respect to Everyant, Woody or Z, who is said by his fellow worker ants to “think too much.”
The plot would take too long to summarize, but the basic theme is the utterly familiar one of discrediting the military ethos, here represented by General Mandible (Gene Hackman), and with it any belief in “sacrifice” or discipline or putting the interests of the community ahead of those of the individual. Unexpectedly thrust into a suicidal battle with termites, Z is befriended by an old soldier called Barbatus (Danny Glover) who with his dying breath warns him: “Don’t make my mistake, kid. Don’t follow orders all your life. Think for yourself.” This, of course, he proceeds to do, inspiring along the way his fellow workers briefly to do likewise—to go on strike against the “oppressors” who make them work and to sing, in the style of a 60s demo, “Give Peace a Chance.” After all, they say, “it’s the workers who control the means of production.”
But where in real life both socialism and thinking for yourself are pretty reliable thoroughfares to disaster, it’s not so in the movies. There, a selfish attention to our own “needs” and “choices” and complete disregard for the larger community of which we are a part is the only ticket to happiness or fulfilment. Woody-Z’s own triumphant individualism gets our boy a trip to “Insectopia,” where life is a perpetual picnic, followed by glorious defeat of the (naturally) treacherous fascist, General Mandible, and finally marriage with the delectable Princess Bala (Sharon Stone). Teach, as the song says, your children well.