Antz (1998)

2017 #119
Eric Darnell & Tim Johnson | 83 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG

Antz

I don’t know if there was something in the Californian water in 1998, but in the same year that major Hollywood studios faced off with similarly-themed disaster movies Deep Impact and Armageddon, fledgling CG-animation outfits did the same with ant-themed kids’ movies. One was Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, which has endured thanks to the ever-increasing cachet of the studio’s brand (it was only their second feature). The other, of course, was Antz, which has the starry-named voice cast but was only by DreamWorks, whose later success with the likes of Shrek has done little to elevate the standing of their entire oeuvre. Anyway, it’s a bit pointless me making these comparisons because I’ve still not seen A Bug’s Life. Maybe in that review, someday.

As for Antz in isolation, it’s a funny old film. It feels more aimed at adults than kids: star Woody Allen is doing a version of his usual schtick, and the plot riffs heavily on political systems like Communism, a combination which means most of the jokes will soar over children’s heads. That’s before we get on to the brutal war sequence against monstrous termites. Plus, the entire voice cast seem to have wandered in from a completely different kind of movie: as well as Allen there’s Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken, Anne Bancroft, Sylvester Stallone, and Sharon Stone. I don’t know how well it plays for kids, but, as an adult, all of this stuff gives it a welcomely different flavour.

A bug's famous voice

Visually, it also lacks the slick (if somewhat plasticky) sheen of early Pixar. I can’t quite decide if the animation has aged badly (it is 20-years-old CGI, after all) or has a certain timelessness. Some of the computer animated stuff is blocky and jerky, but it’s frequently paired up with painted backgrounds for scenery and the like, which gives a kind of pleasant mixed-media feel to some sections. The effect is emphasised by the quality of the transfer that’s around: although in HD, it’s clearly been transferred from an actual film print, not clean digital files. And not a great print at that: there’s spots of dirt and everything. I guess that shows the lowly standing even DreamWorks holds the film in, but there’s a certain kind of old-school charm to it. Which is probably just misplaced nostalgia on my part for old lo-fi media, but hey-ho.

Antz is an odd little film. It doesn’t contain the easy charms of a Pixar movie, and I can imagine kids would get very little out of it; but for adult animation fans, it’s kind of interesting.

3 out of 5

Antz is on Channel 4 today at 2:30pm.

Home (2015)

2016 #35
Tim Johnson | 90 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | U / PG

Oh (Jim Parsons) is a Boov, a race of friendly aliens looking for a new home planet to escape their enemies. When they arrive on Earth, Oh tries to invite everyone to a party, but accidentally alerts their enemies to their new home. Outcast, he bumps into Tip (Rihanna), a girl accidentally left behind when the rest of mankind was relocated by the Boov. Desperate for friendship, Oh agrees to help her find her mother.

Initially I ignored Home, because nothing about it looked particularly inspiring. But I’ve been wrong about CG kids animations before (How to Train Your Dragon; Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), so when I happened to see the trailer and it amused me, I decided to give it a go. Unfortunately, characters and affectations that are amusing in the form of highlights lasting two minutes quickly grate in the film proper.

Home’s biggest problems are all in its most fundamental aspect: the story. It doesn’t just have plot holes — the whole premise and inciting incident don’t even hang together. I don’t believe this is just a movie for little kids, I reckon it was written by them too. That’s surely the only way to explain its absence of plausible logic.

Why do the Boov speak English? Why do they speak it wrong? Why does Oh speak it so much more wrong than any other Boov? Why do they know the words for things they have no concept of? Why would humanity accept total relocation without any kind of response? How would only one girl on the entire planet be missed? How would she have had time to come to hate the Boov enough to make multiple pieces of anti-Boov art and set up an elaborate Home Alone-style trap in her apartment when the film suggests the Boov arrived just a couple of hours earlier? How does she know how to drive? If she’s old enough to know how to drive (and to be voiced by Rihanna), why does she do art that looks like it’s by a six-year-old? Why do the Boov make recognisable monuments float in the air? Why would a communication device’s two options be “send to one person” and “send to not only the entire species, but the entire universe, including our enemies”? Why is there no option to cancel such a transmission that is going to take 40 hours to reach said enemies? I mean, that last one’s a stupid question, because why is there even a way to message the enemies?

And those questions are just from the first 15 minutes.

Tip’s full name is Gratuity Tucci, which may just be the most implausible name in the history of the world. Our heroes spend a chunk of the middle of the film just driving across the Atlantic (don’t ask) doing things like listening to Rihanna music (you mean, they listen to songs by the lead voice actress? What a coincidence!) Sometimes the film is scored with such Popular Songs, often tweeny crap, but other times it’s blandly generic Movie Music. Either would be an adequate creative choice, albeit resolutely unremarkable, but having both at random is distractingly schizophrenic. And the songs don’t even have accurate relevance to what’s happening.

Story aside, Home is not poorly made, and there are fleeting glimmers of entertainment. Which is damning with faint praise, really. Naturally, I don’t recommend you waste your time on it.

2 out of 5

Home featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2016, which can be read in full here.

Over the Hedge (2006)

2007 #51
Tim Johnson & Karey Kirkpatrick | 80 mins | DVD | U / PG

Over the HedgeCGI movies are far too common these days, meaning that the quality is dropping (demonstrated by the fact that the number produced has increased massively but the number of Oscar nominations in that category has remained at three).

Over the Hedge is certainly derivative — its character arc is almost directly lifted from Toy Story, for example — but it is beautifully animated and does have some laugh-worthy moments, even if they are almost entirely in the last half hour. There are better examples of the genre, but it passes the time entertainingly enough.

(Stay with it til the end of the credits for a little bit more, although if you bother you may agree with Hammy’s assessment of things.)

3 out of 5