'Ant Bully' Is Full of Small Wonders

Friday, July 28, 2006

In "The Ant Bully," young Lucas Nickle (voice of Zach Tyler Eisen) -- a neighborhood chump regularly creamed by older, tougher kids -- now and then takes his rage out on the backyard anthill. Like the Old Testament God, and equally empowered by rage, he power-soaks their world, unleashing biblical torrents to sweep them away.

But down in the ant world, they don't like the volume equivalent of 40 days and 40 nights of H20 being dumped upon them at the whim of a small, angry child. A wizard figures out some chemical stuff that is capable of shrinkage on a massive scale. Slipping into Lucas's bedroom, the ants squirt some bug juice down his ear canal and -- hello, 15mm boy!

The scuttling micro-beings barely recognizable from four feet up? Lucas discovers they're an ancient civilization -- handsome, valiant, organized -- where each gives according to his means and each receives according to his need. Why, it's like . . . utopia. Everybody is happy, except when monster boy wets them.

Lucas quickly sees the error of his ways, and soon, like them, he's a stalwart warrior. He has bonded, coming to care for his mentor Hova (Julia Roberts), and he joins a small squad that also includes Zoc (Nicolas Cage), Fugax (Bruce Campbell) and Kreela (Regina King).

Technically, the film is superb. The director is John A. Davis, and his usage of the medium is dynamic. He understands that the capacity to imagine and depict the amazing isn't enough; it still has to be a movie. He is best at the action sequences (some quite intense for small children) and has a particular genius for dramatizing near misses, as several times Lucas the lovable ant commando almost ends up squished, nibbled, DDT'd or pincered to death. The movie is an epic adventure with a rigorously moral point of view.

-- Stephen Hunter

The Ant Bully PG, 80 minutes Contains intense action sequences. Area theaters.

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