- "Every ant has his day."
Antz is a 1998 American computer animated adventure comedy film produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by DreamWorks Pictures. It features the voices of well-known actors such as Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lopez, Sylvester Stallone, Dan Aykroyd, Anne Bancroft, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken, and Danny Glover as various members of an ant society. Some of the main characters share facial similarities with the actors who voice them. Antz is the first animated film, as well as the first CGI-animated film, by DreamWorks Animation and the second feature-length computer-animated film after Disney & Pixar's Toy Story.
The film was a result of a controversial public feud between DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steve Jobs and John Lasseter of Pixar, concerning the parallel productions of this film and Pixar's A Bug's Life. Which only worsened when Disney refused to avoid competition with DreamWorks' intended animated release The Prince of Egypt. The film premiered on September 19, 1998, at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was released theatrically in the United States on October 2, 1998.
The setting for the story is an ant colony in Central Park in New York City, under the chronological timespan of four days. The protagonist is Z-4195, or "Z" for short, a neurotic and individualistic working ant living in a wholly totalitarian society who longs for the opportunity to truly express himself. His friends include Azteca and a soldier ant, Weaver. Z meets Princess Bala at a bar where she goes to escape from her suffocating royal life and falls in love with her.
In order to see Bala again, Z exchanges places with Weaver and joins the army. He marches with the ranks, befriending a staff sergeant named Barbatus in the process. He doesn't realise that the army's leader and Bala's fiance, General Mandible, is secretly sending all the soldiers loyal to the Queen to die so he can begin to build a colony filled with powerful ants. At the base of the tree near nightfall, Z realizes he's marching into battle, and all of the soldiers except for Z are killed by the acid-shooting termites. Following the battle, all Z can find of Barbatus is his head. Before he dies, Barbatus tells Z to think for himself rather than follow orders all his life, leaving Z saddened and depressed. Z returns home and is hailed as a war hero, even though he did not do anything and was traumatized by the fighting. He was also congratulated personally by the secretly irate General Mandible, and is brought before the Queen. There he meets Princess Bala, who eventually recognizes him as a worker. When Z finds that he has been cornered in a lie, he panics and pretends to take Princess Bala "hostage" in order to trick the queen's guards into letting him leave rather than imprison him. They escape the colony and hide, and Z begins searching for the legendary Insectopia.
Word of the incident quickly spreads through the colony, whereupon Z's act of individually sparks a resolution in the workers and, possibly, a few soldier ants as well. As a result, productivity grinds to a halt. Seeing an opportunity to gain control, General Mandible begins to publicly portray Z as a war criminal who cares only about himself. Mandible then promotes the glory of conformity and promises them a better life, which he claims to be the reward of completing a "Mega Tunnel" planned by himself. Mandible learns Z is looking for Insectopia after interrogating Weaver. Knowing full well of the plane's existence, Mandible sends his second-in-command, Colonel Cutter, to its location to retrieve the Princess and possibly kill Z. Cutter, however, slowly begins to have second thoughts about Mandible's plans and agenda and develops sympathy for the worker ants.
Z and Bala, after a misdirection and a brief seperation, finally found Insectopia, which consists of a human waste-bin overfilled with decaying food (a treat for insects of all kinds). Here, Bala begins to reciprocate Z's feelings. However, during a break, Cutter arrives and flies Bala back to the colony against her will. Z finds them gone and makes his way to rescue Bala, aided by a wasp named Chip, whom he met earlier and has made himself drunk grieving over the loss of his swatted wife, Muffy. Z arrives at the colony, where he finds that Bala has been held captive in General Mandible's office. After rescuing her, he learns that General Mandible's "Mega Tunnel" leads straight to a body of water (the puddle next to Insectopia), which Mandible will use to drown the queen and the workers who have gathered at the opening ceremony. Bala goes to warn the workers and her mother at the ceremony, while Z goes to the tunnel exit to stop the workers from digging any further. He fails, however, and the water leaks in. Z and Bala unify the workers into a single working unit and build a towering ladder of ants toward the surface as the water continues to rise.
Meanwhile, General Mandible and his soldiers are gathered at the surface, where he explains to them a vision of a new colony with none of the "weak elements of the colony". He is interupted, however, when the workers successfully claw their way to the surface and break through. Mandible angrily tries to kill Z but is stopped by Cutter, who finally rebels against Mandible and instead tries to help Z and the worker ants out of the hole "for the good of the colony." The enraged Mandible charges toward Cutter, who is, however, pushed away by Z at the last moment. Mandible inadvertently takes Z with him back down into the flooded colony, and is killed when he lands upon a root while Z falls into the water. Cutter, taking charge, orders the other soldier ants to help the workers and the queen onto the surface while he himself rescues Z. Although it seems that Z has drowned, Bala successfully resuscitates him. Z is lauded for his heroism and marries Bala. Together they rebuild the colony with Cutter as their General, transforming the colony from a conformist military state into a community that values each and every one of its members.
- Woody Allen as Z-4195 ("Z")
- Gene Hackman as General Mandible
- Sharon Stone as Princess Bala
- Sylvester Stallone as Corporal Weaver
- Jennifer Lopez as Azteca
- Christopher Walken as Colonel Cutter
- Anne Bancroft as The Queen Ant
- Dan Aykroyd as Chip the Wasp
- Grant Shaud as The Foreman
- Danny Glover as Staff Sergeant Barbatus
- John Mahoney as Grebs
- Jane Curtin as Muffin ("Muffy") the Wasp
- Paul Mazursky as Z's psychiatrist
The cast features several actors from movies Allen wrote, starred in and directed, including Stone (Starlight Memories), Stallone (Bananas), Hackman (Another Woman), and Walken (Annie Hall). Aykroyd later co-starred in Allen's The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
In 1988, Disney was pitched to develop a movie called Army Ants, about a pacifist worker ant teaching lessons of independent thinking to his militaristic colony. Years later, Jeffrey Katzenberg, then chairman of Disney's film division, left the company in a feud with CEO Michael Eisner over the vacant president position after the death of Frank Wells. Jeffrey formed DreamWorks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen and planned to rival Disney with the company's new animation division. Katzenberg suggested undeveloped concepts to DreamWorks he suggested or was involved with while he was at Disney, including an animated adaptation of The Ten Commandments, a collaboration with Aardman Animations, and presumably Army Ants.
Production began in May 1996 after production commenced on The Prince of Egypt. DreamWorks had acquired PDI in Paula Alto, California to begin working on computer-animated films to rival Pixar Animation Studios' features. Much of Woody Allen's trademark humor is present within the film. Allen himself made some uncredited rewrites to the script, to make the dialogue better fit his style of comedic timing. An altered line from one of his early directed films, Everyone You Want to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) was included - "I was going to include you in my erotic fantasies..."
Feud between DreamWorks and Pixar
After DreamWorks' acquisition of PDI, Pixar director John Lasseter, Steve Jobs, and others at Pixar where dismayed to learn from the trade papers that PDI's first project at DreamWorks would be another ant film, to be called Antz. By this time, Pixar's project, then similarly called Bugs, was well-known within the animation community. In general, both Antz and A Bug's Life center on a young male, a drone with oddball tendencies who struggles to win a princess's hand by saving their society. Lasseter and Jobs believed that the idea was stolen by Katzenberg. Katzenberg had stayed in touch with Lasseter at the acrimonious Disney split, often calling to check up. In October 1995, when Lasseter was overseeing postproduction work on Toy Story on the Universal lot's Technicolor facility in Universal City, where DreamWorks was also located, Lasseter and Andrew Stanton visited Katzenberg and they discussed their plans for Bugs in detail. Lasseter had high hopes for Toy Story, and he was telling friends throughout the tight-knit computer-animation business to get cracking on their own films. "If this hits, it's going to be like space movies after Star Wars" for computer-animation companies, he told various friends. "I should have have been wary," Lasseter later recalled. "Jeffrey kept asking questions about when it would be released."
When the trades indicated production on Antz, Lasseter, feeling betrayed, called Katzenberg and asked him bluntly if it were true, Katzenberg confirming it. Katzenberg recalled Antz came from a 1991 story pitch by Tim Johnson that was related to Katzenberg in October 1994. Another source gives Nina Jacobson, one of Katzenberg's executives, as the person responsible for Antz pitch. Lasseter would not believe Katzenberg's story and called "bullshit". Lasseter recalled that Katzenberg began explaining that Disney was "out to get him" and he realized that he was just a cannon fodder in Katzenberg's fight with Disney. In truth, Katzenberg was the victim of a conspiracy: Eisner has decided not to pay him his contract-required bonus, convincing Disney's board not to give him anything. Lasseter grimly relayed the news of Antz to Pixar employees but kept morale high. Privately, Lasseter told other Pixar executives that he and Stanton felt terribly let down.
Competition with Disney
Katzenberg pushed the opening of Antz from March 1999 to October 1998 to compete with Pixar's release. David Price wrote in his 2008 book The Pixar Touch that a rumor "never confirmed", was that Katzenberg had given PDI "rich financial incentives to induce them to whatever it would take to have Antz ready first, despite Pixar's head start". Jobs was furious and called Katzenberg and began yelling. Katzenberg made an offer: He would delay production of Ants if Jobs and Disney would move A Bug's Life so that it did not compete with The Prince of Egypt. Jobs believed it "a blatant extortion attempt" and would not go for it, explaining that there was nothing he could do to convince Disney to change the date.
- This movie contains uncanny similarities to another Disney/Pixar movie called A Bug's Life.
- This originally was also done by Steven Spielberg as the executive producer, but he was uncredited.
- This is Jeffrey Katzenberg's first project that is not from Disney.