My partner asked me what I wanted to watch on Netflix a few weeks back and, as usual, we both ended up being lost in an endless maze of choices if we didn’t pick the usual (Orange is the New Black Season 5). Eventually she and I settled on an old(?!) Dreamworks picture called Antz (1998). Antz is a problematic film given the fact that it predominately features Woody Allen, but if you can look past that glaring flaw, it’s a fine film with some anti-work sentiments
The movie stars Allen as an ant named Z (get it?) who is disgruntled with the ant colony around him always controlling what sort of work he does, how he does it and who he is doing it for. Z wants to assert his individuality but feels lost in the crowd of other worker ants who blindly do what The Foreman says, without much regard for themselves.
Z is seemingly your typical Allen character, self-obsessed with his own problems, has anxiety to no end about his purpose in life and uses a bit of Jewish humor to see himself through the day. Frankly, I haven’t seen many (any?) of Allen’s films prior to Antz and these days I have no drive to. But the character is, I must admit, a relatable one.
I too self-obsess about my own problems to the detriment of those around me at times, I worry about what my purpose in life is and whether I’m really doing the right thing and use humor to cope. And on top of that, most social situations that may seem innocuous to others strike me as terrifying and can keep up at night.
That being said, Z eventually meets Bala (played by Sharon Stone) who is the princess of the colony. She too is feeling left out by the way her mother, the Queen (played by Anne Bancroft) runs the ant colony. Bala feels tied down by her obligations to the throne and to give birth to millions of ants (the film doesn’t shy away from the implications).
The two meet and form an easy connection, both feeling a bit out of place in the colony. As Z hears about a day to meet the princess again he has his friend Corporeal Weaver (played by Sylvester Stallone) switch places with him so Weaver can become a worker ant and Z can become a solider and try to see the princess again.
This all goes, predictably, horrible. But the fun of this movie comes from its self-awareness within its themes, the digital animation that surprisingly holds up rand the astonishing amount of talent in the voice cast. Say what you want about Allen but he plays Z about as well as he plays himself, which makes sense, given Z likely is just Allen anyways.
The anti-work themes from this movie largely come from Allen’s character who decries doing work without a purpose and being bound to the benefit of the colony and not himself. It similarly comes from the villain of the story who thinks that work is the best thing to happen to ants since picnics (which obviously include sliced bread).
Z also acts as a figurehead for many of the ants to throw off the shackles of their work throughout the movie. There’s a constant given and take between Z and the main villain of the film and their conflict over whether you should have to work even if you hate the job. And the movie makes it clear that this kind of work can literally kill you.
The politics of this movie are interesting because there are some parts that made me wince in how accurate they could be compared to today. The value of conforming to whatever society wants over the benefit of the individual seems apt given how much pressure people are put into working jobs they hate. Ants are the only workers living to die.
There’s also plenty of humor at the expense of a pro-work message.
A sign that says “Nothing satisfies like work” is juxtaposed perfectly with the ants being in peril. This was the moment for me in which I realized this movie had quite a lot to say about work and where I (mostly) got the title of this review.
And not for nothing but just on a humor basis this movie is crammed full of funny one-liners and introspective lines that may actually make you reevaluate a thing or two. Most of it isn’t groundbreaking these days but for the time I can imagine some people thinking to themselves about how society and individuals interact with each other on the basis of work.
The movie has plenty of material both for kids and adults. I think kids will likely enjoy the fun animation and the one-liners while adults may have a fun time for those reasons but also pick up on the larger commentary. It’s also worth nothing that Z’s individualism isn’t wholly praised and more than a few times he needs the help of others to get his head above water.
There’s some romantic elements in the film which is maybe a little weird at times, but it’s likely not anything you haven’t seen before in a movie about anthropomorphic animals. And especially bugs, rebelling against authority. It’s not a perfect film and not all of the lines or all of the movie worked for me, but it works far more often than it doesn’t.
In the end, Antz isn’t necessarily anti-work itself but it has some surprisingly deep cuts about how work can invade our lives and sense of self. It tells us that working for the benefit of each other can be a good thing but not when our own needs are disregarded like they are in many modern day workplaces.
More than anything, Antz is a fun movie for both kids and adults that both can (and likely will!) enjoy. It gives kids plenty to look and laugh at and even gives some things for adults to think about.
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