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The Ant Bully Reviews

Memo to makers of family films: if you'd allow the movie to carry the message rather than letting the message wag the movie, kids wouldn't be so fast to declare them uncool as soon as they're old enough to see through the nacho-cheese topping to the good-for-you broccoli beneath. They might even realize that broccoli is pretty tasty all on its own. That said, John A. Davis' adaptation of John Nickle's fable about a brat who gets a taste of what it's like to be part of a persecuted minority contains flashes of real wit, when it's not hammering home commendable lessons like might doesn't make right; bullying is bad; oddballs have feelings, too; and from each according to his abilities and to each according to his needs (not in a Communist way, of course — it's just nice when everyone does his or her chores). In any event, snotty, suburban outcast Lucas Nickle (Zach Tyler Eisen) gets picked on by the local big fat bully, so he takes out his frustrations on the ant colony in his yard. Little does he know that they're not just dumb insects: They're a miniature society and unleashing the dreaded "yellow rain" into their home really isn't nice. But he soon learns: wizard ant Zoc (Nicolas Cage) doses Lucas with a miniaturizing potion, and before you can say HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, Lucas is at the mercy of the queen ant (Meryl Streep), who declares that as a sign of her people's evolved social mores, they'll forego eating him for dinner (though he does look soft and juicy) in favor of making him walk a mile in their metaphorical moccasins. Optimistic Hova (Julia Roberts) volunteers to teach Lucas the ant way of life and by the time it's all over, Lucas has saved the colony from sadistic exterminator Mr. Beals (Paul Giamatti), and everyone gets a hug and some candy, thanks to the selfless cooperation of the Jelly Belly company. The animation is handsome and the character designs for the insect kingdom are both clever and relatively entomologically sound. The human beings are globular grotesques and Lucas' UFO-obsessed granny (Lily Tomlin) is repellent in a way that reinforces the widely held impression that old people are just gross. The screenplay is blessedly free of mediocre songs and light on flashy pop-culture in-jokes, though Mr. Beals' scrofulous scalp, yawning butt crack and abundant nose hair are played for maximum gross-out appeal. THE ANT BULLY was released simultaneously in flat and large-screen 3D versions.