Plot: A colony of ants has been essentially been enslaved by a group of grasshoppers lead by the cruel…well, Hopper. They’re tasked year after year with gathering a food offering for the grasshoppers in addition to the amount of food that they need for themselves before the rainy season comes.
An ant named Flik who tends to cause trouble all the time with his gadgets and inventions accidentally knocks the annual food offering in the waters surrounding their home. As punishment for their lack of offering, Hopper demands a double offering after summer and fall have ended when the final leaf on the tree above the ant hill falls. Flik gets an idea to find help outside of the colony by bigger and tougher bugs and the colony’s princess and soon-to-be queen, Atta, agrees in order to keep him out of trouble while the rest of the ants gather food.
Flik eventually finds a circus troupe whom he believes are actually warrior bugs. Likewise, the troupe believes him to be a talent scout with his story of the grasshoppers being the story of the show and agree to help him. However, everything falls apart when the truth is revealed and the last few leaves begin to fall from the tree.
Breakdown: I’ve already reviewed Antz and explained the little ‘who ripped off who’ war with Dreamworks. I also noted how it’s somewhat unfair to compare these two movies in terms of being ‘rip-offs’, whichever one you may believe is the rip-off, because they are two fairly distinct movies with seemingly different target audiences, plot points, characters, art styles and side characters.
So since it wouldn’t be entirely fair to compare these two side by side, let’s do it anyway!
Let’s tackle the art and animation first, shall we? The art is set more towards being cartoon-y with huge eyes and blue colored ants. I mentioned in the Antz review that the blue thing bothered me because ants aren’t blue and at least Antz was more realistic with having brown ants.
I did find something called a blue ant, but it’s not blue (if anything it’s black with a metallic-like coating and red legs) and it’s more of a wasp than an ant. Then again, it seems like Antz was going more towards an older demographic that would probably want realism over cartoon style whereas A Bug’s Life is clearly aimed more for a younger audience. I can’t say either of them is really better in the art department. A Bug’s Life is definitely more visually appealing, but Antz was more of a stickler for details.
Animation-wise, though, there’s no denying that Pixar’s is a lot smoother.
In terms of characters, our main lead, Flik, is more relatable and likable than Z, end of story. Z, while meaning well, was a big whiner who was constantly complaining about how the conformity within the colony was stifling. While he had a point, that doesn’t mean I liked to hear his constant complaining.
Flik, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to help the colony do bigger and better things. He makes inventions and has ideas that sometimes end up screwing up and ruining everything, but he only wants to make things better and easier for the colony as a whole. He does mope for a bit, but it’s relatable moping of feeling like you’re a big screw up no matter how good your intentions are. In addition, he only does it a couple of times. He doesn’t spend half the movie doing it like Z. Dave Foley is also much easier to listen to than Woody Allen.
Princess Atta is much different than Bala. Bala wanted nothing more than to shed her royal duties and just relax every now and then with the commonfolk, which is pretty much a common princess plotline. Atta is the complete opposite as she wants nothing more than to do a good job as a princess and later on as a queen. She’s obsessed and a bit of a worry-wart about running everything and doing everything right. Therein lies her connection with Flik. Despite their drastically different stances in life, they both feel like they’re big screw ups.
Atta is definitely the more fleshed out and unique character, plus she actually evolves through the movie. Bala is pretty forgettable and has a cliché princess personality. She doesn’t change much throughout the movie.
The big conflict in A Bug’s Life is the fact that a group of grasshoppers, lead by the most originally named grasshopper ever, Hopper, have been terrorizing a colony of ants for a long time under the excuse that they protect them from harm, even though they live about a day away from them and would never be able to prevent trouble in time. Every year, the ants are forced to gather food for the grasshoppers in addition to themselves.
The major issue is that they live on a very small island that has a limited supply of food. When Flik accidentally knocks the food offering into the water, which they can’t retrieve because they can’t swim, Hopper and his gang get pissed and demand that they offer twice as much food before the final leaf on the one tree of their island falls.
So they have to not only collect the double offering, but they also have to collect food for themselves, which will be difficult, if not impossible, under the circumstances as they barely manage to make their singular offering in time.
The conflict in Antz really doesn’t come to light until later, but the major issues are that the ants are a bunch of mindless conformists who only do what they’re told and nothing else. One of the soldier ants creates a Nazi-esque plan behind the scenes to wipe out all of the worker ants so only the princess and the more deserving soldier ants will live.
Two very different stories, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I thought A Bug’s Life’s was more interesting and could hold a longer run time. That is one of my main issues with Antz. To me, it was good, but forgettable. There are problems with A Bug’s Life that are glaring and will be addressed in a minute, but at the end of the day, despite those problems, A Bug’s Life was just more entertaining and enjoyable to me whereas Antz I could really give or take.
Finally, the message of A Bug’s Life was a combination of strength in numbers, the ‘power of one’ to unite them all, and standing up to bullies, as well as maybe being proud of the fact that you’re different no matter how much you may screw up because of it.
Antz’s message was a little confusing. It seemed to be that conforming, especially to the point of basically being robots, and living for nothing but work was bad, but then you have the fact that the ants were mindless drones no matter what they were told. They did shake off their blind obedience when Z showed them the error of their ways, but then they showed that non-conformity lead to complete and utter laziness and uncaring for your community. Then when they started to question Z in the slightest, they revolted against him in an instant as well.
Perhaps the message is that conformity and living for work are wrong, but going too far in the other direction is just as wrong. Living a life in balance is a good lesson, but if that is the main message, they muddled it up horribly.
I should also mention that the little kids didn’t annoy me as much as I remember them doing. Those two little snots who tease Dot are still brats though.
Well, let’s stop with the comparison and get to what’s wrong with A Bug’s Life as a movie, in terms of story anyway. Three things, really.
First, this movie eventually gets to a point where it relies on the “main character lies to his friends and eventually gets found out” trope. Flik enlists the help of a circus troupe made of a (male) ladybug named Francis, a praying mantis named Manny, a black widow spider named Rosie, a dung beetle named Dim, a walking stick named Slim, a pair of pill bugs named Tuck and Roll, and a gypsy moth named….Gypsy. Besides the issue of ‘I hate this trope and it only makes for that incredibly awkward ‘reveal”, it also raises another issue. Flik never lied to begin with. At all. He told his story straight out to the troupe and even a second time to the pill bugs who don’t speak English and speak some kind of made-up language, but he wasn’t aware of that.
If anything, the troupe was at fault for making the totally unprompted assumption that he was a talent scout just really invested in this grasshopper story. They even fully believe it when they arrive at the colony and everyone’s cheering their heads off for the arrival of ‘the warriors’. It’s only until after a welcome dinner that the troupe figures it out and gets mad at Flik for lying to them even though he never ever did.
In addition to getting pissed and insulting him, the pill bugs slap him! FOR THEIR MISTAKE. Granted, once Flik finds out the truth, he eventually decides to actually lie to the colony about the troupe, which leads to the predictable awkward reveal, but the fact is that the troupe should have been the ones who looked like they were lying or at the very least made a grave error, not Flik.
Second, one other thing I will say in favor of Antz was the fact that they highlighted a big problem with A Bug’s Life. In Antz, the ants were divided up into workers and soldiers at birth and they remained widely segregated in their regular day to day lives.
In A Bug’s Life, there’s a noticeable lack of soldiers. They’re all workers. They have to be in order to be so firmly under Hopper’s thumb. That creates a problem and dare I say plot hole that could’ve just been patched up by saying that the soldiers all got overpowered by the grasshoppers or were killed or abandoned them or something. I’m not an entomologist, so I don’t know how likely it is that this species or specific colony of ants would just straight up have no soldiers, but it’s a noticeable issue to me.
Finally, the climax has a pretty big problem to it. All of the bugs, understandably, have a huge fear of birds. Hopper especially has a fear of birds since it’s implied that he got the big scar on his face and lost sight in his right eye because of a bird attack and is traumatized because of it. Flik, who is already in the trenches of his deception, decides to just screw the whole idea of the warriors in lieu of a new idea – making a mechanical bird made of sticks and leaves that will scare Hopper and the others away.
They complete the bird and are really optimistic about their chances. However, the colony finds out that the ‘warriors’ are really circus bugs and that Flik lied to them. Flik is then banished from the colony and goes off to join the circus troupe in shame while the colony panics because they spent all summer and fall mostly making the bird and hanging out with the warriors instead of gathering Hopper’s food because they no longer intended on paying him his tribute.
They scramble to gather food, which ends up not being nearly enough to offer to Hopper without leaving themselves to starve to death otherwise and completely lose hope.
The problem I have with this is…what the hell happened to the bird? Why is the bird thing no longer a feasible idea? I know it was Flik’s idea and he lied to them thus they might have lost some faith in the bird. Hell, Flik even loses faith in the bird as he’s riding with the troupe.
But you have to remember something – the idea of the bird was presented to the circus troupe, who thought it was a great idea. The idea was then presented to the queen, Princess Atta and the royal council, who also thought it was brilliant. The idea was then shown to the entire colony who also had so much faith in it that they were cheering at the presentation. Why did they suddenly lose faith in the bird idea?
It can be argued that the stuff with the ‘warriors’ was moot by the time the bird was done, and the reveal was actually at a celebration party for the completion of the bird! In fact, Flik was figuring out a way for the troupe to escape without being noticed at the party so they could leave before the grasshoppers came. The troupe stayed of their own accord because they liked the colony and had recently lost their jobs anyway.
The bird was completely unrelated, so there’s no reason why they couldn’t have stuck with that plan in the end despite Flik’s deception and banishment. Did they really think they had more of a chance of gathering a double offering in a matter of days? It’s not like they couldn’t have done it since Flik comes back and actually pilots the bird just fine with only a girl scout troupe to help him operate it.
Bottomline: Despite those plot issues, I have to stick by my stance and just say it’s a more enjoyable, memorable and funnier movie than Antz. I commend Antz for trying to be more realistic in their designs and I still enjoyed the movie just fine, but in the end the one who will always win out for me is A Bug’s Life. I’ve gained much more appreciation of Dreamworks productions in recent time, despite the fact I haven’t gotten to their later work, but I still remain as a loyal soldier in Pixar’s colony……Oh wait. Damn you, ant puns!
Recommended Audience: There’s some drawings of bug gore by the little kids (their teacher actually told them to draw one of the good guys as dead to make it more dramatic. The amount of flying that wouldn’t do in an actual school setting is amazing.) no swearing, no innuendos that I remember. Some minor violence, some grasshoppers get killed although not graphically. It’s fine for all ages.