- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

By now, the back yard is well-trod — if not trampled — territory in Hollywood; films ranging from 1989’s “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” to the more recent “A Bug’s Life” and “Antz” have exploited lawn-dwelling life for our viewing pleasure. In this context, “The Ant Bully” doesn’t cover any new ground.

What writer-director John A. Davis (“Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius”) does present, however, is a nice morality tale about the pitfalls of transferring aggression and the pluses of teamwork. Sure, parents might find the setting a bit tired, but children who haven’t already seen the barrage of yard-centric movies will find the computer-animated film both entertaining and visually pleasing.

Audiences can identify easily with Lucas (voiced by Zach Tyler), the film’s star. He has more bullies than buddies, and his parents (Cheri Oteri and Larry Miller) don’t seem to know how to help. Frustrated by the constant taunting, the four-eyed munchkin takes out his anger on helpless critters outside his home, mostly ants.

How was he supposed to know that “stupid ants have families and feelings”? Said ants have their own nickname for the tyrannical tyke: “Lucas the Destroyer.” Devastated by his stomping and flooding of their anthill, the insects attempt revenge by shrinking their tormentor down to size, literally. While he’s sleeping one night, several brave ants give Lucas a potion that miniaturizes him.

A trial ensues underground, where the Ant Council finds the child guilty of such crimes as “dousing the colony with the dreaded yellow rain.” For this, the Ant Queen (voiced by a coolly intimidating Meryl Streep) sentences the boy to live as an ant, and suddenly, Lucas gets a little perspective.

The Destroyer becomes destroyable. The ants threaten to eat him and even make fun of his human anatomy. (“Eww. His skeleton is on the inside.”) With adversity behind every blade of grass in the form of wasps, frogs and a sadistic, thoroughly creepy exterminator (Paul Giamatti), Lucas learns the power in numbers.

When he finally returns to boy size, the protagonist applies his newfound knowledge to his own bullying situation. It seems that now he can carry more than his own weight.

The film’s animators do a nice job of creating a lovely, vivid backdrop for all the lesson-learning, but this may be all adult viewers take from “The Ant Bully.” Unlike the anthill’s theatrical predecessor, “Antz,”the film keeps jokes in the child-friendly realm, mostly drawing on ant/human anatomical differences. (“I said cross your heart, not your butt” and “Suck in that thorax.”)

On the other hand, caretakers in need of a fairly wholesome Saturday-afternoon activity can feel good about letting children play in the yard with “The Ant Bully.”

**1/2 Two and a half stars

TITLE: “The Ant Bully”

RATING: PG for some threatening scenes and destruction and quite a bit of belching.

CREDITS: Written and directed by John A. Davis (based on a book by John Nickle).

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes

WEB SITE: www.theantbully.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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