Bright Lights Film Journal

The Ant Bully: 3-D to the IMAX

When ants got big, and kids got small

I have seen the future, and it works, pretty well.

The Ant Bully is pitched younger than just about any cartoon I’ve seen. There are no “over the kids’ heads” jokes; no hip, wise-cracking Robin Williams character1 damn little character development; and damn little moralizing. The “message,” straight out of the Iliad,2 is simple: be a team player and people will like you!3 That, and a whole shitload of poop jokes, is just about it.

Monster House, another 3-D cartoon, was a lot of fun and really a better film than The Ant Bully. What counts with The Ant Bully is the 3-D IMAX combination. The combination of modern 3-D and IMAX puts you inside the film, for the first time, and The Ant Bully has the smarts to make that work.4

Early 3-D, which I’ve raved about probably too often, was mostly a matter of things being thrown, or spat, at the audience.5 Modern 3-D projects the entire picture out into the audience. When this is done on an IMAX screen (usually 60 feet high and 90 feet wide), the picture exceeds your field of vision. You can choose what part of the screen to look at. Things can be happening, moving into your field of vision, from all directions.

This greatly expands opportunities for manipulating the audience. A favorite trick of directors like Stephen Spielberg and George Lucas is to focus the viewer’s attention on the background and then have some threat — usually one with goggly eyes and hillbilly teeth — loom up in the extreme foreground. But in 3-D IMAX, assaults can come from any direction — creeping up from the side, or lunging over the top. Threats can develop slowly — part of the audience will catch on more quickly than the rest, which can lead to that always enjoyable situation when half the audience is screeching with fear while the other half is trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

OK, it’s great for cartoons aimed at six-year-olds, but what else can it do? What about art? I dunno. The IMAX version of Superman Returns that I saw had twenty minutes of 3-D, which I scarcely noticed at all. And I’m not sure I’m up for a 3-D IMAX version ofThe Rules of the Game or The Bicycle Thief.6

Hollywood is being hit by television’s second wave — flat screen HD, with shows like The Wire that are as gritty as anything the big screen can come with, plus populist media happenings like American Idol that the movies can’t match. Not every film can be made for 3-D IMAX, but what other tricks does Hollywood have?

  1. The Ant Bully is tricked out with a number of celebrity voices, including Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Lily Tomlin, but they all went right over my head when I saw the picture. A seriously misleading listing on the Internet Movie Database led me to claim in my blog review that the pic lacked any celebrity voices. In my defense, I can say that although I didn’t know Julia Roberts was “doing” Hova, I still wanted to fuck her. []
  2. Granted, it’s not “don’t hang out in your tent all day with your boyfriend! Go kill someone!” — but it’s close. []
  3. In a nod to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars, the film does have a “wizard” (an ant wizard), one of the lamest film wizards ever, whose main function is to shrink Lucas (the ant bully) down to ant size. More surprisingly, there’s no “it’s OK to be different” message, which I was kind of expecting. It’s not OK to be different! Put your head down and play by the rules! I think this pic will be big in Japan. []
  4. I enjoyed The Ant Bully much more than half a dozen cartoon “classics” that rapturous critics have talked me into seeing, most notably The Lion King (anthropomorphic homophobia! What a concept!), Toy Story (Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, together again!), Lilo and Stich (words fail me), and Finding Nemo (ditto). []
  5. The House of Wax had some choice bits, with a guy whacking one of those red-rubber-ball-attached-to-a-paddle-with-a-rubber-band things at you and chorus girls sticking their fannies in your face. []
  6. But what would Kurosawa have done with Seven Samurai? Imagine the battle scenes in that one! []