The Ant Bully

Lucas Nickel is a small kid, who gets pushed around by the local bullies and big kids. In retaliation, he torments a small ant colony in his front garden. One of the ants, Zoc, is a wizard who plans to save the colony by making a potion that will shrink “The Destroyer” (Lucas) to the size of an ant. What Zoc hadn’t counted on was the Queen’s decision about Lucas’s fate. Rather than sentencing him to death, she forces him to live with the colony, so that he can find out what it is like to be an ant himself. Adventures ensue. Lessons are learned. It’s a fun film.

But what bothered me about it is the billing the voice actors get. The big names on the movie poster are Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Paul Giamatti. I have no problem with Cage and Roberts being there. They do the voices for Zoc and Hova, two of the main ant characters. But Streep and Giamatti both have exactly two scenes each. And not big scenes, either.

Until I saw the film, I had no idea that the mighty Bruce Campbell does the voice for Fugax, an ant scout. Campbell has a big role in this film, with substantially more screen time and more lines than Streep and Giamatti put together, and yet he is relegated to a much lower billing.

The emphasis placed on the voice talent–or rather, the lack of such emphasis–is something that I like about Pixar’s animated films. If you look at the posters and promotional material for Cars, for example, you won’t find Owen Wilson’s name in big letters, even though he’s a reasonably big box office draw right now. The fact that Pixar itself is a guarantee of quality allows them to concentrate on finding the right voice for their characters, rather than the right star to put on the poster. Would Craig T. Nelson have been given the lead voice in The Incredibles if Pixar had been unsure of a box office hit? Would Brad Bird have been given the opportunity to play Edna Mode (one of the best voice performances ever)?

I know that the reality of Hollywood is that big names are what draw an audience in. I just find it disappointing that even in animated features, where the actual presence of a big name actor is less relevant than in a live action film, this is still so clearly the case.

One thought on “The Ant Bully

  1. Martijn van der Ven

    I totally agree, in animation it’s all about the animation and the voices that give a ‘soul’ to the characters.
    It’s not about having some big star as voice, if you think those persons will add the right ‘soul’ to the character it’s fine.
    But if you give them a minor role just because it will look good at the posters, that’s just marketing and has nothing to do with the final movie!

    It sounds like a nice movie, I’ll try to go and see it as soon as I see it appear here in the Netherlands.

    Friendly Greetings,

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