It’s not that often that animated films share some similar concepts (and even rarer when both similar film are released in the same year). Examples of such films include 1987′s The Brave Little Toaster and 1995’s Toy Story, 2010′s Despicable Me and Megamind, 1992′s Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and 2013′s Epic, and 2006′s Happy Feet and 2007′s Surf’s Up. The similar concept I will shine a spotlight on today is a drone ant with oddball tendencies who struggles to win a princess’s hand while trying to save his colony. For this latest installment of Animation Corner, I’ll be looking back at Antz and the Oscar-nominated A Bug’s Life (both celebrating their 15th anniversary).
Directed by Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson, 1998’s Antz centers on an individualistic worker ant living in a totalitarian ant society who wishes to express himself. Things get complicated when he falls in love with an ant princess and uncovers a devious plot by an ant general, who intends to take control of the colony. Featuring the voices of Woody Allen, Gene Hackman, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Christopher Walken, Anne Bancroft, Dan Aykroyd, Danny Glover, John Mahoney, Jane Curtin, Paul Mazursky, and Jennifer Lopez, this critically acclaimed film grossed over $90 million domestically on a budget of $105 million (it made $81 million internationally for a worldwide total of nearly $172 million). There was a feud between Dreamworks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg and Pixar’s Steve Jobs and John Lasseter around the mid to late ’90s. After Katzenberg had left Disney due to a feud with then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, he co-founded Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen. In October 1995, Lasseter and Andrew Stanton went to visit Katzenberg at Dreamworks. He asked them what they were doing after Toy Story. Believing that Katzenberg could be trusted, Lasseter told him in great detail about A Bug’s Life. Soon after, Dreamworks announced that it was making a computer-animated bug film called Antz. Lasseter felt betrayed by Katzenberg, who claimed that Tim Johnson had pitched it to him in the early ’90s. Antz was originally scheduled for a March 1999 release, but the date was moved up to October 1998 in order to beat the release of A Bug’s Life by over a month. Jobs was also upset when Katzenberg offered to delay Antz if Jobs convinced Disney to delay A Bug’s Life, which was opening a few weeks before The Prince of Egypt (another Dreamworks animated film). Jobs refused and Antz remained with an October release. Woody Allen did a couple of uncredited rewrites (particularly scenes involving his character). This film also marked the first of three animated films that John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams would score together. Among the film’s accolades are one Satellite Award nod, four Annie Award nods, one BAFTA nod, and two Golden Reel Award nods (including one win).
Directed by John Lasseter, 1998’s A Bug’s Life centers on a misfit ant who is in search of a group of tough warriors to help save his colony from greedy grasshoppers. Things get complicated when the group of bugs he recruits turn out to be an inept circus troupe. Featuring the voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Hayden Panettiere, Phyllis Diller, Richard Kind, David Hyde Pierce, Denis Leary, Madeline Kahn, Bonnie Hunt, John Ratzenberger, Brad Garrett, Roddy McDowall, and Edie McClurg, this critically acclaimed film grossed over $162 million domestically on a $120 million budget (it made over $200 million internationally for a worldwide total of $363 million). Influences on the film include Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper as well as Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 classic The Seven Samurai. During production, new technical innovations were created to meet the demands of the film. Supervising technical director Bill Reeves led the development of software for autonomous ants. Essentially, four to five groups of approximately eight different universal ants would be animated , then each universal ant would be dropped randomly into crowd scenes. The program would also allow each ant to be modified (even slightly) so that no two ants were the same. As previously mentioned, Pixar was in a feud with Dreamworks at the time due to Jeffrey Katzenberg essentially stealing the idea for A Bug’s Life and re-working it slightly into what became Antz, which he had rushed to completion in order to be released before A Bug’s Life. Lasseter referred to Antz as a schlock version of A Bug’s Life, but noted that had Dreamworks’ film been about anything other than insects, he would’ve closed Pixar for a day so that the entire company could go see the film. Randy Newman provided another terrific score for this film. A Bug’s Life also marked the first time that a computer animated film had a widescreen aspect ratio of 2.4:1. Among the film’s accolades are two Grammy nods (including one win for Best Instrumental Composition), one Saturn Award nod, one BAFTA nod, four Annie Award nods, two Golden Reel Award nods (including one win), two Critics Choice Award wins for Best Animated Film and Best Family Film, a Golden Globe nod for Best Original Score, an Oscar nod for Best Original Score- Musical or Comedy, and Best Animated Feature wins from the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the Satellite Awards.