Reviewed by: Keith P. Soencksen
|Featuring||Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamatti, Lily Tomlin, Cheri Oteri, Alan Cumming, Regina King, Ricardo Montalban, Zach Tyler, Tyler James Williams|
|Director||John A. Davis|
|Producer||Keith Alcorn, John A. Davis, William Fay, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Scott Mednick, Thomas Tull|
“The battle for the lawn is on.”
Lucas Nickle is small for his age, and thus, he gets picked on. No surprise there. Those not acquainted with the bullying epidemic in America’s schools will gain a little insight into the problem that plagues untold numbers of kids. Research shows that bullying is not so much caused by a strong-willed child as it is caused by weak-willed, detached, or even abusive parents. Also true is the fact that many victims of bullying actually bully others themselves, in an apparent effort to retain some self-esteem through control. The strong bully the weak, and the weak in turn bully the really weak. So it is with Lucas (Zach Tyler), as he takes out his frustrations on an ant colony in his yard, flooding them with water, and mercilessly stomping on their hill.
Zoc (Nicholas Cage) is a rather determined ant. He’s a self-described “ant wizard,” working on a potion that will save the ants from “The Destroyer” (Lucas). Zoc uses the potion to shrink Lucas to sub-ant size, where they can mold him into a human who’s more sympathetic to the hardships of ant life. Lucas is sentenced to work in the ant colony under the tutelage of Nova (Julia Roberts), and along the way, he learns heart-warming lessons about teamwork and putting others first.
The ultimate enemy is a very rough-around-the-edges exterminator who’s been contracted to treat the boy’s yard. Lucas must find a way to save the colony from the imminent pesticidal doom. There’s nothing unpredictable about this movie, but it is entertaining, and certainly witty, in parts. The story moves fast, and there is plenty of intense action. A swarm of nasty hornets initially threatens the ants, and this part (reminiscent of the grasshoppers attacking the ants in “A Bug’s Life”) plus maybe one or two other parts will likely be scary for children under age 5 or 6.
The PG-rating is due to some crude humor, and although there is more than enough of it, none of it is exceedingly offensive. First, poor Lucas is the victim of a “power wedgie” at the hands of the local bully, who mockingly calls him “Pukus.” There are several poop jokes and even one reference to urine, though again, these are done in a way that makes them bearable. In the final battle with the exterminator, two insects fly up the guy’s pant leg, and well, you can guess where they sting him (implied of course, not shown). There are a few gross parts, as when Lucas ends up inside the stomach of a frog. Again, nothing too hard to take.
But then… there is an aspect of “The Ant Bully” that jumped out at me numerous times that I never quite got comfortable with: Christian symbolism. Now don’t go thinking I’m one of those mystics who thinks every odd occurrence must somehow be symbolic. The first time I heard the word “salvation” in this movie, I dismissed it. Then I heard it again. Soon after, I heard, “Praise the Mother Ant!,” and from then on it was clear: this was no accident—the writers had deliberately made references to Christianity. But, as we would expect from Hollywood, there’s a distinct air of sarcasm and mockery attached. Thankfully, anyone under age 10 will probably miss it altogether.
Early in the film, Zoc is busily experimenting with his potion, which he says will be “the salvation of the colony.” In the process, he raises his hands in the air, loudly calling on the supernatural powers he needs to make his potion work. Now, he certainly wasn’t summoning the God of the Bible, but on the other hand, I think it would be a stretch to call this occultism—this is definitely not Harry Potter. Still, it left me a bit uncomfortable.
The ants and Lucas work together as a team and use the potion to save the colony (as if you couldn’t have guessed). Now, I certainly didn’t expect the movie to come out and say “Salvation is found in no one but Jesus Christ,” but what it did was subtly teach us that we should trust in ourselves and our friends to get by in life. This is a worldly truth that fails to look beyond our Earthly life. When we die, ant colonies and magic potions won’t matter one iota. Our eternal salvation is found in Christ alone, and it is Him alone that we are to trust and serve while on Earth (John 14:6; Prov 14:12).
The spoof on Christianity was at times not-so-subtle, but honestly, the depth of it didn’t even hit me until a couple hours after the movie ended. The colony had a queen, of course, but above the queen was the “Ant Mother,” who was openly declared to be worthy of praise. There were numerous shouts of “Praise the Ant Mother!” Zoc explained to Lucas that the Ant Mother was “going to return someday to save all the ants.” To top it off, Lucas was led by his ant friends into a cave where a large image of the Ant Mother was prominently displayed, and presumably, worshipped. Idolatry, anyone? Refresh your memory on the 2nd commandment. The Mother Ant was obviously intended to be symbolic of Christ. So what’s the problem? Again, the sarcasm, and the fact that it’s just not taken seriously at all. This isn’t exactly Narnia.
In some ways, the ants seem to be portrayed as a bunch of naive morons for carrying on in their superstition (sound familiar?). Worshipping the Christ of the Bible, expecting his literal return to Earth, and not bowing down to images and idols is all very serious business. Make fun of it, if you must Hollywood, but as the bumper sticker says, “If you’re living like there is no hell, you’d better be right!” God will not be mocked (Gal 6:7). Luke 9:26 warns, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”
One more example, as long as I’m on the subject: the exterminator’s name is Stan Beals. The name of his pest control company is “Beals-e-bug.” When you hear it pronounced, it’s clear that this is a play on the biblical name “Beelzebub,” another name for Satan (Matt 12:24). Rather odd, and not a little disturbing for a supposed kids’ movie.
Again, younger kids will not pick up on much of this, if any at all. But then why include it? Answer: because adults will. And because some people have such a low view of Christianity that they just can’t pass up any chance to poke fun at it. In my opinion, this very entertaining movie was diminished by its deliberate, casual, jabbing parallels with Christianity. But, I think I know who will have the last laugh.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None