" Time for me to row with all the other slaves "
— Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic

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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper —Matt Anderson (review...)

Jolie fits nicely into Lara Croft's boots

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If you think Disney animated features have been getting stale lately, give Antz a try. Antz is the first animated feature put out by DreamWorks SKG, (not affiliated with Disney). As such, it has more freedom to target an audience older than 6. It is hipper and funnier than anything Disney has put out for years.

Woody Allen provides the voice of Z, our hero. Z doesn’t fit in with the crowd and wants to find a way to express his individuality. Not an easy task when you’re an ant.

Z is sulking in the saloon when Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) shows up, slumming with her palace friends. Bala asks Z to dance with her, and he accepts. While the entire bar dances together in lock-step, Z starts to dance to his own drummer, and even convinces Bala to cut loose with him. But it’s not long before Bala has to return to the palace.

The dance was enough to energize Z, and he takes the first opportunity he can to trade places with his soldier-ant friend Weaver (Sylvester Stallone). As a soldier, he will get to parade in front of the royal family and see princess Bala again.

The switch goes well until the soldiers are sent out on a suicide mission against the termites. Luckily for Z, his cowardice makes him hide during the massacre (in a battle scene eerily reminiscent of last year’s Starship Troopers). The lone survivor, Z returns to the colony, where he is hailed as a war hero, and is given entree to the royal court. After being exposed as a worker ant, Z ends up accidentally kidnaping the princess and escaping the colony.

Since he can’t return, he starts walking, half hoping the rumors of a far-off “Insectopia” are true. Even if they’re not, as long as he and Bala are together, Z will be happy. But General Mandible (Gene Hackman) wants Bala back in the colony and he wants Z destroyed....

Antz has two very simple things going for it: the animation and the writing. Both are far enough above average to make this movie very entertaining.

The animation is all computer generated. We’ve seen that before in Disney’s Toy Story. What we haven’t seen before is the uncanny depth rendered on film for this movie. The CG ants look as though they were filmed and not printed.

The ant colony in this film is full of earthy colors and lifelike textures that are much more subdued than the garish, shiny, plastic surfaces of Toy Story. It’s a more subtle, mature use of CG, and it’s the next step in CG evolution.

The writing, too, has matured compared to Disney’s latest cartoons. When I say the writing is better, I don’t mean the story line. If you squint your eyes so the specific details are blurred, you might mistake Antz for last year’s Hercules. Both have your basic hero on your basic quest. Both have a fairly superficial love interest and chummy, amusing sidekicks..

When I say the writing is good, I mean that screenwriters Todd Alcott and Chris and Paul Weitz, working within the genre of the animated feature, have added personality and edge. (Credit also those who cast Woody Allen in the lead role.)

Allen is allowed a one or two minute rant at the film’s opening that made me laugh out loud. He rambles on about his usual New York neuroses, only this time he’s an ant. He’s allowed to stumble over his words or get flustered, and the animation keeps up with his verbal quirks. Instead of a bland, vanilla hero, we get one with a little flavor to him.

Allen’s lines are inevitably laced with bug-related puns, just as in Hercules there were mythological puns. But the Antz puns, tailor-made for Woody Allen, work on more than one level. They are funny not so much because they’re puns, but because they’re things Allen would say if he were an ant (like when he credits his psychologist for putting him in touch with his inner maggot). Allen has a surprisingly large number of these lines, and most of them work.

Antz is not an earthshaking movie, but it is fun. The animation, writing, and casting are all above average, and the time (all 82 minutes) flies by. There wasn’t a scene that dragged, which is quite an accomplishment.

And hey, if you’re a fellow Disney cynic, you can revel in a cartoon unmarred by schmaltzy love ballads, white-bread heroes, and source-mangling storylines!