OK, yes, I know ants are not pastel and they have six legs, not four. In Antz you could tell all the ants apart facially and here you can’t. Except for that, this movie ROCKS. Stay through the credits, seriously, they are the best part, a fat, sweet maraschino cherry on a delicious sundae.
Geri’s Game, the Oscar-winning short animated film Pixar produced last year, is finally getting wide play outside Spike and Mike’s festival. Wow oh wow. Wonderful again! Since I had seen it, I could watch for details, like the sunlight shining through his eyebrows, the bend of images in his glasses. Oh! very very awesome.
I wish I had the foresight to write down all the names of the creative team but to isolate so few would be unfair to the 2,000,000,000 people that worked on this movie. Disney, long the leading studio in terms of animation quality, has the squash-stretch animation down to a science. Everything in a hand-drawn Disney cartoon has weight and mass, a sense of space and full-body movement. Computer animation (even the stunning Toy Story) has traditionally abandoned that sense of mass in favor of implying it through superior rendering of three visual dimensions. Why make a 2D cel squash like it’s round when we can just show that it’s round by panning around? The result has always been to have a ball suspended above its background, with no interaction of the elements, creating a different kind of static image.
Pixar (aka sister company to Apple) defeats that trend and adds that house’s own specialty, the management of light. You may have noticed in Antz, for example, that the lovely, textured rust colored bodies pretty much looked the same all over, unless the character was In Shadow or In The Sun. Here, very facet of the ants pastel bodies is glimmering iridescently, and generating shadows consistent with the light source. Leaves are faintly translucent. Shadows of leaves glimmer with the leaves’ translucence. A million tiny hairs on a dandelion seed each carry or deflect the light. As characters walk, the ground reflects up onto their skin and the sun moves as they move away from it. It’s just absolutely lovely. I can’t even isolate any real examples, it just looks natural. It’s computer generated, yes, it’s cartoony in appearance, hell, it’s anthropomorphic insects, for goodness’ sake, but you never doubt that everyone is There in space in front of you. It’s stunning.
Let me take this moment to remind everyone that I am a staunch supporter of the hand-drawn animated arts, and that I can appreciate Scooby-Doo animation just as much as I can Mulan’s. I consider computer animation by and large as a field to be devoid of craft, devoid of the digital version of what used to be painstaking rococo and multi-plane cel movement. I also believe Pixar to be an exception to that rule, always stressing the maintenance of craft and beauty while improving the technical aspects of the trade.
Oh and did I mention that A Bug’s Life is freaking HILARIOUS? I had seen the toy designs in the stores and already had decided who would annoy me based on the previews. I was so wrong! Dave Foley is the best! The script is feel-good and clever, the story is fun and engaging, and everything is so dang entertaining you almost forget to be blown away by the animation. And also stay through the credits – I was howling! Added bonus: largely, the entomological (bug-ology) aspects are right on the money. Yeah yeah, four legged ants. OK, she’s no gypsy moth, she’s no real single moth either. Sure, the flea is huge. OK, fine, the ants are pastel. But the name Princess Atta refers to the genus of leaf-cutter ants! Ha ha ha! And you know how the queen has a pet aphid? Some species of ant keep aphids. “They guard them from predators so they can eat the honeydew they secrete (like in Antz). It’s kinda like herding cattle for milk.” So says the bug lady! Most of the other bug jokes are easier to get and just as true! If my entomologist friend endorses it, well, hey! Gee whiz, I can allow some artistic license after the great time these folks just gave me! Go see it, by all means!
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/1/98
Time in minutes 95
Director john Lasseter & Andrew Stanton
Studio Walt Disney / Pixar