If you're at all aware of the trivial news from Hollywood, you know that Dreamworks' Antz and Disney's A Bug's Life are supposed to be very similar. Well, they are ... and that's a good thing.
Like Antz, A Bug's Life is a story about a misfit among conformists. The hero, in this case an optimistic dreamer named Flik, is cast out of the colony for doing things intended to help but which only upset the knuckleheaded nincompoops around him. With no one to rely on, he sets out on his own and finds other bugs who like his creativity and style, and he eventually uses both to save the ignorant masses who cast him out in the first place.
Hey ... anybody read Atlas Shrugged lately?
In Antz, the enemies of freedom are militarists trying to takeover the colony from within - that is, "public servants" who intend to stage a coup. In Bug the baddies are external, a gang of grasshoppers who, being much bigger than the ants, exploit them for food. All perfectly familiar.
When I saw this picture I was struck not by its similarity to Antz, but by its blatant parallels to our situation today. The grasshoppers are nothing but parasites, enslaving the industrious little ants and lazing about their hive when not terrorizing the innocent. They produce nothing of value, and indeed are incapable of surviving without the ants' tribute.
And, just as in the real world, these evil thugs pretend they're providing an important service to the ants, for which they should be grateful. The service is, of course, "protection" - the same kind of protection graciously provided to us by our many levels of government.
One telling (and infuriating) moment comes when the ants are unable to provide the current season's tribute. Hopper, the gang boss, goes on histrionically about how "kind" they've been to the ants and how "unappreciated" they are. He then "kindly" offers to allow the ants to gather twice as much tribute in three weeks' time. Gee, what a sweetheart!
Anyone out there received any similar "kindness" lately?
There are lots of other parallels between the films, of course. The hero is an innovator. He's in love with the princess of the colony. In fact, even the faces of the bad guys are similar; Hopper looks just like General Mandible [from Antz] with a different texture wrapped on his digital wire-frame skull.
And, of course, it is outsider misfit bugs who save the day. Without these outside outcasts (all of them of different species, by the way) the Good Little Ants would be done for. Here's another parallel: in a country which suppresses dissent, critical inventiveness is also destroyed, so much that they cannot survive without outside help. Why do you think the Soviets copied so much American technology? Not because they couldn't come up with their own, but - this is vital - because they wouldn't come up with it. After all, there was no reward for inventiveness and plenty of reward for being an obedient drone - that is, a Good Little Worker.
One thing that was frustrating about this picture, and Antz too, was that it did not go so far as to condemn the ant colony itself. In each case, it was only the most obvious bullies who were treated as evil; the queen was considered good, though perhaps misguided or lacking in leadership ability. Worse, the very idea that everyone must work together as a collective was endorsed by the fimmakers by omission, i.e. the subject never came up. Neither Z nor Flik ever dared ask whether their authoritarian society was worth preserving; on the contrary, these two individualist heroes did their best to save the very oppressive regime that had cast them out and left them for dead (indeed, hoped they would die so they wouldn't bother the Powers That Were anymore). In that I found disappointment, and I must disagree with Alexei Kurupatin on this one point: in this subliminal but very significant way, both of these films are not only liberal but downright socialist. After all, socialists don't object to individual initiative ... as long as it's done for the Good Of All.
Bill Clinton has said as much dozens of times. So has Hillary.
But make no mistake, A Bug's Life is definitely worth seeing. The truly gratifying climax comes when Flik does indeed lead his people in battle against the grasshoppers. The need was brought about by Flik's courage in standing up to them. Previously, Hopper had grabbed hold of and threatened cute little Dot, baby sister of Princess Atta, and as the other ants cowered and did nothing, Flik boldly came forward and ordered the beast to let her go.
(This begs the question: how would YOU act in a similar situation? Would you stand up to the bully? You like to think you would, of course ... but would you? Maybe you would, if he was just an ordinary street thug. But what if he had a uniform and a license to kill? It's not an easy question, is it - and you didn't expect such profundity from a cartoon, did you?)
Shortly thereafter is when Hopper makes his defining statement. As the other grasshoppers poo-poo his desire for vengeance, he throws a seed at one of them. "Did that hurt?" he asks. "Heck no," comes the reply. He throws another. "How about that?" The recipient giggles. Then Hopper dumps the whole bushel of seeds on the poor victim. "Now did that hurt??" His point is well taken: while one little ant may not be worth the trouble, it is not only worth it but essential to prevent a whole bunch of them from resisting. After all, "those puny little ants outnumber is 100 to one, and if they ever realize that ..."
Or, in the legalese we all know too well, Law And Order must be preserved. This is all the justification (rationalization, really) that Government is capable of, and often all it bothers to offer.
Yet, as Flik points out just before his people go berzerk with fury, the ants do not need the grasshoppers' "services." On the contrary, it is the grasshoppers who need the ants.
Hey friends: we outnumber the pigs at least 100 to one.
You *do* realize that, don't you?
(c)1998 Jim Kelley
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