It featurs the voices of Zach Tyler Eisen, Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep and Paul Giamatti, was produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman's Playtone, John A. Davis and Keith Alcorn's DNA Productions, and was released in theatres on July 28, 2006 by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures. Concurrently with the general release, it was offered in big screen IMAX 3D, the format, also used with The Polar Express.
This is also the first animated one produced by Legendary Pictures, the 2nd feature one produced by DNA Productions. Just before its release, most of the DNA employees were laid off, and its animation facility was closed. It was the last film role by Ricardo Montalban, before his death in January 2009. The film earned $55.2 million, on an $50 million budget.
In Las Vegas, lonely 10-year-old, Lucas Nickle (Zach Tyler Eisen) is left with his older sister, Tiffany (Allison Mack), and his grandmother (Lily Tomlin) when his parents go to Puerto Vallarta. Neglected by his family and tormented by a local bully named Steve, Lucas takes out his frustration on an anthill and attacks it with a squirt gun, terrifying the ants. One ant, an eccentric wizard named Zoc (Nicolas Cage), tries to fight back. His girlfriend, a nurse ant named Hova (Julia Roberts), attempts to communicate with Lucas. He drops his gun on the grass, and kicks the anthill with one of his sneakers,sending the ants flying into the grass. Hova tries to communicate to Lucas, but she is almost crushed before being rescued by Zoc. The leaders of the colony decide to use a potion Zoc has recently created to shrink Lucas down to ant size.
The local exterminator, Stan Beals (Paul Giamatti), convinces Lucas to sign a contract to kill vermin. Later, Zoc and a small troop of ants pour the potion onto his ear. He wakes up and discovers that he is now tiny, where he lands on a potato chip. He is carried to the anthill into a world of giant caves, caterpillars and ants. Zoc insists that Lucas should be studied then eaten, but he is overruled by the Queen (Meryl Streep). She sentences Lucas to hard labor.
Hova volunteers to train Lucas, much to Zoc's mortification. They both learn about the differences between ants and humans. However, when she forces him to forage for jelly beans with Kreela (Regina King) and Fugax (Bruce Campbell) Lucas is unsuccessful. The ants are attacked by tarantula hawk wasps. Lucas finds a discarded firecracker and uses it to scare away the wasps. This earns him the admiration of all the ants – except Zoc.
Lucas is introduced to honeydew, the feces of caterpillars. He is shown a painting which depicts the Great Ant Mother and the evil "Cloud-Breather", an exterminator. Lucas is told that the Great Ant Mother will return and shower the ants with honeydew, while the Cloud-breather will spell destruction for all of them. He and his friends return to the house, where he tries to cancel the contract but dials for pizza instead. To make matters worse, Tiffany comes in and tries to crush the ants with the phone (not just Fugax) as they are forced into hiding until dark.
When Zoc finds out that Lucas put Hova in possible danger, he accuses Lucas of further treachery and tells him that he should find another wizard because there is no way that he will give Lucas the potion to turn him back again. Lucas runs away, frightened, and Hova becomes angry with Zoc. But when Lucas is swallowed by a frog, Zoc frees him. Afterwards Zoc and Lucas discuss their differences. Zoc explains that ants work for the benefit of the colony. Lucas states that most humans work for personal gain. Zoc is unsure as to how anything gets accomplished in Lucas' world.
They enlist the aid of the wasps; at first, the wasps want to eat Lucas, but hearing that their nest is destroyed by Beals, they agree to help. During the battle with Stan, Lucas saves the lives of Hova and an injured wasp. Both the ants and wasps were no match against pesticide, but as Stan is about to exterminate the ant hill, a beetle and glowworm manage to bite him in the testicles.
As Stan Beals doubles up in pain, Lucas injects him with the shrinking potion, horribly misshaping, disfiguring and shrinking him, and as a result he runs away using a tricycle. The queen then pronounces Lucas an ant in honor of his heroic actions. Zoc gives him the antidote. Lucas goes back to normal size and finally stands up to the bully who runs away. Lucas then showers the colony with jelly beans as a farewell gift.Zach Tyler Eisen as Lucas Nickle (known to the ants as Peanut The Destroyer).
Julia Roberts as Hova, a nurse ant.
Nicolas Cage as Zoc, a wizard ant.
Meryl Streep as The Queen Ant.
Paul Giamatti as Stan Beals, a local exterminator.
Regina King as Kreela, a Forager ant.
Bruce Campbell as Fugax, a Scout ant.
Lily Tomlin as Grandma (known as Mommo).
Cheri Oteri as Doreen Nickle, Lucas's mother.
Creagen Dow as Steve, the local neighborhood bully.
Larry Miller as Fred Nickle, Lucas' father.
Richard Green as Wasp Leader
Jake T. Austin as Nicky, a neighborhood boy who originally acts under Steve's lead.
Don Frye as Soldier Ant
Ricardo Montalban as The Head of Council
Allison Mack as Tiffany Nickle, Lucas's older sister.
Rob Paulsen as Beetle
Mark DeCarlo as Fly
Additional voices were provided by Tyler James Williams, Jaishon Fisher, Frank Welker, Tom Kenny, Neil Ross, Bob Joles, Wally Wingert, Leon Morenzie, Johnathan Cook, Clive Robertson, S. Scott Bullock, Zack Shada (uncredited), Benjamin Bryan (uncredited), and Jordan Orr (uncredited).
Hanks originally conceived the idea for an animated film adaptation after reading the book with his child. He then sent a copy to Davis because of Davis' work on the computer-animated film Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Davis came up with a potential take on the story within a few days. "To be honest, when I first looked at it, I thought Oh, why does it have to be ants again?" said Davis. "But the more I thought about it, I said, So what? It's got as much to do with The Incredible Shrinking Man as it does the other bug movies. It's a completely different story."
Also, Hanks agreed that the story could be expanded considerably (the original book being around only 2,000 words). Alcorn had a similar initial reaction to the project as Davis did. "My first thought," recalled Alcorn, "was, 'not another ant movie.' But looking at the actual story, this was really about a little boy and how he learns about the world by having to live beneath the surface." Davis states that he felt like something of a hypocrite when, while he was working on the script, carpenter ants infested his house and he called an exterminator.
The film was rendered on DNA Productions' 1400-CPU render farm, managed by the open source Sun Grid Engine job scheduler. The nodes started out with Fedora Core 2 Linux with a modern 2.6.x kernel, but the new AMD Opteron nodes are running Fedora Core 4. Most of the applications are commercial, including Maya, Lightwave 3D, Houdini, Massive and the Pixar RenderMan. Along with the theatrical release of The Ant Bully, there was an IMAX 3D version presented in only some of the IMAX theaters.
The others continued to run the 3D version of Superman Returns. The special IMAX 3D version was remastered in 3D with IMAX DMR. Critics within the 3D motion picture community have given the film high marks, as unlike Superman Returns, the entire film is projected in 3D stereo. The process to turn a pure animation film into 3D is much simpler than converting a film having live actors. Some of the production took place at C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures in Canada.
The film was theatrically released on July 28, 2006 by Warner Bros. Pictures and was released on DVD and Blu-ray on November 28, 2006 by Warner Home Video. Despite considerable demand, no 3D Blu-ray version has been released anywhere in the world.
The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 63% approval rating, based on 115 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The website's consensus reads, "Sometimes inventive and witty, this animated adventure into an ant-sized world is a pleasant diversion." Tom Long of the Detroit News wrote that "there's a sweet simplicity and humility to this film."
Ruthe Stein of The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that "the brilliance of The Ant Bully is in the crafty way it delves into the minds of ants as they plot to save themselves from extermination...Davis creates a marvelously labyrinthine society for them, right below the surface of a bland suburb."
Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly liked Roberts and Cage in their roles, and referred to Streep's queen ant as "excellently magisterial." She also wrote that "the kind of life lessons that usually gum up the fun go down as easily as jelly beans in The Ant Bully." However, Jeffrey E. McCants of the Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote that "the film's heavy-handed lessons turn it from a fun romp through a cartoonish insect world to a predictable and preachy snoozefest".
Lou Lumenick of the New York Post called the film "generic" and wrote that "adults will be less than enchanted by its preachiness, talkiness and Communist Party-line political views". Bill Muller of The Arizona Republic wrote that "The Ant Bully, in trying to match Antz or A Bug's Life, just digs itself into a big hole".
Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News was positive about the film's lack of pop culture references and thought that the film does not "talk down" to children. Additionally, he noted that "adults may be amused (or maybe not) by the Christian parallel in the ants' religion."
The film opened at #5 on July 28, 2006, and closed on November 16, 2006, with $28 million in North America and a total of $55 million worldwide. The estimated production budget was $50 million. The film was released in the United Kingdom on August 4, 2006, and only opened on #8.
The soundtrack's music score was composed and conducted by John Debney and there are no songs in this film. The entire movie score was released by Varèse Sarabande.
Games publisher Midway released The Ant Bully, the official video game tie-in to the film on GameCube, PlayStation 2, PC, and Game Boy Advance on July 24, 2006. A Wii version was released on December 5, 2006. The game was developed by the Montreal Studio Artificial Mind and Movement (A2M).