DreamWorks threw its hat into the animation ring with its first cartoon feature, 1998’s all-CGI Antz. Recruiting an all-star cast led by Woody Allen, the studio spared no expense in trying to break Disney’s near-monopoly on the animated film market. In addition to Allen, the voice cast included Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, Christopher Walken, Danny Glover, Jennifer Lopez and other top-level talent.
In the film, Allen plays Z-4195, a neurotic worker ant who wonders why everything he does has to be for the good of the colony. Soon, Z is questioning every aspect of his drone-like life, including the fact that every ant dances the same catatonic line dance at the local bar. Z breaks loose with a few moves of his own, impressing his dance partner, the beautiful (we assume) Princess Bala, who’s slumming.
Bala is engaged to General Mandible, a warmongering army ant who has convinced the Queen to build a giant tunnel toward a new colony. When Z learns who his dance partner really is, he cooks up a scheme to switch places with best buddy Weaver, a muscular soldier, in order to catch Bala’s eye at a parade the next day. Z’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Mandible has again twisted the Queen’s will, getting her authorization for a war on the termites. Z is caught up in a grisly battle, returning to the colony as the sole ant survivor.
The ants hail Z as a hero, but Bala knows the timid bug’s true identity. When Z overhears Mandible’s real plans, he kidnaps Bala for a journey to “Insectopia,” a fantastic world up on the surface. Back in the colony, Z has become a legend for the masses, but Mandible’s sinister scheme hasn’t quite been foiled yet.
In what may or may not have been a coincidence (depending on whose version of the story you believe), Antz hit theaters less than two months before Disney’s own CGI insect movie, A Bug’s Life. As it turned out, the dueling bug pictures had little to fear from each other. A Bug’s Life was a huge holiday hit, no surprise from the Disney/Pixar teaming that had produced Toy Story two years earlier. While it didn’t do as well as its counterpart, Antz went on to become the biggest non-Disney animated feature in history (a title that changed hands twice more in the next few months, from Rugrats: The Movie to DreamWorks’ second animated feature, Prince of Egypt). Clearly, the animation market was big enough for multiple players.