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Why Antz Was the Most Divisive Movie of the 1990s (Yes, ANTZ)

According to this list compiled by Rave Reviews, which breaks down the most divisive movies by decade based on critics’ and audience’s ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, the most divisive film of the 1990s may come as a surprise. At the top of the list, ahead of both The Blair Witch Project and Babe, is the 1998 DreamWorks animated feature Antz.

Antz was released only one month before Disney/Pixar’s A Bug’s Life and it split critics and audiences more than any other film of the ’90s. While animated movies tend to appeal to audiences more than critics, Antz was a rare case of getting critical praise but mixed reviews by the crowd. On Rotten Tomatoes, 93 percent of critics approved the movie while only 52 percent of audiences liked it. That audience rating is shockingly low for a family cartoon movie.

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It should be pointed out that most reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes are internet-savvy young adults who did not grow up with in the ’90s. Most kid-oriented movies don’t age well and viewers who see high critical acclaim expect something great, but are usually underwhelmed.

There are also interesting political undertones in Antz. In its first five minutes, baby ants are observed by adult ants and their career path is chosen for them. There are plenty of comparisons between the plot of Antz and Ayn Rand’s famous novella Anthem. Both center around a character who’s dissatisfied with their assigned place in a totalitarian society, so they break away to make shocking discoveries about what’s really going on.

Z, the protagonist in Antz, goes from being a worker ant to a solider ant and finds out the evil ant general wants to eliminate the inferior worker ants altogether. A family feature with these themes will certainly get mixed results no matter how well-executed.

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Of course, Antz cannot be discussed without talking about A Bug’s Life. Movies with similar plots that come out the same year is one thing, but the behind-the-scenes feud between the executives at Disney and DreamWorks is infamous.

Any scholar of recent Disney history knows about the rivalry between former Disney CEO Michael Eisner and DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Katzenberg served as Disney’s head of the motion picture division under Eisner and both took Disney to great heights. However, the duo had a bitter falling out after Eisner refused to promote Katzenberg to president of the company following the death of former Disney president Frank Wells. Shortly after departing Disney, Katzenberg co-founded DreamWorks SKG. The first feature released under DreamWorks Animation was Antz.

According to Den of Geek’s Mark Harrison, the idea started at Disney. Katzenberg pitched a film titled Army Ants to Disney and the idea stuck. Despite his falling out with the studio, he got word of A Bug’s Life plans from executives at Pixar and although Antz was originally slated for release in March 1999, he moved the date up five months to release just before the Pixar film.

A Bug’s Life may have gotten more from the box office thanks to the backing of the Disney/Pixar machine, but Antz still got a solid reception and critical praise, largely because it was released first. Two decades later, vocal critics prefer A Bug’s Life and the majesty of the Pixar brand as opposed to an early stage DreamWorks movie. Does Antz deserve this treatment from the cinema fans? Who knows, but it should be viewed by all movie fans at least once without thinking of all the outside factors.

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DreamWorks animated film Antz is the most divisive film of the '90s, according to critic and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes. Why?

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