Anyone who's watched one of the smart, animated television shows of recent years already knows that cartoons aren't solely the domain of children. But it's taken the PG-rated Antz to bring this current sensibility to the big screen.

Antz uses stunningly fluid computer animation to tell a hymenopteran version of Spartacus. In this case, no one in the ant colony seems to realize that they're essentially slaves, until a worker named Z-4195 begins asserting himself. Written by Todd Alcott, Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz, Antz completely anthropomorphizes the insects, and uses their inherent social structure to make multiple -- and none-too-subtle -- allusions to communism versus individuality.

Z (voice of Woody Allen) isn't out to turn his world upside down, but his insistence on personal autonomy within a society that functions as a finely tuned organic machine has the effect of a hairline crack forming at the base of a concrete column.

In a Romeo and Juliet twist, Z hooks up with the slumming Princess Bala (Sharon Stone) to search for a mythical Shangri-La known as Insectopia. But Z, an unlikely hero who survived a brutal battle against ferocious termites, must return to save the colony from General Mandible (Gene Hackman), who harbors a devious plan for ethnic cleansing.

Directors Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson use all the technological artillery of their company, PDI, to create a fully realized story, where distinct characters emerge from the suffocating crush of conformity. It's to PDI's credit that the ants in this witty and fun adventure-romance-comedy are more real than many live-action humans.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at [email protected].

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