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THE ANT BULLY
Professionally-crafted action score from Debney, but it doesn't have the magic
A review by JAMES SOUTHALL
Music composed by
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Album running time
Album cover copyright (c) 2006 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.; review copyright (c) 2006 James Southall
The latest attempt by Warner Bros. to jump on the CGI animated trail blazed so successfully by Pixar (in all ways) and Dreamworks (financially), and in latter days to an extent by Fox, The Ant Bully is about a young boy who somehow gets shrunk and has to live in a colony of ants. It's got the usual roster of big names in the voice cast (Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep) though the director's pedigree (Jimmy Neuton: Boy Genius) is perhaps not quite so great. In any case, it seems to have kept the kids entertained without managing to find the winning formula of appealing to adults at the same time.
Director John Davis's Jimmy Neutron composer was brought on board, and in terms of insect-based animation, musically the film is far closer to Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell's madcap Antz than Randy Newman's more elegant A Bug's Life, but in truth never becomes quite so distinguished as either. Suffering from a surprisingly-long running time, the music does rather run out of steam before the hour-long album is over - there's only so much everything-but-the-kitchen-sink stuff you can take before you start to get a headache.
Of course, Debney is a consummate professional and all the music is well-composed, manfully orchestrated and performed - but it does seem that whatever magic ingredient can sometimes infuse these things with the X Factor is missing. When action's needed, action is delivered, but it is frankly so generic that it could come from virtually anything - the days of unique films getting unique scores which couldn't work anywhere else are of course long gone, mainly due to the absence of unique films - but still, The Ant Bully seems to suffer slightly more than most.
One track in the middle of the album seems to come from nowhere and have a grace and elegance which is most unexpected, and most welcome - "Hang Gliding" is beautiful and noble and it's a pity more of the score isn't like it. Also terrific is the finale, "Bullies and Sweet Rock", an action-packed ride which maintains focus and has direction. To be brutally honest though, these scores which lay on a 100-piece orchestra and big choir from start to end have become so ten-a-penny that it takes something special to elevate them above the gloop, and The Ant Bully doesn't manage it. It's all perfectly enjoyable, I'm sure it's perfect for the film, and if you don't already have a dozen of these scores then Debney writes with so much enthusiasm (and solid craftsmanship) that there are far worse places to start.