Such a fitting role for such a royal woman – in 2006’s (wow, she had a busy year!) The Ant Bully, Streep plays, of course, the Ant Queen. And she is literally larger than life – well at least larger than her entire colony combined, basically. Now it’s tough to take much into account with this performance. Not only was Streep not on screen for the duration, but she also has but two mini-scenes in which the Queen addresses the masses. Honestly, she’s a great choice for voice work. Though I get discouraged by the incessant “all-star voice cast” tendencies that run rampant in the last decade of animated films (what ever happened to the early-1990s Disney movies where they just chose actors who did great voice work, rather than the big names?), I must say that Streep’s voice is one worthy of drawn characters. From her vocal idiosyncrasies (ever notice she has a distinct way of saying the “ch” sound?) to her dignified aural presence (think the towering personas from Devil Wears Prada and Doubt), she’s an ideal candidate for the role of a graceful and dominant insect. And I mean that in the most flattering of ways.
So on to the critique, though we have little material to work with (just wait until the write-up of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence!). Meryl’s first scene is as the ant bully himself, the geeky Lucas, is presented to the colony council for crimes against nature. Of course Streep’s wise queen is all moral and good, and she suggests his punishment should be to live the life of an ant (one of those walk two moons in my moccasins situations). As far as the voice work in this film goes, Streep’s is top-notch. Julia Roberts also has a rather good voice for animated movies – it has a great cadence and not too much recognizability to be distracting.
As far as the movie itself goes, it’s no Pixar effort, but it’s certainly not as pop-culture-pandering as many DreamWorks Animation efforts. It’s not barrels of laughs either, but it’s fun and adorable enough to pass as a watchable flick. The premise may seem a bit tired, but the animation is stimulating and good-looking enough to maintain audience attention and awe. Some of the characters (including our “hero” Lucas and some of the supporting ants) are slightly underdeveloped, but Regina King and Bruce Campbell have terrific voices for this type of movie, so it sort of makes up for it. Plus, bonus points for using Animaniacs alum Rob Paulsen in a bit part as a goofy beetle.
Meryl’s Performance: B
The Film: B
I must admit – at first glance, being an avid lover of all things J.K. Rowling just like every other human being (albeit mostly pre-teens) – I was disheartened to hear the early buzz about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban‘s film adaptation was mostly to do with how much it strayed both artistically and plot-wise from the original novel. I mean, the first two films had come out under the direction of Chris Columbus and had played out essentially like film’s answer to the audio book. But what Alfonso Cuaron proved with this, the third Harry Potter flick, was that perhaps being a bit unfaithful can pay off in spades. From its complete makeover of the set, the garb, the stylization, and the happy-kid mood of the first two films to the brilliant additions to the original story (yes, I rather liked Cuaron’s vision for the Knight Bus), Prisoner of Azkaban is nothing short of a visual feast. It’s no surprise that the director of Children of Men and Y Tu Mama Tambien would indulge in a little bit of dark cloud set design, and it more than revitalized the potentially stale movie series. I know it’s a very genre choice for me to place so high on the list, but truly – think of a better example of a director’s vision so altering an original work to the point of improving on it. On top of the major changes to the set and costume design (loved that the kids were finally wearing some age- and era-appropriate clothes), the mainstays came along for the ride. The acting within the student body (particularly Emma Watson‘s Hermione and Rupert Grint‘s Ron Weasley) was vastly improved, and the replacement of Richard Harris, though deeply lamentable after his passing, was a fantastic choice with Michael Gambon. He brought the earnest that Harris offered and twisted it with a little bit of quirk and hipster vibes that Dumbledore seems to carry around in the novels. And where do I begin with John Williams’ utterly unique score? Sequel scores tend to be boring rehashes of what’s been done before, but from “Buckbeak’s Flight” to the Azkaban theme “A Window to the Past,” it’s a sumptuous soundtrack.
All right, we’re going there. In an effort to muse over the extensions of story lines we were left wanting more of, it’s time to take a gander at what could have been. All those prestige films with the magnificent characters that you wish you could see for an additional film – they’re getting their second day in the sun. And in an effort to have more Godfather, Part II and less Elizabeth: The Golden Age, bear with me as I ponder a sequel to 2004’s beloved instant classic Being Julia. Where last we left off [SPOILER ALERT] Ms. Julia Lambert (Annette Bening) had wowed critics and audiences alike as she took down her rival and young ingenue Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch) on stage in Nowadays. Our heroine had ditched her young lover Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans) and was back in the arms of her curmudgeonly husband Michael (Jeremy Irons). With best friend and assistant Evie (Juliet Stevenson) in tow, Julia’s career had gone from aging thespian to firecracker comeback kid.
The story continues as Julia takes a break from Nowadays after a healthy run in the theater to visit her son Roger (Tom Sturridge) at school, only to find that he’s taken up with a now-forgotten Avice Crichton. Avice and Tom had parted ways after the on-stage takedown debacle had left her fleeing her contract to the British countryside. And having been spurned by Julia’s husband Michael, she was left to find a new source of income, this time in the arms of her former rival’s college-age son. Mayhem ensues as Julia is forced to assist in planning a wedding between Avice and Roger, while wealthy philanthropist and Julia-admirer Dolly (Miriam Margolyes) hatches a plan to get Julia to return to London for a new film she’d commissioned. Julia balks at the idea of transitioning to screen work, though, and the part is offered to up-and-coming starlet Rebecca Andrews (Emily Blunt). But when Avice’s new role in the Lambert family lands her a part in the film thanks to Michael’s producer credit, Julia can’t help herself as she writes herself a part in the film to take down the conniving Crichton and cocky Andrews.