We’ve long since learned that characters like Woody and Wall-E and Remy the rat are capable of teaching us far more about how to care about another person (or robot, or soup) than their actual human counterparts. You don’t need two legs and manual dexterity to tell an amazing story, and if anything, eliminating the human condition from the equation can actually give your story more freedom to explore some really cool issues, without the harsh constraints of reality. (Did you ever think that one of the best and darkest looks at love, loss, and impermanence would come from “Toy Story 3?” No, no you did not.)
But back in 1989, before “The Lion King” or “Toy Story” or even “The Little Mermaid” (by a few months) were around to show us that movies about anthropomorphic creatures could actually be just as effective for adults as they were for children, there was only “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” Actually, to be specific, there was only Antie the impossibly heroic ant from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”
We knew straight off the bat that Antie wasn’t going to be your run of the mill bug. The rest of the mindless drones in his backyard colony spent their time ruining picnics and sucking up to their elusive queen, but not Antie. Antie wanted more. Antie wanted bigger.
And for a very brief time, he got it. When a group of hapless, unfortunately tiny children exploded onto the scene, Antie saw a chance for greatness and seized it. He wasn’t necessarily the most attractive or least slimy member of this new gang, but he was definitely its bravest and most likable — while Rick Moranis’ kids hid in Legos, kissed each other, and tried their best to merely survive, Antie thrived. He became a hero to this group of lost children, offering them protection and transportation (and happily getting nothing in return) as they attempted to reunite with their family. It was beautiful, and we suddenly all felt a little bit lesser for having sprayed that Raid in the kitchen before we left to go see the movie.
However, like so many other legends of our time, Antie was not long for this world. A force of unthinkable evil known only as “backyard scorpion” attacked Antie’s adopted children while they were hiding in their Legos, and he knew right away that if anyone was going to survive, it would be at his (six) hands. The children simply were not ready for this kind of confrontation, but not Antie. Antie was born for this. He attacked and distracted the scorpion with ease, giving the children the time they needed to congregate and gather materials to throw things at it.
He was stung in the process, yet he still did his best to stifle those agonizing, painful screams from the poison that was quickly coursing through his body. Despite knowing full well that he was dying, Antie cared more about protecting the innocence of those he loved than gaining closure, or fully expressing the pain and emotions that he was feeling as the life drained from his body. It was a cruel, devastating fate for such a wonderfully giving character, but Antie’s death was not for naught — the next day, the kids used Antie’s positive influence to wisen up a little, and this newfound mental clarity allowed them to finally find a way home.
Similarly, we as an audience also had to find our way home, because the movie was over and the theater was closing. But we all came home a little bit… different… that day. When a lone worker ant popped up in our pantry to steal a Cheerio, we propped him up on a leaf and carried him outside to safety instead of crushing him to death. And when movies about rats and toys and cars and genies and even Legos began to pop up left and right, we gave them a solid chance — because, after all, you never know where you might find the next Antie. (We’re still looking.)