It's an amusing idea to have a discontented child downsized to a place where he comes to realize personal courage combined with more consideration for others is a better philosophy to live by than acting out your frustrations in ways little different from those who pick on you. But, although the CGI-created earthbound universe Lucas (voiced by Zach Tyler Eisen) is dragged down into is a lively environment full of energy, excitement and cultural heritage, the ants who dwell there are something of clichés as characters, and the multi-star voice cast sounds remarkably indistinctive considering the talent involved. Other animated films like "Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit" and "Over The Hedge" have had more fun with exterminators than this greasy one, voiced by Paul Giamatti. And while you can sense the star's persona in addition to hearing her voice when Meryl Streep briefly shows up as the elegant Ant Queen, that role is very small in contrast to the bigger part of the kind Nurse Ant Hova, in whom there seems to be very little of the appeal of Julia Roberts, apart from her voice. So despite some zippy trips into a frog's stomach and on the back of battling wasps, the whole tale, with its careful moral heart, is a little plodding and over-earnest. The IMAX 3D version may punch it all up a bit, but on a regular screen it lacks pop.
The humans are not pretty -- mainly crass, silly, mean and irresponsible. In contrast, the ants are visually charming, having some of their less attractive militaristic one-for-all- and-all-for-one characteristics downplayed -- although, this being a kids' picture, there's always plenty of room for butt jokes, the place in this case where ants' hearts are located. Voices by Julia Roberts, Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Paul Giamitti, Regina King, Bruce Campbell and Lily Tomlin. Directed and written by John A. Davis. Produced by Tom Hanks, Gary Goetzman and John A. Davis. A Warner Bros. release. Animated. Rated PG for some mild rude humor and action. Running time: 88 min