Antz and Without Limits

by KE Monahan Huntley

Pre and Z are American heroes. Steve Prefontaine, the dramatic biographical subject of Robert Towne's Without Limits, and Z, Dreamworks' insecure animated warrior in Antz, initially may not appear to have anything in common, however, each embody the indomitable spirit of individual achievement. In terms of Dramatica, each film provides a grand argument story in which main characters Z and Pre invite the audience to take their point of view.

In his opening dialogue, Z introduces the underground world in which he resides, and the societal infrastructure of which he is a necessary (albeit reluctant) part.


All my life, I've lived and worked in the big city . . . which is kind of a problem, since I've always felt uncomfortable in crowds. I feel . . . isolated. Different. I've got abandonment issues (mc thematic issue-preconditions) . . . . I feel physically inadequate (mc critical flaw-deficiency)-I've never been able to lift more than ten times my own weight. Sometimes I think I'm just not cut out to be a worker (mc domain-physics). But I don't have any other options (mc problem-acceptance). I was assigned to trade school when I was just a grub. The whole system (objective story domain-universe) just . . . makes me feel . . . insignificant.

The ants are "part of the fastest growing species in the whole world" (os benchmark-progress). Working on a "megatunnel," they are concerned with this task at hand (os concern-present), despite not knowing its purpose:


This colony needs another tunnel like a hole in the ground. Why are we even digging this thing?


Who cares, Z. All I know is, we gotta dig. We're not the ones in charge (os problem-acceptance).

Ostensibly in charge is the Queen, but the real power behind the throne is General Formica:


General, the severe food shortage pains me. The thought (os consequence-conscious) of any of my children going hungry . . . What steps are you taking to remedy the situation (os domain-universe)?


We are launching a major offensive to expand our foraging territory . . . (os focus-proaction)

Formica intends to entrench his position by marrying Princess Bala (influence character), although they are mere acquaintances:


. . . It might be nice if we . . . got to know one another . . . . I just thought the marriage might go a little more smoothly if-we had a conversation?


I'll take your suggestion under advisement, Princess. In the meanwhile-


General-we have to talk sometime! (ic focus-proaction) . . . How was your day? What did you do?


I declared war! (story driver-action)



Oh . . . and I was afraid we had nothing in common (ic thematic issue-deficiency).

Bala "followed by her handmaidens, who are in a state of giggling infatuation over Formica" (os thematic issue-attraction)conceives (ic concern) of a plan to squelch her "pre-wedding jitters"-slumming it at the worker bar:



But-we can't-there'll be workers there (os thematic counterpoint-repulsion).


We shouldn't be doing this-it isn't proper!


I'm the Princess, aren't I? (ic thematic counterpoint-permission)


Of course-


And do Princesses do improper things?


Of course not-


Then, if I go to the worker bar, it isn't improper (ic domain psychology). Anyway, don't worry. No one will recognize us in our disguises (ic benchmark-being).

At the worker bar, Z learns (mc concern) of Insectopia from a "grizzled old SCOUT ant" with a buzz on. Before he has time to assess (mc focus-evaluation) this information, the music starts up and the ants (with the exception of Z) line up to dance-"in perfect synch"-of course.

From the sidelines, Z kvetches:


What a bunch of losers. Mindless zombies capitulating (os problem-acceptance) to an oppressive system (os domain-universe)-

Until the beautiful Bala asks him to dance (rs focus-proaction). "Z is instantly smitten" (rs direction-reaction). Their rumba causes a rumble, and Bala pulls a Cinderella running off-leaving Z clutching her Chanel scarf.

Convinced it's true love (rs problem-certainty), Z talks his sidekick Weaver, a soldier in the Queen's army, into trading places (mc approach-doer). His attempt (rs inhibitor) to reunite with Bala fails: "Who is that idiot?"-and Z is swept into battle (mc benchmark-doing). The ensuing massacre leaves Z as the only survivor: "I've never seen such bloodthirstiness, such bad manners"-and consequently a war hero:


Son, you're an ant after my own heart. A warrior. An ant that looks death right in the face and laughs.


Well, I generally just make belittling comments and snicker behind death's back.

In the midst of the celebration Z is caught out as a worker masquerading as a warmonger: "It was more what I'd call a clever ruse." Holding Bala as hostage, he backs up from the ballroom to the kitchen and they both fall backwards down the garbage chute. They discover the perils of the great outdoors-magnifying glasses that fry, sneakers that stomp-and their immediate response (rs benchmark-preconscious) is to bicker in true romantic comedic fashion:


I hate you.


Well I guess that makes us even.

Bala is fixated on returning to the colony; Z is just as determined to find Insectopia (rs domain-mind): "Now you follow the yellow egg . . . that direction" (male mental sex).

Meanwhile, back at the colony, the workers are restless (os focus-proaction) and Formica, sensing Z's influence, sends Ant Team Six, his "crack team of hardcore flying-ant commandos" to eliminate the upstart and retrieve Bala (os direction-reaction).

Z and Bala happen upon Insectopia (rs catalyst-investigation), a veritable pest paradise. After partaking of a feast "they smile shyly as if they just met for the first time" (rs thematic counterpoint-reappraisal). Courtship is cut short, however, as Major Mandible's attempt (rs inhibitor) to capture Bala succeeds. The princess, deducing (ic driver) what kind of man Formica really is lies to protect Z ("He was eaten by a praying mantis"), and announces "I could never go through marrying you. I'm an individual, and when I get married, it'll be to someone I choose (ic solution-induction). Bala is locked away. Z returns to rescue her, and in true hero fashion, save the day:


Formica'a going to flood the colony! . . . . I know it's crazy, but I can't just leave. Don't argue with me. If I've learned (mc concern) anything, it's that the problems of two people don't add up to hill of ants in this world. Or beans. Something like that. Anyway, I've got to warn the others.

Z changes (mc resolve) from a worker ant, camouflaging his feelings of insignificance with false bravado (mc growth-stop), to a real leader. He commands the other ants, now individuals, to work (os catalyst) together as a team (mc unique ability-prerequisites) to successfully (outcome) preserve the society in which they wish to be a part (os goal-present).


So, uh, that's pretty much it. Just your basic "simple worker overthrows the government and winds up with the princess" kind of story (mc judgment-good).

Steve Prefontaine has none of Z's insecurities. A track star in high school, he is courted by top colleges-the only one he wishes to attend, however, is the University of Oregon. Before he enrolls, Pre wants Bill Bowerman (influence character), a coach (ic concern-being) who doesn't believe in the value (ic critical flaw) of himself recruiting, to invite him. Pre's confidence (rs catalyst) in his skill (unique ability) as a runner accelerates the relationship between Bill Bowerman and himself:


(to Bowerman's assistant coach, Dellinger)

I've got three weeks to sign my letter of intent before I'm gonna lose my slot at any college worth going to (mc signpost 1-obtaining). Here's my philosophy-I don't go anywhere near Eugene unless Bowerman personally lets me know he wants me (rs thematic conflict-value vs. worth).



Bill, for God's sake! Everybody in the country's been offering him the moon. All he wants is one word from you, to know that you want to coach him (ic unique ability-ability) . . .

Bowerman considers (rs signpost 1-conscious) Dellinger's advice and writes to Pre: "If you do us the honor of attending the University of Oregon (story driver-action), there is no doubt in my mind that you can become (os precondition) the nation's finest distance runner, perhaps the world's" (os benchmark-future).

The objective story domain is explored in the confines of amateur track and field competition (universe) where athletes are ranked individually and in teams, whether for college or country. The goal centers on Steve Prefontaine's progress as a college distance runner. To make his development meaningful, a requirement of the future is put in place (Olympics)-Pre's basic competitive drive (subconscious) is the prerequisite, and his insistence on becoming part of Oregon's team an unessential restriction placed on the effort to achieve the goal.

In the objective story, proven (os problem) records drive the athletes to break them; in the influence character throughline, Bowerman's proven (ic problem) method of coaching is what Pre challenges (mc approach-doer):


Your pulse is north of 190-just a rough guess (rs focus-accurate) but I'd say you were exceeding the agreed-upon (ic problem-proven) speed limit.

Pre's natural instinct (rs concern-preconscious) as a frontrunner leads to a contentious relationship with Bowerman-but his (in)experience (mc thematic issue), particularly in international competition, necessitates Bowerman's ability (ic unique ability) as a coach.

Pre is driven by the expectations (mc problem) he places upon himself. He arrogantly refuses to acknowledge any innate talent-he believes it is only by sheer guts (mc solution-determination) that he crosses the finish line first. The epitome of poetry in motion, Pre died instantly in an auto accident the evening of winning the American 5000-meter-a record still held today. In his eulogy, Bill Bowerman illuminates how the coach who went on to create Nike shoes and his "showboat" runner who embodied the phrase "Just do it"-make Without Limits a success story (outcome), despite Steve Prefontaine's tragic end.


All my life, man and boy, I've operated under the assumption that the main idea in running was to win the race (ic domain-psychology). Naturally, when I became a coach I tried to teach people how to do that. Tried to teach Pre how to do that. Tried like hell to teach Pre to do that. And Pre taught me. Taught me I was wrong. Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing (mc critical flaw-fact) that a mediocre effort can win a race and a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn't necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish. He never ran any other way (mc resolve-steadfast). I couldn't get him to, and God knows I tried . . . but . . . Pre was stubborn (rs domain-mind). He insisted (mc solution-determination) on holding himself to a higher standard than victory (mc judgment-good). 'A race is a work of art' (mc concern-doing) is what he said and what he believed and he was out to make it one every step of the way (mental sex-male).

Of course he wanted to win. Those who saw Pre compete (mc domain-physics) or who competed against him were never in doubt how much he wanted to win. But HOW he won mattered to him more (rs solution-process). Pre thought I was a hard case. But he finally got it through my head (ic resolve-change) that the real purpose of running isn't to win a race (rs problem-result). It's to test to the limits of the human heart. That he did . . . No one did it more often. No one did it better.

Pre is based on fact, Z on fantasy. Their heroics relayed in the context of a well structured and tightly woven grand argument story makes their compelling characters even more so-and absolutely worth the price of a second admission ticket.

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

Prev Articles Home Next

Dramatica Story Expert

the next chapter in story development

Buy Now