- “'Okay, I've got to give myself a positive attitude. A good attitude even though I'm utterly insignificant. I'm, I'm insignificant... but with attitude'”
Z is considered a friendly, talkative, and pessimistic ant.
One day, Z visits a psychologist ant and in an extended monologue tells him that he believes he was not cut out to be a worker and that his job is a problem because he's uncomfortable around crowds, and that he believes that there's something else better out there in the world but maybe he thinks too much. He also tells the Psychologist that he had a very anxious childhood because his mother never had time for him because he was the middle child in a family of 5 million, and his father was a drone ant who flew away when Z was just a larva. Z finally tells the Psychologist that he needs to believe in a better place or else he'll just curl up in a larval position and weep. He finishes by confessing that the whole system makes him feel insignificant. Much to Z's surprise and dismay, the Psychologist tells Z that he is insignificant.
After his meeting with the Psychologist Z returns to his worker routine as a digger in the megatunnel, which the workers have been construction for some time, trying to fit in and become 'insignificant' and meets up with his friend and fellow worker Azteca who encourages Z to continuing working for the good of the colony as a whole. Then Z and Azteca are assigned with other worker ants on the wrecking ball. During the wrecking ball sequence Z tries to hang onto the ball but because heights make him nauseous he accidentally drops the ball and causes a major accident which temporarily delays the construction of the megatunnel.
After work, Z goes to the worker bar with his soldier buddy Weaver and complains that Weaver's job as a soldier is way cooler than being a worker because Weaver can go out in the world and meet new insects and kill them, but Weaver thinks Z's job is better because Z gets to spend all day with the beautiful workergirls. While Weaver insists that Z stop complaining about life in the colony all the time, Z voices his wishes that there was a better place. A slightly deranged veteran soldier ant sitting next to them reveals that there is in fact a better place: Insectopia. In a dramatic speech, he states how years ago he was separated from his unit and encountered Insectopia, then told Z the directions of how to get there before being dragged out by a guard. Though both Z and Weaver are disbelieving, Z is slightly less so.
At that moment, dance time arrives, but Z decides to remain at the bar while Weaver and the other ants move to the dance floor to perform the same monotonous dance. At the same time, Princess Bala and two friends sneak into the bar in order to have some well needed fun. Spotting Z sitting alone at the bar, Bala pretends to be a worker ant and asks him to dance with her. Instantly entranced by her beauty, Z quickly complies, but wonders why he has never seen her around before. While dancing, a nearby dancer steps on Z's foot, making him yell "Yowch!" Not wanting to look like a fool in front of Bala, Z pretends that 'yowch' is his trademark, then finds himself making up his own dance in the process. Impressed, Bala joins in, and the two ants enjoy a lively dance before Z collides with a burly soldier ant. Bala tells the soldier to watch his step, but Z quickly walks away with her to avoid a confrontation, only to encounter another soldier ordering him to get back in place. At Bala's encouragement, Z declares that he doesn't like his place, causing the soldier and two of his friends to gang up on him. Fortunately Weaver intervenes and confronts the soldiers himself, instigating a colossal bar fight. Bala and her friends attempt to escape in the process, but when one of the friends calls out for Princess Bala, Z discovers Bala's true identity and chases after her. When he catches up with her, Z asks Bala when he can see her again. She replies never, and kisses him on the cheek before departing. A smitten Z gazes after her for a few seconds before receiving a punch himself.
The next day, Z spends the entire day fantasising about Bala, even dancing and singing during work, before returning to the worker bar to await her return. He's disappointed when she doesn't show, but receives an idea when the bartender mentions that the army would be presented before the royal family tomorrow. Late that night, Z sneaks into Weaver's sleeping compartment and proposes that they switch places for a day. Though intrigued at the opportunity to meet some worker girls, Weaver is aware of the penalty for impersonating a soldier, and attempts to dissuade Z, asking him what chance he would have with a princess. Z replies that he is well aware of his chances, but he has to try. With that, a reluctant Weaver complies.
The next day afterwards, Z successfully integrates himself in the army and partakes in the royal inspection, succeeding in getting a glimpse of Bala amongst the Queen and General Mandible. After Bala and her mother depart, Z is ordered to return to his place inside the army, where he meets a veteran soldier named Barbatus who instantly takes a liking to the 'rookie'. Z proceeds to witness Mandible declaring that the termite colony has mobilised, and that the army is about to be sent into battle. Before Z can do anything, the army is sent out the anthill. Stunned by this turn of events, Z learns from Barbatus that the termites are five times their size and shoot acid from their foreheads. Sympathetic to Z's terror, Barbatus promises to watch out for him.
When the army finally reaches the termite colony within a nearby rotten tree stump, they are ambushed by the enormous and ferocious termites. Horrified at the terrible battle occurring around him, Z is attacked from behind by a termite, but Barbatus intervenes and slays the monster, just as he had promised earlier. As Barbatus runs off to attack another termite, Z spots another termite approaching a group of soldiers from behind and attempts to warn them. In the process he alerts the termite to his presence, and he is forced to flee from the pursuing creature as it sprays acid at him. He runs into a small cave and falls through a hole as the termite is killed chasing him and falls on top, trapping him for the remainder of the battle.
By the time, Z manages to free himself, the battle has ended with no survivors. Z is appalled when he finds himself amongst a field of corpses, and quickly finds Barbatus, now merely a head after the battle, near death. Before dying, Barbatus tells Z not to follow orders his whole life and to think for himself.
Traumatized by his ordeal and deeply saddened by Barbatus's death, Z returns to the colony as the lone survivor. Treated as a war hero despite his protests, Z is brought before General Mandible. Unknown to Z, Mandible had sent all the soldiers, who had been loyal to the queen, to their deaths as part of his secret plan to rebuild the colony in his own image, and for this reason is secretly furious that there is a survivor. Mandible takes Z to the balcony, where Z sees a huge audience cheering for him. The praise goes to his head, but Z is only able to wave a few times before Mandible takes him back inside for a meeting with the Queen. Inside the throne room, Z is thrilled to find Princess Bala sitting next to the Queen, and during the meeting he attempts to impress her and her mother with false bravado. When Bala begins to suspect that she had seen Z before, he makes her recognize him by uttering, "Yowch." This backfires when Bala declares that he was the "guy from the bar".
The Queen and Mandible instantly become curious as to why Bala was at a bar, and in her attempts to explain, Bala reveals that Z is in fact a worker. Furious that a worker danced with his fiancée, Mandible orders his soldiers to arrest Z. Panicking, Z grabs Bala and attempts to hide behind her, causing the Queen to cry that he is taking her hostage. In his panic, Z at first denies this but then starts using Bala as a hostage for real. Bala angrily starts fighting back, and in their scuffle fall down the trash chute and end up flying out the side of the anthill.
Almost immediately after they land in the dump, a group of soldiers emerge to retrieve Bala and arrest Z. However, a human child holding a magnifying glass appears and incinerates one of the soldiers with dangerously focused sunlight, causing the soldiers to flee while Bala and Z run from the beam and end up falling over a cliff. Once the magnifying glass disappears, Bala demands to know why Z was "stalking" her and Z retorts that she was the one who had chosen him. He is surprised and angered to learn that Bala had only chosen him because he was the 'most pathetic little bug in the joint', and instantly becomes less cordial to her. He climbs a plant to figure out their location, and in the process sees the monolith (a water fountain), the first in a series of landmarks the veteran soldier had told him to seek in order to find Insectopia. Now convinced that a better place existed, Z immediately begins his journey, abandoning Bala when she refuses to join him. After a frightening encounter with a praying mantis, Bala quickly changes her mind and joins Z in his quest. Unknown to Z, back in the colony his actions have inspired the workers to start making their own choices and begin a revolution.
After crossing the canyon (bicycle tracks) they reach the monolith. At this point, Bala requests that Z take her back to the colony. Still peeved over her treatment of him, Z rebuffs her, and in the argument that follows claims that his new life is better than digging, something Bala wouldn't understand as she had never done a day's labour. To his surprise, Bala tells him that as future queen she is exprected to give birth every ten seconds for the rest of her life. At that moment, they find the lake, and while drinking Bala admonishes Z for only thinking about himself. Z retorts that no-one ever looked out for him, just as a drop of water falls from the monolith and lands on him.
When the surface tension traps Z inside the water droplet, Bala quickly rushes to his aid. When striking the droplet with a stick doesn't work, Bala attempts to push the droplet off the leaf and in the process gets sucked into the droplet herself. Fortunately for the both of them, the droplet rolls off the lead and disintegrates on impact with the ground, after which Z thanks her for her help. Much to Bala's dismay, the incident has not quelled his desire to find Insectopia, and he almost immediately takes a leaf to use as a boat to cross the lake. When Bala is still reluctant, Z gently asks her if she really wanted to be married to Mandible, and assured her that there was a better place. Bala only complies when Z promises to take her back to the colony if they don't find Insectopia soon, and rejected his hand when he offers to help her onboard. As they cross the lake, Bala tells Z that she hopes he knows what he's doing. Z replies that he does too. They reach the other side and rest for the night.
The next morning, Bala wakes up and discovers the land of red and white (a picnic blanket laden with food). Mistaking the blanket for Insectopia, Z attempts to take a bite out of a sandwich, only to walk face first into the plastic wrapping. As they stand puzzled, two wasps named Chip and Muffy make their appearance, and Z asks them how to get in to the food. He and Bala are received with non-malicious condescending remarks from the well-meaning flying insects. After the wife and husband begin exchanging mushy declarations of love, the disgusted Z and Bala prepare to leave, just as a fly swat suddenly slams down on the mat. While the small ants escape death, Muffy is killed, much to her husband's devastation. Z and Bala barely have time to mourn before a giant human foot steps down on the blanket. Bala becomes trapped in a lump of chewing gum stuck to the bottom of the trainer, and in his attempts to rescue her Z climbs up on the second giant human foot, then leaps across onto the other foot's shoelace. The lace then swings up into the gum, and Z becomes trapped alongside Bala. Just as they begin to think that this is it, the giant human prizes the bit of gum off with a coin with Abraham Lincoln on it (to which it is implied in this scene that Z thinks Abraham Lincoln is what is stepping on him and Bala) and tosses it near a pair of overflowing trash cans.
Blaming himself for what had happened to Bala, Z berates himself as he frees himself from the gum and pulls out Bala, and decides to abandon his quest and take her back to the colony. At that moment, Bala brings to his attention the trash cans they landed next to, a bustling city of insects: Insectopia.
Overjoyed, Z takes Bala into the city and they enjoy a fun-filled day of earthworm roller coaster rides, reflective crisp packets serving as funny mirrors and canal rides along a river of filthy water. During the day, Bala begins to return Z's feelings, much to his delight. That evening, they sit around a campfire (a glowing match) along with other insects. Z tells her about Barbatus's death, and sadly laments that the soldier had not for once in his life thought for himself. Surprised and saddened by the story, Bala confesses that she never knew the colony's society was like that, and that up in the palace they let Mandible make all the decisions. In the conversation that follows, they grow closer, and nearly kiss before several of the insects tell Z to collect some more firewood. Disgruntled at the interruption, Z leaves the campsite to complete the task. While he is gone, Colonel Cutter, Mandible's right hand man, arrives to take Bala back to the colony, and Z witnesses him fly off with her. He resolves to go back for her, and unexpectedly receives help from Chip, now an alcoholic to cope with the loss of his wife. Knowing that it's what his compassionate wife would want, Chip flies Z back to the colony.
Once they return to the colony, Z thanks Chip before rushing inside. While he was gone, Mandible managed to quell the rebellion, resulting in the megatunnel being constructed to the point of near completion, and the tunnel opening ceremony is occurring. As a result, Z is able to slip past the guards by pretending to be making his way to said ceremony, eventually reaching Mandible's office where Bala has been imprisoned. As the entrance is blocked by guards, Z goes out a nearby window and makes his way along the exterior of the building, reaching the office window just as Bala tosses a chair through it to make her own escape. Overjoyed that Z had come back for her, Bala pulls Z inside and kisses him. Z prepares to take Bala out the colony, but Bala tells him that they can't leave: when she was brought back to the colony, she discovered that Mandible has sinister ulterior motives, and believes that he will attempt to kill her mother. When examining the schematics of the megatunnel, Z discovers to his horror that Mandible plans to seal the queen and all the worker ants in the tunnel, where they will drown once the diggers break through to the lake where the megatunnel leads to.
Z and Bala quickly leave the office and rush down into the megatunnel, making it inside just as the soldiers seal up all the exits. While Bala runs to her mother to warn her, Z runs into the tunnel to stop the diggers from breaking through. When he reaches the end, he reunites with Weaver and Azteca and yells at the diggers to stop. Despite Z's warnings, the foreman is determined to follow orders, and he grabs a pick and strikes it into the wall. It is this final blow which sends the water crashing through, and Z and the others flee into the main tunnel, and the rapidly rising water traps all the workers on a hill in the middle of the tunnel. Spotting several workers helping each other onto a branch, Z gets an idea. As Weaver holds him up on his shoulders, Z yells for everyone to listen. The workers almost immediately recognise Z. Z quickly tells the workers to make a ladder out of ants to reach the ceiling, and they set to work at once. Bala is forced to separate from Z in order to help her aged mother, and the two share a loving embrace before Bala climbs up the tower with the queen, while Z remains at the base with Weaver and Azteca to serve as support.
By the time the water is up to their chests, the tower of ants has fully formed, but is a couple of ants short of the ceiling. While Weaver uses all his strength to hold up the tower, Z and Azteca climb up to the top, and Z succeeds in reaching the ceiling, and quickly claws through to the surface where Mandible is giving a speech about his vision to his soldiers. Z's hand breaks through the surface, causing a collapse which forms a huge hole in the ground. Mandible is shocked and furious when he recognises Z, and grabs a spear. Barely clinging to the edge, Z is helpless as Mandible raises his spear to kill him, but is suddenly punched away from him by Cutter, who has grown tired of the general's cruelty. Cutter helps Z up from the hole, but an enraged Mandible snaps and charges at the colonel, only for Z to push Cutter out the way at the last second. Mandible runs into Z and the two of them fall back into the megatunnel. While Mandible is killed falling on an exposed tree root, Z falls into the water and is knocked unconscious by the impact.
Cutter quickly flies down and retrieves Z while the soldiers pull the workers to safety, but Z is motionless when the colonel brings him back up. A devastated Bala pleads for him to wake up, before getting the idea to use mouth to mouth. Z coughs and revives. On awakening, Z utters 'yowch', and he and Bala kiss.
He and Bala proceed to be regaled as heroes, and are hoisted up on the colony's shoulders. As the camera pans out, Z states through narration that the colony was rebuilt better than before, he and Bala plan on marrying and starting a family, and that he found his place right back where had started, except that he had chose it.
Personality & Traits
Z is a neurotic ant who takes therapy sessions in order to deal with his many issues, such as parental abandonment (his father left him when he was just a larvae). However, beneath his quirkiness is a courageous heart and an intelligent mind: he has risked his life more than once in order to save Princess Bala and his friends, and led the entire colony in creating an enormous tower made of ants in order to escape a flooding tunnel. The song that he only sings is "Almost Like Being In Love" when he swoons while working in a groovy style after the scene that he has been knocked off.
- Woody Allen hated doing the film mainly because the producers had him record all of his lines in 5 days and even had him redo some of the lines.
- Z is similar to Flik from A Bug's Life as both are ants and both are love with and later started a relationship with the princess of their colony (Bala and Princess Atta).
- Z's middle name is Marion.
- Z is the first DreamWorks Animation animal character to be a protagonist, followed by Ginger from Chicken Run.
- Tom Cruise, Matthew Broderick, Scott Baio, James Franco and Thomas Gibson were considered for the role of Z.