Friday December 17, 1999
Those who remember "Stuart Little" from the gentle, half-century-old children's book written by E.B. White may have trouble recognizing a creature with "the pleasant, shy manner of a mouse" in his new movie incarnation.
Voiced by Michael J. Fox with dialogue written by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") and Greg Brooker, Stuart has been reborn as a kind of show-biz mouse, a hipster whose ready line of patter would allow him to fit right in as a regular on "Letterman."
That's not all that's different between the children's classic and its movie version. Gone completely is Stuart's best friend and the moving force behind half the book, Margalo the bird. In her place is so much movie jeopardy, including car chases and animal attacks, that it makes you search for Jerry Bruckheimer's name among the producing credits. (It's not there.)
Paradoxically, however, the main problem with "Stuart Little" is not that it's too exciting but that it's too dull. Except for admiring the computer technology that allows a mouse to walk and talk on screen, reasons to see this film are few. It won't harm the tiny viewers who will be its main audience, but there's nothing very involving about this Rob Minkoff-directed effort either.
Perhaps deciding that White's original premise of a mouse actually born into a human family was too strange for a live-action film, this "Stuart Little" has Mr. and Mrs. Little (Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis) going to a Manhattan orphanage to adopt a brother for their son George ("Jerry Maguire's" Jonathan Lipnicki).
The Littles' attention is immediately caught by Stuart: He is, after all, a 3-inch white mouse who dresses nattily and reads "Little Women" in his spare time. While the orphanage's Mrs. Keeper (an amusing Julia Sweeney) cautions "adopting children outside a species, it rarely works," the Littles are determined to go ahead.
Even though the Littles live in a world where Stuart can speak to humans and animals can talk to each other, that doesn't mean that a relative this tiny is what young George had in mind. "Are you all nuts?" he yells at one point, justifiably irked. "He's not my brother, he's a mouse."
Even less pleased is Snowbell, the family cat. Voiced by Nathan Lane, Snowbell is so much a comedian that it would surprise no one to have him say, "Take my fur ball, please." In between cracks like "Read my furry pink lips" and "I can't believe this, I'm arguing with lunch," Snowbell complains to Smokey (Chazz Palminteri), the king of the alley cats, about having a mouse for a master, and a nefarious plan is hatched to put Stuart in his place.
What fun there is in "Stuart Little" is in enjoying how small and cute the little guy is in his computer-generated rendition. The closer the movie Stuart sticks to what's in the book--for instance, helping out during a toy sailboat race in Central Park--the more satisfying his adventures are.
Less engaging are Stuart's worries about his past ("I feel an empty space inside me" is how he puts it), a situation that somehow ends up in a high-powered chase through Central Park, with cats making wisecracks like "The mouse is sleeping with the fishes" and generally acting like feline versions of the Bowery Boys.
As far as can be determined, the main lesson "Stuart Little" is trying to teach is how good it is to be part of a family. "That's something families do," the Littles say, "they take care of each other." The other, unintentional lesson taught here is that it's easier to make a mouse talk than to come up with something interesting for him to say.
Stuart Little, 1999. PG for brief language. A Douglas Wick and Franklin/Waterman Production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Rob Minkoff. Producer Douglas Wick. Executive producers Jason Clark, Jeff Franklin, Steve Waterman. Screenplay M. Night Shyamalan and Greg Brooker, based on the novel by E.B. White. Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro. Editor Tom Finan. Costumes Joseph Porro. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Bill Brzeski. Art director Philip Toolin. Set decorator Clay A. Griffith. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes. Michael J. Fox as Stuart Little. Geena Davis as Mrs. Little. Hugh Laurie as Mr. Little. Jonathan Lipnicki as George. Julia Sweeney as Mrs. Keeper.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun