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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Stuart Little (review)

Mouse in the House

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for mice. They’re so tiny and delicate and quiet, harmless little creatures, really. I spotted a mouse in my dorm room at NYU — this is many years ago — and the dorm management put out glue traps to catch it. I couldn’t bear the thought, though, of awakening one night to mousy squeals when it got stuck, so I took the traps up. It couldn’t possibly eat much, I figured, and it repaid me by being quite a respectful roommate: If it ever returned, I never saw it.

Needless to say, as a child I loved E.B. White’s book Stuart Little, about a mouse who lives with a human family, and so I was pretty eagerly looking forward to the movie adaptation. And while it’s not the kind of movie that I’m likely to return to again and again — it doesn’t have the kind of subtext that allows adults to appreciate it on multiple levels, as some movies aimed toward kids do — it certainly offers a sweet, amiable moviegoing experience, and parents who treat their children to it are unlikely to find themselves bored with it.
“It’s today! It’s today!” young George Little (Jonathan Lipnicki: Jerry Maguire) screams excitedly as Stuart Little opens: It’s the day his parents (Geena Davis, and Hugh Laurie: The Borrowers) are going to adopt his new brother. George is less than impressed, however, to discover that his new sibling is a mouse named Stuart (the voice of Michael J. Fox) — he was hoping for someone to play baseball with, not someone who was in constant danger of being stepped on. Mr. and Mrs. Little, however, are madly in love with their new child. At New York City Public Orphanage No. 3, they had found themselves overwhelmed by all the wonderful children up for adoption, but they were instantly charmed by Stuart’s self-deprecation and impeccable manners.

Though his new parents are everything any child could wish for, Stuart must win over both George and the family cat, a huge white Persian named Snowbell (the voice of Nathan Lane, who also found a mouse as a nemesis in Mouse Hunt), who is appalled by the prospect of being pet to a rodent. Stuart’s adventures — which invariably will ensure he becomes a fully accepted member of the Little family — are chock full of good lessons for kids to learn: Families come in all varieties and sizes, and adopted children can be a vital part of them; we may have to change our expectations of people (or mice) who are different from the norm, but that can lead to all sorts of wonderful discoveries about ourselves as well as others. And in our post-Columbine society, in which even teachers and parents — who are supposed to be nurturing all children, not just the “normal” ones — are singling out as freaks and potential killers kids who don’t fit the popular, football-playing, pom-pom-waving, pep-club norm, the latter is something adults need to hear, as well.

There’s nothing lecturing about Stuart Little, though: Lots of sugar helps the medicine go down, and I mean that in the best way. Though it never quite reaches the fantastical remove from reality that a movie like Babe: Pig in the City does, Stuart Little inhabits its own dreamy realm. The Littles — he with his bowties and she with her pedal pushers and plaid shirts — are not exactly Dick Van Dyke Show throwbacks, but they have an innocence and genuineness that is both unreal and also like the best memories we all have (or should have) of our parents. Hugh Laurie (who, as far as I’m concerned, walks on water) and Geena Davis hit exactly the right notes of lightness and earnestness — they believe in Stuart, which can’t be said of every actor who must perform with a special effect as a costar.

Stuart, the special effect, it must be said, is totally adorable, and Michael J. Fox breathes real life into him, making him sad, confused, and happy all at once. Jonathan Lipnicki is also really cute without being unrealistically precocious, as children in movies tend to be — though I did expect to hear him say, “Did you know the human mouse weighs eight ounces?” at least once.

From the perfectly homey Little house, snuggled between two huge apartment buildings on a fantasy New York City street, to the opening song in which Lyle Lovett sings about walking tall, to the action sequences starring Stuart and model boats and cars that play like parodies of the miniature special-effects techniques of older movies, this is a warm, silly, and exciting little flick. Take a kid and enjoy.


MPAA: rated PG for brief language

viewed at a public multiplex screening

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