admit this upfront: I didn't expect to like Stuart Little. It's been
fifteen years since I last read E.B. White's novel, upon which Rob Minkoff's new
film is based, and the book made no great impression on me even as a child. And
even if I'd adored the story in my youth, wasn't I too old to enjoy it now? A
movie about a plucky little mouse who dreams of finding love and acceptance
didn't exactly sound like an ideal night at the cinema to me.
Nor was I much
impressed with the trailer. The growing trend towards replacing actors with
computer-generated stand-ins is one I find a little alarming--the ghost of Jar
Jar Binks still looms large in my memory--and the previews, which feature an
inarguably CGI Stuart prancing around the screen, left me cold. So when the
lights in the theater went down, I took a deep breath and braced myself for the
I felt the first
stirrings of hope during the opening credits, when the name 'M. Night Shyamalan'
appeared as the screenplay's co-writer. Shyamalan, the writer/director of this
year's brilliant psychological thriller, The Sixth Sense, is someone
whose work I respect immensely, and I relaxed a little. If anyone could save the
film, I was sure Shyamalan could.
takes place in a world very much like our own, with two substantial differences:
(a) all animals possess the gift of speech; and (b) animals and humans are
generally considered equals (it's not uncommon to see a family of mice hailing a
taxi cab, for example). Because of this sense of equality, Mr. and Mrs. Little (Geena
Davis and Hugh Laurie) don't find it odd when they encounter a polite, talkative
mouse named Stuart (voiced by
Michael J. Fox) in an orphanage.
The Little family has so much love in their household that they wish to adopt a
child to serve as brother and playmate to their son George (a very good
performance by young Jonathan Lipnicki). Although they had planned to adopt a
human child, Mr. and Mrs. Little are so charmed by Stuart that they pack him up
and take him home.
Upon arriving at the
Little household, Stuart is promptly eaten by the family cat, trapped inside the
washing machine, and subjected to all sorts of other demeaning but very funny
adventures. Indeed, the film is more a series of cinematic short stories than a
continuous narrative. Considering that the movie's target audience is young
children -- a group with notoriously short attention spans -- this is a wise
The stories are tied
together by the growing friendship between George and Stuart. George, initially
apprehensive about having a mouse for a little brother, eventually succumbs to
Stuart's bottomless charm and desire to fit in with the family. Indeed, Stuart
doesn't appear to realize that he's a mouse at all. (When a tough neighborhood
cat confronts Stuart, the cat is quite surprised that his prey doesn't flee.
"Why would I run?" asks the baffled new arrival.)
What astonishes me
about Stuart Little is not its aggressive cuteness (of which there is no
shortage) but its abundance of wit. Works geared towards children are often
insultingly banal, both to the parents who are forced to endure them and to the
kids themselves. (I remember reading several "young adult" books while
in elementary school and wondering why the author was "talking" to me
like I was an idiot.) I'm not sure whom to credit for the story's wit--the
screenwriters? The director? The actors, who convey the dialogue with such
natural rhythm that it sounds almost musical at times? No matter: I'm sure the
film's charm is a sum of all these parts, a feat made even more impressive by
the fact that Stuart himself was inserted into the footage weeks after the
actors had finished shooting their scenes and gone home.
A nice surprise for
me was the all-too-brief appearance by Dabney Coleman as the kindly neighborhood
doctor who attends to Stuart after his washing machine adventure. Coleman was
one of my favorite actors of the '80s, appearing in such films as Cloak and
Dagger, 9 to 5, and heck, just about any other movie you can think
of. Everyone knows his face, even if they don't know his name; William H. Macy
and Steve Buscemi are continuing this tradition today. I haven't seen Coleman on
the screen in quite some time, and I was pleased that he got the film's best
"Doctor, how is Stuart?"
DOCTOR (gravely solemn): "Well... he's very clean."
Unless one's heart is
made of stone, Stuart Little cannot possibly be described without
employing words like "charming," "adorable" and
"sweet." Portions of it are so cute it hurts, but many scenes made me
laugh out loud, and I must confess that I had a pleasant time. I find it very
interesting that I received more enjoyment from the film version of Stuart
Little at age twenty-six than I did from E.B. White's novel when I was in
elementary school. Is it because my tastes are changing, or because the movie is
simply so much fun? While I can't say for sure, I suspect it's the latter.