FILM REVIEW: STUART LITTLE 2
By Chris Jones
Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
In the three years since E.B. White's cheery, sweater-clad mouse first made his wobbly transition to the big screen, the forces behind "Stuart Little" have discovered how to give their computer-generated rodent a palpable soul.
Perhaps it's because director Rob Minkoff was stung by the charge that the original cinematic Little had no more heart than a frog in a beer commercial. Maybe it's just that Bruce Joel Rubin ("Ghost") wrote a much wittier and more intelligent screenplay for "Stuart Little 2" than the awkward first effort penned by M. Night Shyamalan and Greg Brooker. And it could be that we've all finally gotten over the inevitable shock of seeing the commercial modernization of White's beloved 1945 children's classic.
But it's also true that Michael J. Fox, who voices the diminutive ball of fuzz, has had an emotionally resonant three years. His work this time around - his appealing voice breaking and falling in waves of intense feeling - has a depth that goes beyond the usual celebrity turn in animated summer features. And as you watch one close-up after another of Stuart's tiny programmed visage going through a veritable orgy of emotional crises, it quickly becomes clear that the top priority here was make 'em care. This distressing economic era is not a time to get audiences to embrace the merits of technology with their popcorn; we're looking for a realistic mouse and a warm, comforting family of Littles. Especially in a movie set in Manhattan, the less things have changed, the better.
Well, aside from reaching unreformable cynics or E.B. White-loving purists, mission accomplished. "Stuart Little 2" is a warm, witty, consistently funny family movie with a sweet message about loving yourself, be you a mouse or whatever. Thanks to the ever-caustic Nathan Lane as the self-serving family kitty (like all family kitties) and Melanie Griffith (who knows a thing or two about coming back from crises) as the initially duplicitous bird, Margalo, the film seems to have its whiskers sufficiently dipped in truth, coming off as honest, earnest and worthwhile.
This time around, Rubin doesn't need to waste time explaining how Stuart ended up in a regular domestic household run by Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie, and why no one finds it strange that people can talk to birds and have mice as kids. Indeed, the convention that everyone can see and understand Stuart actually frees the movie from the usual talking-animal movie tropes in which people are forever asking someone to whom they are yakking. In Rubin's world, the Littles, of all shapes and sizes, are gently overripe and fantastical, but they're also a lovable and strangely comforting ideal.
"Stuart Little 2"
Directed and executive produced by Rob Minkoff; screenplay and story by Bruce Joel Rubin; produced and story by Douglas Wick; produced by Lucy Fisher, original book by E. B. White; executive-produced by Jeff Franklin, Steve Waterman, Gail Lyon, Jason Clark; photographed by Steven Poster; production designed by Bill Brzeski; edited by Priscilla Nedd Friendly. A Columbia Pictures release; opens Friday, July 19. Running time: 1:12. MPAA rating: PG (brief mild language).
Stuart Little - (voice of) Michael J. Fox
Mrs. Little - Geena Davis
Mr. Little - Hugh Laurie
George Little - Jonathan Lipnicki
Snowbell - (voice of) Nathan Lane
Margalo - (voice of) Melanie Griffith
Falcon - (voice of) James Woods
Monty - (voice of) Steve Zahn