Viewing 1999's "Stuart Little
" for the first time since its release three years ago disclosed how brutally harsh my original scathing review was. The movie is often dreary, overlong, and more often lame than not, but it does have its small charms. In returning the entire lead cast members (both human and animal), director Rob Minkoff has seemed to learn from several of his earlier mistakes and corrected them. Running a perfect 78 minutes, "Stuart Little 2" is faster-paced, more visually creative, and a whole lot funnier than its predecessor
ever was. The film isn't wholly idealits very existence smells of desperate moneymaking schemes rather than out of necessitybut it is clever and sweet-natured enough to entertain both children and adults alike.
Since the last time
the Little family was visited, not much has changed. Parents Eleanor (Geena Davis) and Fredrick (Hugh Laurie), biological son George (Jonathan Lipnicki), and adopted mouse son Stuart (voiced by Michael J. Fox) live in peaceful harmony, with the only addition in the family being a new daughter, Martha (twins Anna and Ashley Hoelck). With George getting new playmates of his own at school and snubbing his rodent brother, Stuart unexpectedly finds a friend of his own when wounded little bird Margalo (voiced by Melanie Griffith) literally drops into his tiny car one day while being chased by a vicious falcon (voiced by James Woods). As Stuart grows close to Margalo and the family adopts her, what they don't know is that Margalo may not be exactly who she seems.
Despite a premise that wavers on the wafer-thin side, "Stuart Little 2" is a gorgeous triumph of cinematography (by Steven B. Poster), production design (by Bill Brzeski), and art direction (Shepherd Frankel), painting the sights of New York City with a classy, shiny, fairy tale sheen that suits the film beautifully. Meanwhile, the visual effects are stunning and, in their own way, every bit as plauditable as those in "Spider-Man
" and "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
." Turning the animal characters into talking beings whose mouths move with a convincing flawlessness must have been no easy feat, and the work put into it is astounding.
The gently winning friendship between Stuart and Margalo is at the heart of the film, and it is a bond between two different animals who are very much alike that the original film lacked. Michael J. Fox and Melanie Griffith do nice voice work bringing their characters to life, and the moral decisions Margalo must face in order to be true to herself and her feelings is genially orchestrated without seeming cloying or preachy. The Little's family housecat, Snowbell, is back too, and he steals the show with his witty feline repartee. Nathan Lane aids significantly through his always on-target line delivery.
The human cast ultimately do not fare as well, nor do they have much to do. Geena Davis (who hasn't made a non-"Stuart Little" picture since 1996's "The Long Kiss Goodnight") continues to slum it in a role that she is infinitely better than. Meanwhile, Hugh Laurie returns as the understanding Little father, and Jonathan Lipnicki, as son George, displays more charisma here, but less material to work with, than in 2002's "Like Mike
Unlike the original
, "Stuart Little 2" wisely does not overstay its welcome. Quick, painless, and undemanding, the film complaisantly whisks right by and is over before you have had time to pick out its varying missteps. Like a child's storybook, the Little's exists in a world of wide-eyed optimism and "happily ever after" endings. There is a refreshing absence of cynicism in "Stuart Little 2"quite a rarity, even in the family film market. Eventually, it wins you over.
©2002 by Dustin Putman