Stuart Little (1999)
Directed by Rob Minkoff
Cast: Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, Jeffrey Jones, Connie Ray, Allyce Beasley, Brian Doyle-Murray, Estelle Getty, Julia Sweeney, Dabney Coleman, Harry Gould, Patrick O'Brien. Voices: Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane, Chazz Palminteri, Jennifer Tilly, Stan Freberg, Steve Zahn, Jim Doughan, David Alan Grier, Bruno Kirby.
1999 85 minutes
Rated: (for the life of me, I have no idea why).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 17, 1999.
Based on the charming children's book by E.B. White, "Stuart Little" is one of the most joyless family films in a long time. Not the most annoying, or the most sloppy, or even the most problematic, but simply joyless in every aspect, from its acting to its storytelling to its screenplay. You sit there, watching aimlessly at the screen, and can't help but recall far superior films that were very similar in their approach (1993's "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" comes to mind), but at least had a little substance to their characters and situations. The movie clocks in at a swift 85 minutes--thank goodness for small favors, but I wish the favor had been bigger (not that I'm greedy or anything).
For reasons unknown, unless they are suffering from some sort of mental or psychological disorder, Mr. and Mrs. Little (Hugh Laurie, Geena Davis) visit an orphanage one day and decide out of the blue that they'd rather adopt Stuart, the sweet orphan mouse (voiced by Michael J. Fox), in place of a human child. The Little's young son George (Jonathan Lipnicki) is, at first, disappointed in his new brother, but finally becomes close friends with him until he learns it doesn't matter what species something is, as long as you love them and they love you. Before I go any further, let me take this time to make an aside:
[Since Mr. and Mrs. Little, no doubt, grew up in the '60s and early '70s, it makes perfect sense that they, perhaps, experimented with a few too many mind-altering substances in the past.]
The plot thickens when the house cat Snowbell (voiced by Nathan Lane) becomes jealous of Stuart, a lower life form, being treated as a family member, while he is looked upon as nothing more than a pet. With the help of a group of stray cats in the Manhattan area, Snowbell devises a plan to hire two other mice to pose as Stuart's long-lost parents so Stuart will have to part with the Little's, and he can once again garner all the attention.
If my criticism about Mr. and Mrs. Little seems overly harsh, particularly for a family film, let me also say that there is no excuse for "Stuart Little" to be as hopelessly banal and empty-headed as it is. My nitpicking about the parent characters is (1) due to the obvious idiocy of the screenplay, by M. Night Shyamalan (of "The Sixth Sense" fame!) and Greg Booker; and (2) results from the boredom that the picture provides. The writing, surprisingly, does not offer one witty line in its whole running time, and I believe I lightly, and briefly, laughed once. Don't ask me what it was I laughed at; I only recollect doing it.
Some might argue that certain movies are for children and no one else, but I, nonetheless, firmly stick behind my theory that the only really worthwhile "family films" are those that the entire family will enjoy and be satisfied with. Why else do you think "The Wizard of Oz" and "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" are classics, and why else will "Stuart Little" be destined to join the endless line of ho-hum garbage that litters the video store shelves? The aforementioned "Homeward Bound," and even 1995's "Babe," which also took the idea of presenting animal characters that could talk, were successful because they had a heart and a mind to go along with the children-targeted stuff. In other words, the makers of those films did not hold their audiences in contempt, spitting out half-baked ideas that couldn't have even looked good on paper. With "Stuart Little," that is what you get.
There's no need to mention any of the actors that were unfortunate enough to find themselves trapped in this dead zone of entertainment, but I will pinpoint the top-billed thesp, and take this time to speak to her directly: Geena, honey, in 1989, when you won that Academy Award for "The Accidental Tourist," could you have possibly predicted that ten years later you would be the host of a disastrous Oscar Pre-Show, and the star of a movie called "Stuart Little?" And in 1991, when you came out with the superb road movie, "Thelma and Louise," did you really have 1995's godawful "Cutthroat Island" on your career plan? For someone who only works once or twice every two years, you sure don't know how to choose projects, do you? Maybe it is not Mrs. Little, but you yourself that took the drugs in the '60s or '70s. LSD has been known to have side effects many years down the road, so it is quite feasible.
Smaller kids may enjoy "Stuart Little," but I can't imagine anyone else coming away from this film happy. While only loosely based on E.B. White's book, perhaps director Rob Minkoff should have chosen to adapt White's more personal and sweet "Charlotte's Web" into a live-action movie. On second thought, maybe not. With the subpar level of filmmaking displayed here, they would have easily found some way to turn "Charlotte's Web" into a figurative train wreck, too.
©1999 by Dustin Putman