Film Review: Stuart Little
by Karl Bowman and Jonathan Walker

What do you get when you cross Annie with Babe? A quirky story about a family that adopts a mouse as a son.

What do you get when you cross Annie with Babe? Stuart Little-a movie about an orphaned mouse who talks. There are striking similarities between Stuart Little and these other movies. Like Babe, Stuart Little is a fairy tale featuring talking animals and themes that deal with fitting into a foreign situation. Like the orphan Annie, Stuart desires a family more than anything and has an indomitable optimism. And more importantly, just like these popular movies, Stuart Little succeeds in entertaining the entire family.

As Mr. and Mrs. Little (Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis) send their only child George (Jonathan Lipnicki) off to school, they are terribly excited. Today they will be adopting another child and George makes it very clear that he wants a little brother. When the Littles arrive at the orphanage, the number of good kids from which they must choose overwhelms them. Stuart, a young mouse (voiced by Michael J. Fox) and a mainstay at the orphanage, helps them identify the children and their qualities. But Mr. and Mrs. Little fall in love with Stuart instead. Although it is rare for humans to adopt outside their own species, they convince Ms. Keeper (Julia Sweeney) to allow them to adopt Stuart.

The problems begin when they introduce George to his new brother. How can he play catch, ride a bike, or do anything at all with a tiny mouse? He can’t even lift a ball! The Littles are good-hearted people, though, and even the extended family accepts Stuart with great love. However, Snowbell, the family cat (voiced by Nathan Lane), smarts at the thought of a mouse having a pet cat and the ruffian alley cats agree that such a perversion of nature must be reversed.

The filmmakers, including Rob Minkoff, the co-director of The Lion King, do a superb job of creating a fantastic fairy tale tone-the only tone that would be successful. The characters in the story walk a fine line between flatly acknowledging the fact that Stuart is a mouse, not a boy, but not being at all shocked by the fact that he talks, wears clothes, and is adopted as a member of the family (not as a pet).

The design of the movie is fun and never takes itself seriously. For example, the Little home is brightly colored, quaint, and stuck between two high rises, emphasizing a “little” oasis of family life in an enormous, bustling city.

The Littles are delightfully played by Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis as loving people who are just eccentric enough to adopt a mouse as a son. The extended family is also a quirky mix of great character actors. The script by The Sixth Sense writer, M. Night Shyamalan, is loosely based on E.B. White’s book but features interesting twists and turns and contains a core of good verbal jokes.

The visual effects are incredible-a fully functioning computer-generated character interacting with real life actors. Additionally, you will be impressed by the detail of Stuart’s fur, the textures and movement of his clothing, and the action sequences involving real cats.

So much of Stuart Little clearly appeals to children: the cute mouse, the good people, the fun action, and a pace that does not dwell on anything too long. Stuart may not have as much subtlety as Babe, but it has plenty to hold an adult’s interest. For example, Nathan Lane is extremely entertaining as a prim and proper house cat caught in the brutality of street life. He interacts with alley cats that have character and sophistication in their voices and reactions.

Beyond the action, the word-play, and the likeable, quirky characters, Stuart Little is about family and how members of a family take care of each other. At the climactic moment, Stuart points out what it really means to be a part of a family: “You don’t have to look alike to be a family… You don’t even have to like each other. Look at Snowbell, he hates me and still he’s trying to save me… And that is what a family is all about.”

The fantastical premise of a family adopting a mouse effectively conveys the occasionally significant challenge of accepting the differences in members of our own families. It can also be particularly valuable as a tool for explaining how an adopted child can belong in a family as much as a natural child. While we can glean these themes from the story, happily the movie doesn’t beat us over the head with them. Enjoy the story and then open a discussion with your children about what can be learned from Stuart, George, and Snowbell. You may be surprised at how much they understood when they were simply being entertained.

[The DVD version of the film comes loaded with extras: games, music videos, a storybook, audio commentaries by the filmmakers, deleted scenes, gag reels, and explanations of how they created Stuart digitally.]

2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.