E.B. White’s classic children’s story, Stuart Little, has long defied a successful screen adaptation, primarily because its main character is a walking, talking mouse. Now, with the latest in animation technology, Stuart is vibrantly brought to life. And yet, the movie runs astray when it diverges from the book’s original plotlines.
The film opens as the Littles (Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie) are preparing to adopt a new child. Their son George (Jonathan Lipnicki) extolls, “I want a little brother, not a big brother.”, but he isn’t prepared for the stature his new sibling: a mouse named Stuart (voiced by Michael J. Fox).
No one seems surprised that Stuart can talk, although the other animals in the house keep quiet when the humanfolk are around. In particular, the Little’s family pet, a cat named Snowbell (voiced by Nathan Lane), causes no end of trouble for Stuart (since he certainly doesn’t want it to be known that his new owner is a mouse).
Stuart faces the typical problems of childhood: struggling to fit in, trying to get along with his new sibling. But then, Stuart also has the whole species thing to deal with. He feels a deep yearning to find his true, mouse parents, despite his happiness with his new family.
The animation of the title character in Stuart Little is impressive. Although he never seems quite real, he never seems like a cartoon, either. The textures, from the rough fabric of his little clothes, to his bristly fur, are all sharply realistic…you feel like you can reach out and touch them on screen. And yet, there’s still something that separates Stuart from the live-action humans (and other animals) on screen.
However, the efforts to update Stuart for modern audiences aren’t quite as impressive. There’s nothing as unhip as trying too hard to be cool. The gratuitous flatulence jokes are regrettably a staple of today’s films. But Stuart Little’s acquisition of a subplot from Annie is just plain stale.
The actors lend a sour note to Stuart Little. Both Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis are very stiff when around Stuart…it’s hard not to notice that there’s not really a mouse there. Jonathan Lipnicki is still just as precocious as in Jerry Maguire, but it seems odd that he wouldn’t see a talking rodent as a cool sibling. Michael J. Fox’s voice just doesn’t seem to fit a mouse, but Nathan Lane is delightful as Snowbell the cat.
In the end, Stuart is, well, just gosh-darn cute. And that describes most of this movie. It’s a nice enough film, but nothing particularly memorable.