Stuart Little starring Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, and the voices
of Michael J. Fox, Jennifer Tilly, Nathan Lane & Chazz Palminteri. Directed by Rob Minkoff.
DVD Columbia Tristar CVR28809, £19.99
1.85-1 anamorphically enhanced, Dolby Digital. Release date 27 November, also available simultaneously on video rental and retail.
A slightly different version of this review appears in Gary Dalkin's regular DVD review
column in Matrix, the Newsletter of the
British Science Fiction Association.
Depending on whether you prefer your animated mice to be more like Mickey or Tom will
colour how you react to Stuart Little. Stuart is the kind of mouse who makes the Disney
icon look like The Terminator incarnate. He is definitely not for fans of The Itchy and
Scratchy Show. He is though, very popular with young children, the clear market for this film.
This is not one of those small-talking-people movies like The Borrowers which can be enjoyed by
audiences of any age, or resourceful rodent movies like Mousehunt which are perhaps better
appreciated by an adult audience; for although Stuart is small and wears clothes and talks
like The Borrowers, and is a mouse and is resourceful like the hero of Mousehunt he is also an
irritating little twerp saddled with an unhealthily large dose of all-American syrup. The film has
been a huge hit, and obviously lots of small people liked it because as the PR states, the film
sold 5.2 million copies on video in its first five days on retail release in the USA.
Yet this is a very slight tale. A vaguely 1940's upper-middle class New York family
(the film is set in a fantasy no-time-land rather like The Borrowers and is adapted
from a novel first published in 1945) adopt a mouse, the titular hero. As voiced by
Michael J. Fox he is cuteness personified. Quite rightly the household cat, a
suffering anti-hero burdened with the moniker Snowbell (splendidly voiced by Nathan Lane
from Mousehunt), tries to eat Stuart the moment he sees him. What plot there is revolves
around Stuart bonding with his human brother (Jonathan Lipnicki), a disgustingly cute moppet
from the Culkin/Temple school of child stars, wondering about his real family, and trying
to avoid Snowbell's mouse-disposal schemes. Anyone over the age of 7 will almost certainly
side with the feline, and thereby regard the film as a dark tragedy. The moment when the
film-maker's twist Snowbell's character out of any plausible feline shape to save the mouse's
day is shameless.
That the whole thing is unbelievable should perhaps, accepting the nature of the film, give
us little cause for concern, but then this is an M. Night Shyamalan screenplay, so maybe it
is just inevitable that it is as senseless, even on its own terms, as his The Sixth Sense.
Even for a fairytale the 'logic' is arbitrary. Just for a moment ponder why the mouse wears
clothes and can talk to both cats and humans, but while the cats can talk to each other as
well as the mouse (that remember, can talk to humans), these cats neither wear clothes nor
talk to humans. The saving grace of the film is that it is very short, on DVD coming in at
just 75 minutes plus 6 minutes of end credits. There is a fair set piece of a boat race,
but one of the bonus features shows the storyboards detailing just how much more ambitious
and imaginative this sequence was intended to be before the moneymen nixed the idea. What
is in the movie is a pale shadow of the original conception. The final showdown with Stuart
and a gang of cats in Central Park in the dark is very well done, though there is still some
way to go before we see a completely convincing computer-generated moggy.
If the film is thin stuff, the DVD offers a lot of breadth if not much depth. There are
five-minutes worth of scenes which were deleted for good reason, in that they add nothing
to the storytelling. Though one does flesh out the role of the parents, Geena Davis and
Hugh Laurie. There is an 'interactive featurette' on the digital animation, but all the
interactive part means is that the footage has been broken down into 24 irritatingly short
sections, after each of which one has to use the remote to get to the next. Also included
is a quiz game for children, and a rather nice idea, a read-along storybook, with the option
to have the text read by Michael J. Fox.
There are five songs credited on the end titles, two of which are performed over the end
titles and are utterly out-of-keeping with the feel of the film. Among the special features
are three music videos. One for a Brian Setzer rock 'n' roll number which does at least appear,
if very briefly in the body of the main feature, one for a ballad by Trisha Yearwood which has
been product-placed on the end title of the movie and has nothing to do with Stuart Little
either in style or content. And finally, one by Spice Girl bimbo-clones R-Angels, which
doesn't appear anywhere at all in the feature film and is therefore completely irrelevant,
seemingly existing to promote one of those spurious 'music from and inspired by' 'soundtrack' albums.
It is of course dreadful rubbish. It is also rather disturbing that, as appended to a film aimed
at very young children that video wholeheartedly endorses the 'use' of a ouija board. Whatever
one thinks about the spiritual reality behind these things, there is ample evidence of the
psychological damage experiments with such 'games' have caused. Given this concentration on
irrelevant music, it is a shame an isolated track of Alan (Mousehunt) Silvestri's musical score -
part sub-John Williams schmaltz, part infectiously catchy sub-Gershwin orchestral jazz - was not
included. All that said, the real meat of the bonus features comes in the form of two commentary
tracks, one from the director and animation supervisor, one from the visual effects team.
These are actually interesting even if you don't like the film, particularly for those eager
for every last scrap of information regarding the technical aspects of modern fantasy movie-making.
The anamorphically enhanced 1.85-1 picture is outstanding, and the Dolby Digital sound is very
precise and clear. Undeniably, this DVD is a class act with enough special features (there are
others I haven't mentioned, including some not included on the review DVD I was sent) to make
it good value for anyone who likes the movie. While I will cheerfully admit that I didn't like
the film, plenty of people disagree.
Gary S. Dalkin
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