It’s tough being a little brother. It’s even tougher when your big brother-buddy leaves you behind to play with a new friend, and your mother is so overprotective she’s pushing you to pursue the “safer than sports” child amusements of painting and dancing. Besides, you can’t reach the sink to brush your teeth because you happen to be about the same size as a mouse — because you are a mouse.
The big screen welcomes back Stuart Little, after his 1999 computerized debut that pleasantly surprised audiences with polite-mannered, pragmatic, homespun dilemmas triggered by a fantastic little man — or mouse. In Stuart Little 2, director Rob Minkoff once again scurries us through the continuing travails of characters based on E.B. White’s novel (the man who wrote Charlotte’s Web). But the second time around, the littlest Little has lost some of his charm.
After being slighted by brother George (Jonathan Lipnicki) for a larger friend who can actually lift a basketball, Stuart (voice of Michael J. Fox) drives down the sidewalk in his toy convertible looking for the mythical silver lining that Daddy Little (Hugh Laurie) told him about. Out of the blue, Margalo (voice of Melanie Griffith), a yellow canary, drops into his car needing an immediate hero and friend. And so the story goes.
As in the first film, the Littles’ cat, Snowbell, gets all the best lines, accentuated by Nathan Lane’s biting intonations. When George and Stuart’s toddler sister, Martha, flops her oatmeal on the floor, Mrs. Little (Geena Davis) calls Snowbell into the room. When he sees why he’s been called, he complains, “Look what I’m reduced to. I’m a Handi Wipe with hair.”
But it doesn’t make up for the painfully predictable plot, mirrored by smaller versions of the whole. Like when Stuart tells Margalo, “Don’t worry about Snowbell. He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” and we proceed to watch Snowbell tormenting a fly. Davis and Laurie still have that Pleasantville air about them, but the first film backed it up with a contemporary understanding behind the wholesome Tupperware facade. Overall, Little 2’s characters are simplified and watered down, which is the wrong direction to go in a sequel.
Yes, talking mice are cute ... and talking cats and talking canaries. And it’s good to take your kids to movies with wholesome messages, such as “when something’s got you down, always look for the silver lining” and “big accomplishments are possible, no matter how small you are.” Stuart Little 2 has all of the above. Just don’t look for much more.
Anita Schmaltz writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].