Stuart Little 2

on July 19, 2002 by Kim Williamson
   This time out, the little white mouse known as Stuart seems redesigned just a bit: The eyes are turned a tad more frontward, the top of his head a hair curvier. Likewise, the sequel itself seems more focused on delivering an amiable tale, and its more-head-room lead character looks even smarter and cuter than before. At 78 minutes as breezy as the concluding flying-machine exploits over New York's Central Park engineered by an aeronautic Stuart to again, as in the longer original 1999 film, save himself from a predator and return to his adoptive family, "Stuart Little 2" is an amusing, even joyful second take on E.B. White's beloved children's book.

   In the first film, the theme was finding family, with the Littles (Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie, who reprise) adopting Stuart from an orphanage to live with them and their young son George ("Like Mike's" Jonathan Lipnicki, also returning). In "Stuart Little 2," the theme is finding friends; as the growing George hangs out with the bigger kids, a lonesome Stuart meets -- and, a bit oddly, develops a crush on -- a bird named Margalo (voiced by, in what might be called vocal typecasting, the always chirpy-throated Melanie Griffith). And thus the adventure begins: Although Margalo appears to be fleeing from the terrible Falcon ("Hercules'" James Woods, with similar Hades intonations) when Stuart chances to rescue her, the truth is Margalo steals for the scoundrel, as part of an unexplained diamond fencing operation; when under cover of darkness Margalo exits the Little household with the Missus' wedding ring, Stuart believes the Falcon must have taken her, and so ventures off to save his friend.

   In the original, director Rob Minkoff ("The Lion King") -- despite a script co-written by the always child-centered M. Night Shyamalan ("Wide Awake," "The Sixth Sense") -- sometimes seemed to be making a "film," as opposed to a movie for children; here, with a story by producer Douglas Wick and script by Bruce Joel Rubin (the adult-leaning "Deep Impact" and "Jacob's Ladder"), paradoxically the result, though no deeper, is more sweetly tuned for the tot set. (There are nods to the parental types, who will likely be just as enchanted here, such as a scene in which Stuart and Margalo watch TV, and what's showing is Hitchcock's the-lady-is-not-what-she-seems "Vertigo.") Also in the "more" category are the antics of Snowbell, the prissy Persian cat; whereas before his dealings with the bite-sized Stuart were decidedly sour, and the woe-is-me whinings only fitfully appearing, the Nathan Lane-voiced animal here is almost remade, with comic lines that are significantly funnier and in greater abundance, even as his friendship with the intrepid mouse should prove much more comfortable for younger moviegoers.

   The action scenes in "Stuart Little" were earthbound -- Stuart piloted a little boat, he raced his car through the park. In "Stuart Little 2," the action takes to the skies. Similarly, the combined talents onscreen and behind the camera, including Alan Silvestri with a heartening score, production designer Bill Brzeski and art director Shepherd Frankel with a gorgeous palette, and the folks at Sony Pictures Imageworks with more-than-lifelike digital efforts, have taken the tale of Stuart Little to new heights. Starring Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and Jonathan Lipnicki. Voices by Michael J. Fox, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Lane, James Woods and Steve Zahn. Directed by Rob Minkoff. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin. Produced by Lucy Fisher and Douglas Wick. A Columbia release. Live-action/animation. Rated PG for brief mild language. Running time: 78 min

Tags: Starring Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, voices by Michael J. Fox, Melanie Griffith, Nathan Lane, James Woods and Steve Zahn. Directed by Rob Minkoff. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin, Produced by Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick, Columbia, Live-action, animation

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