There are mice and there are Mice. We won't mention any names, but some are shallow, celebrity showboats with their own theme parks, trophy moustresses and merchandising deals. Others are fed to snakes at the zoo or give their lives for science. Then there is the dashing cheese lover at the heart of "Stuart Little."
The hero of this charming live-action adaptation of the E.B. White children's classic is right up there with Hamster, Prince of Denmark. About the only complaint is that director Rob Minkoff ("The Lion King") and the movie's writers, M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") and newcomer Greg Brooker, shortchange Stuart's human co-stars.
The story diverges from White's endearing original, in which Stuart is born into a human family. Here, the film gets underway when Mr. and Mrs. Little--portrayed with cheery eccentricity by Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis--decide to adopt a little brother for their son, George ("Jerry Maguire's" Jonathan Lipnicki).
When they return from the adoption agency with Stuart (a digital mouse voiced by a plucky Michael J. Fox), George is understandably upset as well as jealous of his attention-grabbing rodential sibling.
The family cat, Snowbell (voice by the witheringly funny Nathan Lane), mistakes Stuart for a kitty canape but reluctantly spits him out when Mr. Little insists. "Stuart is family, and we don't eat family members," the father lectures.
"They go for a son and come back with a mouse. I need a drink," growls Snowbell, who is so infuriated by this ludicrous turn of events that he arranges to have Stuart kidnapped by a feline mobster, Smokey (voice by Chazz Palminteri), and his gang of alley cats. A lowlife mouse (Bruno Kirby) and his main squeak (Jennifer Tilly) help snatch Stuart from his beloved new home.
Will Stuart ever find his way back to the Littles' cozy brownstone on Fifth Avenue? Will Snowbell overcome his prejudices against vermin? And what about Smokey--will he get his comeuppance? The final act, replete with chase scenes, not only answers all of these questions and more but also forcefully empowers small fry. If a three-inch mouse can persevere and win in an outsize world, why not a child?
There are no animatronics or real mice at play here. Stuart, entirely computer-generated, blends into his real-life surroundings without a glitch. He's so real that it's almost scary. The feline roles are played by actual cats, who have all the best lines.
Disappointingly, the filmmakers didn't include more scenes with the adorable Lipnicki, especially in the last act, when the game of cat-and-mouse runs on a bit too long.
"Stuart Little" is a technological triumph for animation supervisor Henry F. Anderson III, a digital pioneer best known for the Coca-Cola polar bears. But the tale is propelled by its characters and buoyed by the film's warm and loving spirit. (Snowbell would probably bury this review in the litter box if he read that.)
Stuart Little (92 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG, probably for the mousenapping.