Stuart Little (1999)


Stuart Little (1999)

Rated: Rated PG for brief language

Length:  84 min.

Age: 5 and up.    Commonsense Media sez: 6 +

Scary Factor: Stuart in the washing machine as water is filling up; chased by cat several times; two major chases from alley cats in park

Intense: concept of getting mafia-like cats to rub him out (“scratch him out”); police station conversation about killing sprees and grisly crime photos; alley cats menace a lot but don’t get very close; alley cats dispatched in end by dumping them in pond (aren’t hurt, are seen climbing out and running off)

Bad Behaviour: George pushes another boy down, fists flying, etc. and doesn’t get in any trouble for it (the impression we’re left with is that it’s all right because the other boy was so unpleasant)

Language: swearing! “damn”s, “hell”; presumably included for sole purpose of winning a PG rating; also rude language, “shut up”, “moron”, “loser”, “speak to the butt”

Interests: mice, cats, New York, adoption, family

Next: read the book!

The Littles go out to adopt a second son and come home with a mouse named Stuart. Their first son George is not impressed. Neither is the cat Snowbell. Happily the rest of the Little clan – aunts, uncles, grandparents – are more than welcoming, and after Stuart helms George’s model sailboat to a win in a regatta in Central Park, George and Stuart are finally reconciled. Snowbell, however, has turned to some mafioso alley cats to remove the mouse and they recruit a pair of mice to claim Stuart as their real son and take him away. Stuart learns the truth and drives off in his toy sportscar to find his way home again, running the gauntlet of cats in Central Park. Snowbell tries to convince Stuart the Littles don’t want him back, but the cat finally turns into Stuart’s ally in a final battle with the alley cats. The Little family is happily reunited.

Quite different from the beloved book, but not without some entertainment value. The movie introduces an adoption subplot that wasn’t in the book. (In the book Mrs. Little actually gave birth to a mouse. You can gloss quickly over problematic elements like that in a book, not so much in a movie!) Movie Stuart is a lot more of a child than Book Stuart, who was much more dignified and refined… pretty much a mature fellow soon after birth.

The tone of the movie, therefore, is more slapsticky and less elegant. Stuart flails around and has more pratfalls and close escapes than the book mouse. Any faithful devotees of the book will find this movie quite a let-down, and yet the movie is not without some charm, and the adoption issue is handled thoughtfully. The extended Little family is a model supportive family, fairly oozing affection and camaraderie. And Mr. and Mrs. Little are also wonderfully portrayed as unconditionally loving of their unusual new son.

The most jarring note for me was the whole cat underworld. Snowbell, to begin with (voiced by Nathan Lane) is unnecessarily smartassed and nasty, when compared with the human characters. (Early on he says “Talk to the butt” as he saunters away from Stuart; probably not a parent’s favourite moment as their child will repeat it for weeks afterward.) It’s the kind of performance that grownups (the filmmakers included) find hilarious but it’s jarring in a film made for young children.

The movie’s creators probably felt that the story, and the Littles, needed more “edginess”, so the cat characters were allowed to go over the top in terms of attitude, slang and strong language. In fact this movie feels like two films – the one about Stuart trying to fit in with his family is a lovely one for four or five-year-olds. The one about mean mafioso cats trying to rub him out and insulting each other incessantly… is probably intended to entertain much older kids. The obvious desire of the filmmakers was not to market this to small children only, but to entice older kids with the PG rating (for language). Perhaps a good tactic to increase audience, but it doesn’t do the youngest viewers any favours.

Oh, and did I mention the brief scene in the police station when the Littles report that Stuart’s been kidnapped? The sergeant talks carelessly of criminal mice on a killing spree and pulls out a book supposedly full of grisly murder scenes that he shows to a horrified Mr. and Mrs. Little. It’s played for laughs but would probably be pretty harsh for young viewers!

Back to the good points though… Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie are terrific as the gold standard for loving parents. (Yes, that’s TV’s House, though you might not recognize him minus the scowl.) Michael J. Fox voices Stuart as younger and more childlike than the Stuart of the book, but full of warmth and sympathy. He actually manages to sell the premise that the Littles would choose him at the orphanage on the basis of one speech.

The depiction of adoption is handled fairly well, though the issue of Stuart’s “real parents” showing up and taking him away right then and there might cause alarm in adopted children. (Especially since, just like in Annie, they turn out to be fakes.) Snowbell at one point convinces Stuart that the Littles are glad he’s gone, but we the audience always know that’s not true.

The boat race is pretty exciting, but I was disappointed to see the most hackneyed bully stereotype trotted out as George’s opponent. This movie is actually better than that, for the most part. But it’s full of missteps like that, that make me wonder if too many hands were at the helm, with differing views of what the film should be.
For those who know the book – the bird Margalo isn’t even introduced in this story, obviously saved for the sequel, which naturally followed: Stuart Little 2.

In conclusion: Very different from the book, and quite flawed, but (mostly) a very warm tale of family acceptance and love. The cat subplot however, injects enough bad language to skew the film older. No real violence, though much is threatened.

And one last thought: If your child insists on seeing this after reading the book and is disappointed, it might lead to an interesting “what did they change, and why” conversation. Developing analytical skills in regard to media is always a good thing!

 

(This title on amazon.)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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