Rated PG - Running Time: 1:20 - Released 12/17/99

Awash in a sea of Christmastime children's releases and Oscar contenders, Rob Minkoff's Stuart Little doesn't stand a chance. Although it's patterned after a cute story by Charlotte's Web author E. B. White, and although it allows the fine folks at Columbia Pictures a chance to make use of the new computer-aided technology that has of late given us everything from talking pigs to baby geniuses, the film has little to offer in the way of story or characterization, and it has us wondering, after 30 of its 80 minutes has passed, if anything interesting is ever going to happen. There is a large cast of well-known actors, some appearing in human form (such as Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, and Julia Sweeney) and some as the voices of several animal villains (Nathan Lane, Steve Zahn, Bruno Kirby), and, of course, Michael J. Fox as the title mouse. But even these high-caliber talents can't save the film from a lackluster screenplay by Gregory J. Brooker and M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), and a bland performance by 9-year-old Jonathan Lipnicki as Stuart's human brother, George.

In a stunningly uninspired effort, Laurie and Davis star as Mr. and Mrs. Little, parents of George, who decide to adopt a second son. When they visit the local orphanage, they are so perplexed about which child to bring home with them, they opt for a member of the establishment's rodent population instead. George, who expected a little brother, is understandably disappointed, but the one who is really put off is Snowbell, the family's long-haired white cat (Lane). If the other cats find out that Stuart is a member of the Little family, and therefore one of Snowbell's "masters," he'll never live it down. Although Stuart (Fox) eventually wins George over, he finds himself at the center of a malicious conspiracy perpetrated by Snowbell, his alley-cat friend Monty (Zahn), and a pair of mice who are hired to act as Stuart's biological family (Bruno Kirby and Jennifer Tilly).

A few years ago, a film like Stuart Little would have been looked at as a technical masterpiece. Making animals appear to talk is a relatively new thing, but since Babe, it's been done, and what makes or breaks a movie like this is the charm of the characterizations. Babe had tons of charm. Stuart Little does not. Most of the human actors are clearly just putting in time until their next big feature; Lipnicki simply looks bored. Too bad director Minkoff couldn't inspire his actors to show a little more energy. The vocal characterizations are handled adequately by their performers, but the situations are so trite, there is nothing interesting for them to do. Moreover, their computer-animated mouth movements are not blended very well, so we are more interested in looking for seams in the celluloid fabric than in listening to what they have to say. Thank goodness, I'm sure Minkoff is saying, thank goodness children don't know the difference. **½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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