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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Stuart Little (1999)

Snowbell: What are you doing?
Stuart: Rubbing your belly. I thought cats liked that.
Snowbell: How'd you like to rub it from the INSIDE, mouse-boy?

- Nathan Lane, Michael J. Fox

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer   
Published: August 27, 2001

Stars: Michael J. Fox, Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki
Other Stars: Nathan Lane, Chazz Palminteri, Steve Zahn, Jim Doughan, David Alan Grier, Bruno Kirby, Jennifer Tilly
Director: Rob Minkoff

MPAA Rating: PG for brief language
Run Time: 01h:24m:29s
Release Date: April 18, 2000
UPC: 043396048935
Genre: family


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- CA-A A+

DVD Review

When I first saw Stuart Little, I thought it was a charming children's tale, almost on par with either Toy Story film. Looking back on it two years later, I realize that while some of it remains cute, the rest of it is silly, boring, and just plain bad. It's obvious that the filmmakers were trying to make a movie that appealed solely to children, which is never a good idea, because children grow up. I can still watch old cartoons and movies from my childhood and enjoy them now in a different way than I did when I was a child (and separate from childhood nostalgia). The best entertainment for children also entertains people of wildly varying ages, whether they are nine or ninety. Stuart Little won't appeal to anyone over ten.

The Little family, comprised of Eleanor Little (Geena Davis), Fredrick Little (Hugh Laurie), and their son, George Little (Jonathan Lipnicki), are going to adopt another child. George is very excited, but he reminds his parents that he wants "a little brother, not a big brother." Once at the orphanage, Mr. and Mrs. Little cannot decide which wonderful child to choose. Soon, a little mouse named Stuart (voiced by Michael J. Fox) introduces himself, and the Littles decide to adopt him, despite the protestations of the administration. They bring Stuart home, to the ire of their cat, Snowbell (voiced by Nathan Lane), and to the disappointment of George. Slowly but surely, however, Stuart works his way into the hearts of the family, but Snowbell has some dark plans for him that might spell the end of his status as a family member.

When Stuart Little works, it works well. The idea of a mouse that joins a human family (and has a pet cat) is funny, and lends itself to plenty of hilarious situations. Michael J. Fox is particularly expressive as the voice of Stuart, and the animation is top notch. Some of the scenes, such as the boat race and the cat chase, are expertly done and offer real excitement and thrills. The biggest problem with the movie is that it tries too hard to be too "cutesy." Look at the production design: all bright colors, intense contrasts between small and large objects, and a general sense of things being larger-than-life. The acting also tends to lead more toward the simplistic; it seems as if every character is talking slowly and over-enunciating, as if talking to a child. Now, granted, kids will enjoy it, there's no doubt about it. But for adults it quickly gets tiring.

Rob Minkoff co-directed The Lion King which, if you look at it, is a pretty dark film. Nothing of that exists in Stuart Little; even in the most perilous of moments we are certain that Stuart will make it out not only alive, but also unscathed, and ready to deliver a cheesy pun. It's like watching a bad sitcom, where the plucky kid tells a dumb joke and all the main actors laugh heartily, then they freeze on that shot of the actors in the absurd position of guffawing, and cue the bad title music, complete with dated-sounding saxophone trills. I almost expected, no, I would have preferred if at one point little Jonathan Lipnicki (who seems to be the only live action actor capable of delivering a somewhat believable performance) to say, "What you talkin' bout, Stuart?" That at least would have been a cultural allusion that only someone over the age of eight could appreciate.

Despite this, you still can't help but smile at certain scenes, like when Stuart is getting a wardrobe at a toy store, looking at the various costumes that a doll called "Ben" wears. Little sight gags, such as Stuart reading a tiny copy of Little Women pop up from time to time, giving the older audience an unexpected moment of unjaded humor. The problem is, the movie banks too much on the preciousness of those scenes and in-jokes, so when you look at the bigger picture you see a drastically unfunny movie that is so enamored with its own ability to create cute, funny animals that the filmmakers lose sight of how to entertain more than just your five-year-old. There's nothing wrong with making a movie solely for children, but with an abundance of films that, while designed for kids, also appeal to adults, it seems as if Stuart Little has too little to offer to make it worthwhile.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Rationo
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: This is a very good transfer. It faithfully reproduces the bright color palette of the film, without any colors bleeding or any transfer artifacts. Blacks are solid, and you can see every individual hair on Stuart's computer-generated head. I did notice a few instances of dust on the print, but they're so few and far between that it's not worth worrying about it. Now for the one drawback: it's in the dreaded pan & scan. Okay, okay, I know there's a widescreen edition readily available, but I do have to wonder why the studio decided to send a pan & scan version to a DVD reviewer. That's like sending a new keyboard that's been sawed in half with a chainsaw, with the remaining keys splayed akimbo, to a computer technician. It's practically part of our job description to prefer widescreen, and, while I at least am glad that a widescreen version of this movie exists, I have to say it's a bit batty to send me the this one. The widescreen transfer would have gotten an A, but the pan & scan one gets an A-.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Stuart Little has a great 5.1 mix. The rears get a good workout, most effectively in the washing machine and cat chase sequence. All the speakers are actively used throughout the film, whether it be for the score, which is lively, the sound effects, which are well-pronounced, or the dialogue, which is crystal clear. The sound mix is more interesting than the film itself.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Adventures of Elmo In Grouchland, Madeline, The Nuttiest Nutcracker, Baby Geniuses, Muppets From Space
6 Deleted Scenes
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Documentaries
6 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director and animation supervisors; visual effects supervisors
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Central Park Adventure Game
  2. Bloopers/Gag Reel and Artists' Screen Tests
  3. Three Music Videos and Boat Race: Early Concept Reel
  4. Read-Along
  5. DVD-ROM Features and Collectible Booklet
Extras Review: This DVD has more features than you can shake a stick at!

Commentary: This disc has two commentaries, first with the director and animation supervisor, and the second with visual effects supervisors. The first talks about a wide range of topics, including the hurdles it took to get the movie off the ground, the ideas thrown around in pre-production, and more. This is a very engaging commentary that is better than the film. The second commentary is, by the nature of its participants, more limited in scope, but no less interesting for those who understand some of the basics of 3-D imaging. While this DVD has a lot of features, these two commentaries are my favorites by a long shot.

Making it Big: HBO Special: This was a program that first premiered on HBO on the making of the movie. The show takes the premise that Stuart is a real actor, but in the end you still get all the information regarding animation. I've seen several HBO specials, and most of them are nothing more than studio fluff, so I was surprised to see that Making it Big is a pretty intensive look into the making of the movie, all with some good jokes. A nice supplement to the already meaty commentaries.

Animation Featurettes: A series of six featurettes that explain how various scenes were made. They show a particular scene in various stages of completion, while someone involved with the special effects talks about them. An interesting, but not altogether successful way of providing us with this information.

Deleted Scenes: Six deleted scenes of varying quality. Some of them should have been in the film, while it is obvious why some of them were cut. They are also available with director commentary, but don't bother, all Minkoff does is say what is happening in each scene.

Bloopers/Gag Reels: There are separate animation and live action reels, and the animated one is too short, while the live action one is way too long. The live action reel is particularly bad, because the actors crack up in the same way every time, and they decided to make a montage out of the end of the reel, set to some horrible pop song. I was screaming "Make it stop!" by the end of it.

Isolated Score: This is just what is sounds like, the score by itself. It's too bad the score is really horrible.

Artists' Screen Tests: These are some shorts made by the animators when they auditioned for the movie. They're short, sweet, and fun. Not to mention that they captivated my cat so much that she tried to paw at the animated mouse on the television (try it with your cat, and add to the member comments if he or she has the same or similar type of reaction).

Boat Race: Early Concept Reel: Probably the second best feature on the disc, this is a series of storyboards showing a much more elaborate and beefed up boat race sequence. The director gives a commentary over it, which is quite interesting. He says that to make that sequence, it would have cost half the movie's budget. I think he should have done it, considering that he didn't seem to get his money's worth with most of his live action actors.

Art Galleries: This is a nice selection of storyboards and early concept drawings that show the evolution of various characters and sequences. Not much fun for the kiddies, but animators or animators-to-be will find a lot to look at here.

Music Videos: Three music videos, the first of which, entitled You Can't Rock Me, by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, is a blatant rip-off of the song with the same name by The Rolling Stones. No, the melody or instrumentation isn't ripped-off, but the lyrical content certainly is, and I was amazed that someone would so blatantly steal like that, without even trying to hide it. The others are just bad.

Read Along: This is a short synopsis of the story, in children's book form, that your child can read along to. You can read it with or without Stuart reading aloud.

DVD-ROM Content The disc mentions this, but I can't find it anywhere.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

Your little one will love this movie. Believe me, it's got talking animals, over-the-top set design, and actors who talk slowly enough to kill someone with ADD. But, in the years to come, when your child is looking through his or her collection of DVDs, I can assure you he or she will hold onto their copy of The Muppets Take Manhattan, while Stuart Little will quickly find its way to the $5 box the next time you have a garage sale.

 


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