Hollywood stars are usually bigger than life - literally and figuratively - at least on the big screen and that's part of what makes them so alluring to moviegoers. Yet, often times such sizes are deceiving. After all, James Arness stood six feet, seven inches tall while making "Gunsmoke" but didn't look it, while the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Tom Cruise aren't as tall as they appear in the movies.
When it comes to Stuart Little, there's little question about his size. He's short, height challenged, diminutive - heck, let's just say it - he's a pipsqueak. That said, despite his rodent-sized stature and what may have seemed like mousy prospects at the time, his title debut in the 1999 film that sported his name turned out to be the big cheese.
Garnering around $300 million in worldwide ticket sales and countless more from video sales and rentals, the film was a big hit with kids and adults alike. Now a "big" star, the computer-generated character - based on the work of novelist E.B. White - returns to the big screen in "Stuart Little 2," the not particularly imaginatively titled but nevertheless quite enjoyable and entertaining sequel.
Pretty much picking up where the original left off, the film drops the viewer back into the Little household where Hugh Laurie ("Cousin Bette," "Sense and Sensibility") and Geena Davis ("The Long Kiss Goodnight," "Speechless") play the perpetually cheery Brady Bunch type parents, Jonathan Lipnicki ("Like Mike," "The Little Vampire") returns as the older brother, and Anna & Ashley Hoelck appear as the newest Little addition.
The draws of the film, however, -- as was the case the first time around -- are obviously the computer-enhanced and completely computer-generated animal characters. By making the title character a classic underdog who's going through the standard woes and throes of childhood such as feeling small, left out or smothered by an overprotective parent, director Rob Minkoff ("Stuart Little," "The Lion King") and screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin ("Deep Impact," "Ghost") have followed in the tradition of the original. Accordingly, they've presented a likable and sympathetic character that drives the film and with whom the target audience can easily identify.
It doesn't hurt that the amiable Michael J. Fox ("Mars Attacks!" the "Back to the Future" films) returns to lend his voice to the character, or that the pleasant drama is evenly matched with the action and humor. Much of the latter comes courtesy of the pairing of the vocal talent of Nathan Lane ("Mouse Hunt," "The Birdcage") and five identical and computer-enhanced Persian cats that reprise the role of the family's neurotic and sardonic feline, Snowbell.
Although his role is diminished from the original film, the character still provides a great deal of laughs and amusing moments. Whether it was in the original script or Lane improvised doesn't matter as the results are highly entertaining (maybe he'll get a spin-off movie of his own).
Steve Zahn ("Riding in Cars With Boys," "Joy Ride") briefly returns as the voice of Snowbell's alley cat accomplice, but the main focus of the supporting characters has literally gone to the birds this time around. Melanie Griffith ("Crazy in Alabama," "Milk Money") voices the con artist bird Margalo who develops a conscience after meeting Stuart and does a fine job with the character. Meanwhile, James Woods ("John Q," "Contact") supplies the appropriately menacing voice of the film's obligatory villainous character, a steely-eyed falcon.
What ensues is a rather delightful, quickly paced and rather brief (less than 80 minutes) tale filled with enough laughs, suspense, adventure, sweetness and life lessons to entertain viewers of all ages. Although some of the "rules" of this world don't always make sense - why the humans can talk to the mice and birds but not the cat - the technical work and effects are just as impressive - and then some - as they were the first time around when the film earned an Oscar nomination for its visuals. Simply put, and thanks to the strong narrative and efforts of all involved, it's easy to forget you're watching artificial creatures while being swept away by the overall experience.
If you and/or your kids enjoyed the original picture, it's a safe bet the feeling will effortlessly transcend to the sequel, and even those who never saw the first film will still be able to enjoy what's offered here. Superbly mixing the familiar with the new, "Stuart Little 2" is a delightful piece of warm and cuddly escapist entertainment with simple and thankfully non-preachy life messages. The film rates as a 7.5 out of 10.