Stuart Little

(1999) *** Pg
84 min. Columbia. Director: Rob Minkoff. Cast: Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie, Jonathan Lipnicki, Anna Hoelck, Ashley Hoelck.

Sunny and colorful at heart and in its eye-catching visuals, Stuart Little updates (very freely) E.B. White's book, but the tone is so guilelessly sweet and the details so smartly steered to modern children that only a purist could grumble with conviction.

Stuart Little "stars" Michael J. Fox, who provides the voice of the title mouse. Here, Stuart is not miraculously born to a human family, but adopted by folks Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie and brought home to his uneasy brother, played by Jerry Maguire tot Jonathan Lipnicki. The family cat, Snowbell (voiced by Nathan Lane), is even less inclined to accept the good-naturedly sheepish mouse, which leads to the requisite intrigue from streetwise alley cats voiced by Steve Zahn and Chazz Palminteri and suspicious mice voiced by Jennifer Tilly and Bruno Kirby. Along the way, director Rob Minkoff cleverly peppers his larger-than-life New York with a cornucopia of experienced character talent: Julia Sweeney, Jon Polito, Jeffrey Jones, Brian Doyle-Murray, Estelle Getty, Harold Gould, and Dabney Coleman, to name but a few.

The film lives or dies, though, by its CGI work, and the time and talent sunk into Stuart is more than evident. Though Stuart is a credible creation (with all those little white hairs that make animators crazy), he works because of the clever cartoony touches, like his un-mousy, bouncy walk (in Chuck Taylor sneakers, no less). By contrast, the real cats (enhanced with CGI expression) seem, ironically, less real. The connection made between Fox's voice and the screen mouse is far more convincing than that between the manic Lane and his cat. Suffice it to say that the effects, supervised by John Dykstra, whose credits include a little thing called Star Wars, work the proper magic.

The film puts forward predictable but happily uncluttered messages of tolerance despite differences and family belonging. I don't fancy myself as having a particularly high tolerance for sappiness, but Stuart Little's family film charms worked on me and surely will for children. Parents can proceed, guilt-free.

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