"Stuart Little" the movie is less a literary adaptation than a licensing agreement come to computer-generated life.
As a sop to contemporary youngsters with their famously brief attention spans and insatiable hunger for ever-accelerating action, the filmmakers of "Stuart Little" have taken E. B. White's original character -- a lovable white mouse who finds himself a member of a human family -- and put him into all sorts of situations that the author would never have dreamed of.
Old fogies who were raised on the original book will no doubt dislike the changes, although the audience for which "Stuart Little" is intended will find little to complain about. Even as appalled parents gasp at the idea of Stuart being the target of a mob hit, and though they may want to cover little ones' ears at the random "damn," "hell" and "butt" (you can stop spinning now, Mr. White), kids will enjoy watching our adorable rodential hero zoom around in a tiny red sports car, sail a toy boat across the pond at Central Park and finesse his way through all manner of scrapes.
In the movie, Stuart is adopted by the Littles (gamely played by Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie) and brought home to a decidedly unappreciative brother named George (Jonathan Lipnicki), who had in mind a little brother a bit more, well, human. While Stuart tries to ingratiate himself with George, he incurs the wrath of Snowbell, the family cat, who provides most of the film's wry humor via the voice of Nathan Lane. It's Snowbell who's responsible for that mob hit (overseen by a tough cat voiced by Chazz Palminteri).
Michael J. Fox does a sweetly hoarse job of giving voice to Stuart, whom computer animators have lovingly created down to the last tiny white hair (his ears have a particularly endearing way of going back when he's sad). But then they subject him to long laugh-free stretches in which he is kidnapped, given up for missing and then chased through Central Park at night. ("Stuart Little" was co-written by M. Night Shymalan, the creator of the spooky hit "The Sixth Sense.") If this isn't outright traumatizing to little tykes, it's hard to call it entertaining.
But chances are, you're on your way to the theater right now, your youngsters having seen all those ads featuring irresistible Stuart. If that's the case, be of good cheer: The title character more than delivers in the winsome charm department. And your kids can always read the book later. Think of it as reparations for dear old E.B.
Starring Geena Davis, Hugh Laurie and the voices of Michael J. Fox, Nathan Lane, Steve Zahn Directed by Rob Minkoff
Rated PG (language)
Running time 92 minutes
Released by Columbia Pictures
Sun score **1/2