I have always had copies of E. B. White’s Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web on my book shelf. It’s surprisingly sexy to read them aloud to a partner in bed.
Decidedly less sexy is the 1999 movie adaptation of the world’s 14th most popular mouse (it’s a very informal survey, but how many do you think you could name?).
George Little (Jonathan Lipnicki) wakes up on the best day of his life: he’s getting a sibling! He wakes his parents by jumping on their bed; the movie is too polite to mention Mr. Little’s balls, but as far as I know, kids in the bed results in dad getting kicked in the balls 100% of the time. Anyway. Mr. and Mrs. Little (Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis) are keen to give George a little brother, so while George is at school, they head down to the orphanage to browse the kids and see what’s on sale. Or, you know, “fall in love.” And they do fall in love with a clever little guy named Stuart, who just happens to be a mouse (Michael J. Fox). The social worker tries to discourage the match – adoptions outside the species rarely work, she tells them – but the Littles are not to be dissuaded. They bring Stuart home, clothe him with teeny tiny sweater vests, install the world’s tiniest plumbing fixtures, but tuck him into a normal yet comically oversized bed. There’s only one problem, really: George is terribly disappointed. He wanted a brother but got a mouse! Actually, there IS one member of the family disheartened than George, and that’s Snowbell the cat (Nathan Lane). Imagine being a cat with a mouse for an owner. Oh, the indignity.
So while George is quietly disapproving, Snowbell is actively plotting against him. It’s the nicest situation Stuart’s ever had, but it’s precarious.
Stuart Little is adventurous and colourful; the little mouse gets in exactly the sorts of mischief that kids will never fail to find entertaining. The story offers much less for adults, unless you’re prepared to read the “cross-species” adoption as a thinly-veiled critique of inter-racial adoptions, in which case the rich white family’s triumph is a little less palatable.
Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, Ray Romano, Albert Brooks, Ben Stiller, and Matthew Broderick were all considered for the voice of Stuart Little, but it ultimately went to Michael J. Fox, who gives him exactly the right amount of spunk and spirit. He’s a sweet little guy, and well-rendered; for a film that came out 20 years ago, the CGI holds up sufficiently well. I didn’t see this film at the time because it came out in direct competition with Toy Story 2. It didn’t do as well as that one, but it did make more money than Notting Hill, American Pie, American Beauty, or The Green Mile. It was, however, outperformed by The Sixth Sense (and about 10 others) but I mention that one in particular because believe it or not, M. Night Shyamalan wrote BOTH The Sixth Sense and Stuart Little, and was later revealed to have ghost-written another film that year, She’s All That. Surprise! Well it surprised me, anyway. And kind of made me want to rewind and reassess Stuart Little for a twist ending I didn’t see coming. But no. It’s just the cat.