Rated PG - Running Time: 1:15 - Released 7/19/02

Stuart Little 2, Rob Minkoff's unimaginatively named sequel to his 1999 film Stuart Little, is about as far from its predecessor as it could be in terms of quality. While that film, which brought to the big screen the legendary mouse-boy character created by E.B. White, was a lackluster affair with a simplistic script and listless acting, this movie continues his story with exuberance and style, reuniting all the principal actors from the original film (including Michael J. Fox, whose career is still going strong despite an over-10-year bout with Parkinson's disease) and adding a few new ones, too. I don't know what director Minkoff did differently this time around (it may simply be a matter of release date), but whatever it is, he's done it right.

After an amusing cartoon short about aliens, we move on to the feature, written by Douglas Wick and Bruce Joel Rubin. In it we discover that the Little home has recently gotten yet another new addition. Mr. and Mrs. Little (played again by Hugh Laurie and Geena Davis) are still just as syrupy sweet to each other and their two sons, George (Jonathan Lipnicki) and Stuart (voice of Fox), as ever before, but now they also have a baby daughter named Martha (played droolingly by 3-year-old twins Anna and Ashley Hoelck). But although things are generally fine in the home of what must be the first interspecies family in New York City, there is one problem: Mom is too protective of her second son. After a plane crash not only grounds him but causes a rift between him and brother George (who owned the now destroyed model plane), Stuart's dad suggests that maybe he'll find a new friend to play with. And find her he does.

While driving to school in his miniature roadster, Stuart is abruptly and unexpectedly joined by a cute girl canary named Margalo (voice of Melanie Griffith). Bearing an uncanny resemblance to the unanimously feared bird villain in A Bug's Life (except wearing an aviator's cap), Margalo crash-lands in his passenger seat while being pursued by a large and ill-tempered falcon (voice of James Woods, basically playing the same character he did in Hercules). Although she pretends to have a broken wing and is therefore befriended and taken home to safety by Stuart, Margalo is really working for Falcon, who has assigned her to infiltrate the Little home and steal whatever valuables she can find. As she spends more time with Stuart and his friendly clan, however, she begins to question her motives. The trouble is, Falcon is very fast, very smart, and very nasty. Soon Margalo disappears and Stuart is forced to go on a rescue mission, with Snowbell the family cat (voice of Nathan Lane) as an unwilling partner, and rescue her.

This film is adventurous, fun, and exciting, unlike Stuart Little, during which I found it difficult to stay awake. It's interesting to note one difference between the two films' creative teams: writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, the Indian-born mastermind behind The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and the upcoming Signs, helped write the first Stuart. Maybe he should stick to grown-up movies. At any rate, SL2 is full of wit, action, and color (especially the red-yellow-orange range, which director Minkoff and costume designer Mona May have clearly and intentionally emphasized), and the actors portraying the human characters (with the possible exception of the overrated Lipnicki) have risen to the energy level of the voiced characters. Although I suppose it would be a good idea to watch the first movie before seeing this one, there really would be no loss to bag Stuart and go for 2. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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